Let’s be honest. Last year sucked big time. This year isn’t off to the best start either. But, there’s one thing we can say about how calamitous world events and societal upheaval. They can provide some serious perspective. And what we discovered is that we wanted a simpler life.
So we decided to declutter, streamline, minimize the amount of “stuff” that fills our home and our minds. If you feel We’ll give you a simple step-by-step system that you can use to simplify your life.
1. Decide To Simplify
The first way to make a change is to make an affirmative decision that you want a change. When we moved from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin, we had already made a huge downsize and streamlining. We sold a huge house with a huge yard. We gave away or donated rooms full of furniture, garden and yard equipment, emptied the garage and many closets. And when we moved to our two bedroom apartment we discovered that even though we had simplified some, we were still surrounded by a lot of our stuff. It may have been comforting at the time, but later we found it annoying. We discovered that our cramped feeling was the clear result of still having too much stuff. And with the realization that we trip over some of it more than we use it, we decided it was time to simplify again, this time, for real.
This really helped when we decided to move to Portugal. We ultimately decided to downsize some more but that’s another story.
2. Identify What You Truly Value
While we thought we had decluttered completely in our move to Madison, we really just did the first step. We identified what we truly valued, or thought we did. Gone were the multiples of items of which one would suffice. Multiple sets of dishes and utensils. Family furnishings that other family members could enjoy. Excess clothing that hadn’t been worn in years. In the process of streamlining, we discovered that the things we valued were fairly well identified. Books and kitchen tools. Photos and work product. Computer equipment and music. Souvenirs from our travels. While what truly matters is different for each person, ask yourself these two questions to discover what it is – “How long would it take me to notice that it’s gone? How much will it matter to me?” Based on your answers, you’ll be able to start to minimize the things you keep around you.
3. Have An Action Plan To Declutter
There are now so many methods to get rid of stuff that the process of choosing how to do it can become overwhelming. There’s the KonMari Method to keep only things that “spark joy” for you. Or the 40 Bags In 40 Days challenge, where every day you choose something else to put in a bag that goes away. Of course, there are plenty of others. You can look up specific ways to declutter and see what appeals to you. Or test out a few methods and see what works best for you. If you want to engage others in the process, so much the better. Just be sure you clarify who does what so you don’t get stuck with more than you want.
You can also try out our method. We realized that if we died tomorrow, someone would have to go through all our stuff and would probably throw most of it away. That would be a terrible burden to place on someone else. So, we decided to make an action plan to ease that responsibility for our hypothetical afterlife caretaker by streamlining our life now. The basic idea for us was to keep in mind with every item what it would be like to be the person having to make a decision about what to do with what we have. Our goal was to simplify the process for everyone involved.
4. Start With The Hardest Items First
Just like we were taught as youngsters that we couldn’t go out to play until we finished our homework or no dessert until we ate our vegetables, we knew that we would have to declutter the most emotionally difficult items first.
Streamlining The Library
For Diana it was her books. Much as she loves her books, there’s a simple solution. Digital books. She found many e-book versions online through ebook libraries or Amazon Kindle. Others she can check out through her library’s e-book lending service or find to read online at the Internet Archive and Open Library. So she can “borrow” them whenever she wants. The few books she couldn’t find digital versions of or didn’t want to part with were hers to keep. This act alone took her from several thousand books to about a hundred. We did the same with music CDs and video DVDs. We also scanned photos and documents. The amount of streamlining by going digital is unbelievable.
Sue is much more of a fashionista. She decided her softest spot was clothes and in particular, shoes. She started with the clothes that no longer suited her style, size, and taste. Those were easy to purge. Then to simplify further, she looked at her activities and likely future lifestyle. Keeping one business suit instead of several made sense. She decided she could live with fewer pairs of high heels. And she could let go of some boots that were at the edge of usefulness too. To simplify your life you want to think practically. What you may have an attachment to may no longer serve you. When that happens, it’s time to say goodbye.
