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Tidying Up in My Own Way

Have you been watching “Tidying Up?” If so you’ve probably been so inspired that you’ve made piles of your possessions, held them tight to see if they spark joy, and said “thank you” or “bye” to those that don’t. Perhaps you’ve even organized your drawers, folding each item with such care and attention.

If this sounds like you, I’m here with you.

I’ve been on the joy-sparking, minimalism, decluttering train for a few years. It started with a desire to clear something from my air. Not the incessant dog hair that seems to multiply with each blink — no, something internal. A stirring feeling that my house wasn’t quite in order, no matter how clean it was. I didn’t feel at peace.

I began looking through my items stored carefully in my basement in a search for balance. It took several months. I donated what I felt I could. Yet, I didn’t feel finished. I read articles on Apartment Therapy, obsessively clicking on each newly posted article and the subsequent articles that followed. Surely someone had the answer.

I’ve tried numerous tricks and tips and, for me, the mindset that I’ve finally found, has required combining all of the “methods” that I’ve researched. I’ll try to share a piece of my knowledge, but you should know that you need to find what works best for you.

1. Rethink how you organize your home.

I purchased Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, a couple years ago and quickly read through it. It’s supposed to be digested a piece at a time. You work through each section, rather than rooms of your home. You’re supposed to keep what sparks joy and rethink how you organize your home.

My bathroom drawer after organizing.

I picked up some interesting pieces of advice in that book: like realizing that a book’s purpose is to be read. It doesn’t want to sit dormant on a shelf. Unless it’s one of your absolute favorites or has special meaning, pass it on to someone else to read. Another good tip is if you haven’t read a book in the first month of owning it, you probably won’t. I’m a librarian and a major book lover, so that wasn’t easy to hear, but it resonated — and the part about a book’s purpose really stuck with me.

My takeaway: I want my books to share their stories with as many people as possible. So, I’ve begun finding new homes for many of them.

2. Follow the 60/60 or 90/90 rule.

I’ve read about the 60/60 and 90/90 rule. If you haven’t used an item in the last 60 (or 90, if you choose) days, and it isn’t a seasonal piece, let it go. Our idea that we might someday want something weighs so heavy in our minds. We don’t want to be wasteful. But, to hold onto something for years because you might someday want it — it doesn’t really make sense, right? Our homes are meant for living, not storage.

My takeaway: This has helped me get rid of items that I once loved or thought I might want someday. It can have new purpose in someone else’s life. I’ve only ever gotten rid of things that are replaceable. Most things, if truly missed, can be found again rather easily.

3. Consider what life is really about.

I have enjoyed listening to the podcast, The Minimalists, by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn. They are friends who once held six-figure careers. When they realized that they were working to consume, rather than live, they made a change. They left their jobs and became The Minimalists. They’ve written books, held speaking engagements, have a documentary on Netflix, and produce a weekly podcast. They teach that items in our homes should add value to our lives — not necessarily spark joy. They believe that sparking joy adds attachment and life to an item, when we should be questioning its functionality. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, why do you own it? A new item of clothing will always spark joy for awhile, but when the newness has worn off, does it no longer carry value?

My takeaway: They taught me that life should be about experiences, not stuff.

4. Challenge yourself.

In December, I participated in an Instagram challenge called 12 Days of Giving. This is a shorter version of the 30-Day Minimalism Challenge. On day one, you donate one item, on day two, two items, and so on. You can select items large or small. You could donate one pen or an entire bag. I took this challenge after several large donations and worried I wouldn’t be able to complete it. I did and ended up giving away far more than was expected. To make it more fun, I wrote down each item on the box. This helped me keep track of the items.

One of many donations.

My takeaway: It showed me that we can minimize in small or large quantities, and we can always find something else we don’t need.

5. Get inspired to live with less.

I also love an Instagram account that I stumbled across: @thelaminimalist. Annie lives in a 490 sq. ft. LA apartment. Her posts feature her home, advice, questions, chalkboard inspiration, etc. She used to live a “normal” life full of stuff. One day she decided she was over it and purged most of her belongings. Now, she owns only what she truly needs. She suggests that you first get a clear picture of what you want your life to look like. Once you have that, you have a goal to work towards and you can ask if each item, activity, person, etc. fits into your picture. She boasts that since becoming a minimalist, she spends less time cleaning or spending. She has more time and energy to do what she truly loves in life.

My takeaway: She taught me that if you love an item, you should display it. It shouldn’t be sitting in a box in your basement. She also reminds me that the burst of satisfaction that we get when making a purchase is fleeting and when asked later in time if we would rather have the money instead of the item, most people would take the money. Her frequent posts keep me grounded and help remind me to keep my goals present.

6. Give, give, give.

The average American has 300,000 items, according to the LA Times. You may have more, or less. But when you think about every little thing in your home, it’s rather astounding. For most of us, we have unnecessary things that we can thank and pass along to someone else.

My takeaway: We can add value to our lives by reducing the amount of clutter in our homes — and add value to someone else’s life by giving them something they need.

Now, remember, this is an ongoing process. I’ve used a combination of the methods I’ve read about and those I’ve listed here — and I’ve found that it’s a never-ending process. I will constantly be asking myself whether I truly need to bring something in my home and whether something that currently exists there is still necessary in my life. I’ve given away several large donation piles the last few years and imagine I’ll have more in the months to come. I’m finding that my home feels more airy and lightweight. And with that comes mental clarity to be able to do more of what I want.

I want to have more time to write, work out, be outside, and see family and friends. I’m getting there, one donation and decluttering session at a time.

Have you been purging? What tips have you found most helpful? —Katie

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