what’s your perfect amount of stuff?

perfect-amount-of-stuff

I’m tired of stuff management. I just spent an entire weekend up in the attic preparing the kids’ old clothes and toys for consignment.

Nearly a hundred items had been accumulating there for several months in anticipation of this sale.

While sorting and pricing all this stuff, I have to admit that I questioned my original decision to get rid of some of it and had to get emotionally detached all over again.

I know how entrancing stuff can be, but I’m done spending too much time caught up with it.

My journey toward minimalism keeps me motivated to break free from my attachments. My excitement about this lifestyle has led to some pretty heavy-handed declutter sessions over the last few years.

There are days I feel a long way from the point I dream of. But I’ll be honest, there are also days I feel like I’ve gotten rid of too much, especially when I haven’t done laundry in several days : )

So how much stuff is the right amount? It undoubtedly varies for everyone.

There are stages in your life when your right amount of stuff will be significantly more, like when you have young kids or a hobby that requires a bunch of equipment. But you’re always free to choose what your perfect amount is. I truly believe that amount can be minimal and you’ll still have everything you need.

During my weekend in the attic preparing stuff to sell, I thought about how to determine what my family’s right amount of stuff is.

If I was hesitant to get rid of something, I tried to pinpoint why. I became aware of the crazy dialogue my mind was having while contemplating whether something should stay or go.

So I wrote some of these thoughts down to help me get closer to my perfect amount. If you’re trying to figure this out too, I hope these guidelines help you get closer to that liberating clutter-free lifestyle!

It should go

Someone close to you will think you’re crazy for getting rid of it. Embrace crazy.

Everyone has one and might think you’re strange if you don’t. Embrace strange as well. A lot of expectations of what’s needed to run a household are dated anyway.

It will be stored away waiting for the moment your future grandkids will get as much joy from it as your child did. Watch Jessie’s song from the movie Toy Story 2, have yourself a good cry, and give it to another kid that will enjoy it now.

Getting rid of it represents the end of an era in you or your child’s life. A new era is waiting but may not have space to happen if you hang on to the past.

You’re afraid that without it, you won’t be able to conjure the memories of a special moment in time. There are nonmaterial things that will remind you of happy times, so if the item doesn’t bring you joy, feel free to part ways.

It might make a nice heirloom if your kids want it one day. Leave them fun memories instead.

You or someone else paid good money for it or it might be valuable in the future. If this is the case, sell it and move on. Get help here.

It might fit again if you lose or gain weight. Likewise, it might come back in style again. The benefits of a capsule wardrobe far outweigh keeping “just in case” clothes around.

It might be useful in a future sewing/craft/art/school/scrapbooking project. This is the most impervious type of clutter in my opinion. Get new supplies when and if the moment arises.

Someone has borrowed it in the past and might need it again. Give it to them now if it’s no further use to you.

It would just be one more possession weighing you down, inhibiting you from doing something spontaneous one day, like move to Maui!

It should stay

It makes you happy, even if you can’t explain why and there’s no use for it.

You could use it again or there is a very good chance you will use it again in the near future.

So what’s your perfect amount of stuff?

No one can answer this question but you, and it may take some time and soul searching to do so.

If you’re on the fence about something because it could be reasoned either way, then consider this: the lightness and freedom you’ll feel after getting rid of it will far outweigh any reason for keeping it.

The best view you can take about stuff is that it is not permanent and it should be allowed to flow freely in and out of your life.

You’ll be amazed at how the space that’s left after getting rid of stuff that no longer serves you will help you decide what you do want in your life.

Do you have any tips to add for deciding what should stay or go that help you determine your perfect amount of stuff? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

five minimalist habits that increase efficiency

Imagine what you could accomplish if you had focus. Extreme focus.

This seems elusive in a world full of distractions. Days go by and no matter how hard you work, you can’t seem to break out of the cycle of everyday tasks to make progress toward substantial goals.

There’s hope! You don’t have to become a minimalist to achieve the type of focus it takes to be masterfully efficient, but it helps to adopt a few compatible habits.

I’ve identified some traits of a minimal lifestyle that are aligned with the practices of time-management and personal-growth experts.

These five habits can be applied to the degree that works in your life to help remove the distractions keeping you from being productive.

These minimalist practices contain tried-and-true wisdom that can easily be applied to use your time more consciously and efficiently.

