Imagine a life in which everything is exactly where you think it is and you never have to look for anything again. You have only what you need and everything has its place, and you’re happy. That’s my life and the life of a growing number of people that has been on the rise since the start of the recession in 2008.
Of course, minimalism existed long before economic Armageddon, before the U.S. even (think monks), but has recently been popularized by a fringe group responding to the rampant consumerism in the U.S. Minimalism became popular out of the recession because several people decided to cut the excess out of their lives simply as a way to make ends meet.
I personally started paring down my life during my first semester in college. Dragging all of that stuff to my dorm room and seeing how little space remained was a flash-point. That and my childhood room I had left behind was still half-full of stuff I would come to never use again. What’s the point of holding on to it all? And so I began my first major purge of things I do not use, all the while reading some minimalist blogs like Zen Habits for advice.
By 2010, I felt that I had my stuff down to a manageable amount, but knew I could take it further. I couldn’t get passed the whole “but I might need this someday” line that we all tell ourselves when we try to get rid of things. But after spending more and more time hiking, including a couple of week-long outings on the Appalachian Trail, I was slowly realizing how little I actually needed to be happy.
I proved it when I studied in Sweden for 6 months, living out of one bag and a carry-on. I reluctantly returned to the U.S. freshly infected with wanderlust, got rid of even more stuff to make traveling easier, and flew off to Iceland later that summer to live out of my backpack for 3 months. You can guess what I did when I got home (if not, I got rid of more stuff). That’s the short version anyway.
A simple Google search will reveal hundreds of strategies for decluttering and getting organized. Different ways work for different people. You’re on Spartan Wanderer, so I’m going to speak from my experience. This is my strategy and I’ve been at it through multiple rounds over the years.
Depending on how organized or messy you are, this could be a massive undertaking. Start by tidying and don’t worry about getting rid of stuff just yet. Simply put everything where it needs to go. Put the clothes in the closet, file away or stack the papers, and put the other stuff where the other stuff goes. Even throwing away trash and clearing dishes can make any situation a bit more manageable.
Keep, Maybe, Trash
After you’re all tidied up, tackle the clutter room by room, section by section. If you compartmentalize like this then the whole process is a lot less daunting. For each section, make a pile of stuff that you definitely want to keep, a pile for things you’re torn about, and things you want to trash (or recycle, donate, sell). Even the messiest closet or work area can be dealt with in one decluttering session. If you try to do every room at once, or even an entire room at once, you’ll have piles all over the place and it will seem like you’re making the situation worse.
Make the Most of Everything
From the three piles you now have before you, you’ll want to make the most of two things: space and waste. Freeing up space is incredibly, well, freeing, both psychologically and physically. Becoming a minimalist means decluttering in such a way that what you have left is a completely functional and efficient existence. The extra space makes work as well as everyday tasks much more effortless than before. You no longer spend time looking for shit and everything left has a purpose.
As a new minimalist, you wouldn’t simply throw away your old stuff. A key facet of the lifestyle is leaving a small footprint, which means getting rid of your stuff responsibly. It sounds like more work, but it could also be to your benefit. Used bookstores and consignment clothing stores will buy your stuff from you, and you can also sell on Craigslist, making this positive lifestyle change profitable as well. Everything you can’t sell would definitely be appreciated at your local Red Cross or other thrift store.
Decluttering is great, but it does have the tendency to build up again if we don’t take measures to stop it. As long as we’re living, we will need things. We are constantly cycling things in and out of our lives. We should be aware of this as we go along and make sure that we are indeed cycling and not just accumulating.
One of the easiest ways to stop clutter in its tracks is to go digital. Start paying your bills online, subscribe to online magazines, and scan your paper files into your computer. I’m not a sentimental person so 99% of my photos are also digital. If you’re not an aspiring archaeologist that desperately clings to these relics known as paper books, you could invest in a Kindle and free up the space your bookshelf is taking up. Becoming more digital makes you more mobile, something all aspiring travelers would benefit from.
Make a list of things you’ve been considering buying, completely forget about it and come back to it in 30 days or so. If you forgot about something on the list you probably don’t actually want/need it as much as you think you do. This is a great way to prevent yourself from accumulating things you’ll be sending off to your local thrift store a year later. If you absolutely need something, see if there’s anything you’re not using that could be sold on Craigslist in order to offset the cost. One thing out, one thing in.
It’s not easy, and can be harder for some. But it is a significant lifestyle change, and the first time you do it will be the hardest. The process becomes more normal, natural, and almost reactionary each subsequent time. You may never get down to a backpack, but then again that’s not the goal. There really isn’t a goal in minimalism. It’s more of a journey, and each one is personal and different. More freedom of movement, more energy, more time, and less clutter, stress, and worry. Aim for that.