Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 2

Zen Garden with Sand Swirl and Balance Stones

Moving beyond decluttering your stuff to adopting a minimalist philosophy can lift your spirit, free up your time and money, and help keep Earth habitable.

Decluttering is about paring down your stuff and organizing what remains. Minimizing is that and more. It is a way of life. Becoming a minimalist entails shifting your attitude about owning things and enjoying living your life with fewer material goods.

In part one of this post, I attempted to explain how my worry about Christmas consumerism and the health of our planet disrupted my decluttering project resulting in a change of direction from just decluttering to minimizing.

We will be exploring ideas about decluttering and minimizing in part two. I hope that this will help you in evaluating your own situation and deciding if you are ready to embark upon a minimalist journey.

Decluttering

Generally, decluttering involves going through the rooms in your house or apartment and your garage if you have one, tidying up and organizing your things. Often, it also includes getting rid of unwanted stuff by donating, giving, selling, recycling, or throwing it away.

Decluttering is a cathartic process for many people. Divesting yourself of stuff that you do not use or want anymore can be a liberating experience. By putting the things you do want and need in order, you can easily find and get to them.

Minimizing

Minimizing begins with an extreme version of decluttering involving reducing your stuff to the items you really, really need, use, or love. Once you complete the initial process, which could take you several months or more, the hard part begins. Living with fewer belongings means adding less stuff to your home and life in the future. Like eating a healthy diet, minimalism is something you strive to do, forever.

Becoming a minimalist usually requires making a substantial shift in your relationship with possessions.

Moving Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing

People’s reasons for taking a minimalist approach to stuff are variable just like people. My motive is to reduce environmental harm and keep Earth habitable for my children, your children, other people’s children, and future people. You may feel owning less stuff would free up your time for family activities, charitable work, or traveling. Maybe having fewer things, from clothes to pots and pans, would make your life feel less chaotic and more peaceful. Perhaps you would appreciate having more money to invest, save, or donate to a worthy cause.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to minimalism. If you are a parent with young children living in a suburb in California, your life is different from a forty-something unmarried New York City dweller. Older people have had more years to accumulate things, but younger people who have done a lot of shopping and buying might have amassed as much or more stuff. One person may be satisfied with holding onto a few keepsakes, or books, or fill in the blank ______, while another person needs more of these things to feel content.

I believe the common theme is a mindset of desiring to own less stuff and being willing to change.

Getting Started on Your Minimalist Journey

So, you made the decision to move beyond decluttering to minimizing your stuff. Congratulations! I can hear the planet sighing in relief.

Where do you start? It does not matter just start. If you need help or inspiration, try reading a post or two or checking out the resources in the sections below.

Your journey and mine will likely be filled with both supportive and unenthusiastic family members, unexpected challenges and benefits, and unyielding pressure to buy more stuff. Keep trying and make a u-turn if you need to.

Making Minimalism U-Turns

If you are like me, you have had decades to perfect your shopping and buying habits and are probably holding a “good consumer” certificate. Transforming your relationship with stuff may not go smoothly, at least at first.

My transformation hit a bump in the road the first week.

I was packing a box in the kitchen when I noticed a pile of muddy shoes belonging to various family members in the corner by the laundry room. We have received a lot of much-needed rain recently and it makes sense not to put muddy shoes in your closet, but it was making a mess on the kitchen floor.

My first impulse was to buy a plastic tub for each person to put dirty shoes in. I even made a note on my shopping list. Fortunately, I stopped myself from making the purchases by realizing that I could solve the problem using cardboard shoeboxes, an old towel, or occasionally wiping up the floor.

Sigh, I wonder how many times this type of scenario will occur before my first instinct is to use something I already have versus buying something new.

For fun and as means of evaluating my progress this year, I am keeping of list of the things that I buy and things I think about buying but do not. In the future, I plan to write a post sharing my results and any wisdom I acquire along the way to living a minimalist life.

Please share your ideas about minimizing your stuff and making u-turns with other readers.

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Resources

Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 1

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon Footprint

Is your stuff overflowing your closets and weighing down your spirit? Mine is. Let’s redefine our relationship with belongings and live more lightly on Earth.