1. Eliminate the unnecessary

Minimalists have a keen sense of what is necessary because they’ve pruned away the things that aren’t.

This applies to belongings, commitments, tasks, or anything else that demands your time and attention.

It’s important to stop and consider what’s really adding value to your life. The act of doing something can become so routine that you forget why you even do it in the first place.

If you have trouble identifying habitual but ineffective routines, it’s time to do some reverse thinking.

Decide what it is you would love to accomplish if you had a day with unlimited time and no distractions. Work backward to identify the steps necessary, no matter how small, to make progress toward it.

If you don’t have at least a little time each day for progress on your larger goals after doing all the necessary tasks that keep things running smooth, then you need to eliminate some unnecessary ones.

It became easier to pinpoint the unnecessary once I made a conscious effort to simplify my life by getting rid of things I don’t need and saying no to commitments that weren’t in line with my goals.

2. Lose the news

This topic sparks debate. Keeping up with what’s going on in the world can be crazy addicting, plus it’s sort of an implied expectation of conformity in our society.

But the need to stay informed can put you at risk of information overload. You’re also exposing yourself to negative messages that are beyond your control.

Different forms of news have a way of becoming intertwined with your daily routines so they’re very difficult to shut out.

Have you ever tried to take a break from Facebook? You’ll receive a lot of enticing notifications of your friends’ latest status updates to lure you back in.

Social media adds a whole new level of staying informed. Being so easily accessible to everyone and bombarded with their thoughts and opinions completely derails my concentration.

Rather than weigh yourself down with the burdens of the world, choose a cause that you are passionate about. Let this be your focus and don’t distract yourself with things beyond your control.

You can be far more effective and start making a difference when you’ve narrowed your focus to just one cause that is within your realm of influence.

3. Be fully present

Only when you’re present do things become clear. When you have clarity, you know exactly what needs to be done next and this allows you to be efficient.

We’ve all heard that concentrating on one idea at a time is far more effective than spreading yourself thin. But this is difficult when there’s so much you have to juggle just to keep up.

So how do you get to this fully present state? You don’t have to be a Zen master to do it, but minimalists may get to experience it more often than others.

I think it’s because they’re good at creating space around them. They’re good at allowing things to come and go without forming attachments.

Maintaining this space means not allowing commitments or physical stuff to overwhelm you. It may take a lot of refinement and time to get to this point, but the reward is worth it and will give you momentum.

4. Store things where they’re used

There’s no doubt the innovators of the early 1900s were masters of efficiency. Henry Ford was able to accomplish great things because he was determined to do away with anything wasteful.

The processes in his factories were so refined that workers had everything they needed within reach. Ford placed tools and workers in proper sequence so that each component would travel the least possible distance.

That way, no step or space was wasted as the workers’ movements were reduced to a minimum. You can read more about this process in My Life and Work: An Autobiography of Henry Ford.

The best decision I made for my home office was to get a custom-built desk. Everything I needed to work, such as filing, printing, mailing, and so on, was within arm’s reach and I didn’t have to get up from my chair to do any of it.

You don’t have to have a custom-built desk to be efficient. An uncluttered home will provide the room you need to store things where they are supposed to be used.

5. Keep a tidy space

 Clutter is distracting. It can pull your mind away from the task at hand.

As someone who’s bothered by things being out of place, I’ve spent a lot of time tidying. I thought if I could just figure out clever ways to organize our things, I could escape the endless cycle of stuff management.

I was stuck in this cycle until I realized the only way to spend less time straightening our stuff was to have less of it. Plain and simple.

For me, neatness affects productivity but I’ve read studies that support both sides. Some say that a messy desk promotes creativity if you’re artistic, but the fact remains that you need space to create.

While a messy room may not be distracting to everyone, there’s no argument that efficiency will increase when you free up time that was spent endlessly cleaning and organizing too much stuff.

So why wait another day?

Decide what it is you want to accomplish, get rid of the excess stuff and commitments cluttering your life and mind, and experience what it’s like to be focused and efficient.

You’ll still have distractions but they won’t be overwhelming. You may just find that your someday goals are within reach and can be accomplished a lot sooner than you thought.

Do you have any habits that increase your efficiency? I would love to hear from you!

