A few months ago I managed to make the switch from being a slightly compulsive hoarder to adopting a minimalist lifestyle.
Unsurprisingly, this was hard as I had a lot of stuff prior to changing my attitude- I owned numerous identical clothes, endless shoes, a whole cabinet full of sentimental papers, more stationary than anyone could use in a lifetime, stacks of books and an unhealthy amount of clutter.
I used to have some rather bizarre items in my room due to being sentimental- for over a year, I had a traffic cone which a drunk friend brought to my house. I always thought that it was important to keep stuff like this because it seemed important.
Except it wasn't.
Having far too much stuff did not make me happy.
Shuffling a gross traffic cone around my floor never brought to mind the fun of that night- it just got in the way. I spent a lot of time attempting to organize everything, something impossible if you own a lot. The I changed my perspective on physical belongings and it clicked that owning far less could make me happier.
I am still nowhere near completing this process. Every day I clear out more from my room and now own about a quarter what I used to. If you asked me to list all that I got rid of, there is no way I could remember more than a few things and I don't miss any of it.
There has not been a single occasion when I have needed or suffered as a result of something I no longer have. Most of my belongings had been gifts or impulsive purchases which I felt obliged to keep. Some I felt guilty about the prospect of discarding, others belonged to some fantasy version of myself, some I didn't even know I had and others I thought were useful. Somehow, I failed to notice that if something never gets used, it cannot be useful.
So, how did I manage to make this shift? Here is what helped me and what might be useful if you are also making the transition to a minimalist lifestyle.
I planned with care before starting.
As well as listing the most important items for me to retain, I considered why I wanted to make this shift. My reasons were (and still are) simple; I wanted to reduce my impact on the environment, I wanted to spend less time tidying and wanted to be able to travel without worrying about packing. In September, I will start university and the prospect of cramming my belongings into a tiny dormitory room is terrifying. When it became overwhelming I pictured how nice it will be if that room is tidy.
I acknowledged that this was a personal process.
Each time I cleared out an area, I did so alone and avoided comparing myself to others. Just because some minimalists can fit all they own into a single backpack, does not mean I need to. My own aim was to stop making new purchases and discarding usable and needed items would have been conflicting. Throwing out things like unopened shampoo or wearable socks would have forced me to replace them - a pointless action to take in order to meet a quota of items it is supposedly acceptable to own. I know people who do not identify as minimalists yet own less than I do, even now. That is okay.
I let go of sentimentality and guilt.
Memories are stored in your mind, rather than in physical objects. Discarding them won't make you automatically forget the memories they trigger. I kept all of my full notebooks as they are the most space efficient way of holding on to the past. With all my notebooks stored by my mum (in an unknown location because she insisted they be kept), I could pare down the sentimental clutter. There is nothing I need and do not own. If something is purely beautiful, I try to ensure it has not cost me any money and won't tie me down- like the pictures of my walls or various reclaimed things I like the look of.
I took the process slowly.
Over several weeks, I put one small area- a drawer, a shelf, a box- to clear out on my daily plan. There is no way it could have all been sorted through in one go, in part due to the sheer amount there was to synthesize. I had a lot of junk, much of it imbued with emotional weight. Decluttering at a slow pace also ensured I did it mindfully, making sure nothing went which I would regret or need to replace. I think this is why I have found it so beneficial; I let myself reflect on why I hoarded in the first place and my relationship to consumer culture. This was living in a different manner and not craving the unnecessary.
Those are the four simple factors that helped me to declutter my belongings, free from pressure or stress. These days I never feel weighed down by what I own and make considered purchases.