So I was browsing a minimalist website last January, and I stumbled on Nourishing Minimalism. Within a few clicks, I found a post about a yearly decluttering challenge. The challenge for last year was to get rid of 2018 things in 2018. So guess what this year’s challenge is? 🙂
I printed off the sheet and started immediately. Something about all those pristine, empty boxes lit a fire under me. It didn’t take long to start accumulating a happy page of check marks. If you look at the picture above, every dark square is where one month turned into another. I was curious to see if I kept at a steady pace or had a bunch left at the end of the year … and I clearly had a bunch left at the end of the year. But December is a GREAT time to declutter, so even though I still needed to find and remove over 600 items in one month, I found a way. Since I know you’re probably curious, the rules are that there are no rules. Whatever works for you is what you should do. For me that meant that if I got rid of a file full of papers, I only counted it as one item. But if I got rid of something that I really, really did not want to get rid of (but knew I should), like the set of seven little plastic containers in the 21-Day Fix that I HAD to have a few years ago, and never took out of the wrapper, then I counted all seven pieces.
Do I want my children to have to deal with this when I’m gone?
Two events have nudged me into this manic purging mood. One happened ten years ago, when Dave and I spent five weeks in Europe. Most of that time we were in a cute apartment in Siegen, Germany, where we had gone so Dave could teach at the Calvary Chapel Bible College there. But since we were in the neighborhood anyway, we also visited Scotland, England and Amsterdam. And we did all that gallivanting with a small suitcase and backpack apiece. And you know what? Having so few items was gloriously liberating. Everything was just easier. Choosing what to wear, doing laundry, keeping the apartment clean … there was nothing to it. Even the apartment itself was beautifully sparse. We had just enough of everything–dishes, glasses, utensils, cookware, towels. Because we were spending practically no time cleaning or picking up, we had a lot of time for exploring. <p>
When I came home, that experience stayed with me, and over the years the thought has come back again and again. <i>What if I got rid of the bulk of our possessions … </i><p>
The second event was the death of my friend’s mother. I didn’t know her well at all, but I got updates from my friend during the three weeks it took her and her two siblings to go through her mother’s house. “She had one of every piece of Tupperware ever invented,” Cathy said one afternoon. Another day, she said, “My mother couldn’t have one or two nice beaded purses … she had to have 27.”
My mother couldn’t have one or two nice beaded purses … she had to have 27.
Cathy was exhausted. Apart from the physical work of moving out 80+ years of accumulated possessions, there was the emotional strain of giving away items that had clearly meant something to her mother, but meant nothing at all to her. And that was the first time it occurred to me that my children might feel the same one day.<p>
So it’s time. It’s past time, actually. We only have today, right? And it would hurt my heart to think that I had heaved a lifetime of accumulations onto the shoulders of my children, simply because I couldn’t be bothered to simplify my life.<p>
In order to help the chore at hand, I sat down one night and wrote a long list of questions to ask myself when staring at an object, wondering if I can possibly put it in the Good Will box (I came up with about 14, but I’ll give you the cliff notes here):
- If I lost this in a fire, would I bother to replace it?
- Did I even remember I had it?
- Am I keeping this out of guilt?
- If I give this away and decide later that I can’t live without it, can I buy it again?
- Does the thought of having to find a place for this make me feel overwhelmed?
- Do I love it and use it … or am I just storing it?
- Do I have multiples of this item?
- Would someone else be blessed to have this?
- Do I really want my children to have to deal with this one day?
By far, the hardest things for me to get rid of were books. Both Dave and I have overflowing shelves full of books, and I would always dig my heels in at the thought of parting with a single one. But when we moved to the city three years ago (for a brief stint to see if we liked it), I had to box up those books and help carry them downstairs, to the car, across town, and into storage. A year later, I had to help cart them out of storage into the car, across town, back upstairs and back on shelves. Do you have any idea how heavy a box of books is?<p>
I probably didn’t part with a single book until about July, because it took me that long to find a solution. I decided to ask myself two questions when dealing with books:
- Could I borrow this from the library? (As I gave away books, I recorded them in a notebook so that if I ever want to read it again, I can just borrow it.)
- Is there someone out there who would benefit from reading this? (It’s always easier to part with something if you think it will bless another person.)
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
Eye-catching title, isn’t it? I have to make mention of this book by
Margareta Magnusson because I only just heard about it this week, and it happens to encompass all of my thoughts and motivations for decluttering. It describes the practice of elderly Swedish people who, facing their final years, purge their homes of unnecessary items so their children don’t have to do it when they’re gone.
Sound familiar? 🙂