When it comes to ‘stuff’, there’s an interesting dichotomy in my nature.
I’m the kind of girl who, if healthy, would happily spend hours browsing op shops and garage sales for interesting and beautiful things. I love repurposing objects; filling up an antique tin with freshly baked cookies for a gift, reusing part of a birthday card to make a cute tag, or turning an old piece of furniture into something attractive. Like these old pallets, turned into a glossy, colourful, visually textured table!
(No, sadly, this is not my table…but I can dream…)
It’s not just physical stuff I could collect either. I could easily amass hundreds of gigabytes of memes that made me laugh, comic strips I related to, pictures of projects I’d like to try, emails, photos, every tiny bit of video that I ever took…
At the same time, I’m a minimalist. If it’s not something I need, I want to get rid of it. I’ve discovered the freedom and beauty of less ‘stuff’. Giving things away to friends and family who need them, donating excess items to charity, or deleting four years’ worth of unimportant emails: it’s liberating! Less to clean, less to organise, less to take up space.
Basically, I simultaneously want to keep everything and throw it away! So how do I decide?
Previously, I mostly just kept everything ‘in case’ (much to the disgust of my minimalist side). I suffered from FOTO – fear of throwing out. What if I threw that thing out, and then I needed it?! Horror! But when I got married and packed up all my belongings to move in with Mr Happy, I realised how much ‘stuff’ I seemed to have accumulated. I knew something needed to change.
Thankfully, I stumbled onto Joshua Becker’s blog, ‘Becoming Minimalist’, and my minimalist side was finally freed!
Since then, over time, I’ve developed some questions that act as guidelines for my decisions. Instead of surrendering to my feelings (Yes! I DO need that thing! I absolutely need that thing! It would be the BEST THING EVER!), the questions help me to zero in on the logical / practical aspects of my choice.
Because of this, my house has decluttered, and I’m better at keeping it that way. Since it’s been such a success for me, I thought I’d share my four questions with you! But first, an important note…
Always, always, keep all the correspondence between you and your medical team. (I also apply this to insurance / phone companies etc). Texts, emails, letters, reports… no matter how boring they seem, they can be unbelievably important. I’m in the middle of addressing some issues with my care at the moment, and I cannot stress how crucial it has been to have proof of times, dates, and what exactly has been said.
For example, when I contacted a doctor’s office to complain that the nurse had not been passing on my pacemaker reports (as had been arranged), the receptionist spoke to the nurse in question and then brushed me off as someone who was being unreasonable and impatient. I then emailed the receptionist the screenshot of my text messages to the nurse, proving that I had been texting (the requested form of contact) for several months with no response. I received an apology from the receptionist and, shortly after, an email with the records I had been requesting.
Now! On to the decluttering! I started my ‘journey to less stuff’ by sorting through the junk already in my house.
When you’re sorting / organising, ask yourself these two questions:
Do I still need this?
For example, the manual and warranty information for my lawn mower was once important. But now that it has died and been replaced with a different brand/model, I don’t need to hang onto it (most manuals are available online now anyway – we throw ours out and download a digital copy).
Sentimental things seem to be the hardest to get rid of. For example, I feel like I need to keep every gift anyone has ever given me (whether it’s something I can use or not). This post on the Becoming Minimalist Facebook page was the turning point for me:
How long has it been since I used this?
Maybe it’s the project you started, but could never find the time and energy to finish. Maybe it’s a hobby you used to have, that you no longer have the health to do. It’s okay to hang onto things in the hope of getting better, but there has to be a line, especially when they are things that can be replaced. I got to a certain point a few years ago when I realised I was no longer able to regularly sew. Instead of hoarding all my material, I gave most of it away to friends and family. If I wake up miraculously healed tomorrow, I can always go out and buy some more material: it wasn’t worth the space it took up, or the constant reminder of what I can’t do.
* * *
As my house became less cluttered, I started changing my mindset about what I brought into the house. I wanted to break the cycle of bringing stuff in, and then having to sort/organise it later.
Contemplating bringing something into the house (or saving it on the computer)? Ask yourself these two questions:
Do I really need this?
For example, a cute picture of a dog with a funny caption. I might laugh at it and send it to my dog obsessed sister, but I don’t need to keep it.
A medical infographic about my particular chronic illness (like this one) is something I will probably want to refer to again though. I’d save it into Evernote (a digital file cabinet) with my ‘medical’ tag so that I could easily find it again later.
How likely am I to use this (and when/how soon)?
I would need to live in a castle if I was going to bring home every single thing that I could envision using or repurposing (I’d also need a Queen’s bank account). A half price roll of fabric in a cute print (new curtains!), an antique dresser someone is giving away (a day bed!), a large framed window on my local recycling site (a photo frame!)…
I have to stop and say to myself, “With my health the way it is at the moment, how likely am I to actually do/use that?” (e.g. sew new curtains, sand and repaint the dresser). Most of the time, I have to acknowledge that I’m not well enough for whatever project I’m envisioning, and let it go. Otherwise, project materials and partly completed and then abandoned projects would pile up everywhere like little gloomy mountains, and Mr Happy and I wouldn’t have any space to live in.
Now, fair warning. You’ll probably start out answering, “Yes, definitely!”, nearly every time you ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”. But once you get around to sorting later, and ask yourself, “Do I still need this / how long has it been since I used this?”, you eventually learn which things you really should have said “No” to.
Be aware that the questions are flexible: sometimes there’ll be something you just can’t bear to pass up on, and that’s completely okay! These guidelines are to help you make those times the exceptions, instead of the default choice. That way, when you pick things to keep, they’re not unimportant junk; they’re meaningful, special things. When I gave away most of my material, I kept one small box of pieces that I was particularly in love with, or that had sentimental value. I’ve gotten rid of mountains of scrapbooking stuff, but I’ve kept the old piano that I’m repurposing, because that’s important to me (sorry Mr Happy!).
Find what is important to you, and focus on those things.
Get rid of everything else.
Unless it’s medical correspondence.
Keep that forever.
Are you a hoarder or a minimalist? Or an interesting mix of both, like me?
What things do you find yourself holding onto because of FOTO (fear of throwing out)? What things are special to you, and will always have a place in your home, no matter the state of your health?