Monday, April 29, 2019

Don't Drown in Paper

Decades ago, everyone talked about a "paperless future."  Now we have many digital options, yet paper still flows ceaselessly into our lives.  It enters our homes daily in the mail, inside packages, from school, as business cards and takeout menus, concert fliers and free community newspapers.

If you don't deal with it, you'll drown in it.

"Drowning Under a Mountain of Paper" by on Flickr

When you began decluttering, you probably noticed the paper problem very quickly.  Were there piles of paper in the kitchen, on the dining table, on your desk, and in your kids' backpacks?  When you create a system that lets you keep up with the flow of paper, your visible clutter decreases.  Dealing with paper efficiently is a useful tool in maintaining your clutter-free home.

Here's what I suggest:

1.  Clear the kitchen counters.

Declutter those extra mugs, bowls, utensils, and the appliances you never use.  Then put the things you do use regularly into your kitchen cupboards and drawers, near at hand but out of sight.  It's not more convenient to have things on the counter.  It's not convenient to have no room to chop an onion or to mix pancake batter because the counter is full.  If your cupboards aren't so stuffed you have to rearrange everything in order to retrieve what you need, it only takes seconds to get out the toaster or the sugar canister.

Make an exception for something you use more than once a day, perhaps a blender or coffee maker.  Not the stand mixer you use every couple of weeks, or the cookbooks you never consult, or décor items.  My teakettle lives on the back left burner of the stove.

What does this have to do with paper?  Clear counters are especially important when you're trying to develop new habits of clutter-free living.  If nothing belongs on the counter, you can't justify putting random stuff there.  Once you habitually keep your kitchen clutter-free, put one or two decorative items back out if they make you happy, but until then keep them put away.

2.  Ditto the dining table.

Part of your decluttering journey has been to create homes for things.  The table isn't home for backpacks and piles of paper, so everyone needs to practice putting stuff where it belongs.  Again, something used more than once a day, like a fruit bowl or salt and pepper shakers, could remain, but that's it.  You'll find it's so much easier to use the table for its intended purposes.

3.  Double ditto the refrigerator.

Items stuck on the refrigerator always look messy.  If you love having photos or invitations where you can see them, hang a magnetic board inside a pantry or upper cabinet door.  And remove the pile of stuff on top of the refrigerator.  Do you think it's invisible because it's up high?

4.  Manage mail now.

Don't set it down somewhere it doesn't belong.  Piles grow when you neglect them, so take a few minutes and sort through the mail now.  Junk mail can go straight into recycling (shred anything with personal information).

Take the time to automate as many of your bills as possible, so you only have a few on paper.  Keep your checkbook, stamps, and some business-size envelopes together in a desk drawer, and take two minutes to pay each bill as it arrives.  You'll never again have a pile of bills to pay.

Cancel all catalogs and subscribe only to magazines you actually read.  Keep them in a basket on the coffee table, and recycle last month's issue when the new one arrives (if you haven't yet read it, cancel the subscription).

Enjoy "real" mail, like a birthday card or a thank you note, which you might display on your magnetic board for a few days.  An invitation with an RSVP needs an immediate response.  Enter the date and time of the event on the family calendar, if you're going.

Keep a "current" file (perhaps an accordion folder) for important papers like this year's pay stubs, statements from investment accounts, the latest auto insurance declarations page, unexpired warranties, and receipts for current year tax items.  File these papers immediately; remove those that are outdated.

You will rarely add papers to your archive file.  This box should hold the last seven years of tax-related documents, as well as wills, life insurance policies, real estate records, loan documents, deeds, diplomas, passports, and marriage/birth/adoption certificates.

5.  Sort school papers.

Most school papers can go directly into recycling.  Comment on, but don't save, the piles of math worksheets and grammar exercises.  Only keep items needed to study for a test and items that are really original.  Designate a home for these, such as a basket on your desk.  Quizzes, class notes, and study sheets could go there, ready for use as test time approaches.  So can essays, stories, poems, or art (hang a piece or two on the magnetic board).  Toss the study items at the end of the grading period; if you still think a piece of writing or art is really special, it can be placed in a keepsake box you've created for each child.  At the end of the school year, you can once again look through that year's items and keep a handful of the best things.

