“Show me your calendar and I’ll show you your priorities.”
Inside Minimalism, Vol. 1
Based on our exclusive subscription series, Inside Minimalism Vol.1 is a collection of 50 short and relatable essays on simple living by a small team of writers from different backgrounds, but who all share a deep appreciation for minimalism as a way of life. Enjoy a curated collection of beautiful writing with a single one-off purchase and support independent creators.
Words by Joshua Fields Millburn
I remember feeling a sense of dread whenever I returned home: two people sharing four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living rooms, and one oversized basement—all brimming with stuff. The decorations, the trinkets, the collections—the accoutrements of a supposedly successful life cluttered every corner of my home.
But it certainly didn’t feel “successful.” It felt chaotic and overwhelming, and I felt anxious as a result.
I didn’t realize it at the time, all those years ago, but my material possessions were just a physical manifestation of my internal life. My external clutter was internal clutter on display. Angst, distress, restlessness—all visible right there in my home.
You see, physical clutter is tantamount to visual noise, and sustained noise is crazy-making—it leads to tension, stress, and despair. Mixed together, my external and internal clutter led ultimately to existential clutter—a crisis of self.
And the only way to silence the noise was to let go.
In time, I figured out that my full house left little space for solace. But a more empty space is filled with silence.
Perhaps, then, a full house isn’t “full”—it’s noisy. And an empty space isn’t “empty”—it’s full of opportunity. And when we make room for the silence, we’re able to clean up the emotional, mental, and spiritual clutter that drives us mad.
Words by Alexandra Aspey
When I was younger, I used to keep everything. If I picked up some pebbles on the beach, I'd become attached to them and keep them. It was the same with toys, clothes, books, and anything else you can imagine. My bedroom was bursting at the seams, I had bags of stuff in my parents’ loft that I couldn't bring myself to get rid of, and I still could have used more space in the house if I had it. I'm not sure when I developed this need to hold on to everything. Maybe it was when I was small and my balloon flew out of the sunroof of the car, never to be seen again. But the thought of letting something go filled me with dread, so I'd keep everything I could.
As I grew up, I did get a little bit better. I learned to let some things go that I didn't need anymore, clothes that didn't fit or toys I was too old to play with, but there was still stuff that I would “get rid” of—but that really just meant bag up and put in the loft. Visually, they were gone, but I knew that they were still there if I ever changed my mind. I think that's the thing: I'm so indecisive that I was always scared I would change my mind about something I had gotten rid of and regret it for the rest of my life. Dramatic, I know. I felt a little better at not having the thing in my bedroom, but I still had the security blanket of being able to bring back anything I had let go.
When I was 19, I left home. I didn't take all my belongings with me, not at all. I kept my parents loft full of things from days gone by, I had stuff stored in about three different places in three different houses. To be completely honest, I'm not sure I would have noticed if one person had gotten rid of everything I was keeping there, because I had so much stuff that I couldn't keep track of it all. I obviously didn't need it, otherwise I would have had it with me and uses it every day, but I still had to keep it “just in case.”
The moment that really made me want to change was just after I had moved into the house I am in now. I used to live in a small flat by myself, and I had a whole bedroom dedicated to all the stuff I had been storing with other people and carting around. My other half dubbed it the “spare room” which we both knew meant it was the room that housed all my hoarding sins. When we moved into our first rented house together, I thought that I would sort all the clutter and leave behind everything I didn't need. But I didn't. All the junk came with me, and our first house together also had its own spare room. After a year and a half, we decided to buy a house together. It was a new build, never lived in before by anyone, and I didn't want to sully it with all my junk. So, I promised myself to sort all the clutter and leave behind everything I didn't need. But I didn't. Our beautiful new house now had its very own spare room and I was gutted. Why couldn't I just let it all go? The thought of it made me anxious, and I even got a bit panicked when my other half wanted to get rid of something of his. Are you sure? Do you definitely not want it? Why not just keep it and think about it first? I didn't want my bad habits to spill over onto him, but I couldn't help the way I felt.
Every time I sat down in the spare room over the years to finally make a dent in all the stuff, I would feel overwhelmed, scared, and defeated. I would give up and go do something else more fun. This went on for so long until I finally realised that I had been carting around all this rubbish with me for six years! If some of the stuff had been sitting on the floor of one after another of the spare rooms for six years, then I very clearly didn't use it or need it. Not only had it been taking up so much physical space for all that time, but it was also taking a toll on me mentally.
If you came into my house today (the ninth place I have lived in since I left home) you would think I had finally gotten everything under control. And I have. But it has taken me years of carting stuff around. Moving to a new house is a great reminder of all the rubbish you're hoarding! I recently discovered The Minimalists, and I now listen to their podcasts all the time and read their blogs and articles and just about anything else I can. This life choice intrigued me. I wanted to know more about living with intention.
To tackle my hoard, I needed to come up with a plan that would help me work through every thing but not get overwhelmed and give up. I saw a TV program one night about hoarders (ironic, I know) and saw this woman who had a house full to the ceilings of rubbish and junk. I think I like to watch those programs because it makes me feel like my problem is less of a problem. She had come up with a system that meant she had to get ten items out of her house every single day. Whether that meant ten things going in the bin or ten things going to the charity shop, that's what she did. She would spend weeks walking down the road with a carrier bag each day to donate her ten items. She got through her hoard very slowly, but she did it, and she didn't get overwhelmed as a lot of people on those programs do. It gave me an idea. I didn’t have nearly as much stuff as she did, and if I tried the ten-item-a-day thing, then I could be done within a month or so.
So that's what I did. Armed with everything I learned from The Minimalists about living intentionally and only keeping and using things that add value, I put my plan into action. Every day, I got my other half to take ten things out of the spare room and put them into a box, and I would decide what to keep and what to let go of. The reason I asked him to choose the ten items was so I would get through everything and not just pick the “easy” items myself and ignore the rest. When faced with a room full of stuff, it was so easy to get overwhelmed, but not when I had only ten items to think about. I aimed to sort at least ten items a day, but if I was feeling good about it, I would get another ten items in the box and sort through those as well. After years of keeping all this junk, it took me a only week to go through it all, and I think I only kept about 20% of it. Just goes to show how little I needed.
Now, I have stopped being as impulsive when it comes to buying new things, and I always take time to think about bigger purchases and whether I need them, or I can borrow them from someone else. My home is minimal compared to the “average” home, I don't like to keep things I don't use or need. So much has changed for me since I sorted all my junk. It's like I've gotten rid of a mental block, and now I have time for anything I want because I'm not sitting thinking about the spare room. Do I miss anything? Not at all. Do I wish I had sorted it all out sooner? Absolutely. But I believe that everything happens at the right time, and now is the time for living with less stuff and more intention.
A Little More of Less
A few other articles we think you might enjoy…
→ Love People, Use Things: Because the Opposite Never Works by The Minimalists
→ Fear Not by Karen Trefzger
→ The Delightful Overwhelm of a Pile of Undone Tasks by Leo Babauta
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