I like to believe I’m not that much of a junk collector, but a contest this past month quashed my wishful thinking. In reality I have two ever-battling, opposing personalities when it comes to stuff: dreamer Ev, who clings to mementos and to anything that might possibly come in handy in any way, ever, and practical Ev who vows to not be ruled by the tyranny of possessions.
The lesson kicked off in mid-January when my daughter invited me and a friend to take part in a decluttering “minimalist” challenge that she’d heard about online.
Every day for 30 consecutive days, we’d purge the number of items dictated by whatever day it was in the contest, so Day 1, 1 item. Day 2, 2 items. Day 3, 3 items. And so on. We’d send each other daily pictures to show what we got rid of. Whoever made it the furthest into the 30 days would “win” and get all the discarded stuff. Just kidding! The stuff was sold, donated, recycled or trashed. The prize was “loser buys coffee.”
The first few days were, as you probably guessed, super easy—and our artfully staged photos reflected our enthusiasm.
As the month rolled on and items accumulated, our increasingly messy photo record sparked much laughter, conversation and debate. We frequently coveted each other’s giveaways and had to make a new rule: taking someone’s discard required the shedding of two additional items. That mostly cured our magpie ways.
We were all surprised that gathering our daily quotas didn’t become impossible—or even difficult. What was? Motivation over the long haul.
Making time to delve into the back corners of cupboards and closets, then sorting, packaging, driving and dropping off, etc., got tedious. Just maintaining our normal home and work lives is work intensive enough. Anything extra feels like extra.
Also, re-homing some items required uncomfortable honesty and/or a kind of letting go. There are interests and hobbies from bygone days that you’ll never rekindle, no matter how fondly you look back. There are impulse purchases that were mistakes—and keeping them another ten years will not remedy that fact.
And, of course, things stowed because of who or what they remind us of were—and are—tricky. It’s important to figure out what’s really precious and what’s just stored out of habit or guilt—and that’s highly personal. No-one else can determine it for you. I try to go by rule that if I literally never use it, never display it, never pull it out for rainy day reminiscences, I should re-home it.
I wasn’t surprised by the pull of sentimental items—or by my resistance to relinquishing things that might have a purpose. Someday. Maybe. Plus, there are things I love just because they’re pretty or whimsical or whisper of secrets and conjure up stories. So no, stashes of things like old keys, etc. didn’t shock me either.
No, what I found horrifying was the actual, literal, garbage I found. And worse, in one case, still didn’t get rid of. I wasn’t alone in my bewilderment about what my brain deemed must keep treasures. We all had some type of thing we clung to out of strange compulsion, all had our own But why? moments.
Over the years, I’ve worked hard to learn how to let go of hurts, to deal with grief and change, to let myself feel joy without guilt, and to not fall for the lie that purchasing another this or that will cheer me up if I’m sad or make me feel good about myself if I’m feeling bad, but this challenge was a good reminder: it’s a lifelong process. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying things we’ve work for or appreciating relics from the past, but it can be all too easy to accumulate and hoard stuff for more complex reasons. For me, the best thing about the challenge was the reminder to be intentional about what I hold on to.
If you want a little glimpse into what makes you tick (or what your ticks are!), or even if you “just” want a closet that contains only wearable clothes (I know, crazy concept, right?)—do this challenge. You’ll lose clutter and gain a lot in the process.
P.S. In just 30 days, we each unburdened ourselves of 465 things. Collectively, that was a whopping 1395 no longer useful (to us) items!
P.P.S. If you’ve done – or do! – a similar challenge, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the process.
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“The Maximum Minimalist Challenge” by me, Ev Bishop, was written in February 2018 and was originally published in the Terrace Standard, March 15, 2018 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
I’ve written on this subject before in a larger, more serious scale: CIRCLES by Ev Bishop.
10 thoughts on “The Maximum Minimalist Challenge”
The big question: How did you husband react? This exercise for me would be the “Maximum Marital Minimalist Challenge.”
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ROTFL–actually both my husband and my friend who participated’s husband were fine with it, after a couple of suspicious, “There’d better not be any of _my_ stuff in those piles.” 😉
Good for you! I’ve been putting off a much-needed decluttering for years. My closet is full of more things I don’t wear than what I do wear. You’ve give me inspiration.
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I find myself coming back to this subject every few years. (The serious thinking about my clutter, not actually getting rid of it all.) It grows back like a weed. I fear there is no cure.
By the way, I have a box of old keys. If I do your challenge, do I get to count each key as a separate item?
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A lot of people have said that, JP–especially re: their closets. You’ll have to let me know if you do the challenge and how it goes (or even if you “just” tackle your closet, LOL).
ROTFL re: “I find myself coming back to this subject every few years. (The serious thinking about my clutter, not actually getting rid of it all.)”
The struggle is real.
And about those keys . . . your call. One day I counted out felt pens individually to make my target; other days I packed a box and called it 1 item. (Though–now you see the root of my problems–I’m like, “A box of old keys? Wait, no, those are a treasure. Don’t get rid of them! ;)”
This is a great post. It’s definitely a challenge that hubby and I need to take. We thought we got rid of a lot of stuff when we moved five years ago (and we did) but it wasn’t nearly enough. Downsizing from around 3,000 sq ft into 1,300 has been a challenge that we failed at; we have clutter everywhere in our small mobile home.
Maybe I can get him to take the challenge this summer after we are back from Alaska and all of our snowbird friends have flown north.
So glad you liked it, ButtonsMom! 🙂 And yeah, downsizing is a crazy challenge—ROTFL re: your “failing” at it. I’m sure that’s not the case, but it is amazing how stuff piles up. If you convince your dh to partake in the challenge this summer or fall, you’ll have to let me know how it goes!
And YAY re: your upcoming Alaska trip. I’ve only ever been to Hyder, but I’ve heard from very trustworthy sources that it’s beyond gorgeous–especially as a cruise trip. 🙂 ❤
It hurts to even think about this. Needless to say I really need to do this. I have been trying for some time now. The biggest problem is I seem to never be home. When I am, I am busy catching up on other things and just don’t have the time to deal with it. I know there is a lot that really needs to go. I have literally taken truck loads of things to different nonprofits and it never seems to make a dent.
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“It hurts to even think about this.” The struggle really is real, Patricia–as is your never being home dilemma and the reality that often our at home time is taken up by the critical must-dos, not leaving any extra hours.
“I have literally taken truck loads of things to different nonprofits and it never seems to make a dent.” It is amazing (and overwhelming at times) what a person acquires in his/her lifetime.
I hope you find a way to shed some of the stuff that’s crowding you . . . and if you decide to do the challenge, let me know. I’d love to cheer for you. And on the other hand, stuff is just stuff, don’t beat yourself up over it if other priorities just don’t leave room for it right now. 🙂 Good luck! 🙂