This is a story about minimalism and how it relates to productivity and happiness. At LightArrow, we often provide tips for becoming productive, organizing your life and living a happy, stress-free existence. We regularly remind our readers that they can be productive by doing less. Seems counterintuitive, right?
Simply put, everything you own or bring into your life must be cleaned, stored, fed, trimmed, serviced, refilled, watered, powered, etc. You get the picture. Taking care of all this stuff takes time and effort. The more possessions you have, the less time you have to enjoy life. Consequently, minimalism translates into more time to dedicate to you — not your stuff.
Today, I’m sharing my personal journey with you. Over the last three months, I shed more than half of my belongings; sold a house in less than a week; and moved from the booming and rapidly growing city of Austin, TX to the beautiful town of Boulder, CO, which is located at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
My husband, a seasoned veteran in high tech, was presented with an exciting and fulfilling job opportunity in Colorado. With careful consideration, we decided to embark on this journey after 10 years in Austin, TX. As they say in Texas, this is not our first rodeo. We’re practiced movers, as we’ve lived in the Silicon Valley, Portland Oregon and other cities.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
My personality is eclectic, with the unusual combination of right-brained tendencies with an affinity to logic, organization, order and consistency. I’ve always considered myself to be deeply organized. Everything has a place in my home, usually neatly labeled, stacked, grouped and color-coded.
What I didn’t realize until preparing my house for sale was there were nooks and crannies in this 4467 square foot, 1.24 acre home that contained unorganized messes that were pushed away like an ex boyfriend. Out of sight. Out of mind. The more space you have, the more you use. Something had to be done – and fast.
It was December 2014 that we decided to put the house on the market. It officially went up for sale on January 29, 2015 and was sold five days later. Prior to sale, a considerable de-cluttering and organizing journey was completed within 6 – 8 weeks (which would take most folks a year). How did we do it? I’ll get to that.
Over the years we accumulated lots of stuff. Frankly, stuff we don’t need. For me, shopping was always a form of recreation – an escape mechanism, retail therapy or a pacifier for a bad day. There was always a good excuse to buy a new pair of shoes.
I’m making the transformation. I’m on a journey to continue to shed many of my unnecessary possessions that burden me to focus on healthy and fun life experiences. I’m not saying that I will have only 50 or even 100 total things and live out of a backpack. I’m not saying that I won’t replace things that no longer work with new things. This is unrealistic for my family’s lifestyle, but the change is still profoundly significant.
Now, I find myself repeating this mantra, loosely quoting Voltaire or Stan Lee,
With more stuff there must also come great responsibility.
With any purchase there is prodigious consideration to the responsibility of owning it and its effect on the environment.
The Storm Before the Calm
If you’ve ever worked in the startup world, you know that deadlines can be crazy and you sometimes have to make the impossible, possible. This is exactly what we needed to do. Apply the startup mentality to what I would call “extreme de-cluttering, purging and organizing.”
I wouldn’t suggest this swiftness to the faint-hearted. Without a deadline, these steps can be spread over several months or even years, depending upon your urgency. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting.
You might ask. Does de-cluttering and organizing ever actually end? For now, the flood of activity still continues, but the urgency has diminished. Essentially, I’m now basking in the satisfaction of a job well done — “the calm.” However, maintaining the lifestyle continues.
A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. -H. Stanely Judd
By now, you’re probably wondering how we accomplished this transformation. First, I started with a SMART goal and then prepared a plan or roadmap.
SMART Goal: Achieve a non-cluttered and minimalist home environment with focus on a quick home sale within 4 – 6 weeks.
Time is money. Every day a house is for sale, you’re losing money. In order to reach this goal, we built a plan to get there. We recorded every task imaginable including repairs, painting, purging, organizing, cleaning and staging. We also established a budget and arranged the finances.
What Were the Rules?
We decided if we haven’t utilized a household or personal item in 5 -10 years, it would go. Exception – photos, things bonded with the sentimental and snow skis. Some items were easy to purge. For example, how many laptop bags from trade shows does a person really need? And some items were difficult — a basketball signed by Magic Johnson and a Schwinn almost-vintage bike? My husband wouldn’t budge on those. Some battles aren’t worth fighting.
Road to Success
We tackled the house room-by-room and started with the most cluttered and noticeable rooms with emphasis on the home sale. For example, we started with the great room and ended with the attic. We cleared countertops, removed personal items and stowed and grouped items. If you want to learn more about organizing and grouping, visit If You Want to be Organized, Learn This One Simple Concept.
Every night after work, I scheduled hours on my calendar dedicated to these tasks. We spent sixteen or more hours every weekend. My family moved away a month before I did, so I tackled much of it alone. Like I said, this plan is not for the faint-hearted. This was de-clutter bootcamp.
We divided everything among donate, trash, recycle, sell and give away. What wasn’t sold was given away. After approximately 30 SUV-loads of items purged, we achieved the clutter-free environment for which we had hoped. As a small example, I donated 100 pairs of shoes and fifty percent of a three-tiered closet of clothing to Goodwill. We dug deep.
How and Where Did We Get Rid of All This Stuff?
If you wish to embark on this satisfying but challenging journey, the essential places, websites and apps are listed below:
- Apps: iRecycle is an amazing app. Every time it was questionable as to where to recycle an item, I just accessed this app. Love it!
- Sites and Locations for Selling Things: Craigslist (use caution!), Amazon, Ebay, Nextdoor, Plato’s Closet
- Great Places for Donating Items: Goodwill, Salvation Army. This article from Apartment Therapy also provides some ideas — 25 Places to Donate Your Stuff.
- When You’ve Just Had Enough: 1-800-GOTJUNK
A garage sale or yard sale is also a good option. If you’re on a tight deadline like us, a yard sale might be unrealistic because of time constraints. And don’t forget to ask your friends if they want your stuff. Your trash can be someone else’s treasure. It’s amazing what they’ll take. For example, a friend who manages several rental properties took our cleaning supplies and other items that were prohibited by the moving company.
How Do I Feel Now?
It’s heartwarming and satisfying to sell (at a very low price) and give away things that you don’t use or need. The hugs and appreciation that I receive are gratifying beyond belief. We’re now living comfortably in a house that is half the size of the previous home. We are almost unpacked and we continue to donate and purge items daily. The environment is non-cluttered and feels peaceful. We know where everything is and the work involved in maintaining the home is next to none.
What I learned
If you’re someone who’s just starting out and entering the “acquiring years,” take this advice seriously. When you have too much stuff, it weighs you down. It negatively affects your energy level. It doesn’t allow you to have the time you need to get things done and experience life like you should. I feel as if a weight has been lifted – a monkey off my back. For example, I have the freedom to take a hike with the dogs after work instead of raking leaves out of the pool or sweeping the patio. Your time is priceless — guard it.
I honestly don’t miss those things and I don’t think I ever will.
Please Share Your Experiences with De-cluttering and Minimalism
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