What the minimalism game taught me

Reflections on a 30 day challenge

I have been playing the minimalism game, if you can call it playing. It’s more of a challenge than a game, but I like the psychology of naming it such. It’s like adding the suffix “party” to things like scanning and digitizing. My challenge was truly a challenge and truly fun too. Here’s what I learned.

1. Some things are easy to throw out

Be encouraged by this. The 30 day challenge can sound daunting, but it is actually easy for the most part. It is very easy to look at an object you haven’t seen in years, which doesn’t serve much purpose, and doesn’t have much sentimental value. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit, so I recommend starting there. It works the minimalism muscle.

2. Some things are really satisfying to minimise

There’s a great satisfaction knowing you’ve increased the average value of your possessions or someone else’s. I gave away a few old phones, and sold a wallet. They were not useful to me, and I’m happy they’ve gone to better homes. Likewise, the things which I was only keeping “just in case” have now left very attractive roominess to some drawers and cupboards.

3. Some things will niggle you for a few days afterwards, and then fade into insignificance.

This is where the minimalism muscle gets a bit more of a workout. I hesitated to give away a few desk toys that had some sentimental value. I gave away a couple of reflective running straps and then wondered whether I should have kept them. I’m sure some things are truly regrettable, but these ones were simply masquerading as valuable objects. My aspirational self needs to school my hoarding instincts.

4. Some things value is… alternative

Sometimes the value in a thing is the person who gave it to you. Here I know I’m on shaky ground with minimalists here, but bear with me. I think that there is space in minimalism for the intentionally retaining a low-value item for the sake of a higher value relationship. There’s a strong warning not to use this as an excuse, but generally we can make our own rules in minimalism.

5. If you don’t know what you have, you have too much

The phrase “I think I’ve got one at home” flowed out of my mouth and into my own ears. How ridiculous that we can have so many possessions that we don’t even know what we have. Perhaps a more innocent version of this is “I have one of those somewhere”. If you don’t know where it is, and haven’t seen it in a long time, you don’t need it.

6. You have to involve other people in the family

It’s no good picking up an item, to think it brings you no joy, when actually it brings incomparable elation to your toddler.

7. Minimizing is not an end in itself

As one of the first interviewees in the Minimalism documentary says, there’s this illusion that life has to be perfect. I think we can apply that to minimalism itself, that an imperfect rendering of the attempt is still worthwhile if it works toward the purpose you’ve set for it. For us, we are able to manage our space better and appreciate the things we actually value. We want to yield ease of hosting, which cluttered surfaces would always impede.

8. Not everyone gets it

I’ve told some people about the challenge and received mixed reactions. Some know about it as the latest crazy trend. Some tie it to a small ecological footprint. Some think I’ve turned ascetic. One friend joked that I had found a new religion. On the whole, it’s an easy topic to introduce, but you have to pick what aspects of it are really core to what you want to share.

9. The first time you play the minimalism game, it’s more of a clear-out or Spring-clean

I should explain this — the effect of this is not a lesser reward, but I did really feel that we’ve decluttered. We still have a large number of things, which occupy a broad spectrum of value. We might do another round in the future.

10. Minimalism gets you used to letting go

Understanding that one day we will all leave everything behind, I would like to live in such a way that honors the things we own while remaining free of them. Do I hold so closely to my things, that Luke 18:22 would leave me in despair? I don’t want to let some of these things go, but I find great value in the practice of letting go. The things could stay with no great negative impact, but if they go, I may just learn to loosen my grip on riches and its grip on me.

In addition to these observations, here are a few pithy tips:

Your Tupperware drawer will yield plenty of things to minimize.

So will a toolbox, a bookshelf, and a basket of odds and ends. Look under the stairs.

Duplicates are not always obvious.

Sometimes we hang on to a broken thing to be fixed “one day”. Let it go.

Selling a few low-value things can build up enough cash to buy something you would actually value.

If you are interested to learn more about the minimalism game, you can see how I progressed to 475 items here. Please also read how to begin your own challenge over at the Minimalists’ site.