How To Simplify A Complicated Life

I’ve always been a hoarder collector by nature. As a child, I had the eye of a magpie, collecting and displaying little things I’d find, but while this habit started out innocently enough, lately I’ve felt the need to simplify. Remember Jana’s recent post about feeling lighter physically? Well, for me it’s time to feel lighter spiritually. It’s time to un-complicate.

There are countless articles, essays, blog posts, and lists available online, all offering up their tips and tricks for adopting a minimalist approach to life. Each time I read them, I think “Yes. That’s what I want!” – it’s easy to be seduced by a picture of a pristine white room with a single plant, or a tiny house arranged just so, but let’s get real, I have no plans of trading in my four-poster bed for a modern platform (it’s just too awesome), or donating every book I own…pure minimalism isn’t in the cards for me. For a long time I felt caught in the middle, I knew there was a correlation between the clutter and my feelings of unrest, but I didn’t know where to start. Lucky for me, moving offered the perfect excuse to sift through everything and pare down, and along the way, I learned a few things about my habits and how to realistically and intentionally curate the things around me for a less-complicated existence.

Simplify

Write daily and look inward: I’ve always been pretty unsuccessful at keeping journals, usually only filling a few pages before losing interest. But I made writing a priority when I began the process of paring down my stuff. Clearing the clutter is an emotional journey, and I found making time to write and also clear my thoughts especially helpful in working through why I felt the need to hold on to certain things for so long. Looking inward can be a difficult, and sometimes painful journey, but you’ll come out the other side with a better understanding of yourself and your habits, and you’ll be better able to question your motives the next time you’re tempted to bring another object into your life.

Simplify

Nix doubles first: If you have a lot of excess stuff, sometimes the hardest part of getting rid of it it is knowing where to start. For me the easiest place to begin my journey to simplicity was to start with the doubles. While packing, it came to my attention that I owned five or six nearly identical cork screws. No one needs six cork screws. I chose the nicest one and donated the rest. As I worked through my house, I took the same approach with other belongings: I donated the less-frequently-worn of two black midi-dresses, the worse-off spatula that was inconveniently shaped like a cat (really), and the winter boots that weren’t as nice as the other pair. These things might sound little, but they all add up.

Ask yourself the hard questions: If you’re hopelessly sentimental, like me, you may have a surprisingly difficult time parting with items that, to others, seem incredibly insignificant. Ask yourself why you’re holding on to those pieces. Is it because you’re afraid you’ll forget the memory? Afraid of just not having it? Worried that you’ll be unhappy without it? In my case, I had a few things around my home that had been given to me, but really weren’t my style. I’d been lugging these items around for years, through three states, and I worried that if I donated them, I’d feel really guilty. But when I sat down to think about it, I felt much worse about not putting those items to use than about donating them, and as soon as I dropped them off at the thrift store, I felt instantly lighter. Those things that sat unused in my home for so long will now bring someone out there joy.

Simplify

Choose beauty: Let’s go back to those cork screws for a minute, how many times have you kept something not for it’s beauty, but simply because it’s a functional object? For me, countless occasions. This post of Brigette’s really resonated with me, and inspired me to look around and really question why I was holding on to things that I didn’t like to look at. While some necessary items in our homes will never be that pretty, making the conscious choice to choose beauty can help you rid yourself of excess items that you don’t actually need. Conversely, once you’re purged the unattractive items from your home, be conscious about what you choose to bring back into it. Don’t settle for an OK rug simply because you need a rug, hold out for the gorgeous vintage kilim that you’ll eventually stumble across at a flea market or estate sale. The same goes for your wardrobe, you should love your clothes! We all have those items we only sort of like,  that maybe only sort of fit, lurking in the back of our closets. If it’s not something you would buy right now, sent it off to a new home. And make sure that the next thing you add to your wardrobe is something that you absolutely love.

