It all began when my husband and I started daydreaming about our next Air Force assignment. A new base, a new town, and a brand new experience which could lead us halfway across the world. We’ll hopefully receive our next assignment in about a month and then have a full year to research our new home, pack our belongings, and start all over again.
It’s fun to think about these exciting possibilities, but it also became a little overwhelming. Moving is never an easy undertaking for anyone. All that purging, organizing, boxing up, fighting with the damn packing tape and inevitably eating pizza on the living room floor.
I’ve written before about how military life has caused me to appreciate simplicity. With a move on the horizon, though, I suddenly began looking around our home with renewed interest. Ours is a relatively small, 2-bedroom 1-bath rental house. We by no means possess a large or even above average amount of stuff, likely due both to our limited closet space and our shared aversion to shopping. And yet, in our short 15 months of marriage, I have become increasingly aware of the accumulation of excess, just stuff hiding in plain sight.
Boxes and filing cabinets full of old paper and trinkets, clothes I avoid wearing yet refuse to donate, an array of knick-knacks we’ve conveniently stowed in a nice bureau (upscale hoarding, as I call it). The list goes on. Open any cabinet, closet or drawer in our house and you’ll likely find it filled with…well, stuff. Usually it’s arranged fairly neatly, but so little of it is used every day, every week, and sometimes, not even every year. *shudder*
Add to that (distantly) planning for future children, and I was overwhelmed. A sweet, new bundle of joy always seems to accompany sweet, new bundles of clothes, toys, and accessories. I’ve seen far too many videos (from friends and strangers alike) of kids who have trashed their playrooms. Cue me Googling “minimalist parenting.” No, but really. Imagining all that stuff scattered everywhere gives me just a few heart palpitations.
It was time to make some changes. And a plan.
My new mantra became this: if it’s not worth organizing, boxing up, labeling, loading onto a truck, and moving thousands of miles, do we really need it? Or even want it?
I dipped my toes into the internet’s suggestions for minimalism (using Pinterest of course), and I was immediately inspired to go paperless. We had two full file boxes and one cabinet of paper that we almost never used—except when we stored something we “might” need someday. I ordered a ScanSnap (the Cadillac of scanners), scanned everything we could foresee referencing in the future into Evernote, placed all of our important documents in a waterproof pouch and shredded or discarded the rest.
It took a couple of weeks to convert to this new system, but it was absolutely liberating. I always thought we needed better office storage when really all we needed was the courage to purge. It’s 2018, after all. Did we really need to file old credit card statements? Nope. They’re all online for our convenience. Almost every banking, investment, and insurance-related document can be tracked online these days. If it’s already there, I’m not going to let it take up valuable space in my home anymore.
I even parted with nearly 90% of my school memorabilia. I gathered boxes from all over our house—hidden in the office, the living room and even under our guest bed. I took it all into our den and was blown away by how much I’d held onto. When my husband would walk by during this process, I laughed and told him, “My name is Kristen and I’m a hoarder.” The first step is admitting it, right?
I took photos of the things I wanted to remember but not store. I kept the items that I truly cherished and then I—wait for it—threw the rest away.
Coming from someone who is both crazy sentimental and also LOVED school, this was a big step and I honestly feel so refreshed. Now, if I want to take a jaunt down memory lane, I have a single, small box that fits on a shelf. I can open my box, easily flip through the contents, and then return it to the shelf in no time at all.
Surprising bonus to our office clean-out: We were able to eliminate all our filing cabinets, a desk, and two shelves we never really loved. I CAN BREATHE AGAIN.
During my research into minimalism, I repeatedly encountered a book I’d heard about but had yet to read. Enter Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I know, I know. It’s so 2015. I’m a little late to the party, here.
It took me just a couple of days to read, and I was again inspired by her methods. These are my favorite takeaways:
1. “Visualize your destination.”
Imagining your ideal space can be very powerful. What would it look like? What would you do when you got home every day? What kind of hobbies or activities could you take up if you had the room in your home and in your life in general?
As someone who loves repinning home interiors and watching HGTV, I have found that I am attracted to bright, cozy and simple homes. A space with warm light, solid wood furniture, and soft textures. A small bookcase with my favorite novels. An uncluttered closet with only the clothes, shoes, and accessories I love. A desk for my laptop, with a drawer to store stationary to write cards and letters. A shelf near the backyard to keep my gardening supplies. A clean bathroom where I can enjoy the luxury of a great face masque. A spot to do yoga on Saturday mornings. Just imagining this space makes me want to prioritize these aspects of my life and rid myself of everything that detracts from it.
Photo by Annie Spratt.
2. “Keep only the things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.”
Marie Kondo, how right you are. Of course there will be things that we must keep; our trash can or toilet brush might not exactly “spark joy” but this principle helps immensely with almost everything else in our home. It’s not about discarding what we don’t want so much as valuing the things we love.
During my paper decluttering, I encountered letters from past relationships that definitely didn’t speak to my heart anymore. In fact, they either pissed me off or made me cringe for various reasons. Why would I keep something in my home that evoked such negative emotions? Out they went. Humorously enough, I actually had some bad dreams the night I threw away those old notes. It was almost like a final exorcism—a cleansing that I didn’t realize my home and heart truly needed. I want to focus on my amazing husband and build our life together. His cards and letters are of course the ones I kept, the ones that speak to my heart.
3. “When you come across something that’s hard to discard, consider carefully why you have the specific item in the first place.”
Sometimes an item has long ago fulfilled its purpose. Like that blouse you bought at a fancy boutique two years ago but you just don’t love. As Marie Kondo says, “It has fulfilled the function of giving you a thrill when you bought it…you are free to say ‘Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,’ or ‘Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,’ and let it go.”
I thought all of this thanking inanimate objects was some hippy-dippy mumbo jumbo—until I actually starting getting rid of stuff. Thanking an item (or in my case, just feeling a sense of gratitude for it) really helps with the guilt that inevitably comes from discarding something you feel like you should keep. Say thanks and be free, friends.
So what’s next for me?
I am by no means even close to being done with tidying up, and I can’t say that I will follow the KonMari Method religiously. (I’ve already gone out of order, after all. I started with paper and sentimental items. Oops.) It’s a great–if quirky—little book to get you thinking, to glean some amazing tips, and then gain the courage to start. The most amazing part has been realizing I have permission from myself to let go of the things that no longer bring joy.
This journey into minimalism—if that’s even what you want to call it—has only just begun. I like to think of it as living more simply.
My next projects are my wardrobe and my kitchen. (Wish me luck!)
My ultimate goals? I want space to breathe and grow and relax. I want to spend less time cleaning and organizing and more time writing and enjoying time with my husband, our loved ones, and our dog. I want to spend money wisely on travel and experiences, not stuff. I want our future military moves to go as smoothly as possible. I want open, uncluttered surfaces and a space I don’t have to quickly clean before a friend stops by.
I’m on my way to living with less, and it’s definitely sparking joy.
Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Does a minimalist lifestyle appeal to you?