Declutter December Challenge: 31 days, 496 things

I have written before about my interest in minimalism and some of my challenges in undertaking the project of decluttering in a meaningful, significant way.  One of the earlier blogs I followed when I was learning about minimalism was Becoming Minimalist.  I always enjoyed Joshua Becker’s patient, invitational, caring voice in his writing about minimalism.  While he is a convert who sings the praises and the promise of minimalism, he never feels as judgmental or extreme in his zeal as some other bloggers who write on the same topics.  However, now that I have a family, I have begun to appreciate Becker’s advice in a whole new light.

I just finished reading his book The More of Less.  I am feeling inspired by his words and his call to action.  I have been making excuses not to get started because I am afraid of realizing just how disconnected I have become from my own desire to own less and enjoy the things I value more.  However, through my meditation, I am becoming more accepting of who I am.  This is giving me permission to examine the parts of myself I believe do not relate to what I value and who I really want to be (not who I aspire to be–which is not who I am).

The combination of these ideas has made me commit to ridding my house of things I do not need, want, use, or enjoy in December.  I’d like to get rid of one item on December 1, two items on December 2, and so on until December 31.  This way, I can start small, but build momentum.  At the end of the month, I will have rid my house of 496 items.  I feel that this exercise pairs nicely with the old song “On the first day of Christmas…”

I will give myself the gift of freedom this holiday season.  Anyone care to join me?

Challenges to Minimalism

I have written before about my attraction to minimalism.  I’ve followed and read about it for years without being able to just go full-on Marie Kondo.

I grew up in a family that consumes resources in ways inconsistent with my core values.  Many frugal people and fiscally responsible people say they learned those practices at home; I did not.  While my father was quite “cheap” in some ways that I inherited (wearing clothes until well past their functionality), my family was constantly in debt and worried about the financial future, even though both of my parents worked as highly paid professionals in the sciences.  I remember my parents discussing how the checks they wrote at the grocery store would “clear” after their paychecks hit–hopefully–but we always had extravagant Christmases and went on huge back-to-school shopping splurges.

My mother likes to tell the story of my second Christmas that she thinks is “cute,” but I think is rather telling of how different I am than my family with regards to consumerism.  We had traveled to Florida to spend Christmas with my father’s parents.  Mom had carefully chosen and wrapped tons of presents because this was the first Christmas I would remember, and I was the first child and what child doesn’t love unwrapping mounds of shiny, new toys?  Well, I opened the first present–a Fisher Price doll house–and played with it contentedly for about an hour.  Mom urged me to open the other gifts.  I responded, “No, thanks.  This is enough for today.”

Needless to say, the adults began the pressure of consumerism rather than accepting that answer.  I am actively working to reject it through my shopping ban and fast food fast.  Overriding your childhood programming is more challenging than it seems to be.

I also have a tendency towards being a packrat and a mean “cheap” streak that stockpiles free stuff (mostly from family members “upgrading” their own things) that might one day be useful.

My frugality urges me to conserve still usable resources for the time I will eventually need to use them because my current versions will wear out or need replacing.

The minimalist response to this tends to be to trust that the universe will provide.  I find this challenging, but I’m working on it.

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Book Review–The Year of Less

While traveling, I’ve set up a few posts to publish automatically in case I can’t always write from Korea.  Enjoy!

Ever since I moved to another country 7,000 miles from home with two suitcases and a cat, I have been intrigued with minimalism.  I really am happiest owning less stuff, doing fewer things, and consuming more mindfully.  However, I have a complex relationship with minimalism in practice, for more reasons than just the obvious: living with two children + husband makes minimalism quite challenging.  I’ll have to write a post about that someday.

Cait Flanders’s beautiful memoir, The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store, documenting her year-long shopping ban spoke to a deep, hidden, almost-forgotten part of my soul.  I have been following Cait as a blogger off and on over the years.  Her writing has always spoken to me for its honest, raw vulnerability and the purity of her blog as a space for sharing her thoughts and documenting her progress through life (rather than a creation to make money–as so many blogs are these days).  She has always been in this blogging thing because she is a writer.  Her craft is strong and this book was about much, much more than owning less stuff.