Simplify

Understand the journey: Your path to a simpler life won’t be over in an afternoon, it won’t even be over once you’ve sorted, packed, moved, and unpacked. It’s an ongoing process of questioning yourself and your decisions, and constantly being on the lookout for ways to de-clutter. Recently, I unearthed my collection of ten year’s worth of photo booth pictures, all arranged in various frames. As a 2o year old, I loved displaying these as I collected them in my first apartment, but years later, I was ok with taking the pictures out, placing them in a photo-safe box, and passing the frames on to a friend that needed them. Always be open to ways to scale back, and soon your head will feel clearer and your soul will feel lighter, and the next time you move, it will be that much easier.

Do you have tips for de-cluttering your life? I’d love to know — Be sure to sound off in the comments!

 

Comments

  1. Whenever I buy a new piece of clothing I donate an old piece of clothing! This can be hard when I’ve had a major shopping spree but its so helpful in creating a wardrobe that really reflects me!

  2. I find the older I get the less stuff I need. Having less is truly more to me. These days I am trying to only buy things that I find truly fabulous!

  3. I have a recent one in one out rule. It works like a charm. I went through ALL of my clothing last year and donated absolutely everything that I did not love. Didn’t fit properly? Out. Had an itchy seam? Out.. etc… I ended with about a week’s worth of outfits, but honestly, that was all I wore anyway. I need to do this with dishes too. I currently have three teapots! Who needs three teapots? Every season I do a purge of something. I feel so free.

    http://lamentinglizzie.blogspot.com

  4. I’m going through a divorce…and I’ve lost property in the process – things that had no real value, but meant a lot to me. I lost my house, too. And I’m having to live in someone’s spare bedroom soon. So, simplifying my life is essential. I decided that is was time to build my own tiny house…a simple life sounds nice right now!

    One problem I had with clothing is all the t-shirts family has bought me over the years from all the cool places they’ve been. I couldn’t just donate those or throw them out. And I’m not going to wear them. So, I’m turning them into pillows! You can’t have too many pillows. :)

  5. Well great. This is just perfect, really. Exactly what I need as well. I haven’t been visiting this blog for the longest time (almost a year) and it’s just the perfect post to find upon coming back. I promise to drop by as often! <3

    http://thegypsysoul.com

  6. Being around the aftermath of my great aunt’s passing and the move for my grandparents into a nursing home; as well as living in communal houses and selling vintage for a living has really made hit home the overdose of objects in this country. How many basements are packed full of stuff nobody even wants?
    I love the suggestion that if you wouldn’t buy an article of clothing now, get rid of it!

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/HypnoticaVintage

  7. i’ve always been a goodwill, cheap find lover. lately I’ve realized spending a bit more on that new item that fits me perfectly is better than getting a good deal. sometimes i regret giving away too many unique items but being able to create small altars with just a few choice items is much more refreshing than the clutter!

  8. Christine, I’m sorry to hear of your circumstances, but it sounds like you’re focusing on the positive. I did something similar with old band tee shirts years ago, turned them into a quilt. There are a few I regret cutting up, but it definitely helped downsize my tee collection (I have too many of those, also).

  9. There is a book called the 100 thing challenge by Dave Bruno that encourages you to try living with only 100 things.. really makes you reevaluate the things you hold onto and what you need in life.. The book ignited a grassroots movement and inspired many to get back to the bare necessities! check it out!

  10. Love this. Definitely had to simplify my life when I had to pack up everything I own and make sure it fit in a tiny rental car that I drove to SF. Learned exactly what I needed and didn’t need. But now I feel great being surrounded by far less things/clutter while knowing that I love each and every one of them.

    xoxo Sara
    http://www.restlessnomads.com

  11. This sounds so much like me! I always feel so guilty for getting rid of something that someone buys me or makes me.. It’s money they spent or time they spent and it just makes my heart break.. but you’re so right! De-cluttering life is a good thing. And it’s not necessary to get rid of everything that holds a beautiful memory, but we don’t need to hold on to everything little thing. sometimes just a memory is the best gift. :) LOVE IT!

  12. I am always so amazed at how stress and clutter manifests itself. It’s like you hardly have to blink during the fast times and more of the ‘stuff’ seems to find a way to pile up. I am such a fan of de-cluttering all aspects of life it is amazing how much lighter everything starts to feel!

  13. Seems like every time I am trying to avoid doing something (like cleaning), a post like this pops up. Very informative and I couldn’t even get halfway through without feeling like I had to clean up my living space a bit.

