The minimizing of possessions acquired over a lifetime is a consuming, multi-tiered process with layers that must be peeled back and muddled through one at a time. If you are anything like my family and me, you may find it best to tackle the easiest layers first. Just the thoughts of turning loose of sentimental items would have turned me on my heel before I even began to minimize if we had made up our minds to start there first.
Belongings with memories attached present the greatest challenge to objectivity and sound judgment. Regardless of where you now find yourself on your minimizing journey, here are six questions that can help uncover the truth that will set you free.
1. WHY am I holding on to this?
As you pick up each individual item, search your soul and give yourself an honest answer. Are you trying to compete with someone else? Do you feel the need to flaunt what you own to impress others? Could it be that your refusal to let go of something you no longer need is hindering someone else from having their need supplied?
There are many reasons we feel compelled to hold onto something we no longer need, use, or enjoy—feelings of guilt for getting rid of a gift that someone sacrificed to give, sadness over releasing something that belonged to a deceased loved one, fear that getting rid of something will offend or hurt someone else’s feelings, our own pride, the desire for prestige, selfishness, greed, and a multitude of other reasons. Sometimes identifying your own motives and reasons for clinging to excess physical possessions will give you the courage to open your mind to the possibility of letting them go.
2. WHEN did I last use this?
If something is stuffed into a dresser drawer, buried in the back of a closet, hidden in a cupboard, high on a shelf, or otherwise out of sight, chances are it can be classified as excess. If you really need, use, or enjoy something it will usually be out where you can regularly see it and where it is readily available. Obviously, there are things that we cherish, such as collections, family heirlooms, children’s artwork, photographs, etc., that are out of sight but still bring ownership joy. Those things will be forever precious to us, and the place they have earned in our hearts guarantees a permanent place in our homes. But, inanimate items that are of no emotional significance and are stored away out of sight “just in case you might need them someday” probably need to go. It is easy to forget unseen, unnecessary possessions, and if you no longer need, use, or enjoy something, why keep it?
3. HOW does this enrich, improve, and add value to my life?
Imagine how much more peaceful life would be if we kept only the things that fill our cup and let go of everything that drains it. There are things that, just by their presence in our lives and home, resurrect bad memories, take us back to a painful time, or even bring anxiety. The anguish of parting with toxic possessions will only last for a short time. After you eliminate the negative from your life, you will feel a sense of freedom that will overwhelm any separation anxiety ahead of time.
4. WHERE does this rank on my list of priorities?
If the conditions to own, maintain, or keep something are requiring us to put our faith on the back burner and rarely see our family, there is obviously a conflict of interests, and our priorities are not in proper alignment. Time is precious, and tomorrow is uncertain. We’ve all lived long enough to know that children grow up, loved ones pass away, and windows of opportunity close with finality. When a physical possession becomes more important to us than the special people in our lives, the cost is more than we can afford to pay.
5. WHO is affected by my keeping this?
Having a cluttered, overstuffed home cultivates disorganization, stifles productivity and breeds discontent and irritability, not only in ourselves but in the loved ones who share our living space. Home should be a haven—a resting place—a comforting atmosphere where all who abide feel a sense of calm and freedom to unwind, relax and feel safe. Hoarding and clinging to what is not meaningful and beneficial at the expense of other household members’ well-being adds undue stress and is not conducive to the peace of a minimal lifestyle. It is a good idea to take a critical look around as if you are seeing your home for the first time, ask your loved ones how comfortable they feel in their surroundings, and take their thoughts and feedback into careful consideration without taking offense.
6. WHAT should I do with this?
Grab four different boxes and label them, “Keep”, “Trash”, “Donate”, and “Sell.” As you work through the Why, When, How, Where, and Who, decide, item by item and with deliberate intention, which box is appropriate. Keep filling the boxes as you minimize. Create a permanent place for everything you are going to keep and when the “Keep” box is full, empty it and put each item in its place. As soon as the “Donate” box is full, put it in your trunk. As the “Sell” box becomes full, decide how/where you will sell each item. Dispose of the “Trash” box, and you are good to go. You will be amazed at how this simple act of dividing every single item in your home into four categories gives you a sense of accomplishment. Minimizing is addictive —once you empty the boxes, you can’t wait to fill them again!
Remember this —the less you have, the less you have to worry about.