As kids get older, they should keep track of their own study items in a binder.

When something is brought home that needs to be signed and returned, sign it right away, and have your child put it in the front pocket of their backpack so it's not "lost."

Notes about school activities do not need to be kept once the date and time are entered on the family calendar.  I still like a wall calendar for this, since you can see at a glance what else is scheduled and decide whether or not to participate.  Mine is hung inside my pantry door.  Sports practices and game times, open house, the science fair, the history project due date, the 8th grade trip, an orthodontist appointment, a birthday party, and the church youth musical performances can all be entered.

6.  Limit extras.

If given the option, don't take a printed receipt.  Don't take the free newspaper.  Don't take fliers and coupons, unless you will actually use them.  You probably don't need the takeout menu for your favorite restaurant.  If you keep business cards for networking, get a business card organizer; otherwise don't take the card.  You can still add the contact to your phone.

Simply think before accepting more paper.

Friday, April 26, 2019

25 Ways to Waste Less

Don't you hate to walk through a park, or even a parking lot, or drive along the highway and see the garbage that people have tossed from their cars?  Is there anything uglier?

Well, actually, yes there is:

"Plastic Ocean" by Kevin Krejci on Flickr

Plastic waste and other trash is surely as great a threat to the health of our planet as global warming.  Both the making and discarding of disposable consumer goods takes a toll on our environment.  Even recycling uses resources and causes pollution, but alarmingly, the vast majority of plastic is never recycled.  Much of it enters our waterways, choking marine life and creating a sort of plastic soup in gigantic areas of the ocean.  It may be used for only a few hours (or even a few minutes!), but it takes thousands of years to decompose.

Please, reduce waste as much as you can, especially of single-use plastics.  Work toward eliminating disposable products from your household.

  1. Instead of plastic shopping bags, bring your own reusable tote.  Do this not only at the grocery store, but everywhere.  I keep a handy Chico bag in my purse for clothing and other small purchases, and larger grocery-size bags in my car.  I thank my kids for nagging me until using those bags became a habit.
  2. Instead of plastic wrap or bags, pack your lunch in a bento box or reusable snack and sandwich bags.
  3. Instead of plastic produce bags, bring reusable bags to the farmers' market or grocery store.
  4. Instead of using a plastic straw, carry a stainless steel straw in your purse, or simply do without.  If you go through the drive-thru, remember to tell them you don't need a straw.
  5. Instead of using plastic drink lids, avoid the drive-thru unless you are traveling.  You don't need the lid if you're not drinking in your car.
  6. Instead of using disposable cups, lids, and sleeves at your coffee shop, ask the barista to prepare and serve your latte in a mug.  Enjoy the foam art!  I'm always sorry to see the predominance of takeaway cups used by people who chat or work for hours in the store.
  7. Instead of plastic utensils, use the real thing, even on picnics.
  8. Instead of making coffee with single-use pods, use a drip machine or a pour-over setup.  Use a stainless steel filter instead of paper.
  9. Instead of drinking water from single-use bottles, fill a reusable bottle from the tap.
  10. Instead of accepting Styrofoam or other plastic takeout containers, bring some of your own Tupperware to the restaurant for leftovers.  Again, my kids nagged me until this became a habit.
  11. Instead of a throwaway razor, shave with an electric razor or a reusable one with replaceable blades.
  12. Use refilled ink cartridges in your printer, and only print when absolutely necessary.
  13. Use refillable pens and mechanical pencils.
  14. Opt for items with minimal packaging.  Avoid snack packs and products that are individually wrapped (they're more expensive anyway).  Buy pantry items from the bulk bins when you can, and be sure to bring your own reusable storage containers.  Support brands that don't package their goods in excessive amounts of plastic. 
  15. Consolidate online orders and request that they be shipped in a single box.
  16. Consider using disposable diapers and wipes only when traveling, while using cloth diapers and wipes at home.  I know it's a big commitment, but my mom (and everyone of her generation and before) did it with three kids in diapers at the same time.
  17. Consider using a menstrual cup or cloth pads instead of disposable feminine hygiene products.
  18. Instead of paper towels, use cloth to wipe up spills.
  19. Instead of paper napkins, use cloth napkins.
  20. Instead of paper baking cups, use ones made from silicone.
  21. Instead of dryer sheets, use wool dryer balls.
  22. Instead of tea bags, try a stainless steel tea ball and loose leaf tea packed in a tin.
  23. Consider using facial tissues only when you're sick, and a handkerchief the rest of the time.
  24. Reuse paper gift wrap, or present your gift in a small cloth tote.
  25. Buy food more consciously to avoid waste.  Each year we discard millions of tons of expired food while millions of people go hungry.  Avoid buying economy sizes if you're unlikely to use them, and shop daily or every few days for immediate needs, rather than stockpiling.  Serve smaller portions that will actually be consumed, and compost as many of your food scraps as possible.