What was so powerful for me in Cait’s book was what I have noticed in my own work on gaining financial control of my life: the similarities between consumerism and addiction (hers: alcohol and food, mine: mostly just food, though I do have addictive tendencies in several aspects of my life) as ways to cope with emotions and problems that are uncomfortable, rather than addressing the source of the discomfort.  During Cait’s year long ban on shopping, she faces some intense challenges in her personal life that test her resolve in ways she had not anticipated.  Without the crutch of shopping, she has to sit with the feelings of loss and grief.

In fact, her book made me reflect profoundly enough on my own life that one of my personal “commandments” is inspired by this book and my pursuit of debt freedom and health: Satisfy the real need.  I am most vulnerable to eating something unhealthy or purchasing something I don’t really need or want when I have an unmet need that feels unbearable in the moment.  I often don’t need chocolate–I need to eat.  I don’t need to purchase new clothes–I need to feel confident in my new job.  I don’t need to pay lots of money for someone to fix my broken window screen–I need to trust that I can learn the skills to make that simple repair myself.

Note: Cait’s latest post indicates that she is stepping away from blogging for a moment.  I wish her the best and can’t wait to see what comes from her writing next!  In the meantime, I highly recommend her memoir!

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  I only recommend services and products that I use.

Challenge Day Two: Decluttering Round One

Yes, this is the “after” picture. I cleared out two bags’ worth of trash from these shelves. Still way too much stuff, but almost none of it is mine. At least now we can find all of it.

Two kids + two adults = lots of stuff.  Lots and lots and lots of stuff.  Because I tend to dislike rampant consumerism, I have strong minimalist impulses (living in another country for three years helps you realize just how little “stuff” you actually need).  I don’t buy many material things for myself, but in practice, I’m not a great minimalist. I own a lot of clothing and shoes, even as I’ve culled the collection for only pieces I love and wear regularly. I like and accumulate books (though I use the library more these days). I have a hard time getting rid of things that I already have–whether gifted or purchased (What if I need _______ someday?).  Combine my own inconsistent commitment to minimizing clutter with two young children and a husband who struggles even more than I do with the desire to hoard things “just in case” (he actually won’t let me take bags to Goodwill without checking through them and “rescuing” an average of three items that then sit unused in our house for another six months until I try again) and there we are: clutter disaster!

I do recognize that our stuff–even as messy and chaotic and excessive as it seems–does also serve a purpose. Another deep value held by our family is that children should be offered a variety of creative, stimulating activities to spark their interests.  The books on this shelf are regularly read and re-read by our kids.  The cans on top of the shelves have art supplies (markers, paints, pencils, scissors, tape, glue, etc.) that become all sorts of unique creations. The bucket in front has a collection of musical instruments (including the bucket itself that becomes a drum) my husband is teaching my children to play. One of the reasons I have a hard time purging is that when I go to do so, I realize that most of the “stuff” is actually regularly in use.

This conflict of values (minimalism vs. creative stimulation) drives me insane (especially when company is coming over), but since much of the stuff belongs to my children and husband and (this is important) they are the people who are in the house most of the time, I cannot just get rid of what I deem to be excessive. This makes me feel overwhelmed, so I tend to just avoid dealing with the stuff–even though taking responsibility for my part of it would help reduce the clutter by a lot.  I’m working on this.  We do a “10 minute clean up” most days, where we set the timer and all pitch in for 10 minutes.  It never gets super clean that way, but it keeps much of the mess in check.  Lately, my husband has been more committed to reducing things we don’t need, too.  It’s all moving in the right direction.

The mantra: I am responsible for me.  My household is my responsibility.

This 21 Day Challenge is the perfect time for me to do the more complex work of organizing, cleaning shelves, repairing, and reducing as needed.  I know my children will be even more likely to use and respect the things we keep well-maintained.  Today I’ve decluttered the entire main floor (except the kitchen)–living room, dining room, play room (pictured), the master bathroom, and the bookshelves and surfaces in the master bedroom.  I feel good about the progress I’ve made and will continue my decluttering project throughout this challenge.

Other activities today:

  1. Gym class (BANG Powerdance–love it!)
  2. Laundry
  3. Mom took me out to dinner (Serenity Tea Room–AMAZING + live music)
  4. Reading great books
  5. Keeping up with food journal and no caffeine after 3

Plan for Day 3: Read a whole book in one day–start to finish

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