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March 4, 2021

Minimalism as a way to move forward

Who knew the hardest part of decluttering is when you take back your stuff?!

I grew up in former East Germany. I only had a minimal amount of material items as a kid, but cherished them tremendously. If I had to pack a bag with my most beloved things, it would have taken me no time at all. Then the German Wall fell and the western world took over my habitat like a tsunami with aftershocks. All of a sudden, I felt that I not only wanted everything, but that I NEEDED everything.  Clearly, advertisement was winning. Sadly, the marketing industry has only become smarter and sneakier. It’s close to impossible to escape it.

After our house fire in October and having to clear out the home to its bare bones for repairs in a matter of a couple days, we were forced to make quick and rational decisions of what was salvageable and what was not. As a matter of fact, you realize how much of your things you do not need or are not even pondering over for a second. Every decision was made with a true gut feeling; and it was quite eye-opening how one could hold on to something for years and then let it go without a second thought.

After a couple days, the image of a big dumpster packed with all our broken and smoke engulfed belongings was a bit gut-wrenching; I was met with a big void and mixed feelings.

Thankfully, there were a few items that were salvageable and put into a 10×10 storage unit. However, I was most surprised by the challenge of finding an empty unit. I have seen storage facilities seemingly all over the place when driving around town, but I have never actually seen a single person at any of the locations! Then, when trying to rent a unit myself, it became quite apparent that there seems to be an epidemic of ‘storage disorder.’ Did you know that some places even have a waiting list?! Unfathomable! Lucky for us, we snatched up one of the last couple units and suddenly all of our material life was stacked into a tiny space without a window; quite depressing.

Three months later, we have started to put our lives together again, slowly creating and partly re-creating our home. We all agreed that “less is more” and to make more space meant not being a better organizer, but merely owning less to begin with.

Honestly, starting from nothing created the opportunity to reinvent our living spaces. Smaller, newer, but more functional pieces. This also meant less storage opportunities; forcing us to be creative and intentional with the space provided.

The most difficult part was actually bringing back items out of the storage unit! Items neither one of us had looked at in 3 months and probably longer if you count the time prior to that. For a quarter of a year we did not look at them, for them, think about them or even miss them! This realization only amplifiedhow much society dictates what we should have or need to have,when truly we could do without most of the things we own.

It’s exhausting having to bring belonging back to a home that we want to be clear of stuff. Right after the fire, our gut feeling determined what to throw out (most of our items were not salvageable), but now we have something on our hands we did not before: TIME! Time can be your worst enemy when it comes to decluttering, because you think about each item too much. You start to attach meaning to them; emotions, and memories. This is when your end goal truly matters! You need to constantly remind yourself of how much you enjoy having less. This is the only way to get through this second wave of decluttering or sorting things. Remember that clutter zaps your energy. It weighs on your brain, on your conscience, it makes us feel heavy and overwhelmed. There are specific questions you need to ask yourself and answer honestly.

1. What is it? SURPRISE! (yes; you’d be amazed how many things you find you didn’t even remember owning)
2. What is it used for?
3. When was the last time I saw this item?
4. When was the last time I used this item?
5. Will I EVER use it? (BE HONEST!)
6. Do I REALLY need it?

The answers should come quickly; do not wait too long or start reminiscing about items, especially sentimental ones (pictures, drawings from your kids, gifts from other people, etc.). You almost have to look at your belongings as an outsider; from a complete rational perspective. I started with the regular household items as the sentimental ones are always more difficult to handle.

Also, keep in mind how much technology has evolved since you first purchased an item. For instance, I have lots of DVDs and CDs, but not players to watch or listen to the discs. Therefore, I have no reason to hold on to them! When was the last time you actually watched a movie on a DVD or played a CD? The same goes for books; now, I love actually holding a real book, but they take up so much space! Therefore, hold on to only your favorites if you have to, but donate the others to a local library, school or the thrift store.

Here is the good news: once you let go of things and they are out of sight, it actually FEELS good. It’s like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders and you can move more freely. Decluttering is not an easy process, but it is worth the time and effort you put into it. Think of it this way – all your stuff used to be money. Creating memories is more important, and talking about them is much more fun and entertaining than merely silently looking at an item and travelling back in time inside our heads. It’s lonely there! Ready, set, declutter!

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Antje Arnold  |  Contribution: 3,260