To welcome the New Year, we wanted to share tips and tricks to downsize your things to de-clutter and de-stress your life in 2017. For most people, getting rid of stuff is hard. Whether you are paring down to live tiny, or looking to de-clutter your home, here are some tips to free yourself of your possessions.
Downsize to get more out of life
The tiny house movement is linked with minimalism…the idea that living with less stuff helps us focus on what’s really important. Stuff can feel suffocating, stuff can paralyze us, and mindless consumerism has a lot of negative effects on the human psyche and our environment.
On the other hand, some stuff can give us a lot of joy. A thoughtful gift to a loved one can express our care. A new well-fitting outfit can boost our confidence. A small library of books can inspire a sense of home and shared learning. Minimalism isn’t about owning nothing, but simplifying to own only what gives us the most joy.
too much stuff can be a burden
As discussed in 5 Reasons to Leave it All Behind, last year we woke up and realized that all the stuff we had accumulated over the years owned us more then we owned it.
When we first met, both of us owned very few things…then we moved into an apartment and got some furniture and decorated. Then we moved into a townhouse, and got more stuff. Soon after, we moved into a 1,300 square foot house with a 900 square foot garage and managed to fill that up too.
It was time to live with less to get more out of life. How did we downsize from a house to only what fits in our pickup truck? Here are 7 tips to free up your life by downsizing your stuff.
1. Live without it…to realize you don’t need it
We moved to Alaska for the summer and then planned to move to Florida after that. We gave nearly everything in our house away except a few things that we just couldn’t part with…like a antique table, our road bikes, some paintings, and a Swash (a brilliant single garment washing machine). We packed all these beloved objects into a 5×7 storage unit for the summer. For Alaska, we packed only what we could fit into a Prius C and hit the road. While in Alaska, we decided to buy a camper and start living on the road.
After 6 months of living without it, we realized all that “precious stuff we couldn’t part with” was useless to us. We could barely remember what was even in storage.
Finally we returned to San Francisco and emptied the storage unit. We only kept what we could carry in our truck and teardrop camper. Now we carry everything we own in our little “snail” home and it feels so…free.
Do you have a garage filled with useless stuff you have no idea where it all came from? Or a storage unit that’s been sitting there for years? It’s time to downsize…keep reading to learn how.
2. Create “rules for Downsizing”
It can take ages to downsize if you have to comb through every object you own and decide whether or not it is important to keep. Here’s a secret: everything you own probably has some importance. Importance is not binary: it’s a spectrum. Decide where your threshold is on that spectrum, and then decide where those things land. For Jessi, handwritten notes fall high on the importance spectrum. To save time she didn’t need to read each note to decide whether to throw them away.
When we downsized from a 1,300 sq. ft. house to a 35 sq. ft. storage unit, we had one threshold: how sentimental or useful was it? 6 months later, when we scaled down from the storage unit to a truck, we had a much stricter downsize threshold. Would we use it everyday living in the camper? If yes, it might stay. If not, it would go. The only non-daily use products we ended up keeping were a few sentimental one-of-a-kind things like yearbooks or childhood photos.
3. If you don’t use it, lose it.
Do you currently use it? Have you used it in the last year? Last month? Last week? It doesn’t matter if you think you might want to use it one day. The question is: do you use it now? If not, it’s useless to you. Obviously some things, like seasonal gear, might need to be stored for part of the year. But to de-clutter, it can be helpful to only have out what you use on a daily or weekly basis.
If you don’t use it regularly, give it away.
4. Give it away to people who can use it.
A lot of people struggle with getting rid of things that might be useful someday. However, giving it away to people who can use it eases that struggle.
Give what you love to people you love
Sometimes it’s hard to get rid of objects because they hold sentimental value to you. What helped us get rid of meaningful objects was giving them to people we love. It can feel good to know we are helping people we care about, as well as know our beloved stuff will go to a good home.
Sell it on craigslist, LetGo, ebay, or host a garage sale
If it’s hard to let go of things because you’ve spent money on them, selling them can help ease that burden. If you have the time, and need the cash, this is a great option. Consignment & vintage fashion is all the rage these days, so places like Buffalo Exchange and other curated thrift stores can be a great way of getting rid of nicer stuff in your closet.
Drop it off at a local charity
If you don’t have time to sell it, and none of your friends want it…donate it. Goodwill, Salvation Army and other thrift stores are solid options for dropping off usable stuff. More often than not, we donated our stuff.
5. Throw it away.
A bunch of junk is just that…junk. If the thrift shop won’t accept it, it’s probably useless. Keeping useless crap is not helpful. Just throw it away.
And try not to feel guilty about it. Throwing things away was really hard for us. Where will it go? How long will it take to decompose? All questions eco-friendly people might ask. But then we thought about the long run. If we downsize our life now, we will have years of conscious consuming which ultimately puts us in the positive…or at least this is what we tell ourselves!
6. Own only what you enjoy
Minimalism isn’t about hating stuff. It’s about only owning stuff that brings you joy. One way to pare down is to get rid of the stuff you own but you don’t really like. That gift from your aunt you never liked? That frock you feel frumpy in? Time to go. For some people, challenges like Project 333 (when you only wear 33 objects for 3 months) can help focus on only wearing things that you like and combining your clothes in creative ways. If you don’t feel great in your clothes, get rid of them. It’s better to wear your favorite shirt more often than to wince every time you have to wear what you don’t like.
7. Find multi-purpose Items
A key trick to minimalism and tiny living is finding things that can be used in multiple ways. Instead of owning 3 different things for 3 different purposes, buy one thing and use it for all of those purposes.
Simple clothes like dark neutrals can be very multi-purpose. For example, those superhero pajama pants your mom gave you years ago…okay, let’s be honest, Valerie had a very hard time getting rid of those. But instead replace them with some loose black linen pants which can also be worn out in public. Focus on clothes that can be easily dressed up or dressed down. Jessi loves soft dark v-neck t-shirts that can be dressed up with a blazer, but are soft enough to wear as pajamas.
Recently, Jessi found a pair of Prana pants. They are stretchy enough for yoga or cycling, breezy and water-resistant for hiking, and black & close fitting enough for work. Plus, when she folds them up, they take up a fifth of the space compared to jeans. Hello new pants, goodbye pair of blue jeans, work pants, and yoga pants.
Intelligently Designed Products
Well-designed products can save a lot of space and help live tiny. Top of our list of intelligently designed products are Sea to Summit Towels. They can fold out to be full-sized shammies, and can fold up to be the size of a cell phone. Brilliant! They are great for back-packers, and useful for keeping our bathroom supplies small.
Part of the attraction of minimalism is to counteract the unconscious consumerism that is rampant in our society. Ironically, throwing away a bunch of stuff and buying a few well designed replacements can really help you live minimally.
The hardest part of downsizing is letting go of our emotional ties to stuff. Dealing with our emotions can be more challenging than the logistics of downsizing.
To downsize, we had to remember that stuff is just…stuff. As much as modern media wants to convince us otherwise, objects don’t define us. Objects are just tools. Even beautifully designed or elegant objects, at the end of the day, play a role in our lives. We don’t really own anything. We simply use it for a time, and then we move on.
Letting go of stuff can be so freeing. It can free up mental and emotional space so we can focus on what is really important to us.
As they say, “Don’t love stuff and use people. Instead use stuff, and love people.”
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