Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff

You love each other more than your stuff, right?

Giddy with enthusiasm you declare your intention to be a minimalist living happily with less stuff. Your significant other sighs and leaves the room. Now, what?

Take heart, even if your announcement was met with apathy or downright antagonism, you can make progress and at some point, you may be able to entice your spouse or partner to join forces with you.

When I proclaimed during dinner one night that I wanted to be a minimalist, my spouse expressed skepticism and probably hoped it would be a passing fancy that would fizzle out. That was not to be. I was and am serious about owning fewer belongings and living more lightly on Earth.

That was eighteen months ago.

I am a serial declutter and a neat freak and my spouse is a collector and has a more relaxed view of neatness. Not exactly a recipe for minimalist domestic harmony. Yet, now, we are both committed to minimizing the things we own in a way that suits us individually and as a couple.

No, a miracle did not occur.

We were able to reach this point because we love each other, we want to stay married, and we are both concerned about the environment and keeping Earth habitable for our children, your children, and everyone else’s children.

In part one of this two-part post, you will have an opportunity to read about how we went about divesting ourselves of things we no longer use, want, or enjoy. I like to think that my patience, diplomacy, and creativity smoothed the way for my spouse to get on board. The second post will cover what I consider to be the most challenging aspect of minimalism, acquiring less stuff, forever.

After reading these posts, I hope you will feel empowered to minimize your own belongings regardless of your spouse or partner’s level of support and that you will endeavor to encourage him or her to embrace minimalism at a level that you can both live with going forward.

You are Here

Like eating a healthy diet, being a minimalist living happily with less stuff is a lifelong pursuit that begins wherever you are in your life’s journey at the moment you decide to do it.

Unfortunately, my children were young adults before I realized that our society’s constant quest for more stuff is harming people and our planet. I regret my contribution to the problem but I cannot erase it. I can and did resolve to live with fewer material goods starting from where I was in my life in November 2016.

At that time, having been together for over three decades, my spouse and I had amassed thousands of possessions from cars to soap dishes. I had honed my shopping skills for many years and I was a card-carrying member in good standing of “Shoppers and Consumers of America.” My engineer lighting designer spouse had constructed a prototype shop in our garage and had a sizable collection of small and large parts and bits of this and that (I admit some of it has come in handy over the years).

Here we are a year and a half later well on our way to minimizing our possessions and transforming our relationship with stuff.

Pause and take a moment to reflect on why you want to be a minimalist and where you think you and your spouse or partner are on the minimalism continuum. If he or she seems resistant, be patient and start with your own stuff.

Your Stuff is Your Stuff, Right?

Technically, anything that is used or worn only by you, gifts you received, items you inherited, and things you brought with you when you began living with your spouse or partner are your belongings. You should be able to give away, sell, donate, throw away, or recycle your own stuff, right. Well, yes, but I suggest you keep your spouse in the loop and ask his or her opinion before jettisoning certain items.

Bookcase Filled with Books
Bookcase Filled with Books – Photo Credit iStock-clu

For instance, ask how he or she feels about you giving away a souvenir baseball hat or a pair of earrings he or she gave you. If there is an objection, keep that item for now and circle back to it at a later date. Let your spouse or partner know that you plan to donate your book collection to the local library and ask him or her if there are any books he or she wishes to keep. Make sure you mention that you are planning to sell your grandmother’s china in case he or she is more partial to it than you thought.

As space opens up in your closets and drawers and on shelves and furniture surfaces, you may see ways to reorganize the remaining items to make them easier to find and use or to rearrange them to look more attractive.

Once your spouse or partner realizes that you care about his or her opinion and are not likely to demand that he or she get rid of a favorite hammer, casserole dish, or yearbook, he or she may relax and be willing to work with you on minimizing some of your shared material goods in say the kitchen or garage.

Kitchen Capers

Our first joint minimizing effort took place in the kitchen. As the family chef, my spouse has dominion over the kitchen so I knew I needed to tread carefully.

Kitchen Canister Set with Botanical Flower Illustrations
Our Kitchen Canister Set with Botanical Flower Illustrations

My goal was to make the process as easy and painless as possible for my spouse so I suggested we tackle a small number of items at a time over the course of a month or so.

I cleared a section on the kitchen counter to act as my staging space.

Each day, I took everything out of one drawer or cupboard and laid the items neatly on the counter and then cleaned the empty drawer or cupboard. We looked over that day’s collection together and decided what to get rid of and what to keep, separating the items as we went. Later, I placed the items we agreed to get rid of in a donation box, the recycle bin, and occasionally the trash, then I neatly put everything else back.

