Downsizing and Minimalizing: A Few Ideas

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As they say, and most of us have experienced, junk accumulates to fill available space. Like house dust it just seems to accumulate effortlessly and perpetually.

Is clutter a habit or a disease? I know that many of the things that people acquire have behind them a tenuous justification that we tell ourselves, but if we were honest, all too often we really don’t need it. The unfortunate reality is that if we don’t learn how to assume responsibility for our clutter before we die, someone else will be having to deal with it after.

If I remember my history correctly, Robert E. Lee had to leave the army for two years (this was between the Mexican War and the Civil War) in order to deal with all the “stuff” that was left behind when his father passed away.

I have another friend whose wife, when her father died, had to make 28 trips from Minnesota to New Jersey to deal with all the “stuff” he’d accumulated over a lifetime.

A much better plan would be for us to assume responsibility and deal with our own “stuff.” Why is this so hard?

My father-in-law was a role model in this matter. Twenty-five or so years ago I remember thinking to myself what a nightmare it will be to deal with all the “stuff” he had accumulated. He had a house, garage and eight outbuildings including a barn and a greenhouse, each with attic spaces full of various kinds of content. Over a period of years he determined to empty and dismantle one building per year. He would sell whatever he could in a big rummage sale and burn the rest for firewood or whatever. By the time he needed to move to a two room apartment, he was ready to go. It was, in my opinion, an astonishing achievement. No medals were given, no mayoral citations, but in his simple way he exemplified personal responsibility.

On the radio a couple guys were taking about a book they had written about minimalizing, and how to reduce the clutter in our lives. They had come up with a game in which they would pick a month and on each day they would throw or discard that many things. That is, on the fourth, one would get rid of four things. Because yesterday was the 19th, I decided to get rid of nineteen things. (Why wait till the First to begin?) It felt good so I kept going, and near-filled a large trash bin. Today I will try to get rid of twenty…

How about you? Are you wearied by wondering what will happen to all your things when you’re gone? In high school I was in the play You Can’t Take It With You, and guess what? You can’t.

What I’ve observed about clutter is that it’s essentially like weeds. Though it’s somewhat time consuming, unless you deal with them they will overrun the garden and make it useless. Here’s a quote I liked on this matter:

“A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with — that’s poverty — but how efficiently we can put first things first. . . . When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar.” ― Victoria Moran, Lit From Within: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty

That pretty much sums it up. Bottom line: what is my life about? Once we realize this, streamlining — at least in theory — becomes easier. Wish me luck. I’m trying to break these habits of a lifetime. How about you?

Originally published at
Illustration at top of page by the author.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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