A popular explanation for the clutter of one's house is the owner's lack of organizational skills. "I'd keep it cleaner, but I'm just not organized." It is perfectly fine to not enjoy organizing. To those of you out there that could take or leave labels and categories, I have good news for you: You don't have to be organized to be clean. And unfortunately, the inverse is true as well: people who are organized don't necessarily keep clean houses. In fact, people who obsess about organizing (like me) often have a harder time with minimizing and staying clean!
Change your habits for accumulation.
Monthly photos on your phone.
Every month, I go through all of the photos on my phone and delete anything I don't want to save. Once I'm down to the bare minimum I need to upload, I log onto Google Photos (where my phone albums are backed up) and download them onto my archiving hard drive. I try to be good about doing this once a month so I keep storage open on my phone and review my photos often.
A quick easy disposal regimen for mail.
As far as mail goes, I have a "deal with it now" policy that I enforce if taking action will take less than 5 minutes. Mail that I need to deal with goes on my desk keyboard so I'm forced to interact with it. Junk mail goes right in recycling. This way, there's no mail buildup from day to day in our living room or kitchen. Avoiding "for now" piles is a great way for less organized people to get through tasks without needing to categorize.
If you finish a book and don't think you'll read it again, donate it to a used bookstore or give it to a friend who may like it. If you're anything less than 100% sure you won't read it again, I urge you to donate it. Worst case, if you are overcome with a burning urge to reread this book, you can buy it again or get it for cheaper on kindle. ( I DARE YOU MIKHAIL )
When everything has a comfy place, the sensation of clutter fades.
My favorite example for this is shoes! Shoes, when in excess and without the right "organization" to seperate them, can be a huge source of stress. They're an object in which the force of habit can be very strong, and so we hide away shoes we never wear but might need at some point, and at least if you're me, wear the same 3 pairs of shoes every day. If we feel motivated to bring more shoes in the open in order to encourage wearing them more, the result can be a cluttered space full of guilt fighting habit.
Shoes are a great item to narrow down to your absolute favorite pairs for each occaision. Push comes to shove, when that party comes around, I'm going to wear that one pair of heels that don't hurt like crazy. I'm going to wear my converse, sneakers, or docs to work. I keep all of our shoes under the bed just at the edge, so they're out of reach of being tripped on but are easy to grab. These days, I can reach under the bed at a certain location and know the pair I want will be there. The distress and guilt I felt about owning a giant shoe-bag full of shoes I never wore has faded away, and I feel a comforting sense of familiarity with the 6 or so pairs of shoes that are still in my life.
Organized clutter is still clutter.
Too many books that you organize by color, genre, and type, are still too many books. You can check out my tidy trilogy post for more info on this. In addition, less stuff means less of a need for labels, file systems, folders, and containers. If you decide to discard your collection of NatGeo mags, that means you don't have to figure out a place and a system for keeping them organized.
Open spaces are easier to clean.
A giant rack full of DVDs or books is a challenge to clean or dust, since you must take out all of the books, wipe them down, wipe their surface down, and put them all back.
In Fumio Sasaki's book Goodbye Things, he talked about minimalism making cleaning three times faster.
To clean a table with a bunch of knick knacks on it, you need to:
To clean a table that has nothing on it, you need to:
This principle can be applied in many different places in the house at varying degrees. When thinking about how you want to structure your space, you will always benefit from thinking of the upkeep it will require. And less stuff will always equal less upkeep.
There are overlaps between this post and an earlier post of mine, which covered the difference between Minimizing, Organizing, and Tidying. What spurred me to write this post was thinking about the tidy material I've seen that talks about organizing like an immovable pillar of the perfect lifestyle. I think that outlook is a bit unfair to people who may not be suited for organizing, but still want to live a tidier life. The prospect of reducing the need for organization is honestly a huge relief for myself, as I used organizing as a band-aid for excess for many years. Minimalism, in my mind, is the critical thinking key to creating a space for yourself that you enjoy.
I hope y'all find these thoughts helpful! Until next time!
Minimizing, Organizing, and Cleaning are my triforce of Tidying.
By identifying the uniqueness of each activity,
we can better understand how to strengthen our tidying skills.
The Importance of Distinction
What matters is not thinking you're doing one when you're doing the other.
Some actions can be both!
Both Organizing and Minimizing - Going through your closet and donating old stuff.
Both Minimizing and Cleaning - Taking out the trash.
Both Organizing and Cleaning - Drying off and putting the dishes away.
