Updated: Aug 7, 2019
I am not a minimalist. I do not doubt the joy that many people have found by choosing that path.There is something pure and simple in an approach that seeks to live more with less.
My personal philosophy is that every object should either serve a purpose or represent the people living in the home. These objects tell your story. Clutter and excess, especially with mundane or trendy objects, may leave a home feeling soulless.
Each person has a set point that falls somewhere on the spectrum between a monk and a hoarder when it comes to their comfort level with the items in their personal space. Yet, I feel there are some clues and questions that will help you to determine your particular set point.
1. Your space feels heavy when you walk into it. My sister says that it is like a pair of pants that fit too tightly. It’s a little difficult to breathe. Even though it feels slightly uncomfortable, the thought of doing anything about it can seem overwhelming. So you metaphorically undo that top button in those beloved jeans and choose to accept the space as it is.
2. Simple tasks like putting away clothes or dishes becomes difficult. Last week, I was unloading the dishwasher and struggling to find room for plastic cups and gym bottles with lids. The cups were falling over as I tried to shove them into the space. After a few minutes of exasperation, I realized that the space was not too small, but the proliferation of cups that seem to multiply like rabbits was too large. It took five minutes of my time to eliminate about twenty cups. Perhaps this has not made emptying the dishwasher a joy, but it has most certainly eliminated some of the frustration associated with the task. So, if you find yourself wrestling with the objects in your drawers and closets, perhaps you have too much stuff in them.
3. You frequently trip over items in your home. This seems like an issue that doesn’t need explaining; sometimes this hazard is due to family members throwing down their book bags or kicking off shoes as soon as they walk in the door. In those situations, the issue may be less about excess and more about organization, but often, too much stuff goes hand-in-hand with lack of organization. So after your next trip, look carefully at the offending items--made easier by the fact that you are on the floor at eye level with them--and determine if the issue might be too much stuff. From this point forward, the only trips should be fun ones to places you actually want to go.
4. You struggle to find things you need. Americans spend on average 2.5 days a year looking for misplaced items. When we fill our spaces with too many unneeded items, then finding the items we actually need becomes significantly more difficult According to the research by Pixie, 60% of people have been late for school or work, 49% have missed appointments or meetings, and 22% have missed flights, trains, or bus rides in the past year because of misplaced items. Getting your stuff under control equates to an extra half a week of vacation; who doesn’t want that?
5. A staycation sounds like a nightmare. Our homes should provide respite from the rest of the world. They should be places of peace, places to recharge. Homes that are full as a tick (an awful but descriptive saying I heard growing up in the South) do not invite relaxation. If you dream of being anywhere but home, maybe you have too much stuff.
6. You can’t sit down at the table for a meal without calling Two Men and a Truck. Flat surfaces in a home invite clutter. I think this is especially true for kitchen and dining room tables. Science has proven the value of family dinners. Read 9 Scientifically Proven Reasons to Eat Dinner as a Family. The reality is that shopping for food, cooking it, and then cleaning up afterwards seem like Herculean tasks every night. Cleaning off the table first is just an added step that may derail the best of intentions. If you need to hire movers to store all the items on your table, maybe you have too much stuff.
7 You pay money for a storage unit. There are times when storage units make sense, but they should usually be restricted to temporary usage. A friend of ours owned storage units, and he said that it was a very lucrative business. He also said that he was amazed at the number of people who paid a lot of money every month to store items that were worth very little.
Before buying storage buildings or renting units, seriously evaluate if the items you are storing are truly worth the costs.
8. Have to move too much out of the way to live your life. My mother has a different set point with objects than I do. She lives in a house built during the Victorian Age and that has influenced her decorating style. I love the architecture of that style: high coffered ceilings, exquisite hardwood floors, lovely millwork, and deep, liveable porches; the insides of Victorian homes were too often filled with an overabundance of objects including pillows, heavy curtains, porcelain, and dark furniture. At times I struggle to find a place to sit down or place my drink because there is no open space. Maybe, your home is not full of ornamental items, but littered with bookbags, electronics, shoes, dirty dishes and other day-to-day useable items. Some of the issues can be resolved with better organization, but before you invest the time or money in buying more ways to store items, look around to see if there are things you can eliminate. Imagine yourself living in a calm, peaceful space that invites you to sit down, put up your feet, and drink a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
9. Duplicates of almost every object fill your home and garage because you don’t actually know what you have. I can’t count the number of times we have purchased an item we already owned simply because we couldn’t find it. Seriously, I once owned three egg separators and I don’t even bake! How many ridiculous duplicates do you have in your own home and how much money could you have saved if you had only known that you already had the item? I have multiple cooking and paring knives, but none of them are high quality. Cooking would be easier if I just owned two or three high-quality ones. This being said, I hope all of you have at least one meaningful collection. Collections are purposeful and can bring immense joy, but even those may need to be edited if they make living in your space more difficult.
10. Taking care of the stuff in your life has become a burden. I originally wrote that one of the ways to know that you have too much stuff is that the items in your home are dusty or dirty. There was some push back on that statement. Not everyone agrees that the level of cleanliness relates to the importance of an object to our lives. I admit that this is true, but it does not change my belief that every item, even if it is a gift, comes at a cost of time and space. I find satisfaction in cleaning when I don’t feel overwhelmed. Items in our life should provide us with more joy than burden. Keep in mind the adage that the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day they bought a boat and the day they sold it. More is not always better. Do you find joy in taking care of what you own? If not, maybe you have too much stuff.
The Family Narrative Project is releasing an online course titled Less Stuff...More Stories. This course provides a method for evaluating the objects in your life so that you purposefully surround yourself with things and stories that matter. If you are interested in more information about the course sign up to our email list at: familynarrativeproject.com