Clutter Free to Minimalist

Happy Rainy Monday!  It turns out that it's not Always Sunny in Philadelphia but I hope it is in your part of the world. Today I am excited to share with you the third and final post in the Living With Less series. Even though I have followed Megan for years and done my own work on living clutter free, I have still been inspired by this series. I usually pride myself on not having a lot of stuff but since starting this series, I have found myself shaking my head at the excess in my room -- all the books I know I will never get around to reading, the clothes I keep (even though they don't bring me joy), and the two pairs of hiking boots I own (even though I've maybe worn them a total of three times in ten years).  Just as soon as this rain clears I am going to walk down to the liquor store and ask for some boxes.  I hope you have been just as inspired and that this journey to releasing more of the physical aids you in releasing some of the emotional baggage you're carrying around.

In this final post, Megan shares what minimalism means to her, how she finally transitioned from clutter free to minimalism and offers some tips on exploring minimalism yourself.

I’ve been sharing my journey of going from packrat to clutter-free for years now, but today I’m taking it a step further. The steps in this post are for people who already have a mostly clutter-free home and want to take the leap from clutter-free to minimalist. When I used to hear the word minimalist, I imagined a bland room. There was hardly any color, and nothing to do. I thought I wouldn’t have anything when I needed it, and I wouldn’t be able to work on projects. Now I see that minimalism is up to the person who decides to try it. Just as packrats don’t all collect the same items, minimalists don’t all have the same styles and goals. I can still have projects going on, just not as many at one time.

I first started decluttering at the end of 2014, and I’m just now getting to the point where it seems realistic for me to be able to start transitioning from calling myself clutter-free to identifying as a minimalist. Some people never get to that point, which is fine! In many ways, I never thought I would...partly because I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I didn’t want that much pressure on myself. It seemed like too big of a change. Now that I’m closer, it isn’t as drastic of a change. I still don’t know that I’ll ever go to an extreme level of minimalism, but inching my way in is nice.

I still have variety in my wardrobe and hobbies because I’m regularly getting rid of items. It may sound like an expensive way to live, but I don’t shop more than I used to. While I was a packrat, I’d buy more clothes even though I already had more than I would wear. I’d buy more yarn even though I had enough to last years. I liked having new colors and patterns and textures. The difference now is that I’m getting rid of the old stuff I don’t like as much once I make a purchase. I’m not letting my possessions get buried in piles and forgotten. I’m actually using them.

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of stuff. It means you don’t have a lot of stuff at one time.

For those of you who are like me and need the steps of this transition spelled out for you, here’s what I’d do based on how things played out for me during my move overseas. I’m starting with the assumption that you have space in a spare room, attic, basement, garage, or closet to store the boxes temporarily. (If that’s not you you can still get ideas from this post for later, but you’ll need to start with the decluttering steps laid out in the last post.)

1. Find a bunch of sturdy boxes (liquor stores usually have some good ones).

2. Set goals. Start by counting your rooms and closets. Let’s say you have 15 total. Maybe you could do a room a day, if you had six hours a day to work on them. Let’s give you some extra time and say you get two days to pack up each room. At that rate, you could be done in a month, but if three hours a day isn’t realistic for you, that’s okay. You get to decide how many rooms you can feasibly pack up per week.

3. Once you’ve set your goals, decide on a packing deadline and a haul off deadline. I’d recommend one month to finish all the packing (depending on how big your home is) and two months before you have to haul it all off. But if you think you’d feel too rushed, remember even four or five months isn’t too much time to transition to being a minimalist. By keeping track of your progress towards your smaller goals, you’ll know if you need to work faster or extend your deadline to a more realistic date.

4. Mark the chosen deadline and goals on your calendar. I know this seems like such a small step, but we often think things will be so easy to remember that we don’t need to write them down...until we’ve forgotten them.

5. Take multiple detailed “Before” pictures of each room. My clients and readers are always saying they wish they’d taken “Before” pictures. Many don’t take pictures, though, because they didn’t think the transformation would be that significant, and they wanted to focus their time on the actual work. Some said they didn’t want ugly pictures of their home. But too many people have told me they regret not having the “Before” pictures for comparison at the end, so I have to warn you - take the pictures!

6. Start in the bathrooms. Obviously you don’t have to start there, but so many people don’t know where to start so they don’t start at all. I just made that decision easy for you. (For the next round, try the closets.)

7. Put aside (in another room) all the items you know you want to keep. Think of it like you’re going to be staying in a hotel room for the next month. Which things would you be bringing with you? This means things like toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo, and toilet paper. There’s no need to remove decorations hanging on the walls, though.

8. Now put everything you know you won’t use, or don’t want to use, over the next one to three months in the boxes. Maybe you have five types of cleaner but could clean the entire bathroom with only three of them. Maybe you have three hairbrushes but really only use the one. If you aren’t sure if you should pack an item or not, err on the side of packing it. Once you live without it for a while, you’ll either see how much you enjoy life without it, or you’ll realize you miss it and know you want to keep it. Some items might be difficult to get rid of because no one wants your half used bottle of hairspray, but you hate wasting it. Think of it as wasting space in your life. That helps make it easier for me to trash things. While I don’t want to contribute to a landfill, I also don’t want my house to turn into one!

9. Label the boxes by location (bathroom drawers, bathroom cabinet, or hallway closet is enough information if you need to find something) and choose a place to store the boxes. You may need to scoot some things over to make space, and it could get more cramped than you’d like for a bit, but remember it’s only until your haul-off deadline.

10. Once you’ve completely packed the room, then you can return the items you want to keep back to the room they came from.

11. Repeat the necessary steps with every room in your home (and your car, too, if you want). Continue until your house looks staged to sell (to your satisfaction). With so many items packed away, you should have plenty of room in out-of-the-way places so that your surfaces aren’t full of clutter. It’s worth having to get your items out of the cabinet each time so that you have those relaxing, cleared-off countertops.

12. When you find that you actually really want to use something you temporarily got rid of, you can return to the boxes. Once you reach your haul-off deadline, you have the option to look in the boxes before you get rid of them. Some people advise against this, but I have confidence that after experiencing the joy and peace of living without the chaos, you will be careful what you choose to allow back into your living space.

Here’s how I decide what to keep: If I open the box and am not super excited about seeing the items, they get donated! If I start feeling guilt about not keeping it or stress because I don’t know where to put it, then it’s not worth keeping. If I’m not sure, then off it goes! I know by my reaction if I want to keep it. Things are temporary anyway. They could get damaged or stolen. Stuff isn’t going to last forever; go ahead and enjoy the freedom of living without it now and giving someone else the chance to enjoy it while it’s still intact.

While I don’t normally recommend yard sales, if you live in an area where they do well, this could be a good opportunity for you to try it. However, the goal should be to make getting rid of items easier for you, so don’t spend too much time on pricing or trying to get the most money out of everything. Instead, focus on finding a new home for the items and remember it’s a free way to have other people haul the stuff off for you. Then you can donate what doesn’t sell.

Remember you can adjust this plan to your life and needs. It’s just here so you don’t get overwhelmed or stuck trying to figure out what to do next. Enjoy your progress!

If you are interested in learning more about Megan’s journey or about how you can rid your home and life of clutter, and begin exploring minimalism, check out parts one and two. And be sure to check out her book, Packrat to Clutter-Free: How I Cleaned Up My Life in Less than a Year, available on Amazon.

If you enjoyed this series, have questions or want to share a suggestion please feel free to share in the comments below or shoot me an email or tweet.

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