How I "Tidied" For Years with No Net Change
I tidied my own room as a hobby since childhood, but my criteria for minimizing was too weak and didn't have a goal beyond "remove junk." I organized the same amount of stuff without discarding much, and I bought enough to replenish the things I threw away.
Think about the AWESOME people that commit on no-waste living. They are breaking the cycle of throwing away as much as they consume. A minimal lifestyle is a similar idea.
Minimizing works best with:
The Minimalist Step
Similar to my Spring Cleaning post, imagine you're going to tackle a room or area.
Without some consideration for minimizing, you won't increase the simplicity of your space.
Without these minimizing steps there is no net change in the simplicity of your life.
Organizing is NOT Minimizing.
Throwing things in drawers is not tidying, and it's not cleaning either.
It's hiding the problem. Putting something back to its home base (or any random obscured space) is not reducing its presence in your life. For the things you're happy to own, this is less of a problem. For things that feel heavy in your life, it can be a huge issue.
Organized junk is still junk.
Going through your pens, throwing out 2 broken ones to feel good about yourself, but keeping 40 more pens than you need is not minimizing. One person's criteria of junk may be different from the other, but be careful not to assign worth to something just because it has labels, categories, or a "dedicated collection shelf."
Minimizing is Critical Thinking
This afternoon I watched this short film by Jackie Files and it made me reflect on my own sentiment and nostalgia tying into the things I own. In the film the young woman is visiting her childhood bedroom and considering her belongings within, one by one. Memories come back to her as she moves from photos and books to her box of journals. There is a moment in the film where she takes out a black journal and her smile vanishes. She sets it aside and doesn't open it. I have been exactly in that place with that uncomfortable aversion to the memories an object brings back. I don't have to look, I know what's in that journal.
The woman decides to open it. She thinks about being alone, and how it can be so, so difficult and what it feels like to want to be loved and feel a part of a group. Many, many people can relate to that aching feeling. We all have memories we dislike looking back on, and oftentimes our belongings are the strongest connection to those memories. It can be hard to let go of those things, and sometimes we want to, and sometimes we don't. I think I'm reaching a part of my life where I can let go and live in the present far more than I'm used to.
Jackie was kind enough to give me permission to share her film on my blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Some people are more sentimental, some are more utilitarian. Both can have their pitfalls, but the important thing to remember is that both are ultimately human.
Minimalism, in my mind, isn't about removing your humanity, it's about honing your senses into the objects you value most and enjoying those objects to their fullest.
The Sentimentalist - Past Oriented
"X gave this to me."
"This was my first ___."
"I got this during [time period]."
The Utilitarian - Future Oriented
"I can definitely find a use for this."
"I might need this at some point."
Which kind of owner are you?
What reasons do you lean on most when considering your belongings?
Uses and Memories
When looking over a room to clean, start by taking a few items down and considering these two questions and their adjacent follow-ups.
After working through an entire container or room, you will have a better sense of the value you use most when deciding what to keep. This thought process certainly runs adjacent to Marie Kondo's genius question about an object sparking joy. An object can spark joy in both its utility and its emotional value, making it a very handy singular question for searching through your stuff.
As I've continued to tidy and organize, I began to form a mental graph for how I evaluate my belongings. It functions on two axes: Functional Value and Emotional Value. Here's an example, filled in with the help of some coworkers and critical thinking. I'm sure the placement of different items is different for every person, so pay attention as your mind automatically corrects or fills in the gaps.
Sentimental Pitfall: Time
If you're a more sentimental owner, an item can accumulate value simply by being in your life for a long time. It makes sense — there's a reason antiques are valuable, there's a reason those one pair of boots that you've had since high school feel worth keeping around. There are items that have stuck it out for you, and have seen you through a lot of your life. However, I think time itself shouldn't be the sole reason or measure by which you hold onto something.
If the main reason you find to keep something is "I've had it for a long time," examine adjacent reasons like the object's function and how often you view it in order to better decide its value. Inversely, the value of your belongings can decrease as you get older. If something doesn't bring you as much joy as it used to, or doesn't feel as important to keep, that's okay. For the time in your life that you wanted it, you had it, and that's what is most important.
Utilitarian Pitfall: Price
A common guilt point for looking at an item you haven't used is thinking, "Man, I spent X amt of dollars on this." A bike you never rode. An expensive DVD collection you haven't cracked open. That exercise machine that was going to kickstart you into fitness. Fumio Sasaki talks about a similar concept in Goodbye Things: Banish the concept of "Getting Your Money's Worth". The guilt of not getting your money's worth in the past gangs up on your practical response of using it in the future and makes it infinitely harder to discard. In my opinion, it is not worth keeping something just because it was expensive. No amount of price matters if the item isn't useful to you or it doesn't make you happy.