I do not practice all of these suggestions, but I'm working toward that goal.  Why not pick a disposable item you use regularly and replace it with a reusable version?  Practice for several weeks until it becomes a habit.  Then choose another item and go on from there.

Francine Jay (aka Miss Minimalist) author of Lightly, suggests that one key to generating less waste is awareness.  To that end, make your kitchen trash can your only trash can.  You'll begin to see exactly how much you throw away.  Challenge yourself to extend the time it takes to fill a trash bag to a week or more.  Such a goal will inspire you to reduce your purchases while reusing, recycling, and composting as much as possible.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Go Green With Minimalism

Happy Earth Day.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  It's the mantra of eco-conscious people everywhere.

Great idea, except that most of us approach the concept backwards.

The first "R" to get our attention is "recycle."  Lots of people recycle; it's practically a social requirement.  And that's not bad, but we have so much to recycle!  So many plastic water bottles, soda cans, and take-out food containers.  So much cardboard from food boxes and shoe boxes and Amazon shipping cartons.  And tons and tons of paper:  junk mail, newspapers, magazines, concert programs, ticket stubs, extra photocopies and printing mistakes....  And don't forget the e-waste:  our "old" TVs, computers, phones, batteries, and all of that stuff which is collected but not always recycled, or not recycled here in the U.S., or not recycled without toxic results for foreign workers and their environment.

The next "R" in people's minds is "reuse."  Many people reuse.  There's a whole design aesthetic called "upcycling," in which you reuse junk to make other junk, like a "decorative" wreath made from an old garden hose (I'm not kidding), an earring holder made from a painted box grater, and shoe storage made with extra-large PVC pipe (you have to buy the pipe at the hardware store, so it's not really a "reuse," even though the project is considered "upcycling").

Now, I'm all for reusing old furniture (which might call for new paint or slipcovers).  I wash and reuse glass jars to store nuts, raisins, tea bags, car wash quarters, a mending kit, and more.  I've been known to make a tote bag out of old jeans and dust cloths out of old tee shirts.  I wouldn't hesitate to buy a refurbished car, bicycle, computer, phone, washing machine, Vitamix blender, or musical instrument.

But to me, buying someone's castoffs at a thrift store or flea market so I can fashion one more thing to hang on my wall, or to display a jumbo collection, doesn't make sense.  Isn't "Junk Chic" just another excuse for shopping, another way to add to the clutter in my home?

A minimalist should always focus on the first "R" - "reduce."

Buy less, own less, and you will have less to reuse and recycle.

You won't need all the upcycled storage solutions, because you won't have much to store.  You won't look at a blank space on your wall and worry about how to fill it.  If something has meaning and value for you, or brings beauty and satisfaction into your life, you will display it.  But you won't be constantly looking for new doodads, because you already have what you want and need.

