By Alex Davis
I have always fancied myself a minimalist, so I was thrilled about the buzz over The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and other iterations of the minimalist movement. Finally, my love of tidiness was not only acceptable, but was societally sanctioned. Following these methods allowed me to positively transform my home, my workspace, my email inbox, and even my daily schedule. But as with any good thing, this method can be abused. A good taken to an extreme is not good at all. And the obvious logical extreme of the minimalist movement is to strip excess away until there is nothing left.
A few years ago, I was in a particularly busy season of life – full of transitions, obligations, and deadlines. I was burning the candle at both ends. As a reaction to my stress and in an attempt to regain control of my life, I went into a purging frenzy. I had read numerous articles about the positive mental health benefits of clearing the clutter from our lives and, desperate for a cure to my stress, I took the words literally. I stepped into my room with a trash bag and all hell broke loose.
I threw away papers, old notebooks, journals. I tossed my old sorority t-shirts. I chucked reams of photographs. I grabbed armfuls of old dolls and stuffed animals that were shoved in a chest in the back of my closet and crammed them in the trash. It wasn’t until a few days later, once the trash had been collected from the curb, that I realized one of my most prized childhood stuffed animals was missing. It was a “Big Bird” Sesame Street character that my mom gave me as an infant. His stuffed beak was completely flattened and the paint on his plastic eyeballs was worn off. His pupil-less eyes and bald spots bespoke years of memories and love. And in my purging madness, I had thrown those memories away.
This would not have happened if I had slowed down and actually paid attention to what I was doing. In frantically slashing what I perceived to be the excess in my life, I failed to notice or even care how reckless I was being. Holding on to a few college t-shirts or childhood mementos was not hurting anyone. And keeping “Big Bird” stowed away in a chest in the back of the closet certainly wouldn’t have killed me.
Surely, the minimalist movement is not intended to erase history.
While clearing the clutter in my life certainly facilitated mental clarity and made me feel much more organized, I felt so remorseful about my impulsivity. Getting married whipped me into shape. Over the years, I have realized I cannot just throw away what I perceive to be the excess among my husband’s possessions. Slowly and with his patience and help, I’ve learned how to find a balance between keeping a clutter-free home while still honoring our most dearly-held memories. Here are four tips I’ve gleaned from my struggle to strike a balance between hoarder and ascetic.
1. Consider your intention. When spring cleaning, are you acting, or reacting? Every time I have taken my purging too far – i.e., throwing away Big Bird – I have been reacting to stress. True, adhering to practices like Marie Kondo’s KonMari method is supposed to eliminate stress caused by clutter and excess. However, it is not meant to be a sword that we unsheathe as soon as we start feeling overwhelmed. Frantically throwing things away is not going to solve a deeper-rooted stress issue. When I am tempted to start purging, I stop and think about my intention: is there truly unnecessary clutter that I’d like to clear in order to make our home more beautiful and functional? Or, am I just reacting to feeling overwhelmed? Taking a moment to think this through will limit impulsive decisions that you may later regret.
2. Keep one of each. This was a tip from my mom. After I threw away all my sorority t-shirts, she asked, “would it really have killed you to keep just one?” Well, no. No it wouldn’t have. While it certainly wasn’t necessary to keep all 30 of them, holding onto one letter shirt and tucking it into the back of my dresser would have been completely unobtrusive. If you have large collections of items and are on the fence about whether to keep them, consider keeping one token item to represent the whole.
3. Consider whether its physical presence is necessary. There are some items that are meant to be saved and cherished. Letters you and your spouse exchanged on your wedding day. A doll given to you by your late grandmother. A framed family picture. But in some instances, snapping a photo will suffice. Coming across my college acceptance letters while cleaning my closet was neat, but there is no need for me to keep loose papers hanging around. I whipped out my phone, snapped a photo, and tossed them. Now I still have the memories, but they are not taking up space in my home.
4. Designate a spot for miscellaneous “special” things. Having various keepsakes stuffed in random drawers throughout the house stressed me out. To solve this problem, I grabbed a large trunk and designated it the “special memories box.” I grabbed all the various “special things” that we did not want to display anymore but that we could not bring ourselves to trash, and stored them in the trunk. The trunk sits in the back of a closet in a spare bedroom. It is out of the way and is not causing any clutter, but it is also there for us to open when we want to (i.e., maybe 30 years from now).
Finding ways to make perceived excess fit my lifestyle rather than moving to an extreme of throwing it all away has allowed me to reach a healthy moderation in my relationship with stuff. In cultivating this healthier mindset, I have been able to preserve bits of memories while maintaining a fresh and tidy home.
How do you stay organized? Share your tips in the comments below!
Featured image courtesy of Wonderfelle Media.