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Minimum is the new maximum

Minimum is the new maximum

Americans consume twice as many material goods today as they did 50 years ago. As a result, most homes are full of junk. This has started to raise questions in the mind of the average consumer. How often do I actually use the arc welder I bought five years ago to do one job? Do I really need seven sets of wine glasses? Why is my shed full of plant pots when I haven’t planted anything for years? And what horrors lurk inside the box of tangled USB cables and cell phone chargers that I throw redundant electronic things into in the lazy and futile hope that one day they might somehow become useful again?

The work required to get rid of it all is so great that it’s tempting to just bulldoze the whole house and start over. Decluttering attempts begin and then fizzle out somewhere between clearing out the kitchen drawers and trying to wrestle the multi-gym into the back of the car to take to recycling. It’s just too much to take on at once. We have lives. And besides, it’s time for a gin and tonic.

What we need is project management. Decluttering can be done effortlessly a little bit at a time over several weeks. In theory you could eat an elephant – but one small bite at a time and over an extended period (note: it would probably be wise to refrigerate the elephant). Decluttering is the same.

One way to do it is to go through one room at a time examining every single item and asking yourself if it is a) useful or b) beautiful. If it is neither, bin it, sell it or give it to charity. Life being life, you will of course find yourself looking for one of these items a few weeks later, remember you got rid of it, and feel a pang of regret. But you must be strong. The benefits of an uncluttered house outweigh that little hankering, and you’ve been fine without that thing for 99% of the time. Remain true to the spirit of minimalism!

The concept of purposely owning less stuff would have been anathema 50 years ago. Gaudy ads provoked us into a frenzied desire for more possessions and ‘conveniences’. Like good little citizens, we obeyed and filled our homes to the rafters with stuff.

When the realisation dawned that all this stuff was becoming hard to manage, the Organizing craze kicked in. We could clear our floors by putting everything into buckets, sets of drawers, baskets and bins. Which were, of course, more stuff!

Now things are going into reverse. The benefits of owning less stuff include living more lightly, worrying less, having more money, greater peace of mind, and being able to focus on living life instead of accumulating and caring for objects.

It’s like a physical version of mindfulness. When there is less in your mind, you are more free to enjoy the present in all its richness. Similarly, when there is less physical stuff in your life, you are more free to pursue what really matters. You could also see decluttering as a weight loss program for your home, with ‘less is more’ as its motto.

If help is needed with decluttering, a good place to start is the 12-week course called, with admirable simplicity, Uncluttered. Over the course of 12 weeks it takes you through the process of clearing out all the inhabited areas of your home, with weekly challenges and an online community of declutterers. The course is timed so that all participants are working on the same area of their homes at the same time and can swap ideas about that particular challenge.

Also included are live webinars, coaching from the organiser (Joshua) and interviews with leading figures of the minimalist movement, all designed to help you ditch the junk and lighten up.