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Moonlight and Mason Jars

Inspire Me Wednesdays

farewell to December

farewell-to-december

The stark contrast between the last month of the year and the first one is most welcome by the time the New Year comes. During the height of the holidays, I dream of the quiet and slow-paced days of January.

Meal planning shifts from rich, high-calorie dishes to recipes that are healthy and low-fat. Instead of shopping and acquiring new stuff for everyone, closets get cleaned out and old stuff is given away.

In my post Farewell to November, changes were proposed to some old traditions to make the holidays less hectic. These changes helped simplify our celebration and decrease my stress level.

This was the first year I didn’t mail Christmas cards. Instead, I posted a holiday message on Facebook with a picture of our kids, and sent a text message and photo to some of our friends.

Another change was getting a live Christmas tree. Despite some negative things I heard about it being a chore to water, a fire hazard, and difficult to keep the cat out of, this was my favorite holiday change. I absolutely loved having a real tree instead of an artificial one. The smell was wonderful and there is something magical about the centerpiece of our decorations being organic and alive.

I also vowed to simplify our commitments and we did. This allowed me to be less frazzled at the ones we attended. We still saw most everyone we normally see during the holidays, but chose not to attend some get-togethers and had a few less dishes to prepare and gifts to buy.

Santa also simplified this year and skipped the wrapping paper on the gifts he left and no one even noticed! What everyone did notice was the extra time we had for an impromptu trip to Nashville to visit my sister’s family and a night at the movies to see Star Wars.

Now looking ahead to a brand new year and planning my goals, I’m not too wiped out to dream big, or minimal in my case. I’m inspired by the positive changes that living more simply is bringing. I’m also inspired by the minimalist and zero-waste trailblazers that are making this lifestyle more attainable for me and others. Links to a few of my favorites are below.

One of my goals for 2016 is to decrease the amount of landfill trash we produce by half. We’ve decreased it quite a bit with recycling, but going further will require some changes to what we eat. This will be my biggest challenge yet. My kids are picky eaters and they come by it honestly. My husband and I are not too adventurous when it comes to trying new and healthy food either.

I know that composting is an inevitable part of reducing our landfill waste, but I’m nervous about it. I tried composting a few years ago and it did not go well. I’ll never forget the smell of that failed attempt! Hopefully a little more research and the right kind of composting bin will bring success this time.

Another goal this year is to create a capsule wardrobe. I’m fashionably challenged and wish that everyone in the world would just wear uniforms and be done with all the fuss, so I love the idea of having such a concise, purposeful wardrobe! Just imagine how much easier life would be if the clothes in your closet were things you loved to wear and they could all be mixed and matched so you always have the right outfit for the occasion.

This year I’m ready to spend less time managing my stuff and more time doing the things I love but never seem to have time for. I look forward to the freedom and spontaneity that will come as I get closer to a minimal lifestyle.

Do your goals for the New Year include making your life simpler and living in a way that has a more positive impact on the environment? I wish you luck and would love to hear about your progress!

Helpful Websites

http://www.zerowastehome.com/

I consider Bea Johnson a pioneer of the zero-waste lifestyle. On her website, she provides practical tips and resources to make this lifestyle attainable.

http://www.missminimalist.com/

Francine Jay offers encouragement for your minimal journey through informative blog posts and stories from real-life minimalists. Her books eloquently describe the benefits of living with less stuff.

http://bemorewithless.com/

Courtney Carver serves up some great advice for simplifying on her website, including how to create a capsule wardrobe. Project 333, her minimalist fashion challenge, is something I plan to take part in this year.

farewell to November

farewell-to-november

A few nights ago, I was wide awake at midnight because my internal clock was off track. Setting the alarm for the first time in nearly a week signaled the end of sleeping late and staying up late with the kids. We had some great family meals, watched movies, and took a much-needed break from routine over Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the calm before the storm, the last peaceful moment before the frenzied rush of the coming weeks. Christmas is at the doorstep ringing the bell. It desperately wanted in last weekend, and I usually usher Thanksgiving out quickly to accommodate.

I’ll admit that Christmas took over a few hours on Black Friday with some online shopping. Gifts are an inevitable part of the holidays, and I always hope to have them bought early so I can avoid last-minute shopping trips.

