What I’ve Been Learning About Tidying and Minimalism
For the past few months, I’ve made it a point to review at least one book a month as part of my Money at 30 column on Dyer News. While I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read for this effort, more often than not, I write my review and then move on with my life. That wasn’t the case with one recent read, however: The More of Less by Joshua Becker (of Becoming Minimalist fame). Before I had even finished the book, I was motivated to start tidying up my apartment and getting rid of things that had long cluttered my home. In fact, my wife and I had bemoaned the need for such actions before but Becker’s book was just the kick of inspiration we needed.
Sure enough, as we’ve started to make progress in our quest, we’ve encountered some of the issues, lessons, and rewards Becker writes about. Additionally, I feel I’ve come across some specific situations he nor others may have thought of. With that in mind, I wanted to share what exact tidying projects my wife and I have managed to complete so far and what we’ve learned along the way.
What We’ve Pared Down So Far
Disney and Loot Crate items
As avid Disney fans and overall nerds, we’ve accrued quite a collection of, well, crap over the years. This not only includes actual souvenirs and merchandise from the theme parks but also several maps and show schedules (in multiple languages) we’ve picked up on our visits to the foreign Disney parks. If that weren’t enough, our former subscriptions to D23: The Official Disney Fan Club and Loot Crate have only yielded more stuff that’s mostly been tucked away in the corners of our apartment. Because of this, going through these items seemed like a pretty logical starting point when it came to tidying.
Quite honestly, I’m very impressed with our progress in this area. While the second bedroom that serves as our office used to hold two small drawers and one large drawer filled with Disney items, that’s now been reduced to a single small drawer. Elsewhere, the Loot Crate items have been pared down with equal if not greater ferocity. This not only led to the filling of multiple trash bags but also a box of items to be donated or given away (we do work a Disney site, after all, so there’s plenty of give-away opportunities). Amazingly, I’m actually excited to be rid of those donation items so we can truly celebrate our accomplishments.
Following the nerdy knick-knacks, the next project I had in mind was clearing out items from my closet. In doing so, I quickly realized that the majority of my closet was occupied by wardrobe items from past lives. For example, I still had several child-sized hoodies and polos that I would wear to look even dorkier while roaming the halls of Glee. On the complete opposite of the spectrum, I had multiple suits and dress shirts from back when I was a movie theatre manager. With the Glee-worn items, it was easy to donate these as they were still in pretty good condition. Meanwhile, although I felt bad about throwing away what had once been nice suits, the truth is that years of cinema operations had done a number to these jackets and pants, rendering them all but useless.
The good news is that I still had a couple of dress shirts and at least two suits that still fit me and look presentable. So while it feels weird not to have a closet filled with a variety of shirt and tie options, the current collection is still more than enough considering how often I need to dress up these days (maybe twice a year?). Once again, this move makes perfect sense and made me wonder what took me so long.
Old electronics and accessories
Anytime I end up with an extra cable, adapter, or other electronics-related item, I’d throw it into a backpack I picked up at the Calgary Stampede when I was in high school. To be fair, this bag of random cords has saved the day from time to time — most recently supply us an A/C adapter for our router when the original died, leaving us without our precious internet. Yet, that victory didn’t render the sack immune to tidying and so we dove into it a couple of weeks ago.
Sure enough, among some plugs and chargers I couldn’t even identify, there were also adapters for technology standards that had since been upgraded multiple times (Firewire 400, anyone?). Also, something I failed to mention in the last paragraph is that this Calgary radio station backpack is actually broken and has been for years. Now, we’ve moved the few remaining cables we kept to a metal lunchbox we happened to save from our Loot Crate purge — recycling win!
Other random boxes of stuff
Although the above three projects represent the bulk of what we’ve taken on so far, there was also the customary “boxes of random items” to go through. I’m sure you can imagine that not a lot from these couple of boxes made the cut. Nevertheless, it was actually while going through these items that I learned a couple of lessons we’ll cover in the next section.
What We’ve Learned and Exercised
Easy projects first
As you might be able to discern from my list of tackled tasks, we definitely decided to start off with some of the simpler projects on our list. While we probably would have been inclined to do that anyway, this tactic also mirrored the advice Becker provided in the book. Pointing out that what puts many people off to the ideas of decluttering and minimalism is thinking about all the difficult choices they’ll need to make and tough questions they’ll need to ask. Instead, by kicking things off with something a little less charged, you can see how you feel and work your way up to those looming areas of concern.
Of course, the key is not to grow content after achieving these early wins. In our case, I don’t have much fear of that as the great feeling that washed over us with each bag that left our abode was fantastic. While I know there are will be challenges ahead, I’m still excited to move forward.
