The Packrat Peptalk: Going Minimal

UPDATE: I first wrote & published this piece on my personal site. It’s been updated before reposting here.

​Be it an episode of Hoarders, or news of people being buried alive in their homes (or in recent news, of an elderly, legally blind woman who had unknowingly been living with her own son’s corpse for possibly 20 years without knowing), we all watch in horror and find inspiration to clean our houses whenever we see hoarding situations.

Here’s the thing — most of us are not in danger of becoming actual “hoarders.” Most of us are just regular folks who have too much stuff. (NOTE — if you are being consumed by your stuff, reach out. Hoarding doesn’t begin at the first scene of a TLC episode, and none of us plan to go through life only to end up so consumed by our possessions they literally consume us. As humans, we have a complicated relationship with our belongings and that can spill over into our mental health (and vice versa). So, if you suspect that’s you, or becoming you, again, REACH OUT.)

What IS minimalism?

Minimalism, as a concept, has taken off in recent years (I blame Pinterest, personally). While the concept of owning less and organizing what you do have better isn’t new, in my opinion, the concept of “minimalism” is relatively new. Minimalism is owning the least items — you only own what you need and/or use. It’s not necessarily living with only a toothbrush and one outfit, but looking at what you DO own or are going to buy and keep it only if you use it.

Going from Pack-Rat to Minimalist

As a former pack-rat, I was intrigued by minimalism when it first started showing up in my Pinterest feed, and even more so when one of my friends started to embrace the concept and raved about how much more free she felt with less.

​When I say I was a packrat, y’all, I mean it. I never kept “trash,” but I damn sure kept a whole mess of stuff I wouldn’t need. I had binders of high school and college notes I kept because I may need again. Old phones, in case I could find a use for them. Toys and books from childhood. Clothes I hadn’t worn in years but they were still cute. The list goes on.

I’d like to tell you all that stuff was organized. Some of it was, but truth be told, it wasn’t. Case in point: I once rented a two bedroom townhouse with the thought I would convert the second bedroom into a home office of sorts. I never did. Lived there for two years, and the room served more as storage. I would walk in with “stuff,” get overwhelmed, and just throw it on a desk and walk back out, closing the door behind me. It was embarrassing, and when my partner at the time and I moved into a new place, he convinced me to toss quite a bit.

I eventually got all the remaining crap organized, neatly packing things into tubs, labeling them, and all that jazz. It took a few years, but after all my friend’s raving about minimalism, I realized that while I had organized everything, it was all taking up space. And I wasn’t just wasting space, I was creating clutter.

And so my journey into a pseudo-form of minimalism began. I started slow, but after I went paperless and realized the freedom I felt over there could be applied to other physical stuff, I wanted more.

Becoming a Minimalist

There are any number of systems and methods out there to help us all combat the “stuff;” organizing it, sorting it, labeling it. I won’t knock these — some have proven helpful to millions (and some are total crap, in my opinion, but that’s a topic for another day). But here’s the thing — above all, more than anything, the decision to go minimal begins within all of us.

Not exactly groundbreaking information, I know. But I’ve read and pinned enough methods and tips and fought my own good fight against my “stuff” long enough to know all the methods in the world aren’t going to do diddily squat for us if we don’t start inward first. Most of us have too much stuff. This isn’t lecturing — we just do. Things we don’t need, things we don’t want, things we love, and things we don’t. We want more, too, so we get more only to watch it accumulate.

I’m not exempt from this. Far from it. And I often think I’m controlling how much and what I own well, only to find myself finding I still have too much and want less.

So now, while I won’t claim to be a full-fledged minimalist, I will claim that I only own things I want, or need, and am much happier in this state. That being said, it’s not a one and done project. I find myself having to give myself a pep talk of sorts often. Sometimes it happens when I go to find something and can’t find it. Sometimes its when I come home with new clothes and run out of hangers. Always, when I move.

But the pep talk is necessary

As I said, becoming a minimalist and staying that way is an ongoing process. You can throw out everything you need this instant, but you will need to constantly evaluate items you bring into your life. When doing so, I give myself a pep talk with three points:

#1 — THE AMOUNT YOU OWN IS IRRELEVANT — THE AMOUNT YOU OWN AND DON’T USE IS THE PROBLEM.

I won’t advocate someone who loves shoes, for instance, throw out all their shoes because they, in actuality, really only NEED one or two pairs. If you love shoes, you can afford shoes, and you WEAR all those shoes? Then go for it (this may be me trying to justify the obscene amount of shoes in my own closet). The same goes for any other collection or hobby. If you love what you own and you use it or appreciate it, then don’t let me or anyone else tell you to get rid of it.

One exception: don’t hold on to collections in the hope they may have worth one day. Sometimes, that does happen. More often than not, your childhood Barbies are not going to fetch an excellent price on Pawn Stars. If you don’t love it anymore, get rid of it.

#2 — MEMOMORABILIA AND GUILT CAN TRAP US

I used to keep shoebox after shoebox with items that fall into this category. Magazines from major news events. Front pages of newspapers, likewise. Birthday cards, bookmarks, ticket stubs, graduation programs, etc. And frankly? It was pointless. Some things ARE worth keeping, sure. Many of us though, will hold on to it for sentimental reasons until it becomes more of a hassle, not a fun thing to look through.

This doesn’t mean I’m no longer a sentimental person and toss out everything. It means I have to work inward and recognize that, and handle it appropriately. Going paperless ensures that the paper in my possession is either 1) junk, or 2) important. Now, when I get some kind of potential memorabilia, I ask myself, “will I EVER want to look at this again?” If the answer is no, out it goes. If I will, I ask myself if I can scan it and keep it in Evernote. Usually, yes. Some things, like greeting cards or thank you notes, I do like to keep. I put them in my journal — a lot more organized, portable, and serves the same purpose as a shoebox.

This category also includes the things we keep out of guilt. The Konmari method in particular addresses this aspect, heavily, so I won’t. I akin the guilt to keep something to saying “no” when we’re asked for a favor. We all know once we say no, it gets easier to say no more often. Same with pitching stuff. And if that’s you, seriously, check out the Konmari method or some variation of it.

#3 — THERE OTHER WAYS TO HAVE “STUFF.”

As I went paperless and adopted more and more zero-waste principles into my life, I found I’ve gotten ruthless. Little by little, as my possessions decreased and I realized I was actually feeling MORE free with LESS stuff, man alive, I was obsessed. I didn’t, however, want to throw out everything, only to create a void I knew I’d be looking to fill with say, shoes.

I tossed my DVDs, and stick to either Netflix or buying a movie through iTunes. Same with music — don’t need to own 800 CDs when God gave us Spotify. You can find instruction manuals online. Even your local library likely offers eBooks to check out. You can rent clothes online for special events, without having to buy a dress you’ll never wear again These alone alone cut out a significant chunk of my stuff. I still get the movies, the music, the books, and the clothes — but they’re not taking up any permanent space.

​No matter what, minimalism has to work for YOU

Some people like clutter. Some don’t. We’re all different and have different approaches to how we own stuff. The pep talk provided here can apply no matter what your own personal level of minimalism may look like. As much as I have pared down my belongings, I can guarantee you I’m still not done and will pare it all down again. And again after that.

I doubt I’ll ever live in a tiny house, but hey, you never know.


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