You won't bring home stray leaflets or sign up for every store catalog, you likely have fewer bills and fewer contracts, so there's much less paper to deal with.  You may be perfectly happy drinking filtered tap water and home-brewed coffee or tea, which will naturally lower your bottled beverage consumption.  A couple of sets of cloth napkins, some dish towels, and a stack of microfiber cleaning cloths will replace the piles of discarded paper towels and Swiffer rags.

If you're a minimalist when it comes to food, you don't follow the American trend and waste nearly one pound of food per person per day.  The food wastes you do have, such as veggie peelings, coffee grounds, and crushed egg shells, are easily composted.

As a minimalist, you may wear a 30 item wardrobe, so you don't often shop for new clothes, and you don't contribute much to the waste clothing glut around the world.  You don't live in or feel the need to fill a 3,000 square foot house.  You don't drive a huge SUV if a compact car, public transit, or a short walk will do, and your lifestyle doesn't include a two-hour commute.

The best way to reduce your ecological footprint is to reduce your consumption.

Green living is more than hybrid cars and solar panels.  And while reusable bags and stainless steel straws are wonderful items to own and use, owning and using less overall will make the biggest difference to our planet.  So don't just go green - go minimalist!

P.S.  Please subscribe to receive Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff in your email inbox!  Additionally, use the Contact Form at the bottom of this page, and I'll be happy to send you "100 Items to Declutter for a Simpler Home," bonus content I've created just for you.

Monday, April 15, 2019

7 Steps to a Simple Easter

Courtesy of Bobby Haven, Brunswick (GA) News

People don't spend as much for Easter as they do for Christmas/Hanukkah, Valentine's Day, or even Halloween, but it is still definitely seen by retailers as a time to push candy, flowers, stuffed animals, spring fashions, and spring décor (especially tableware). estimated that $18.2 billion would be spent on Easter in the United States in 2018.

Like Christmas, Easter is supposed to be a religious observance, but in America our faith often seems to be placed in money and possessions, rather than in God.  We are devout consumers.  Many of the 71% of Americans who identify themselves as Christians will give more thought to new church clothes, Easter table centerpieces, and full Easter baskets (even if they include a chocolate cross) than they do to the reason for the celebration.

Whether or not you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ after His sacrificial death on a cross, you may still enjoy celebrating Easter as a time of renewal, hope, and love for family and friends.  As a minimalist, you don't want to acquire a lot of unneeded stuff that may have to be decluttered later, so you'll want to find ways to mark the occasion without defaulting to shopping mode.  How?

1.  Keep Easter baskets simple.

Don't buy the prepackaged baskets that are usually filled with junky toys and low-quality candy.  If you don't have baskets saved from last year, consider buying a bucket that can be used for beach play later this summer.  If you have some, shred green printer paper and construction paper to use as filler (it's recyclable too).  Use moderation in your candy purchases.  If you want to include gifts, think about crayons, sidewalk chalk, card games, bubble solution, origami paper, and other items that will actually be used and used up.

2.  Be practical about clothing purchases.

If you don't typically dress up, then investing in dressy clothes doesn't make much sense, especially for children who grow so quickly.  Check consignment shops and thrift stores if you must have Easter outfits, but choose basics that can be dressed up.  A cute sun dress, casual and perfect for a lot of use this summer, can be paired with a cardigan for Easter.  A pair of khaki or navy pants or shorts can be paired with a collared shirt, and both can be worn again.

3.  Plan an Easter egg hunt.

Dye hard boiled eggs naturally with beets, red cabbage, yellow onion skins, and turmeric, or simply color them with crayons or colored pencils.  Later you can use the eggs for Salad Nicoise, or simply mash them with a bit of Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper and serve them on some good whole grain toast.

4.  Attend church.

Even if you're not a believer, attending a religious service can be a worthwhile experience.  Most churches will have special music and even dramatic presentations for Easter, and the sanctuary will usually be beautifully decorated with flowers and banners.  And if you pay attention, you'll probably gain some food for thought as well as some inspiration for the week ahead.

