July 5, 2017

On Downsizing

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all the things in your living space? Have you ever tried to find something you knew you had but couldn't, no matter where you looked?

Some people hear the scary word Minimalism and think it means living with one metal folding chair and a spork. This is not true. If that's your thing, great, but minimalism can exist on a spectrum. The things you deem "necessary" are very personal and subjective.

Before embarking on a blog post regarding downsizing and organizing, I'll offer my opinion, since this is my blog and all. Purging your possessions is useless if you're going to snowball into accumulation again. Sure, you could purge twice a year and rotate out your possessions if buying things is that important to you but to me, the need to buy things is a form of addiction. And anything that has the potential to control my thoughts and actions is Not Cool.

The impulse to shop and to own more, better, bigger things is so ingrained in our culture it's hard to know where to even begin un-doing the habit of accumulation.

Our brains are wired to give us a little dopamine rush when we acquire something new. If we want to change this, we need to consciously rewire ourselves and switch the happiness signal onto other things, ideally things that don't require you spend money and give up space in your home to store objects. Like, say, accomplishments that come from within or enjoyment of simple, free pleasures, like quality time or the sunshine. The first step is, as you might guess, recognizing you might have a problem.

"That's all well and good," you say, "but we've already filled up all the drawers and cupboards of our home with stuff."

Don't worry, it's never too late to reclaim your life from your possessions!

Marie Kondo wrote the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. You need not read it. Her self-named KonMari Technique is basically this: Get rid of most of your stuff and you'll never lose track of anything again. She offers some practical tips, which I have condensed for you below.

1. Declutter First, Organize Second

Don't try to organize all your shit. It's just going to get cluttered up again in a week. You need to purge first.

Start with your off-season clothes, go through handbags, shoes, kitchen, miscellaneous crap, and end with sentimental items. Don't start with your keepsakes, it'll only distract you and then your whole day is wasted.

When you dive in to your closet, divide it up by shirts, dresses and pants if you need to, but get allllll of one type of clothing item in one place. Pull them off the hangars and throw them on the bed or the floor together. Make sure you check other closets and the laundry too. Get them all together.

2. Does it Spark Joy?

If you wouldn't buy it in a store now, put it in a bag and donate it to someone who will find joy in it.

Again, you must take out all of your items. Every item you own. You cannot do this just by scanning your closet. You must hold it in your hands and ask yourself, "Does this spark joy?"

If it's not a Hell Yes, for me then it's a No.

Marie advises doing the declutter/purge phase relatively quickly. Instead of doing a little here and a little there, which makes you feel like you're spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, making it a marathon and doing it all at once (as much as you can) allows you to see results quickly and gain momentum for really making a dent in the clutter.

3. Absolve Yourself of Guilt

When we receive a gift or purchase something we don't end up using, it's simply the guilt of that unnecessary purchase or misplaced guilt toward the person who gave it to us that's holding us back from chucking it. That's not what the gift giver would have wanted for us. Let go of those things without guilt by thanking them for fulfilling a role in your life. They played their part, did their job and now they (and you) can move on.

The gift you received gave you (and probably mostly the gift-giver) pleasure in the gift exchange and opening. That is all the purpose it needs to serve.

That item you purchased and never used or wore, it served a purpose too. It gave you pleasure when you bought it, and it taught you that you don't use that type of thing or that you don't wear that type of clothing.

The purple dress I bought in college and never wore but hung onto for a decade for the simple reason that I hadn't worn it....I was able to let go of it by thanking it for teaching me a lesson. And now it's free to find a new home where it will actually see the light of day.

4. Store like items in the same place

Once you've gone through every single one of your possessions, then you're ready to organize and store. Marie has all kinds of storage tips, such as using a dresser rather than a closet and storing clothes on end rather than in stacks. Honestly I wasn't interested in applying most of it.

But I found this one piece of advice helpful: Store Like Items in One Place.

No more keeping a bottle of neosporin in every medicine cabinet. Gather all of one type of thing in one place. If it's first aid supplies, keep them in the hall closet. This way you can see all of that one certain type of thing and know how much you have. This prevents you from buying duplicates plus enables you to always know where to look when you need this type of thing.

This goes for clothing too. Resist the urge to put off-season clothes away or in another closet. They will eventually be forgotten. By keeping all your things together it ensures you see them all regularly, keep track of what you have, and only own the things that you truly love.


Living light is the ultimate goal in the Go Household. We've made great progress both in reducing what we have and simply stopping the accumulation train, but there are still days when I look at all the junk lying around and want to sweep everything with both arms into a garbage bag and set it aflame.

We have a long way to go to reach our vaguely-defined "light" living but we've been paring down our possessions gradually to get used to the idea of eventually relieving ourselves of 75% of our things. We hope to arrive at a carload or two of only the things that are truly necessary, freeing us up for more mobile adventures.

I hope some of these tips may help with your clutter problems too!