Christmas is an exciting time, but the world tends to move too fast for me and I have a hard time keeping pace in December. Each year I have new hope that the season won’t be as hectic as the year before and all the holiday preparations will get done in time to relax and enjoy the activities that make this a wonderful time of the year. But no matter how early I start preparing it’s never enough, so I have to wonder if my expectations for this season are unrealistic.

After practicing some minimal habits throughout the year, I’m starting to have a different view of some of our holiday traditions. My usual planning, shopping, decorating, baking, and gift wrapping are a lot to fit in to a schedule that nearly doubles with events during the month. It’s time to consider the purpose behind our traditions and if they need to be changed up a bit.

We send photo cards to friends and relatives each year, but it’s done in more of a mass productive manner than the way I’m sure the tradition was originally intended. I’ve considered eliminating this tradition in favor of a more environmentally conscious and personalized greeting, but am reluctant because I enjoy receiving cards from friends. Perhaps personalized emails with photo attachments will be my new tradition if time permits.

Each gift I give this season will be done more consciously. This year, there are more experiences on our wish lists than before. Gifts will be given because they evoke joy or make life better in some way. I’ll try to avoid giving gifts that were bought because they were a great deal I couldn’t pass up, or because I feel obligated to give something out of a false sense of expectation. Who knows, maybe others feel the same way and wonder why we exchange gifts at all when the act of spending time together is really enough!

As far as decorating, my daughter and I have set up the nativity scene and hung stockings, but other decorations will wait for a week or so. Our artificial pre-lit Christmas tree has been a source of aggravation with branches that take a long time to separate and fluff and sections that won’t stay lit.

I’ve researched Christmas tree alternatives on Pinterest, as well as what type of tree is best for the environment. There are many different opinions on this, but I decided to get a real tree and gave away our artificial one so there’s no turning back now! The great thing about getting a real tree is that it might die if bought too early, so it graciously gives Thanksgiving its due time.

I’m willing to accept that some traditions can’t be changed overnight. Small changes to our holiday traditions just might start new ones that are more meaningful to us, like having time to bake and deliver cookies to friends, make ornaments with the kids, or do something spontaneous to celebrate the holiday.

My husband and son have a tradition of watching The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy over several nights in December. Sometimes they convince me to sit and watch with them, but I’m always distracted by my long to-do list. A calmer state of mind will allow me to be more present, which is worth changing some traditions.

As we say goodbye to November, not rushing through Thanksgiving has set the pace for a less hectic holiday for my family. I plan to let go of some of my former expectations of a perfect Christmas and lighten up on myself.

Things don’t have to be done perfectly, and in fact, some things don’t have to be done at all. The things I choose to do this holiday will hopefully be more meaningful because of it.

Do you have a plan for making the holidays less stressful by changing some traditions that don’t really fit your lifestyle anymore? If so, I wish you luck and would love to hear about your progress!

5 scary things about becoming minimal

scary-things

Although minimalism is gaining popularity, it still feels like a huge leap away in my world. I’m nowhere near living the minimal lifestyle that I admire in some of the books and blogs I read, but to go much further than I am now, I would have to make some changes that might be uncomfortable.

Here are some of the things that scare me about becoming minimal:

1. I won’t fit in

I’ve always felt socially awkward, but peer pressure doesn’t impact me like it used to and I like being different most of the time, so I’m not sure why fitting in with those around me matters at this point in my life as I make changes from the norm. But it does.

The last thing I want is to remove myself from the people around us. Family and friends are important to me, so I want to be careful about excluding myself from traditions that don’t always agree with what I’m trying to achieve. I’ve participated in many holiday gift exchanges to avoid looking like a Scrooge and bought fundraising items I didn’t need for the sake of being supportive. I know there are other ways to nurture these relationships, so that should be my focus instead.

Also, the more I recycle, the harder it is to watch recyclables be thrown away. I sometimes sneak two-liter bottles out of the garbage after a potluck or take disposable containers home from fast food restaurants to recycle. I’ve taken my own container to the donut shop to avoid coming home with a greasy box that can’t be recycled. This embarrasses my family and sometimes me depending on how brave I feel at the moment.

So how do I stay true to my beliefs without being considered rude or strange? I’m not sure yet but I realize I’m not being true to myself each time I go along with something just to blend in, so maybe that’s a start.