  14. Thank you for this post -it’s come at the most perfect moment. I’ve just moved out of university and back home and I am so eager to let go of things and only keep what I truly adore/what serves me. A difficult thing for a sentimental girl!

    Warm regards,
    Alexandra
    http://www.littlewildheart.com

  15. Finally a life decluttering article I can really relate to!
    Parting with something always feels to me like losing something as well, mainly some sort of connection to the person who gave me this item. It makes me feel ungrateful, so I tend to keep things out of habit and guilt.
    But recently I finally managed to let go off some pieces and it felt quite liberating.

    So, thank you for this little reminder. After all there is nothing wrong with letting go.

  16. Hi Julie, I’m so glad there’s a 2nd place to read you!

    Great post. I’m in the midst of this now, though not having moved for a while, it’s a different process. For me, as I come to an area of my home that exasperates me, I declutter it there and then, even if it’s just one shelf or one box. It adds up over time, and doesn’t feel as hopeless or overwhelming as trying to cleanse a whole room or the whole house.

  17. I can definitely relate to this article. I moved to LA from the east coast about a year ago – before living here I was in Cleveland for school (in my own 4 room apartment) & still had my childhood bedroom at home in Pittsburgh as well. My life was so cluttered that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Thrifting is somewhat of an art form in the Cleveland community so over the course of 4 years I collected so many trinkets / blankets / books / dishes / & vases that when I finally graduated & moved home we filled my grandmother’s basement completely with boxes. When I finally decided to move to LA, I had to leave all of those items behind (which I eventually went through last summer, getting rid of all things unnecessary) and try to learn how to survive with less space & less stuff. I packed 3 suitcases full of clothes & moved to LA in September – because of couch surfing and terrible roommates I have found myself in 8 different apartments – I have gotten in the (almost insane) habit of ridding things from my life & decluttering because of this nomadic lifestyle (so much so that I couldn’t stand living in the last shared apt that I was in because the girl collected so many trinkets that everything was dusty and dirty all of the time – her style was much like mine living in Cleveland) LA has been a blessing in teaching me that less is more & that life is a journey in which having more things only slows you down. I go through my clothes at least once every 2 weeks and get rid of things that I never ever wear. I have gone from having items that were from high school – to refining my wardrobe into things that I wear on a normal basis. It is completely refreshing dropping a trash bag full of clothes into a donation box. Reading this article – I realize that I no longer miss these items – in fact I don’t even really remember what I have donated over the past couple of months. I’ve also rid myself of hoarding trinkets, cute dishes, plates & bowls (something I did in Cleveland), & now stick to only having items necessary for living simply (this includes food!). I find myself breathing deeper & thinking less about the space surrounding me – and more about the ideas I have brewing in my mind.

  18. Best post on de-cluttering, I also have an ambivalent relationship with purging. Part of my problem is that a lot of the thing I love are things that someone didn’t think to throw out, like my grandfather’s bakerlite phone. However, it occurred to me that these things were always useful until they became beautiful (to me) and so it’s okay to treasure my treasures and discard the rest x

  19. This post is great! When I moved a few months ago, I did this exact same thing. Well, I started before I moved and just kept on. Now, I’m somewhat organized. There still are a few things that I need to get rid of but it’ll have to wait for a while. I definitely agree with getting rid of double items that are lurking around. That seems to one of the worst ways to acquire clutter. For me, I am an extremely emotional person and I seem to clutch on to items to relive certain memories. For that I recommend taking a picture of the item and keeping it. That way I still have a picture of the item and I can relive it, but the actual item isn’t cluttering my closet or hanging out in my floor.

    -Lara

  20. I live in a shared attic apartment, and every weekend when I tidy up, I find things I’ve brought in that just don’t have a physical place to be. This causes two things to happen, in the vein of minimizing: First, a pretty regular evaluation of the value of the things around me, and getting rid of the things that I don’t need. Second, this mess of piles on the floor that drive me crazy.
    I hate feeling like I’ve got too much stuff or too much empty space. Small living spaces are definitely my way of simplifying my life.

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