5.  Don't fuss over dinner.

Roast chicken with lots of vegetables for a delicious one-pan meal.  Make a lemon cake for dessert and serve it with fresh strawberries if you can get them, or a thawed frozen berry medley (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries) if you can't.  Pour Martinelli's sparkling cider into stemmed glasses.  Set the table with your regular dishes, a lace or pastel tablecloth if you have one (mine is leaf green), and use some of your favorite house plants for a centerpiece.  If you have a flowering tree or bush in your yard, cut some stems to fill a vase, or buy a bouquet of tulips from the grocery store.  Place colored eggs or some jelly beans in among the plants.

6.  Get outside.

Stores try to sell the season, displaying warm weather clothes and factory-made spring décor in January.  But nature isn't in the stores!  Go play with your kids in the local park, or take a bike ride.  Visit a local hiking trail.  Take your time and look for interesting rocks or spot some birds.  Gather wildflowers in a basket and press them for homemade greeting cards or botanical art.  Notice new leaves, clouds, spiders' webs.  If you live near pastureland, look for lambs, calves, and foals.  Whether it's sunny or raining, daylight hours are longer and the world is awakening.  Pay attention!

7.  Start a gratitude journal.

It's easy to focus on the problems and disappointments in life.  Change that with a notebook, a pen, and some quiet time.  Think about people who have helped you, an opportunity before you, a specific comfort or beauty that you appreciate.  Make it a habit to list some of these every morning and evening.  The practice of gratitude will change your life.

How will you celebrate Easter this year?  Please share in the comments below.

Friday, April 12, 2019

3 Signs You Should Stop Decluttering

We're human beings.  That means we're capable of doing anything to an extreme.

Photo courtesy of Tatiana Lapina on Unsplash

Want to be healthier?  Never eat bread or pasta or rice or potatoes again, let alone pancakes or cookies.  Alternatively, eat 100% sprouted whole grain pasta and bread, along with brown rice, yams, quinoa, and lots of beans, but don't touch beef, pork, lamb, poultry, venison, or seafood ever again.  Even eggs and cottage cheese should be considered suspect!

This isn't a comment on what anyone chooses to eat, whether for health, religious, or ethical reasons.  There can be good reasons for removing or consuming any number of foods.  I'm just trying to make the point that we're pretty good at taking extreme positions on just about anything.

And that includes decluttering.  There are hoarders, and there are people who can fit everything they own into a backpack.  I imagine most of us belong somewhere between those two extremes.

Before you declutter, perhaps some or all of these are true:

  • You think that buying or experiencing something new will make your life better.
  • You think you deserve new things or experiences because you work so hard.
  • You think you need to own or do certain things to keep up or fit in with everyone else.
  • You spend a lot of time, money, energy, and attention on all your stuff.

After decluttering, you gain some or all of these:

  • You have a clearer understanding of what you value and what actually makes your life better.
  • You have more confidence in who you are, not in what you own or experience.
  • You worry less about people judging you for what you own or experience.
  • You have more time, money, energy, and attention to spend taking care of yourself and your loved ones, and on projects that you are really passionate about.

These are really valuable results, and even if you haven't reached "declutter heaven," the process has begun to change you.

Decluttering is a powerful tool, but it is not the goal.

It can be a life-enhancing process, but we don't want it to distract us from what really matters.  If we are constantly decluttering, trying to reach a certain "perfect" number of possessions, we might lose sight of our real purpose.

So before you declutter further, stop and think about what you really want for your life.  Should you declutter more, or should you deepen your connections with the people you love?  Is it time to declutter your bookshelves, or is it time to learn a new skill, or create something, or volunteer in your community?  Do you need to declutter that closet, or do you need to take a rest?

