As we continue making progress toward our estate sale (details here), I’ve taken a little time to process what I’m learning about freeing myself from so much of my material stuff. Perhaps you’ll find this list helpful, too.
1. Know your reasons.
Why do you want to simplify? Is it so you don’t have to spend so much time keeping things organized? Are you preparing for a life change like a move or a new baby? Whatever your reason, it’s just that…yours. Don’t worry what it might look like to someone else. Just make sure you’ve thought it through. If you need to, write it down. That way you can remind yourself why you’re doing the work if you lose your motivation.
2. Find a cause.
What are you going to do with the stuff you’re purging? I suggest finding a great cause that you want to support by donating your items. Maybe it’s a local shelter, a church rummage sale, or your own sale to start a long-awaited vacation fund. Having a cause makes it far easier to part with things. If you’re donating to larger second-hand stores, I recommend looking into how they do as a company. Some chains don’t have the best policies. (Have you heard the Goodwill low-wage controversy for disabled employees? You can watch the NBC Rock Center report here and read about it on Forbes.com right here.) We try to stick to local organizations that help people in our immediate community.
3. Cut out distractions.
What are the things that are keeping you from making progress on your simplifying? Are you allowing enough time to get through each section? Are you constantly having little hands pull things out of boxes and demand they are absolutely in love with the toy they haven’t touched in a year? It’s important to strategize how to work around any distractions. Send the kids to grandma’s for the day (or the whole weekend!), turn off the phone, reschedule lunch dates, or leave your front curtains closed so no one stops in for an unannounced visit.
4. Move space by space.
Instead of trying to tackle your entire house in one fell swoop, take it space by space. It feels far less daunting and will give you a sense of accomplishment as you finish each area. It definitely helps prevent burnout, which you don’t want to hit if your entire house is a reorganization mess.
5. Use good boxes.
This may seem trivial, but I’ve found it can help in ways I hadn’t imagined. Using good, strong boxes helps the actual simplification process by encouraging you to keep your mind set on organizing. They can also keep things looking tidy, which helps prevent burnout on bigger jobs, especially if it will take more than one day to finish the space. Personally, nice boxes have helped me part with my nicer things simply because I wasn’t putting them in junky containers. In the end, it’s important to plan your boxes appropriately for transport. How much help will you have to move everything? What size vehicle will you be using? Big boxes may hold a lot, but they get heavy quickly and need more space in a car. (The boxes I’ve purchased for every move since we got married and now to prepare for our estate sale came from Sam’s Club. They have various sizes, but these are my favorite. They can be flattened, stored, and used again for future projects.)
6. Take pictures.
It’s hard to part with old tennis trophies, letter jackets, camp t-shirts, and other items that hold sentimental value, but are they really serving a purpose in an old box in the attic or hanging in the back of a closet? Instead of allowing such physical items to take up valuable space in our homes or even in our minds, take a picture of it and give yourself permission to part ways. Collect all your photos and put them together in an inexpensive photo book. Keep the book on a shelf and share it with friends or flip through it when you’re feeling nostalgic. After all, we’re usually more connected with the memories tied to an item than to the item itself.
7. Consider the emotional attachment you have with the item.
It can be hard to part with items that have some kind of connection with us. Was it a wedding or birthday gift? Did you get it at a special time in your life? Is it something you once loved and poured your time into? When simplifying, emotions can run wild, especially feelings of guilt for wanting to part with something “special.” One thing I constantly remind myself is that there are seasons of life and seasons come and go. We don’t need to hold on to the things that once brought us joy if they no longer do. And yes, that includes gifts. Do you think the giver of that gift would want you to have it if it no longer fits your purposes? This part of the process is probably the hardest, which is also why it’s so important to already have selected a great cause for your donations. If you know the set of mixing bowls your aunt gave you for your wedding shower will be going to your church’s kitchen, it will probably be easier to say goodbye to it.
Another note on guilt. I used to have time for lots of projects like sewing, baking, jewelry making, stamping, painting, etc., but I no longer have that time. At the moment, I want to be with my family and prepare for our future. I’ve allowed all of my project supplies to throw feelings of guilt over me for no longer putting them to use. It’s the same for a number of books on my shelf that I know I will never make time to read. Instead of continuing to allow these things to influence my emotions, I’ve boxed them up and will be selling them. I don’t want to give material things that kind of power over me, so I’m tossing out the guilt.
8. Take breaks but not too many.
Purging our things is an emotional event. Be sure to take time to break from it if you start to feel stressed. Watch a short episode of a light show on Netflix, go for a walk, have a cup of coffee. Let your mind rest. But don’t make your break too long or take too many. You might lose good momentum or end your work altogether.
9. Finish the job.
Finish what you’ve started. Complete each space to your liking and then get the boxes out of your house. If the boxes don’t leave, you may be tempted to start pulling things out again or the boxes might end up feeling like more clutter. You worked hard to get rid of stuff, so work just a bit harder and finish well.
10. Give yourself grace.
Simplifying is not easy. We live in a society that tells us we should have more, keep buying, continue to increase. We have emotional attachments to most of our material possessions. If you feel like you need a break, take one. If you want to hold on something just a little while longer, do it. If you get stuck, be gentle with yourself and ask a friend to join you. Sometimes an outside perspective is all it takes to keep moving forward. Remember, this is your life, these are your things, and you might need time to process it all. Praying helps tremendously. Do it before you begin, when you’re in the middle, and then again when you feel like you’ve finished. Speaking from lots of experience, God has a way of meeting us, with all of our wild emotions, right where we are, even with something as seemingly unimportant as simplifying. He never intended that our material possessions have a stronghold on us.
It really is amazing to feel a bit lighter by simply letting go of a few…or a lot…of our possessions. I’d love to hear about your own experiences and what you’ve found has worked well for you!
A note on our own progress. We’ve nearly finished! We’ve gone through the house top to bottom. Now I’ve taken over for the small jobs like cleaning out the filing cabinet and refiling newer papers. We met with an estate sale company this week who say they will be able to hold a sale for us at the end of August. We’re working out the details, but we’re so happy to have a timeline! We plan to either go camping during the time of the sale or stay in a hotel. Something fun to separate ourselves from the sale. I’m glad our things will be going, but I don’t need to know who is buying each item. I’ve already said my goodbyes. And yes, I’ve taken plenty of pictures of our memories!