Generally, I am a serial declutterer undertaking decluttering campaigns regularly, although not necessarily at regular intervals. Usually, a new wave of decluttering begins when our household disorderliness level crosses an invisible yet variable threshold. Somehow, I just know when it is time.

If you have ever completed a decluttering project, big or small, you probably understand what I am saying. Your process might be different from mine, but something triggers you begin it whether it is a jam-packed kitchen cabinet or frustration because you can no longer park your car in the garage.

My current decluttering and divestment project began late last year, but it was not because we had crossed the household messiness line. Somehow, my concerns about Christmas consumerism and the harm we are inflicting on our planet’s environment came together forcing me to look at our stuff in a new light

This is how it happened.

Christmas Consumerism

As the holiday season got under way last year, I was feeling relieved knowing that we would not be involved in the Christmas shopping frenzy. A few years ago, my spouse and I had opted out of exchanging Christmas gifts so there was no need to shop. We had also seriously pared down our Christmas tree and home decor collection.

Nowadays, we enjoy giving to Toys for Tots, putting up a Christmas tree, and spending time with our family.

In December, we bought and decorated a Christmas tree, hung LED Christmas lights outside on the railings of our deck, and placed a few Christmasy items about the house. To me, we had just the right amount of holiday spirit on display and I did not mind that our Christmas tree had not one gift package beneath it.

We had our Christmas stuff under control.

Then I started looking at the rest of the stuff in our home. That is when the trouble began and an uneasy feeling crept over me.

Owning Stuff Environmental Impact

I found myself peering into cupboards and closets and pondering the items filling our television entertainment center. Standing in front of my clothes closet, I wondered why I still had work outfits suitable for the corporate world that I had left in 2011. Looking in the garage was just overwhelming.

Thoughts began swirling in my head. Where did all the stuff come from? Sure, we received some items as gifts and inherited others, but we had bought most of them ourselves. Do we really need all this stuff? How much money have we spent on all these things over the years?

How many tons of raw materials were used, how many gallons of water were consumed, and how much coal, oil, and natural gas were burned to make these things? How much pollution went into the air, water, and land during mining for materials, manufacturing, and transporting these products? How many people toiled under poor working conditions or received exposure to toxic substances while making this stuff?

I was only dealing with the belongings of a family of four. Yet, there are hundreds of millions of other people who own similar kinds and amounts of stuff and billions more that aspire to it.

These thoughts and more joined the ideas that had been percolating in the back of my consciousness for several years and formed a conclusion that is hard to deny.

Earth is already struggling to survive. We cannot sustain our current level of consumerism and destruction. I have to stop. We have to stop.

Moving Beyond Decluttering

I realized that I needed to transform my relationship with possessions by moving beyond decluttering and organizing my stuff to substantially reducing the things I own and minimizing the acquisition of more stuff in the future.

Once I had made this decision, I could feel my spirit lifting even though I believe it will be difficult for me to overcome the decades of training I received on shopping, buying, and consuming courtesy of product manufacturers, stores, the U.S. government, the advertising industry, and more lately the Internet.

Even though your reasons could be completely different from mine, you might be feeling uneasy or unhappy about your relationship with your belongings, too. Is your stuff out of control or weighing down your spirit? Changing your philosophy about owning things could benefit you and the planet.

In part two of this post, we will explore ideas about moving beyond decluttering to minimizing and I will share some of the ups and downs I experienced at the beginning the transformation.

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Christmas Trees – Buy One, Plant Two

Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)
Author watering a newly planted 33-inch tall Big Sur Coast Redwood Tree in her yard (center) with a 2-year-old Cypress Tree in the background (upper right)

How can an avowed tree hugger justify cutting down a living tree and displaying it in her living room during the Christmas season? It’s complicated.

Christmas trees pose a dilemma for me—tradition versus the environment.

I love everything about Christmas trees, searching for just the right tree, watching my sons wind colored light strings around it, reminiscing about when certain ornaments became part of our collection, decorating the tree with my family, and delighting in its beauty, scent, and serenity.

