The Maximum Minimalist Challenge

Day 15 – so much gone, so much still to go!

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