Some is better than none and “leveling”
Speaking of challenges, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d already encountered items that I struggled with getting rid of. In fact, despite part of me suggesting that I didn’t really need a particular piece of paraphernalia, there were times where I let these items survive this round of tidying. Why? Well, for one, I figured that getting rid of some of my stuff is better than nothing. Thus, as long as I was getting rid of more stuff than I was keeping, I allowed myself a few freebies. Incidentally, some of this strategy also aligns with what Becker calls “leveling” in which you keep items as a test to see if they rise to prominence or solidify their unworthy status in subsequent rounds. With that in mind, while it’s likely that at least a few of these pieces will leave my home eventually, I’m fine with holding onto them for now.
Memories don’t always mean something
One specific implementation of my “some is better than none” mantra involved a keychain collection I’d been cultivating since I was a kid. This compilation was attached in one giant mass of metal that has moved with me from home to home for years. As I came to it in one of my random boxes, I knew it was time to do something about it. Yet, as I detached each keychain and determined if it should stay or go, I had several memories of fondness flood back to me, making some oddly difficult to part with.
That’s when I realized that these memories weren’t actually based on anything that tied these keychains to specific times or adventures in my life — they were only memorable because I encountered them anytime I moved or tried to tidy up! Some of these keychains that I inexplicably held dear weren’t purchased on a dream vacation or gifted by a thoughtful friend. Instead, I had bought them at Walgreens for $2 when I was a child who decided he wanted to have a keychain collection. So while I did hold onto a few keychains that met some sort of criteria, I finally rid myself of those that held only fake nostalgia for me.
Giving items a new home
In the previous section, I mentioned going through a couple of assorted boxes. Among a lot of stuff that would soon hit my trash bag were some practical items that deserved to stay. However, instead of returning to the same box they had resided in, it was clear that they’d be better served by a change in venue. As a result, the box cutter and packing tape I found have now moved to the drawer into the kitchen where the similar scissors and scotch tape are kept, the mini flashlight has been relocated to the ledge along our entryway, and the super-relevant bottle of hand sanitizer joined us in the car for our recent road trip. Turns out sometimes it’s not just about the items you have but where you keep them.
Digital clutter (and “death of a dream”)
When it comes to so-called “digital clutter” — as in unnecessary photos, documents, and other files — Becker actually comes down on the side that says that digital is better than physical. I happen to agree, although some of my digital clutter actually doubled as physical clutter thanks to an ancient (circa 2005) external hard drive I had the task of going through before disposing of it. In the end, I did move some of its contents to a more modern external drive, while deleting other nonsense. However, it’s interesting to note that it was in clearing this digital clutter than I experienced what Becker calls the “death of a dream” in his book.
“Death of a dream” refers to minimalists getting rid of items that represented a beloved hobby or aspiration of theirs and moving beyond that no-longer-relevant goal. Reading about this, I actually thought about the episode of How I Met Your Mother where some of the gang face similar struggles, such as Lily deleting the number for a karate dojo she always intended on going back to but never did. In my case, while wiping my hard drive, I came across the raw footage for a short film I shot with some friends several years ago now. At the time, this film meant the world to me and I had high hopes for the finished product. Yet, as time went on, I never put in the work required to make it into something. Therefore, by chucking that footage into the digital dustbin, I was bidding adieu to that time in my life and the filmmaking dreams I once held. Was it sad? Sure — but it was time.
Consulting your spouse/partner
Finally, one thing I’ve personally learned during the process so far is to make sure your partner is on board with the decisions you’re making to throw things out or give them away. That seems obvious and is something I was already aware of but managed to run afoul of anyway. To be clear, during nearly all of the projects we’ve accomplished so far, my wife and I went through everything together. The exception was a bag of ties in the closet I had mistakenly believed was mine alone. Not long after I removed another bag of stuff from our apartment, my wife asked what I had done with a specific item — to which I provided the wrong answer.
Thankfully, she wasn’t too upset with this misstep but it did teach me a lesson. From now on, we’ll continue to do each step together regardless of who the stuff primarily belongs to. Hey, at least I made this mistake with something small at the beginning instead of accidentally tossing something of greater consequence later on.
With only a handful of projects completed so far, I already feel better as a result of our tidying and getting rid of items we no longer need. Plus, as expected, this process has also helped us to reconsider new purchases as it becomes apparent that they wouldn’t benefit us as much as we may have thought. With that said, I’m not exactly sure I’d say that we’re on our way to being minimalists — but we will definitely be more minimalist than before. In turn, I know that these first steps will help us to save money and live happier lives in the long run.
Also published on Medium.