“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”
― Wendell Berry
Have you ever been overwhelmed by task of cleaning out a cluttered room, or sorting through your clothes or the other junk in a closet? What about if you’re in the process of moving and you realize you have much more shit than you realized because you had ample amounts of storage? And then those tricky little spots where you can stow those tossed aside gifts you received from someone at Christmas? Well I’m going to tell you about my struggles with parting ways with some of my earthly goods. How I’m forcing myself to become more minimalist, from material goods to housing, by moving into smaller places.
My whole life, I have never been very good at organizing or finding clever ways to arrange my things, so this led to my room and closet always being beyond cluttered. I’ve always had a hard time getting rid of things. I would think, “Oh, so and so got me this”, or “I’ll wear this thing later.” Every time I would start to de-clutter and pare down, I would get too overwhelmed and give up, or rationalize keeping most of it and not even making a dent. I knew that I should take things slow and go shelf by shelf, or box by box, but let’s face it, that never happened. Ironically, I’m also the one who romanticizes living in a tiny house.
When Mr. RRR and I got married and moved into our lavish 1200 sq ft loft, we had more storage than we knew what to do with. We had a huge walk-in closet (that was genuinely the size of our current bedroom), along with a downstairs coat closet, and a pretty large storage room on the ground floor of the building. Which, we didn’t find out about the storage unit until 6 months after living here (Note from Mr. RRR: probably a blessing in disguise anyway, just less time to accumulate more shit).
At first, our place was barren, but then we fell into the trap that many people fall into: we started slowing accumulating more and more things to fill the space that we had. Once we found out about that extra storage unit, we slowly started to fill that up too. Everything from Christmas decorations to bikes to off season clothes. Keep in mind, we’d already filled up the coat closet and I’d already cluttered our bedroom closet. But we continued. Items would inexplicably come in, and no items ever went back out. We just got more creative in our packing methods to make room for all the stuff coming in.
Luckily, we found a condo that was about half the square footage, 650 sq ft, as our loft and had about ¼ of the storage that our loft did…but it was also literally 1/4 of the price too. I was admittedly apprehensive at first, but my motivation to retire early, and Mr. RRR’s contagious enthusiasm, overpowered my concerns and unfounded fears. When we moved, you could barely walk into our condo because our living room was filled with all of our stuff from the loft. Luckily, Mr. RRR helped me with making decisions about what to part ways with, both by donating and selling items. We would go through different things like: this vs. that; which one of these two items that do the exact same thing do I like more; what do we have that can be used for multiple things; and just critically think about each item and what benefit it would bring to us to keep it.
One of the big things that helped me personally, was temporarily moving to St. Louis about a month after we moved to our condo. Because the company that I work for was footing the bill on the move, there were 3 move options to choose from to accommodate all the items we were planning on bringing:
- If you are a minimalist and brought <1,000 lbs, you were rewarded with $160 extra allowance per month for “rental items” like couches, tables, other furniture, etc.
- If you brought 1,000 – 2,000 lbs worth of stuff, you received $0 extra per month, and only got the typical per diem amount.
- And finally, if you have no self control whatsoever and brought 2,000 – 3,000 lbs worth of junk, you were actually docked a certain amount on your per diem.
Obviously, we opted for option 1, were still way under the limit, and didn’t spend a dime on furniture rental. We brought half our kitchen items including: utensils, plates, bowls, cups, food storage containers, 2 pots and 2 skillets; our bed; TV and TV trays; and 2 sets of drawers that we had for clothes. We intentionally bought a couch while we were up there, knowing full well that we were selling it before we moved back. I think this was our real first step toward minimalism. I loved it. I didn’t have to worry about extra “junk”. It was easier to clean, there was less clutter, and we were literally making money off of it. I didn’t buy extra things for our apartment because if I did, then we’d have to ship them back and risk going over the weight limit (we weren’t even close, but it was still a thought). Another benefit that helped me mentally detach myself from all the items that we left was that if we didn’t need it for 6 months, chances were, we didn’t need to hang onto it anymore.
After moving back from STL, and living in the same 650 sq ft condo for another 7 or so months, we downsized again (in case you missed it: The House Hack that Allows us to Live for Free). Our little in-law suite seems like it’s the same square footage as our condo, but the living space is under 480 sq ft. We actually have more closet space (his and hers – mine is twice the size as his but it’s still probably smaller than the average closet) and an outdoor storage unit where we can store our bikes, and other junk that the typical person seems to accumulate.
You might be wondering, if we have more storage space, won’t we make the same mistakes as before and clutter that up? No, we definitely won’t. We actually have more things to toss out. Our “storage” room (a random room between the living room and bedroom) is actually filled with stuff that we haven’t pared down since the move…it’s overwhelming. I’ve tried to organize the room, and Mr. RRR has had a go at it, although he’s a little better at organizing and sorting than I am. We have a shelf filled with items that we need to sell, donate or re-gift, along with boxes full of books and other things that we haven’t found a place to store….maybe that’s a sign (note from Mr. RRR: definitely a sign). One day soon, we’ll make some time to list those things online and make a little extra money.
Sometimes I wish I could just scrap everything and start fresh, but that would be the easy way out and not conducive to our financial goals. I know that I just need to take control and not let the items in my life control me. Luckily, I have a partner who despises clutter or having too much stuff, likely because he grew up surrounded by borderline hoarders. I need someone to continue to remind me of my motivations to get rid of those extra items that stress me out and cause clutter to my life.
I’m still struggling to get to that perfect minimalist life, and I may never get there. But, there’s something so satisfying about cleaning out the house and parting ways with the unnecessary things that bring no benefit to your life, except to frustrate you and stress you because it just gets shuffled from one place to the next. I understand that minimalism isn’t for everyone, and some people not only like to have things, but still acquire them frugally, so the financial benefit of minimalism is lost on those people. For my life, I’m hopeful that I can get to the point where I’m only down to the bare necessities, but I’m still a work in progress. Maybe our next move will be even smaller….who knows?
“We were never meant to live life accumulating stuff. We were meant to live simply enjoying the experiences of life, the people of life, and the journey of life – not the things of life.”
― Joshua Becker, Living With Less: An Unexpected Key to Happiness