If you aren't sure, consider these three signs you should stop decluttering:

  1. Decluttering has made you sad and anxious.  If you've tried to let go of stuff, but end up feeling a strong sense of loss or worry that you'll need it, give yourself permission to stop decluttering.  If the clutter is really weighing you down, but you feel defeated and frustrated by your own attempts to reduce it, ask for help.  Ask a friend, or a family member, someone you trust to listen without judging.  You don't have to do it alone. *
  2. You continue to shop, even as you declutter.  If clear countertops, tables, and bookshelves have sent you running to the store to fill up the empty spaces, slow down.  Live with the empty space.  Give yourself time to think about what you really want and need.  Maybe you'll decide you like a more spacious home, or realize there are rooms you don't even need.  Regardless, take a break before adding or removing anything else. 
  3. You're in conflict with your family because you gave away their stuff.  If you've been anxious or driven in your decluttering, and haven't taken your family's feelings into consideration, you may need to stop and focus on your own stuff.  As Courtney Carver says, "Choose love over stuff."  Talk with your loved ones about why a simpler life is important to you, and ask them what's important to them.  Keep communicating as you deal with your own possessions.                                                                                                                                      Meanwhile, reduce clutter in shared spaces by throwing out trash and putting things where they belong, and ask your family to do the same.  Do this daily, and enjoy less clutter, even if the room is not exactly as you wish it to be.  Perhaps someone will notice that it's hard to put away the game they're finished with when the game cupboard is packed and overflowing.  Maybe they'll be more agreeable to decluttering games no one plays with any more.  A small step in the right direction!

Minimalism creates more time and space for what you love.

If you've spent the last month or two decluttering, maybe you need to take some time to celebrate what you've accomplished.  Look how far you've come!  Maybe before you give more away, you should enjoy the results you've achieved.

Remind yourself of what inspired you to declutter in the first place, and shift your focus to what will bring you more joy, contentment, and purpose.  You've got the "less" part of minimalism figured out (at least partly, or at least for now), so concentrate on the "more."

* If you're feeling defeated and frustrated by clutter, Decluttering at the Speed of Life by Dana K. White may offer just the help you need. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Clean As You Go

"Spring Cleaning" by Nosha 

Want to keep your house neat and clean in a simple, stress-free way?

Just clean as you go.

Instead of letting the house get really dirty and messy, and then having to spend a lot of time and effort cleaning it, you just clean a little bit at a time on a daily basis.

For example:

When I use the bathroom in the morning, I give the toilet a quick clean.  I spray the inside of the bowl with a 50/50 water and white vinegar solution, let it sit while I shower and do my hair, then brush and flush.

Before I leave the bathroom to get dressed, I wipe the mirror, counter, and sink with the hand towel, which I then replace with a clean one.

When I take off clothes, I either hang them up immediately or put them in the laundry hamper.  Clothes don't end up on the floor.

If I spill something on the stove or floor while cooking, I wipe it up right away and sweep if necessary.  I don't let it sit there to get cooked on or tracked around!

When I cook, if something needs to brown or simmer for a few minutes, I clean used kitchen items as I wait, in between stirring the food.  When I'm finished cooking, there's not such a big mess.

When we're done eating, my husband or I rinse our dishes and put them into the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink (we run the dishwasher every couple of evenings).  We put away leftover food, wash items like the pan, knife, and cutting board, and wipe the counters.  It takes just a few minutes.

When I finish watching a DVD, I put it away.  Before I go to bed, I put away my book or crochet project or save my writing in the appropriate file on my laptop, shut it down, and put it away.  When I get up in the morning there aren't five little piles of things sitting around; I start the day with a "clean slate."

When I pick up the mail, I don't pile it on the kitchen table.
  • Obvious junk goes straight into the recycle bin.
  • Junk with personal information (like insurance offers from our credit union) gets shredded.
  • Bills get paid.
  • Important papers (like the newest statement from retirement investments) get filed.
  • I no longer receive paper catalogs or magazines.
  • "Real mail" (like a birthday card) is opened, read, and enjoyed, and perhaps displayed for a few days on my kitchen bulletin board.

You get the idea.  None of these take more than a few minutes (some take only one!), but by doing them as I go, I spend very little effort and never have a really messy or dirty house.  Of course, a deeper cleaning is still required at times, but not as often, and it's not as hard.

When my kids lived at home, I tried to instill these habits in them as well.  My husband has lived with me for a long time, so they have become habits for him too.  But if necessary, I'll pick up after him or ask him to please wipe the bathroom counter or whatever.  Since the chore isn't very big or time-consuming, there's no reason to complain about doing it.