How have I changed?
As I've gotten older, I've noticed how my current nature as an owner has shifted. When I was around the end of high school, I used nostalgia to help cushion my transition into college by returning to my childhood roots: Disney movies, YA fiction, anything that brought me a sense of peace from an earlier time. Now that I'm living in LA and working and I'm no longer functioning as a student in a "temporary" home, I feel like I can finally break free from nostalgia as a cushion and start building new memories while keeping the things from my past that I treasure where they belong: in the past. I'm certainly not saying I'm no longer sentimental -- that is far from the truth. But my priorities have changed, and I'm enjoying documenting this transition into a new state of mind.
After a really engaging chat in our #tidy_time channel at work, I was inspired for the bajillionth time to sort through my books and discard even further. I'm donating another bag full and giving 2 other bags to friends of mine after messaging them my wares. At one point in our work conversation I raised a concern I've felt for a while: If I'm giving my discarded belongings to someone else, what if I'm just perpetuating the cycle of accumulation for someone else? My coworker responded by saying, basically, nah. "One man's trash" and all that. It was a reassuring thing to hear and actually helped me see clearer that some of the books I own could be better enjoyed by good friends of mine.
At this point in the book discarding process, I notice the tugging guilt in my body is getting especially strong. It was much easier at first, when the books I threw out were no-brainers that I knew I'd never read. NOW, I'm down to the books I had convinced myself were worth keeping somehow, and with the help of appraising their worth and kindle availability on Amazon, I'm down to the lowest number of books I've owned in over 10 years, if not more. I asked myself: Am I going too far? Am I forcing myself to throw out things I treasure? After sitting with these feelings and holding these books in my hand last night, I think the discomfort is coming from somewhere else.
When I hold a book (especially an artbook) in my hands that I have bought, flipped through when it arrived, and promptly never looked at again, I feel annoyed with my past self. I feel like an idiot for chasing the high of the New Thing in the Mail, the New Thing to Post on Instagram. The Newness completely blinded me from its lack of preciousness. A new, more strict check I'll be doing for myself in the future is: Am I excited to own this because it'll be new? Hopefully this kind of check will keep me from buying things for this reason. Another rule I've developed for myself is to avoid buying artbooks if at all possible. No matter their value or beauty, I am terribly bad about reading or studying them and I don't think that will change in the future.
Another tug I noticed in the war of evaluating my books is the feeling of defeat I'd get if I decided to keep a book that I considered discarding. Perhaps this goes back to the very simple notion of sparking joy -- I was keeping this book because the utility or rareness of it overruled my gut action. Perhaps I saw a 25th anniversary edition cover, or a book that is hard to get on Amazon, and that was my justification in keeping it. As I set it in the pile, I felt like I failed my own test. And this, in itself, made my notice something more: The price and the rareness and the sentimental value mean nothing if it doesn't spark joy.
I mention sentiment because I found a poem book I bought while I was still with an ex. The book itself is beautiful, but I'd had a connection with the Kindle version long before I met this person. The signed physical book, however, instantly makes me think of the poetry reading where I bought it, which makes me think of that ex. Even though nothing bad happened at the reading or at that point in the relationship, it brought back a memory that didn't bring me joy. The extent of my distress amazed me as I was reluctant even to hold the book for too long. A belonging can bind itself to a memory. If you don't like that memory, you don't have to keep it. Seriously, I mean it. "Ah, this brings back memories" is not always a positive exclamation. I find I even get this discomfort with some of my older clothing. If you don't like that memory, discard that item.
It's easy to look back at my past self and be annoyed that I purchased carelessly. I'm trying not to beat myself up about it. Somewhere in the I really should have read this by now is a deeper voice saying You bought this on a whim, and it hasn't interested you enough to give it any time. And somewhere in there is a voice saying, You're keeping this because you bought it, not because you love it.
I'm going to try to elaborate on this idea of sentiment and usefulness much more in a future post. I think books are especially hard because of how equally each side can pull. Until next time!
A list of quick, easy, and sensible things to brighten up your home and get rid of clutter!
Do you want to tackle some spring cleaning this weekend? Here's a quick rundown of how I go about cleaning a room or area.
Buy a sample on Kindle.
Samples are usually free, and even the first chapter will give you a good idea of whether or not the book is for you. Read the sample first. If you read through the whole thing and enjoy it, buy the book on Kindle.
Fun Fact: You don't need a kindle to read electronically! If you're happy with reading on your phone or laptop, you can access kindle books through the app or cloud reader.
