Stuff. The word alone can send shivers down the spine of any minimalist. It conjures up images of a Hoarders episode—items piled up everywhere, crammed in nooks and corners, wasting away in darkened closets.
Minimalism and stuff are diametrically opposed. But life requires it … right?
The reality is, life isn’t a stock photo. We don’t live in pristine homes with white walls and untouched furniture. We have to, you know … live. And no matter how much we may work to simplify, there is some level of debris that comes with actually living.
When I read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year, my entire approach to my stuff shifted. I decided that instead of seeing the items I decided to keep in my home as just one more thing to manage, I was going to start taking better care of them. If it brought me joy, created beauty, or simply served a utilitarian function, I would honor that by maintaining it with care.
Before “stuff” was so easy to come by, this maintaining was part of life. Instead of throwing out a ripped clothing item, it was mended. Instead of buying cheap and moving on once the item gave out, someone took the time to repair it.
I wonder, how did we get so far from that? How did we become so comfortable with acquiring and discarding things when they no longer served us?
My primary teacher in this life lesson was a most unexpected possession—my cast iron skillet. My father had gifted it to me one Christmas, long before I had interest in cooking dinner, and especially utilizing a finicky, high maintenance skillet to do so. I promptly decided to store it away, and it languished in cabinet after cabinet, unused.
One day, many years later, I ran across an article about cooking with cast iron. I was cooking healthier dinners, and wanted to learn more about the importance of using certain types of cookware to improve the quality our meals.
I starting using the skillet, and it was a revelation. How could I have shoved this into the back of my kitchen cabinet for all these years? Yes, it required extra care, but it gave back so much more in the tastiness of my food!
I couldn’t believe it—this one item, made with love in the USA, had improved my cooking a hundred times over. And all it needed was a little TLC. What else in my house had I been neglecting because I simply didn’t see it’s potential?
Since then, I haven’t looked back. Not only am I grateful to have less stuff in my house by giving it away (I am now on a first-name basis with the Goodwill drive-thru employees), but I work to maintain and appreciate the items I keep.
What to Do with Stuff
Here are a few ideas for shifting your perspective on the stuff you own:
1. Make sure the items fall under the following three categories.
They bring joy, they create beauty, or they serve a definite purpose. Knowing that the items in your home do one of these three things will keep you from having to constantly maintain things that are useless, ugly, or simply drain you. Life is too short for that. Obviously, laundry isn’t going anywhere, but where you can, try to implement this rule.
2. Take an inventory of the things you keep.
Take them out of their natural space. This is important—if you only see them where they have always been, you can’t really appreciate their value in your life or your home. Take them out, give them a look, and check to see if you have more than one. Then see how you can best store it to make sure it gets used, viewed, or at least appreciated.
3. Spend some time each week taking care of a certain category of items.
You don’t have to feel overwhelmed, especially since most of us, even the most die-hard minimalists, will still have several hundred items to maintain. Just take one thing at a time. This past weekend, I focused on socks. Taking them out, making sure they had a match, and folding them properly. It took only twenty minutes, but felt so good when all was said and done. This weekend I am hoping to take out my stainless steel pots and get them cleaned up.
4. Commit to “shopping your house” before buying something new.
So often I think I “need” something and put it on my shopping list, only to find with a little digging that I already had it on hand. Last month I found several kids’ pajamas that had been given to me by a friend. I was so disappointed that I had forgotten about them and bought new ones instead! The beauty of digging in our own homes is the discovery of abundance around us, instead of the constant, nagging thought that we are always lacking what we need.
5. Look at your stuff as an opportunity for a quick check-in.
How many times have you used this item in the past year? Has it been sitting in the back of a closet, or has it been a regular part of your life? Are you enjoying it or appreciating it? If not, it may be time to consider passing it along to someone who can. If so, take that opportunity to be grateful for it, and how it makes your life better or easier. Ultimately, stuff is meant to serve us—not the other way around.
Hopefully, as we all strive for a life filled with less stuff, we can continue to be grateful for the things we do surround ourselves with, and take good care of them. Just like my cast iron skillet, you never know the potential of something until you take it out of the cabinet.