As I mentioned in last week’s post, I didn’t quite make my monetary goal for the year, but I learned an incredible amount that was far more valuable. Here, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned by trying to reduce “stuff” and obligations this year.

#1 – Marie Kondo can help you get organized

If you really want to reduce clutter and get your life organized, the KonMari method, which Marie Kondo outlines in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, is, by far, the best method to use.

Her method is simple.

  1. Discard “stuff” by considering things by category (clothing, books, papers, etc), NOT by room. Ask yourself if each item sparks joy. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. You’re left with a household of things you truly love. I was surprised by how many things I used to have that I rather disliked.
  2. Organize completely. Don’t buy anything fancy, just organize using the storage room you have and maybe a couple of shoeboxes.

I have yet to make it to the “organize completely” phase, but I have been floored by how well the “discard” phase works. Of all of the methods I tried this year, I found Marie Kondo’s to be the most useful. Her book is a quick read and I highly recommend it.

#2 – Clean 10 minutes a day

Set a timer and see how much you can clean in just 10 minutes. Do it every day. This is the only way I can keep my house reasonably clean and it’s really painless. I can get a lot done in 10 minutes and when that timer goes off, I’m done. No guilt for anything left out, I can get that tomorrow because I know I’ll have another 10-minute opportunity then. Some days I get so much done that I’m motivated to continue – not because I have to – but because I want to. This habit gives me a fresh start to every day and it’s really easy.

#3 – Wait 30 days before you buy something

I’m not talking about cereal or deodorant. Go ahead and buy those when you need them. However, for items that you’ll use over and over again (that will persist long after you purchase them) give yourself a chance to think twice about them. The 30-day rule lets you consider other options or do some research. It also shows you how much you want an item. If you can’t stop thinking about it for 30 days, then it’ll probably be something you enjoy for a long time, so buy it.

#4 – Increase automatic savings when you get a promotion

If you get a 3% raise and you’re already sending 8% of your paycheck to your 401(k), increase the amount you save to 9-11% right away when you get a raise. You’ll still feel like you got a raise (unless you’re very disciplined and save the entire thing – kudos to you), but you’ll also painlessly increase your savings, which could mean an extra six figures or more when you retire.

#5 – Experience gifts are awesome

It turns out that wine, chocolate, trips, and my personal favorite, massages, have become my favorite things to give and receive. Experience gifts are consumable; things that people use up, so they don’t stay around the house. They make the best presents because they build memories instead of a stockpile of “stuff”. The Minimalist Mom has a great list of 90 clutter-free gifts for any occasion.

#6 – Don’t throw away anything that doesn’t belong to you

Even kids notice when something is missing. If anyone catches you in the act of discarding something that’s not yours, the hit to his or her trust is massive. It’s not worth it and eventually #7 happens.

#7 – Your family will start de-owning stuff on their own

I think my husband jumped on board shortly after I’d cleared off my side of the dresser for the first time since we bought it. It looked like the border between Haiti & the Dominican Republic.

Haiti & The Dominican Republic

Our dresser looked like this…only in our case the bare side was the best. Photo Credit: National Geographic

Our closet also became easier to use. Eventually I noticed that he’d gone through his massive T-shirt collection and had thrown a bunch away. He didn’t tell me he did it, but he did. Finally, we sat down and considered the family DVD collection together.

When you first start to de-own, it can be really hard to do it alone, knowing that the dent you’re making is only a fraction of the total family “stuff”. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’ve noticed my family jumping on board, slowly but surely. Nathan has even mentioned (with a hint of gratitude that he may never admit to) how much cleaner certain rooms are now.

#8 – Time is your most precious resource

Seriously. Assuming you have basic necessities covered, nothing else matters (well, except your health). My new goal is focused on carving out more time for the things that matter (including health) because time debt is no longer something I’m willing to live with.

#9 – Shopping for groceries online is the best lifehack ever

I save 1-1.5 hours each week by shopping for groceries online and then picking them up at the store. I also save loads of money because I can easily see my total and kick things out of my cart. There are just so many very cool ways that shopping for groceries online makes my life easier. The link above to my online grocery-shopping manifesto is worth checking out if you’d like to try it. I lay out all the pros and cons.

#10 – Minimalism ruins the fun of shopping

I can’t just make an impulse purchase anymore. For example, if I’m shopping for clothes, I can’t just buy the first shirt I like. No, now there’s a little voice inside my head asking annoying questions like, “Is this well-made?” “Is this versatile?” “Does it look amazing on me?” It’s a great voice, but sometimes I wish I hadn’t swallowed the red pill and changed my life forever.

#11 – It is impossible to get kids to get rid of stuff

Many will tell you they’ve succeeded in getting their kids to give away their toys. I’ll believe it when I figure out a way that works with my kids.

#12 – One extracurricular activity per week per family member is more than enough

This rule helps us all minimize the craziness that comes with too many obligations. It keeps us (the parents) from turning into a shuttle service and it helps us all prioritize what activities we really want to be involved in. I’ve also found that constricting activities to weekdays is helpful. That leaves our weekends freed up to explore and go on Family Adventure Days. Alison has soccer, Maddie is in gymnastics, and I stay late at work one night a week for yoga. Perhaps this only works because our kids are so young, but the rule works for us right now.

#13 – Minimalism is a journey

At first, I naively thought I could organize my entire life and then sit back and reap the rewards. Then the junk mail showed up and our kids had birthdays and received a bunch of presents. Freeing yourself from your stuff only works as well as your system for ensuring new stuff doesn’t catch you offhand. Figure out how you’ll defend yourself before you get started and you’ll have an easier time sticking to your wonderful new excess-free world.

One Year of Minimalism

I find it funny that my list naturally came out to an “unlucky” 13 items because I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon this project for the last year. It’s changed how I think about the world and how I make decisions daily. I am, without a doubt, living a life closer to my dream life. I am excited to continue it with a new goal and I’m glad that you’ve been reading.

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