Minimalism as Maximalism

minimalism

In our city and throughout the nation, people are showing an increased interest in minimalism as way of downsizing from the McMansions while addressing debt, stress and overwhelm, and feeling of isolation.

The Minimalists movie, which came out about a week ago, is a documentary about minimalism as a way of focusing on the important aspects of life. Early in the film, we learn of two friends, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, and their discovery that climbing the corporate ladder, having a 6-figure income and lots of stuff wasn’t fulfilling them. Joshua had some heart-breaking transitions in his life (divorce and the death of his mother in the same month), but Ryan saw that he still seemed to have a greater sense of peace and calm in life. So Ryan took Joshua out to lunch and asked why. Minimalism. Through the conversation, Joshua explained the concept and Ryan became radically inspired. How do I do this and quickly, he asked. They came up with the idea of a packing party. Ryan drastically reduced his possessions and they both went on to create The Minimalists blog and to share the message of living a more meaningful life.

Minimalism is slightly counter-culture to the consumerist society we live in. It causes us to examine and challenge the beliefs we hold to be true – some inculcated early in life by marketing; and it is all based on fear. How could you possibly attract the love of your life with that breakout on your nose? Use our face wash or concealer. We’ve defined success and it’s driving in this car, the commercial will say. Who cares if you go into debt for any of your acquisitions? Everyone else has debt too, so take comfort that you are still part of the in-group. Besides, here is a bank with low-interest rates so you can ‘save’ enough money to take your family on a fabulous vacation. All of these messages sell us on the idea that we are not enough, but that we can spend our money on things that will makes us better, happier, successful people. And we’ve had a strong history of falling for it.

In our view, minimalism causes all of us to critically think about our lives – the choices, job, items, and relationships – and to remove the layers that stand between us and maximizing the freedom and joy in our lives. This could take the form of removing physical items from the environment – clearing out clothes, old shoes, picture frames, or miscellany – and it can also take the form of reducing the activities or social ties we have which don’t bring a sense of growth or joy. By doing this, we create SPACE. Space not for more stuff, but for the dreams bubbling beneath the surface of depression or malaise. Space for new people who inspire and share similar values to come into our lives. We provide space for ourselves to relax for an afternoon reading Truman Capote by the pool.

One does not need to pare down to 175 items or renounce all pleasures in life that require gear or tools. To start exploring minimalism as an idea that may benefit you, start with this inquiry:

“What is one item or activity you could minimize today that will help maximize growth or joy?”tweet this

The Cost of Clutter – Death, Peace, and Money

a clean space1

Almost imperceptibly, we slowly accumulate increasing piles of…stuff. Like cholesterol blockages in arteries, clutter doesn’t happen overnight but its effects can be just as deadly. It’s true, people have died from extreme clutter, or hoarding, in their own homes – by fire from which they couldn’t escape or crushed and hidden beneath their stuff. It’s estimated that up to five percent of the U.S. population has a problem with hoarding and a CBS News poll found that 1/3 of Americans say they have too much clutter in their homes.

About 10% of American families rent storage space for belongings which don’t fit in their homes or items they aren’t ready to part with. That money serves your stuff, instead of your life and growth. Then there are some people who will forgo renting space but choose larger homes to contain their clutter.

It’s simple to put a dollar figure on the cost of rented storage spaces, but what about the clutter in your home? The first step is to assess and take stock of your possessions and the space they own in your home. In a single room, take a look and estimate the cost of what you’re not using and what you don’t love. Unworn clothing, make-up purchased years ago, jewelry, knick-knacks, spider-webbed sports equipment, and paper all have a financial cost. If you find that a certain item tugs at your heart or causes an emotional response, that’s an added cost (which can be greater than the financial one!).  Add up the cost of the items – what you remember spending or the item’s price tag. If you’re still paying it off, record that too. A perusal through one’s closet may show hundreds of dollars of unused, cluttering clothing, shoes, and accessories. Are you still paying on the $2000 television purchased 3 years ago? Guess what, even if it breaks (and if the term ‘planned obsolescence‘ means anything to you, it will), you’ll still pay for it AND the new television. Is anything worth the stress of those monthly bills?

Another tactic is to figure out how much each square footage of your home is worth and then discern how much of the space is ‘owned’ by clutter. If you own your home, take the current, roughly estimated value of the home and divide it by the square footage (i.e. $75 per square foot). If you rent, we find it’s easier for clients to add up the total rent for the year and divide by the square footage of the home. Once you have this number, multiply it by the square footage of space stuff is taking up in your garage, bedrooms, living room, and basement. You may find a surprising estimated cost for the clutter in your space. Whether you’re paying a mortgage or a landlord, are you writing that check mainly on behalf of clutter storage?

How about money spent for replacement items? Have you purchased a new pair of sneakers only to find some in your closet from last summer? Clutter costs us money and time when we buy duplicates of stuff we already own but can’t find. 

Part of this equation should be a discussion on safety and health. According to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, most accidents occur in the home. Clutter can pose risks for falls and accidents. Slipping on laundry thrown down the wooden basement stairs? Kids toys? Feeding what could have been a small house fire with paper clutter? Also the growth of allergens like dust and mold can be expensive to treat.

When you are disorganized, you can’t function effectively, much less optimally. Much like a small business, you need to have an organizational structure for your home life. Misplacing checks in piles of paper, late fees, tax penalties, and library fines are all extra dollars out your door. At a very basic level, time spent looking for car keys is time that could have been spent relaxing, working, or socializing.

Clutter also costs us time by demanding our attention. We have to work around it to get groceries in the car, pay our bills, find a useful item, and make a meal. What could normally be accomplished in 15 minutes can take 3x as long! The extra hours of housework are a time and energy drain that could be used for creative endeavors, education, hobbies, or any number of productive projects.

Clutter can also affect your mental health. You know the feeling when you enter a dwelling and the space is bright, clean and welcoming versus one where shoes are strewn all over the dirty floor. One client felt her life was becoming unmanageable and she was dealing with increasing amounts of anxiety and depression. It turns out that she didn’t need pharmaceutical pills, she needed a clean and welcoming sanctuary to call home. We made a few recommendations and she flew with it, hiring an organizer to help her declutter and a housekeeper for occasional, detailed visits. As of this writing, she reports feeling calmer and more emotionally stable.

What about the sheer joy and lightness of being that comes with having space to twirl around your room without running into piles of stuff? A place for you and your family to grow, expand, and learn in a clean and orderly environment? The contented sigh as you look over and see flat surfaces without piles on top?  Living in peace is priceless.

Perhaps the biggest cost is an intangible one: clutter impedes and causes procrastination for personal growth. It’s just one giant, clutter-y obstacle to overcome on living a life you desire.

We can become prisoners and Stuff is our warden. We tie up our money in rarely used sports equipment, shirts that don’t fit quite right, gadgets, and various entertainment. Some people develop Stockholm syndrome with their clutter, relating positive feelings for their stuff and imbuing it with sense of human comfort to counter-act their loneliness. Liberate your stuff, liberate yourself. tweet this

When there is too much stuff around you, it’s like being a plant in a tiny pot. It’s overly challenging to thrive and grow when you are tucked into a bunch of clutter. The answer, of course, isn’t moving to a larger space. The solution is to put your space on a diet. Once you get rid of stuff and get organized, that’s when you begin to expand your wings and take off!

Ready to take charge and get support? Come to our Declutter your Home, Clear your Mind class this Thursday!