2. My kids won’t fit in

Nothing makes you more aware of all your quirky habits than parenthood. There are measurable milestones at every stage of your child’s life that make you question if your household is normal. I think everyone can relate to feeling left out, but it’s definitely a feeling we try to protect our kids from.

It’s easy to believe that fitting in requires stuff, like the right kind of clothes, the latest electronics, or the season’s hottest toys. Kids tend to want what their friends have, so efforts to instill minimal habits can be met with a lot of resistance at almost any age.

I try to encourage minimal habits by example and give my kids freedom to make their own choices when possible, at least in theory. It’s easier said than done! Imposing my idealistic view of how things should be is a certain guarantee that the opposite will happen, especially with my daughter : ) The goal is to not make my kids resentful of a lifestyle I want to encourage.

Gradual changes are working best with my family for now. If I made major changes to how we celebrate Christmas for example, it would be too different from how everyone around us celebrates and would make a joyful occasion stressful.

Subtle shifts from our current traditions will hopefully be rewarding enough to help us break free from old habits that no longer make sense. For instance, I hope an idea will hit for a really good Christmas tree alternative before December. This tradition has lost its appeal to me, but I’ll still do it for the kids.

3. I won’t have what I need

Next to the water heater in my garage sits a cute picnic basket packed with plastic cups, plates, and silverware. It was a wedding shower gift and has accompanied us on three moves, been stored in several different closets, and has never been used. It’s too big to fit on the garage shelves and I know we don’t need it, but as soon as I get rid of it, that picnic opportunity I’ve waited 20 years for will present itself.

It’s not just the picnic basket, it’s also two bicycles that sit in disrepair, gardening supplies from completed projects, special bakeware for recipes that I’ve made only once, and many other things that rarely if ever get used. I’m definitely not a hoarder, but I’m tight and the thought of spending money again on something I already bought but got rid of keeps this unused stuff around.

Maybe as I get my nerve up to get rid of the stuff we don’t really need, I will have time to take that picnic because I won’t be spending my spare time trying to maintain and shuffle all our stuff around.

4. I will get bored

If I don’t have anything to buy, store, maintain, or clean, then what on earth am I gonna do? Funny thought I know but getting to this extreme point is impossible because we need to have some degree of stuff after all. I’ve never been much of an outdoor person either because taking care of stuff has kept me inside for so long.

But seriously, the fear of being bored keeps me from parting with a lot of stuff like a large collection of movies, books, and board games for our family. There needs to be supplies at the ready to start a project in the off chance I get some free time because I feel like I’m not being productive if I’m not working on something.

I’m so accustomed to being occupied that I have a hard time relaxing when free time finally comes. Sitting still is something that I have bragged about not being able to do, which is silly when I think about it.

It seems impossible to have a hobby or do an activity that doesn’t require a bunch of supplies or equipment. Years of conditioning from the world in which we live has given me a strong desire for a lot of stuff. On the other hand, years of tending to and being distracted by all this stuff has also given me a strong urge to see what life would be like without wanting, needing, or having so much of it.

5. I won’t attract abundance

I believe in the law of attraction, and like anyone else, want to experience the finer things in life. My absolute favorite book is The Secret of the Ages: In Seven Volumes (Complete) by Robert Collier. I’ve read it every fall for five years now because it resets my attitude and makes me feel like anything is possible.

So if I start thinking minimally, will I limit the flow of abundance in my life? I know that what I really need is to shift my focus from attracting things I want to attracting experiences I want. This is challenging when I’m bombarded by opposing messages on a daily basis.

The idea of attracting abundance can work for things like good health, relationships, and experiences just as much as it can mean attracting physical objects. It’s fine for me to want material things too as long as I don’t let them weigh me down.

I am so conditioned to want things though, and I’m starting to see that if I want to attract amazing experiences, there’s no room for them if I’m surrounded by too much stuff. If I limit the amount of stuff in my life, I’ll hopefully save enough money to live in Maui one day and it will make my move a lot easier!

After my husband and I left our jobs to become entrepreneurs, we realized that good things often wait for you on the other side of your comfort zone. It was a risky move, and eight years later, neither one of us regret it. So all fears aside, I’m ready to take the plunge and see what’s on the other side of all my stuff.

How about you? Can you relate to some of these fears? Is your desire to become minimal strong enough to shake things up a bit and leave the security of old thoughts and traditions to see what this new lifestyle has in store for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

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