You can clean as you go in other areas of life as well:

Email.  Every time you go into your inbox, clear out a batch.  Archive the ones you need to keep, delete the ones you don't need (or better yet, unsubscribe), then do some quick replies (five sentences or less, if possible).  Put any that require longer tasks into a folder and add the tasks to your to-do list.  Spend no more than 5 or 10 minutes, and then get out of the inbox.  Repeat later.

Finances.  I put my savings and most of my bills on auto-pay, but I still have a few items to pay "on paper" (apartment rent, Visa card, gas/electricity, some charitable giving).  I've made a habit of writing a check and putting a stamp on the envelope as soon as the bill arrives in the mail.  I don't put it in a "to be paid" file, I just take care of it in a couple of minutes as it arrives.  That way, I never forget a bill, and I never have a pile of bills to pay.

Exercise.  I aim to move more every day.  I might do some core-strengthening exercises today, jumping jacks or a speed walk around the block tomorrow, go up and down a couple of flights of stairs the next day, and take a long leisurely walk with my husband the day after that.  If I move more every day, I may prevent health problems later.

Of course I'm not perfect at any of this.  But clean as you go is a principle that reduces stress, mess, and arguments while increasing weekend free time and the pleasures of a neat and clean home.

Friday, April 5, 2019

4 Simple Maintenance Tips

Decluttering is an event, or a process.  Minimalism is a lifestyle.

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash

We're real people.  We work, we socialize, we have hobbies and husbands and kids.  Stuff enters our homes every day, and if we have no system for dealing with it, clutter can reappear.  So part of the minimalist lifestyle is learning to be a gatekeeper, to keep stuff from once again overwhelming our lives.

How can we do this?

1.  Don't just put it down - put it away.

Use the old adage, "A place for everything and everything in its place."  As you declutter, you need to make a home for each item you need, use, and love.

Items often end up "homeless" because we simply have too much stuff.  If your bathroom counter is covered with bottles and potions, for example, you probably have too many.  Get rid of the duplicates, and the things you used once and didn't like, and the outdated creams and remedies.  Use the medicine cabinet and vanity drawers to store the things you need and use regularly, and try to keep the counter clear of everything except hand soap.  It's not only more soothing and spa-like, it's FAR more sanitary.

Remember that organizing, by itself, isn't the same as decluttering.  Simply organizing stuff in boxes and bins can hide the fact that we have too much clutter.  Containers are meant to contain, or control and corral, the items they hold.  Containers such as drawers, cupboards, closets, spice racks, book cases, and shoe bags place limits on what we store.  The answer is not to run out and buy more containers, it's to put your favorite items in the containers you have and declutter the lesser-loved items that don't fit.

Don't waste another minute searching for your misplaced phone or checkbook, or shuffling through drawers looking for your most comfortable and supportive bra.  Find a home for these things, and never put them down except where they belong.

2.  One in, one out.

When you purchase something new, discard something comparable.  That way, your containers don't overflow and everything still has a home.  For example, if you replace a worn pair of sandals, discard the old ones.  New laptop?  Recycle the old one.  Don't waste all the time and effort you spent decluttering.  Drop your habit of hanging on to old stuff you don't need.

3.  Curb the impulse.

Shopping for the sake of entertainment, novelty, or on a whim is another habit that needs to stop.  Nothing derails your decluttering efforts (and your budget) more quickly than impulse buys.

Be aware of your weaknesses.  Are there certain stores you "can't resist?"  Certain items you tend to collect?  Have yard sales become a favorite form of entertainment?  Awareness is an important part of changing habits.  Several strategies may help:  carry only cash, change your route so you don't drive by the tempting store, wait three (or seven, or thirty) days.  Find more helpful strategies here.

Remember it takes a while to change a habit.  I still have to avoid certain stores unless I have a specific reason to shop there, and then I bring only so much cash and no credit cards.  I can browse and enjoy all of the pretty merchandise as long as I remind myself that I already have plenty and I don't need to own everything that catches my eye (I know, I sound like I'm 3 years old).