Simplifying The Kitchen
If there’s one area that is challenging for any Food Travelist to streamline, it’s the kitchen. Like all who love to eat, cook, and entertain, our kitchen was full of many wonderful toys, gadgets, utensils, and appliances. We’ve occupied every inch of shelf, cabinet, drawer, and countertop space. Once you desire to simplify your life, you look at all those tools differently. It no longer seems useful to have ten different spatulas, which all serve the same purpose. When is the last time we actually used three slow cookers all at the same time. And how many versions of cheese grater do we really need. Finding tools around the kitchen that we hadn’t even used since moving to Wisconsin made it easy to do the first cut. After that, redundancy and realism took over.
5. Go Step By Step
When you want to simplify your life, it may be hard to do in one giant purge. We thought we did a great job when we moved from a house to an apartment. And while we did minimize a lot, over time, we also acquired new things that take up space. We have gone through several rounds of streamlining. Each round makes it easier to see the things that can go. When you do any decluttering and question whether to keep an item, keep it for now, then revisit in a specific time in the future. Six months is usually a good one. If you haven’t used it in six months, do you still want to keep it? If it’s seasonal such as clothing, go through the next season and see if you use it.
6. Simplify Generously
It’s easy to fall into the trap that if you simplify your life, you’re giving something up. In reality, much of what you give away would have great value to someone else. Think of your decluttering as an act of generosity. If we hang on to three slow cookers but only ever use one at a time, there are two people without slow cookers who can benefit if we streamline them out of our cluttered kitchen. When the snow is building up and we give away heavy coats that no longer fit us, we can generously help someone who does not have a heavy winter coat. In a Wisconsin winter, this could literally be a lifesaver.
Give To Family, Donate Or Sell
There are several ways to generously simplify your life. You can give items directly to others. We did this with items such as photos and family “heirlooms” that we know would be enjoyed and appreciated by younger members of our family. We also chose several local charities that take physical donations. Larger items and furniture can go to places such as Habitat For Humanity ReStore. Clothing and household items can go to organizations with thrift stores such as GoodWill. Vietnam Veterans of America and other organizations also will arrange for a pickup of your items. Books, games, CDs and DVDs can go to local libraries or, if you want to get a little cash, take them to a used bookstore like Powell’s or Half Price Books. You can also list items for sale on places like Craigslist, local classifieds, and even on Facebook Marketplace.
Double The Benefit
Many animal shelters can use extra items too. They can use items for animal care, towels, blankets, and things that will help them run the office. Many of these organizations run on a shoestring. Donations of office or cleaning supplies, pens and pencils, printers or old computers can be a huge help. We love to know that our donations to the local Humane Society Thrift Shop gives a double dose of love. Not only do the items we donate get purchased at a low price by someone who needs them, but the revenue go to help support the important work they do to help the people and animals in our community.
Many religious organizations, missions, and shelters also accept donations of items they can use in rummage sales to generate funds for services they provide and people they support. All of these organizations tend to be quite local, so you can know that the help you provide goes back into your own local community.
Simplify With Purpose
When you realize that your unused or unnecessary items can improve the life of someone less fortunate, it makes parting with them not only easier, but more purposeful as well. When pondering whether to keep or give, ask yourself, who will get more use and benefit out of this item, me or someone else who needs it? Let your answer be your guide.
7. Simplify Your Life – Inside And Out
Decluttering your external environment is a great start as you simplify your life. It will give you a sense of power and control. It will also give you room to breathe, which removes some of the burden that crowds your life and your mind. Once you realize how good it feels to get a little elbow room in your physical surroundings, you may want to simplify your life in other ways too. Simplifying your time, tasks, health, mind, finances, relationships, and more can help you transform an overwhelming, exhausting, complicated life to one that is more balanced, joyful, and free. We know we have only just begun on our journey of simplifying our life. As we continue with our further adventures, we’ll share them with you too.
We’d love to hear about what you have done or are planning to do to simplify your life. Please let us know in the comments below!
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