“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” Joshua Becker

It’s all well and good to decide we want to transition to a minimalist lifestyle, but where to start? A lot of people are discouraged from the getgo simply because the immensity of the task seems so overwhelming. The antidote to this situation is simply to be methodical. There are myriad approaches out there and you simply have to find the one, or ones, that works for you. It may be that you need to try several different methods over the course of your personal evolution. You may just need to throw in a decluttering game every now and then to keep things interesting (or to involve friends and family in the process!).

As you change so will your means of keeping yourself motivated. However you will also inevitably get to a point where you have trained yourself to approach life from a minimalist perspective. But it in the beginning it’s pretty much essential that you figure out a technique to keep you on track.

3.1 Start Simple: Cleaning Out The Closets

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started” Mark Twain

On the less emotionally intense side (because yes, if it hasn’t already, getting rid of your personal possessions will likely bring up some emotional reactions at some point in the process!) of decluttering are any number of relatively simple, fun and easy to apply frameworks for getting rid of things.

Time can often be a major constraint that keeps us putting off the start date to tackling our clutter. In response to the fast-paced packed schedules of modern day life, Zen Habits author Leo Babauta has a great article titled “18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess” which provides readers with just that.[1] If you’re in need of some simple kickstarting tools, take a look at his list or have a brainstorm with a friend and come up with your own ideas of 5-minute decluttering exercises. Then take one on each day until you can consecrate a more significant chunk of time to your minimalist practice (or until the 5-minutes add up to a full-on holistic decluttering!)

Also on the fairly low time investment end of the spectrum, some of you may be familiar with the “closet hanger method” made famous by Oprah. This obviously applies primarily to clothing, though I’m sure you could come up with creative ways to apply it to other things. The idea is to have all your clothes with the hangers facing one direction. As you take them out and wear them you replace them with the hanger facing the other way. Thus, after a certain amount of time you will see what pieces you wear, and which you don’t, allowing to get rid of everything that’s technically surplus in your wardrobe. The main “hangup” (pun intended) of this method are that it requires you to have closet space, and enough of it to hang the majority of your clothes. But if the constraints fit with your situation it can be a pretty straight forward first step.

3.2 Making Light Work of The Modern Mess

“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful ” Joshua J. Marine

Expanding out from the specifics of closet-clearing may be daunting. Minimalist writer and coach Dana Byers suggests writing a list of all the spaces in your home and tackling one per day (or per weekend, depending on your life schedule). You start by writing out all the larger spaces and then honing in on one that you can address within a short amount of time. For example, you may have “kitchen” on our list and then zone in on “tupperware cupboard” or “pantry” and getting rid of everything broken, unused or excessive in that small section of your house would be the task of the day. [2] Whatever approach you may choose to take, breaking things down to manageable tasks is a definite essential of successful minimalism.

In a less targeted approach, Colleen Madsen, creator of the blog “365 Less Things,” simply suggests getting rid of one thing per day, year-round. [3] This requires a basic commitment and certain level of discipline, but once you work it into your daily routine can become a fluid part of everyday life. Obviously for all of these decluttering methods the ideal is not to just discard whatever it is you want to get out of your space, but rather to find ways of donating, recycling or repurposing the objects you no longer need. Getting rid of stuff may be the primary goal, but doing so in an responsible way is also a fundamental piece to whole minimalist lifestyle.

3.3 What If Decluttering Was All Fun And Games?

Rather then seeing decluttering as a solitary chore you have to discipline and coerce yourself into taking on, why not making it a social event and even…have fun? A few such ideas, from Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus on their well-known blog “The Minimalists,” are the “one thing a day,” the “packing party” and the “minimalist game” methods. [4] The first is pretty self explanatory. You get rid of one thing day, the challenge being to keep going until you hit the absolute limit of what you can get rid of. Some people make this into a game or mutual challenge in order to motivate themselves by getting a friend or family member on board and seeing who can keep going the longest.

In a similar vein, the “minimalist game” suggests finding someone else who wants to declutter their lives and getting rid of things progressively over the span of 30 days. On the first day of the game you get rid of one thing, on the second day two things, and so on and so forth. Whoever makes it to thirty days, be it one of your or both of you, wins. It starts out quite easy but gets increasingly challenging in the latter weeks as you start having to find dozens of things to get rid of each day. Nevertheless, many of us get a lot of motivation out of a bit of friendly competition so it’s well worth a try if you need a little boost to help you move forward in the decluttering process.