During these daily bouts of minimizing, I reaffirmed that we could keep whatever my spouse wanted but I also lobbied for getting rid of stuff I thought was unnecessary or no longer needed.

For instance, I do not think the 4-piece canister set, as beautiful as it is, is necessary. My spouse wanted to keep the canisters so we did. I prevailed on the food processor that was hardly ever used. It went into a donation box. Not everything required negotiation. We easily agreed to standardize on one type of leftover food storage container in several different sizes.

Empty areas began appearing in our cupboards and drawers, which set me to thinking about how we could reorganize the remaining items to make it easy to find and get to the things that are used most. My spouse agreed to try it.

The mixer and blender found a new home in a cupboard that is further away from the sink and the potato and onion bins moved into a more convenient location. We arranged the pots and pans so that you do not need to take out a bunch of stuff just to get to one pan. I stacked the dishes on shelves that you can reach without a step stool.

After getting used to the new locations, my spouse admitted that there are benefits to having less stuff that you can easily find and access. When my spouse volunteered to work on minimizing the stuff in the garage, I knew we had passed a milestone. Yeah!

At some point, whether it takes months or years, our divestment phase will be completed. Sure, as we move through life we will have more things we no longer need but not to the same degree. For us to live happily with less stuff we also need to minimize the acquisition of new materials goods for the rest of our lives. That is what we will address in part two of this post.

Featured Image at Top: Orange and Green Apple – Photo Credit Simone Capozzi

Related Posts

Let My People Go Surfing Second Edition – Book Review

“To do good, you actually have to do something.” —Yvon Chouinard

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman melds adventure, business, and environmental stories into a book for everyone.

Reading this book will give you hope for the future of the planet by demonstrating that a business can be profitable, treat its employees well, and care for the environment.

Let My People Go Surfing 2016 Edition Book CoverThe book’s colorful author Yvon Chouinard is a self-professed dirtbag who began his business career blacksmithing climbing pitons in a tin shed in Southern California.

This tiny business led to Chouinard founding outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia in 1973. Over 40 years later, the company is going strong with customers all over the world.

I read and wrote about the first edition of Let My People Go Surfing several years ago. When I discovered that the second edition covers ten more years of what Chouinard calls “business unusual,” I immediately knew I wanted to read it and I am glad I did.

Book Review

Let My People Go Surfing opens with a combination of Chouinard’s autobiography and the history of the two companies he founded Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia. The second half of the book covers Patagonia’s business philosophies and provides a look into the future.

History

The history section will both entertain and inform you. Chouinard openly shares tales from his own life as well as business successes and failures.

As a young rock climber, Chouinard and his friends were constantly practicing, improving, and innovating techniques and gear. They took risks and learned from the outcomes. These are all attributes that Chouinard later carried over to his business enterprises.

“If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This Sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’” —Yvon Chouinard

Philosophies

As you read part two, you will discover how Patagonia builds customer loyalty, which employee benefit the book drew its name from, and how concern for the environment is woven into the company’s decision-making and operations.

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” —Patagonia Mission Statement

Here are two examples of Patagonia’s business unusual approach.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Chouinard and his fly-fishing friend Craig Mathews started 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses who pledge to donate at least 1% of their sales (note the word sales, not profits) to organizations and projects actively working to protect and restore the natural environment.

Product Stewardship

Patagonia makes products to last and takes them back at the end of their useful life to be recycled into new products.

The company helps customers get the most out of their Patagonia merchandise by assisting customers with making repairs or doing it for them.

To encourage customers only to buy what they need, Patagonia placed a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad came out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

The Bottom Line

Yvon Chouinard’s affinity for rock climbing probably heavily influenced his decision to go into business. First, he needed to make money so he could do more rock climbing. Second, he and his friends had ideas on how to improve and reinvent the equipment they used.

Through his outdoor adventures, Chouinard came face-to-face with the damage occurring in the natural environment. He decided that Patagonia needed to clean up its own environmental act and that the company could and should set an example and inspire other companies to do the same.

Let My People Go Surfing shows that there are ways to conduct business that is good for people, the planet, and the bottom line.

Company CEOs and managers concerned with engaging and retaining their employees and building a resilient organization might learn a thing or two from this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the second edition of Let My People Go Surfing and look forward to reading the third edition in another ten years.

Reader Note: my imperfect understanding of the term dirtbag is that it refers to a person who is so enthusiastic about an activity (like rock climbing) that they work only enough to support their activity.

Featured Image at Top: Surfer Dressed as a Businessman Catches a Wave – Photo Credit iStock/stephfournet

Related Posts

Resources