By Grace Lidia Suárez
Well, everything about being old is hard work. But becoming a minimalist when you haven’t moved in 20 years, you have enough room to store stuff and a lifetime’s worth of stuff to store, is really hard.
Not to mention the fact that most of the stuff you have is pretty nice, and almost all of it is imbued with memories.
Marie Kondo, my guiding light, has this to say about sentimental objects:
Kondo’s main advice for dealing with sentimental items — say, things that remind you of a deceased loved one — is to only tidy them up after you have organized the less emotional categories. So start with clothing, books and papers. Kondo’s advice: “If you encounter any item in one of these categories that brings back a memory . . . set it aside as part of the sentimental category. By tidying non-sentimental items first, you will give yourself time to sort through your thoughts and emotions before going through the sentimental items you have set aside.”
And those treasures that make you happy every time you look at them? “Keep them proudly,” she said, adding that it’s not just about looking for things to eliminate, but being thoughtful about what you keep or toss — and cherishing those items you keep. (Washington Post, 9/21/2018.)
It’s not as hard for young people. If your girlfriend just threw out your stuff on the lawn, minimalism isn’t a problem. You’re lucky if you have clean underwear and your old guitar. If you have sentimental stuff, you leave it with your parents.
One solution is to start out slowly. Throw out one thing at a time. But even that won’t work when you’re old. If I throw out one thing a day, I’ll be 200 before all my stuff is gone.
Still, we can do it, or at least make meaningful steps towards the goal.
Be respectful of your partner’s stuff
If you live with a partner, it’s much harder to be a minimalist. You must resist the temptation to throw out your partner’s stuff. When we were moving into our current flat, I found a bunch of old razors. Thinking they had been left behind by the former resident, I threw them out. They were my hubbie’s collection. I had never seen them before.
He was very upset.
My beloved husband of many years is, alas, a bit of a hoarder. Nothing terrible, but his closets (yes, plural) are crammed with old clothes. Unfortunately (talk about a mixed blessing) since he has not gained any weight, he can still get into all of his old clothes. So he keeps them.
You are the sum of your habits
I’m reading James Clear’s new book Atomic Habits and I’ve come to realize: we are the sum of our habits.
So if you want to stop dealing with clutter in your life, and become a minimalist, or at least more minimalistic, you have to start by making a habit of not holding on to stuff.
As Clear said,
“For most of my early life, I didn’t consider myself a writer. If you were to ask any of my high school teachers or college professors, they would tell you I was an average writer at best: certainly not a standout. When I began my writing career, I published a new article every Monday and Thursday for the first few years. As the evidence grew, so did my identity as a writer. I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.”
Let your first habit become: don’t bring the stuff in. When you go to a conference, don’t pick up swag. Don’t put it in your briefcase.
Don’t bring home the little shampoo bottles from the hotel. You know you won’t use them because you have a favorite shampoo you use all the time. They’ll just go into a drawer.
The next habit to practice is not buying impulsively. Decide to think over every purchase. If you wait even 24 hours you may well find you don’t want the item.
Get into the habit of disposing of one item a day. After you’ve done that for a week, do two a day. And so on. Pretty soon the habit will become automatic and your recycling bag will practically fill itself. You will look at every item you touch with an eye to getting rid of it.
The hard part is that little flash of panic: what if I need it again? If you really may need it again, and it’s the only thing of its kind, and it would cost a lot to replace, then put it back in its place. But the likelihood is: you won’t need it again, it’s not unique, it can be replaced for under $20.
Another habit is to get rid of one thing every time you acquire a new one in the same category. Take it one step further: get rid of two for every one. Or three.
It’s never too late to start living in a more peaceful, cleaner environment. One benefit is that your heirs won’t have as much junk to throw out.