The Packing Party is another participative approach that involves getting a bunch of friends together and packing everything you own into boxes, as if you were about to move. Over the next month you take the things you need out of their respective boxes and leave everything else packed up. After a month (or whatever period you decide on) you’ll see which of your belongings you use regularly and which are just adding clutter to your life, which you can then divest yourself of pretty easily since it’s all already packed away out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind!

3.4 Swedish Death Cleaning: The Ultimate Act of Letting Go

If you want to sound radical in your approach, just tell anyone you’re practicing Swedish Death Cleaning on your possessions and you will likely have them hooked in conversation. The Swedish word “döstädning” refers to the act of “slowly and steadily decluttering as the years go by” ( literally meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning),at any point in your life, but ideally beginning in your fifties, and continuing the practice until the end of your days. “The ultimate purpose of death cleaning is to minimize the amount of stuff, especially meaningless clutter, that you leave behind for others to deal with,” says treehugger.com writer Katherine Martinko.[5]

The most cited source on the subject (“The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter“) was written by a woman in her own words “between 80 and 100,” named Margareta Magnusson and can be easily found online if you want to explore the matter in detail. What’s interesting about this approach is that it’s very much focused on the de-sentimentalization of possessions and the renormalization of discussing the taboo subject of Death with a capital D. This may make a lot of us uncomfortable, but taken to a deeper level learning to “let go” of our excess stuff can translate pretty directly to dealing with the idea of mortality. While it may not be your cup of tea, Swedish Death Cleaning encourages us to approach the task of decluttering with both humour and detachment. If you’re up for it, this method can be a pretty profound paradigm shifting experience. It can also serve as an icebreaker for conversations around all sorts of life transitions with friends and family.

3.5 One Simple Question To Guide Your Decluttering Process

Marie Kondo is one of the better-known authors on the topic of minimalism and decluttering our living spaces. She lays out her “KonMari” method in detail in her New York Times best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” As it says on her website, “
the approach is rooted in a single question: Does this item spark joy?” Part of the popularity of the KonMari method is that it puts the focus on “being mindful, introspective and forward-looking.” There’s an emphasis on positive emotional states such as joy (every item is evaluated in terms of whether or not it triggers a feeling of joy in us) and gratitude (items that no longer serve the purpose of adding joy, or, to reframe slightly, “value”, to our lives, are “thanked for their service,” before being let go.). [6] I mean really. Who wouldn’t want to have joy and gratitude be the central pillars of their lifestyle choices?

Contrary to some of the other methods listed above, KonMari’s approach emphasises the importance of operating by category as opposed to by location. For example, you might start by going through all your shoes and then move on to dishes. It doesn’t matter if you jump from location to location as long as you go through all of one category before starting on the next one. It’s also aimed at a holistic application of the minimalist lifestyle and advocates “tidiness” as a gateway to joyful, heart-centered, mindful living. Sounds pretty eppeaking, right?

3.6 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!

“Later is the best friend of clutter…” MaryAnne Bennie

Whatever path you may choose to get started on your minimalist journey, the most important thing is to get started. Don’t spend weeks agonizing over what might be “the best” way to approach decluttering your living space, pick one and try it, now! You’re not committing yourself to any one method for the rest of time just by trying it on for size.

  1. Consider your current life context (how much time and motivation do you have to commit to decluttering exercises today? Tomorrow? This month? Are there other people in your entourage who can get on board to help motivate you? What type of framework do you think will best set you up for success?)
  2. Take on whatever will be realistic and manageable for you in the foreseeable future. Then adjust as your situation shifts.
  3. Embrace the idea of switching tracks if you find the method you’re using isn’t working for you. It’s about finding the balance of flexibility and rigor, fun and detachment, joy and discipline, that suits your specific needs and context. You’ll only find out by taking the first step…
  1. “18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess,” Leo Babauta, April 3rd 2008, www.zenhabits.net
  2. “How To Minimize Your Belongings, Dana Byers, May 1st 2016, www.danabyers.com/to-how-minimize-belongings
  3. 365 Less Things: reducing our stuff one day at a time, Colleen Madsen, http://www.365lessthings.com
  4. The Minimalists, https://www.theminimalists.com
  5. ‘Swedish death cleaning’ is the new decluttering trend, Katherine Martinko, October 9, 2017, treehugger.com
  6. Marie Kondo, 2018, www.konmari.com

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