Growing, transporting, and selling Christmas trees and manufacturing artificial trees and tree trimmings uses land, water, pesticides, energy, fossil fuels, unrecyclable materials, and generates waste. Cutting down live trees so you and I can enjoy one adorning our living rooms for a few weeks strikes a discordant note with me. So, what is a good environmentalist or any person who wants to live more lightly on the Earth to do?

To buy a Christmas tree or not to buy a Christmas tree, that is the question.

Christmas Trees through the Years

Real Christmas trees have been a part of every Christmas holiday season I can remember.

When I was a kid, our family of five made an annual outing to a nearby Christmas tree farm. We tromped around the farm searching for the ideal tree, circumnavigating likely candidates looking for bald spots, and administering the springy needle test to check for freshness. When we got the tree home, we strung it with lights, put on the ornaments, and carefully placed silver tinsel strand by strand.

My spouse and I continued the Christmas tree tradition assembling our own collection of ornaments over the years. We purchased potted living trees a few times with little success. Only one made it to a new home in the Angeles National Forest where I hope it is still alive and thriving.

When we moved to the California Central Coast in 2007, where our yard is mostly wild, I began recycling our Christmas trees in our own yard. I cut the branches into small pieces before distributing them around the yard and then I drag the trunk to a spot that can use some erosion control. As you walk around the yard you can view Christmas trees past in various stages of becoming one with the Earth.

Christmas Tree Anxiety

My Christmas tree anxiety began after we moved to our current home. We live in a Monterey pine forest and our yard is mostly unfenced so deer, wild turkeys, and the occasional neighbor’s cat freely stroll through. Birds avail themselves of the birdbath outside our home office window. Living among and observing wild nature through the dry and slightly less dry seasons makes me mindful of the interconnectedness of nature including people. What we do to the planet we do to ourselves.

Now each year as the holiday season approaches I look forward to buying and trimming a Christmas tree, but I also wonder whether I should. In 2014, I contemplated buying an artificial tree so I did some research and shared my findings in the post Which is Greener a Real or Artificial Christmas Tree? I decided on a real tree and proposed a new tree planting tradition.

A Tree for A Tree

For every real or artificial tree we purchase or each time we put up an existing artificial tree, I suggested we (meaning all of us) plant a new tree in our yard, a park, or a forest.

That year, I rescued a 6-inch tall cypress tree seedling from a street median and planted it between the stumps of two Monterey pine trees we had lost during the drought. Unfortunately, I failed to account for the deer trail running between the stumps near our neighbor’s chain link fence.

The seedling and the deer coexisted peacefully until the tree grew to be several feet in diameter. Deer brushing by the expanding girth of the little tree began breaking off its branches as they passed through.

If you have ever tried to reroute a deer path, you know it is an exercise in futility. We compromised by installing a deer deterrent device, a short span of fencing that shields the branches from passing deer (the tree and fence are shown in the upper right corner of the above photo). The tree and the deer seem happy with the solution. If the deer decide they feel inconvenienced by the fence, they will inform us by enlisting one of the bucks to rip it out with his antlers (this has happened before).

Christmas Tree Tradition Versus the Planet

So now, we are back to the original question, to buy a tree or not to buy a tree.

All living things inflict some measure of harm just by living on Earth, with people being responsible for the greatest share. An environmentally sound Christmas tree would be the one that grew up naturally in a diverse forest and stayed there unbothered by people.

However, if we are to keep this amazing planet habitable for all, we need everyone to feel connected and willing to work together and I believe we need beauty and pleasure as well as hard work and sacrifice.

For me, a Christmas tree is beautiful and helps me feel connected to other people and wild things. I am embracing my Christmas tree tradition while being mindful and thankful for the tree and the people who made it possible for me to have one. I am giving myself a break and accepting that I do not always make environmentally sound choices and that is okay—sometimes.

This year I am raising the ante on tree planting to “buy one, plant two.” The above picture shows me watering one of the two Big Sur Coast redwood tree seedlings I planted in my yard, just before going inside the house and decorating a real Christmas tree with my family.

Happy Holidays!

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