Ready to Try a Little Minimalism in Your Life?

Box of unwanted stuff ready for yardsale

Minimalism. It’s the new, trendy lifestyle of simplicity. Pair it down, throw it out, recycle it, or give it away, it doesn’t matter, just as long as you get it out of the house.

The rationale for paring down is simple: The time we spend on our unneeded or unnecessary possessions often spills over into other areas of our life, reducing or shifting our focus away from more important priorities.

Even worse, amassing a large collection of things can be a huge source of additional stress and frustration —we have to derive pleasure and satisfaction from our acquisitions, otherwise, why did we choose them over something else?

It’s no accident that those with a more spiritually centered life find little use for large collections of physical assets, and prefer the freedom of a more minimalist lifestyle.

Are you a candidate for a little de-cluttering? Here are some of the more obvious symptoms:

You pay for commercial storage. Unless you’re storing furniture because you’re in temporary housing or need to keep tools or equipment handy for your business, it’s usually a good idea to compare the replacement cost of the stored items to the annual expense of storage. I had a client-couple who downsized into a small condo while the husband finished law school. Deciding their living room furnishings—leather sofas and chairs, coffee tables, shelving units, etc.—were too expensive to give up, they put everything in storage. After four years of paying for a ten-by-twenty, air-conditioned storage unit, they realized they could have replaced the furniture with new for the same cost.

Your house walls look more like a pawn shop than a home. You’re constantly buying something new because it will “fill” that last remaining empty space on the living room wall, or shelf, or display cabinet. Being addicted to “serial decorating” drives impulse buying. And telling yourself the expenditure is purpose-driven makes it seem like you’re accomplishing something important.

cluttered garage

You can’t remember what’s in all those boxes in the attic, garage, or storage room. And you haven’t opened them in years. Maybe it’s old Christmas decorations, the kid’s baby clothes, or that gaudy lamp you received as a wedding gift from your aunt Delores twenty years ago. But if the thought of going through all of it depresses you, it’s time to lighten the load. Start by asking yourself if you can remember the last time you used any of it? Last year? Five years ago? Keeping things that you no longer use or that no longer bring you pleasure can drag you down. If looking at it, or even thinking about it, makes you feel depressed, get rid of it. The freedom that comes from having less to take care of is real.

You’re an obsessive collector. It doesn’t matter if it’s dolls, plates, figurines, or the latest craze of so-called “collectibles,” you don’t need five duplicate pieces because they were on sale and the value is “sure to appreciate over time.” Just ask anyone who bought Beanie Babies as an investment, or worse, purchased expensive hand-signed Salvador Dali art prints in the eighties, only to find out they were counterfeit with forged signatures.

Your backyard resembles an auto parts business. I’ve had clients who refused to sell or trade-in their old cars when buying a new vehicle because they believed the future value of these “vintage treasures” would exceed their trade-in or sale value. Parked in the back yard for years, the cars were eventually sold for scrap when the property was sold. 

Those who’ve successfully shed major collections of unnecessary possessions generally recommend three tips:

  1. Be ruthless. Avoid the temptation to reconsider or delay the decision to put the item in the stay or go pile. This is often the result of becoming distracted with memories spurred by opening up a box of mementos from the past. Stay focused on the goal, otherwise, you’ll wind up putting everything back the way it was, delaying the process until you’re “in the mood to deal with it.”
  2. Use a consistent factor to decide between what to keep and what to get rid of. The most reliable is based on how long it’s been since you’ve used it, worn it, or needed it. If you’re storing things because you might need them in the future, put a date on “someday.” A limit of one year is enough to make the cut. If you haven’t used or even thought about the item in a year or more, it’s time to find it a new home.
  3. When disposing of items of value, decide what your time is worth. There are advantages and disadvantages to selling verses donating. Selling turns an unneeded or unappreciated heirloom into cash. But it also means you’ll need to spend the time to advertise, meet prospective buyers and engage in the expected price haggling. For those with a busy life or limited time, it may make more sense to donate the items and take the tax deduction. Take pictures and save any documentation in the form of purchase receipts and third-party estimates of fair market value for your accountant.

I’ll leave you with this:

Getting rid of all the things you no longer need can bring huge benefits. For example, knowing you no longer have to worry about the boat you haven’t used in two years can be incredibly freeing – especially when you consider the savings in insurance and storage fees. And reducing the general clutter in your garage and home can have a positive effect on your general attitude and productivity.