Books on the To-Read List
If you don't already own it, keep it in a digital wish list.
DON'T BUY IT unless you're starting it today. If it's been in your wish list for over a year, it's time to move on.
If you own it, how long has it been waiting to be read?
If it's been waiting longer than 6 months, discard it. If you change your mind later on, buy a sample on kindle and you won't lose money.
Books You Read Once
Will you read it again?
If the answer is anything but "hell yes", donate it.
If you change your mind, once again, you can get it on Kindle.
Books You Re-Read
It's possible to consider books you return to as no-brainers to hold onto.
For a minimalist hard mode, try taking it one step further:
Regardless of what you decide, show that book some gratitude as you hold it. These are the most precious books.
Books For Appearance
Something in Goodbye Things stood out to me. Fumio Sasaki talked about how many books he kept to maintain a persona — that persona being someone who is very learned, always seeking new knowledge. You may look at yourself and think "That's not me!" That's what I thought too, at first glance. The more I looked back on the way I accumulated books in high school, the more I realized how much I kept them for my own self-importance, more than as a tool to use to grow more.
Books are incredibly difficult to discard because they are beautiful packets of information. My next challenge is figuring out to reduce further, since I know I want to, and what to do with possible negative space in my bookshelf. Good luck, everyone!
When I first started my tidying journey, I thought one big weekend was going to be the start and end of minimizing my belongings and maximizing joy. Even typing this out, I realize now how silly it was to think it so simple. It's like the curse of the "final" delivery file, leaving you with a submission titled comission_v02_edit03_finalthistime_SUBMITTED.png.
The reality has been much more gradual. I tend to fixate on instant gratification: one day shipping, instantly finding a buyer for furniture I'm selling, getting a reply email 5 minutes after it's sent. Through the process of tidying I'm learning yet again how to be a Work in Progress and have peace with the state of my home. I'm in a constant state of refining what criteria I use to discard and keep possessions. Each time I discard, it becomes easier to identify what is important.
I used my newfound joy-detection from Marie Kondo to go through my closet and discard anything that didn't spark joy when I hold it or tried it on. At least, I thought I discarded "anything." I filled up 2 garbage bags full of clothes to donate, and felt that now I finally had my ideal, lightweight closet. I looked at it with satisfaction. At that point, I still had two under-bed storage containers full of costumes and seasonal clothing, not to mention another bag full of bathing suits. I tried to put those out of my mind, since they were out of sight in any case.
In clothes-tidying round 2, I immediately attacked all of the items I'd been ruminating on during the weekdays. There were tops I decided to hold onto that I changed my mind on. I tried to remember the last time I wore any of my skirts. With a freshly fiery determination, I bagged another whole pile of clothes and felt satisfied yet again. Now I'm done.
At this point I'd started reading Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki and my discarding criteria was turned on its head yet again. I had a new ideal: I only wanted to see things I felt good in and enjoyed wearing inside my closet. In addition, I decided to take Marie Kondo's advice and get rid of seasonal clothing storage -- EVERYTHING was going in the closet. I sat on the floor, surrounded by various sweaters and Halloween costumes I'd been hesitant to part with, and steeled myself yet again for a more brutal takedown. I saved all but two of my most re-wearable costumes and discarded bikinis since I now prefer one-piece suits. I kept only my favorite sweaters since I get to wear them 10 days out of the year. Success! I was finally done!
Goodbye Things was still gnawing away at me. I sorted through my desk materials and get brutally honest with myself about folders and clipboards and extra never-used pens. The result was four newly empty plastic drawers. Could I fit all of the clothes from our dresser into the closet if I use those drawers?
It was worth a try. I rearranged, which is my favorite part of tidying, since it's like puzzle solving to find the right way to make things fit. I'm finding that the puzzles get easier the more I minimize. Not only could I fit David and I's clothes in the closet, but I could fit our laundry basket in there as well. This was a huge and exciting change, since getting rid of our dresser would mean much more room and ease of movement in our bedroom.
I donated even more clothes and I was able to move my meds and makeup boxes into my side of the closet on top of my clothing bins. It's now a one stop shop for all of my morning needs.
And the weird and cool thing is, as always, I can't really remember what I've discarded now. I know there were many objects and many items of clothing. I feel like their weight has left me, and the memory of the guilt and dust they collected has gone with it.
Will I probably always think I'm done, that I've reached the final stage of my home? Most likely. Little by little that stubborn need for final-ness is fading away, and I hope I can find more joy in the Now that is my house, instead of the ideal I hope it'll become.