4.  It's a lot easier to keep up than to catch up.

Develop routines for doing household chores, since piles grow when chores are neglected.  It really takes just a couple of minutes to sort through the mail every day.  The longer you wait, the bigger the pile gets and the more you dread the job.  The same goes for doing dishes or laundry.

Do you put off a chore because you hate doing it?  Try timing it.  It may not take as long as you think, and once you realize that, it will be easier to make yourself do it.  Or trade a chore you dislike with another household member's least favorite chore.  My husband vacuums for me, and I never ask him to dust or pay the bills.

Your children benefit from learning to do chores, so teach them to help you.  Make a list of jobs the kids can do weekly, such as sweep the front porch, strip beds and put out dirty sheets, clean the bathroom mirror/counter/sink, or tidy and dust living room tables.  Have them rotate responsibilities each week.

Create daily habits for yourself and your kids.  Be specific about what you want them to do, such as "Make your bed (at least pull up bedclothes neatly and put the pillow at the head)," "Put clean clothes away and dirty ones in the hamper," "Hang up your towel," and "Put toys where they belong."  These habits should become just as routine as "Brush your teeth" and "Wash your hands."

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, reminds us that "what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while."  It's the daily events, habits, routines, and attitudes that make up our lives.  But I like Anthony Trollope's more humorous take on the same idea:

"A small daily task - if it be really daily -
is worth more than the labor of a spasmodic Hercules."

Decluttering in the first place was the Herculean task.  Make minimalism your daily lifestyle, and you'll never have to do a huge declutter again!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Welcome to Minimalism

You've done it!  You've decluttered, or you've made a lot of headway on that task.  But decluttering is an event, while minimalism is a lifestyle.

Courtesy of

Decluttering is the tool, not the purpose.

So what?  Is anything different, besides the (great) fact that your house is cleaner and more spacious, your head feels clearer, and you're extremely happy with your accomplishment?  What have you learned?

  1. Your self worth is not based on purchasing or owning "the most toys."  You are worthy as you are.  The people who judge you based on the dress you wear or the house you own are still trapped by their own fears that they aren't enough.
  2. You're overcoming those "just in case" concerns about security.  You know it's rare for worries to become reality.  You can think about the worst-case scenario, and understand what you can live without if you must.  You've learned that relationships are irreplaceable, and very little else.
  3. You don't look for entertainment in a store.  You're more content spending time with family and friends, at the library, volunteering, and enjoying community parks, museums, and concerts.  You notice and enjoy the natural world more than ever.
  4. You own the tools you need for what you care about today.  You've decluttered most physical mementos of the person you used to be.  You've decluttered your fantasies, those unrealistic or unfulfilling personas you tried on for a while.
  5. You have a greater understanding of what is essential to your happiness.  You're less weighed down by things that keep you too busy or too distracted or too in debt to pursue your most valued goals.
  6. You're learning to appreciate empty space, free time, and quiet.
  7. You generally choose experiences over things, knowing that memories last forever.  This doesn't mean you're completing some sort of high-consumption bucket list.  It means you spend time with others, eating, playing games, talking, volunteering, going to a movie or a concert or into nature.  You've joined a gym, a choir, a book or chess club, or you're finally traveling to that place you've always wanted to visit.  You create art, or sew, or build and repair things, or garden, or make music.
  8. You feel rich.  You've decluttered a lot, and you still have plenty.  Clutter was proof that you had more than you needed.  It was proof of abundance.  Now that you are left with just enough for comfort, you feel satisfied.  You don't need to accumulate, because what you own is ample.  You're already wealthy.

Decluttering opens the door into a life of gratitude, contentment, purpose, and joy.

If you're new to this blog or to the idea of minimalism, I invite you to subscribe and receive Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff in your email inbox.  Meanwhile, start reading here, here, here, and here.  You might also enjoy my book Minimalism A to Z, available on Amazon.