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

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Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts

Love people, not stuff.

Are you trying to minimize the amount stuff you own? Is dealing with gifts making you feel guilty and stressed out? I got over the guilt and you can, too.

The first time I placed a gift item someone had given me into my minimalism donation box I was surprised by the crushing guilt I felt. That gave me pause. I was putting a thing in the box, not a person. I remember thinking, “Wow, getting rid of stuff other people have given me is going to be way more complicated and emotional than I had anticipated.”

If you are serious about living happily with fewer material goods, you are probably going to have to address the gifts you own now and evaluate your philosophy about exchanging gifts in the future. This is not easy, but once you have done it you may be pleasantly surprised by feelings of relief and freedom.

Do not get me wrong, I do enjoy giving and receiving gifts, occasionally. What bothers me, a lot, is the rampant consumerism and the sense of obligation that surrounds exchanging gifts in our society (in my opinion). To me, a gift is something that one person gives to another freely and with no strings attached.

Why Do You Need To Let Go of Gifts?

A reasonable question to ask is “Why do I need to divest myself of gifts I already own?” This is a very personal question that only you can answer. I will share my reasons for letting go of gifts. Then you can ponder your own reasons and decide what you want to do.

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon FootprintMinimizing my possessions is a way for me to say no to consumerism and to live more lightly on Earth.

I believe that the constant push for economic growth in the United States and the ever-present message that we need to acquire more stuff to be happy is harming people and Earth.

I want my children, your children, and everyone else’s children to have a habitable planet to live on so I think we need to stop making and buying stuff at our current level. That includes gifts.

For me, an essential part of transforming my relationship with possessions and learning to live happily with less stuff was divesting myself of things that I already owned but that I did not need, use, or want anymore. Items I had received as gifts or inherited were belongings so I decided not to exclude them from evaluation.

Traipsing Down Memory Lane

A gift could be almost anything. A few possible gifts that immediately come to mind are clothes, jewelry, handmade goods, kitchenware, electronics, tools, decorative items, souvenirs, toys, heirlooms, furniture, and books.

A question for minimalists or for anyone for that matter is which gifts contribute the most to your happiness? It could be many things or a just a few. If you say all, then you probably need to revisit the reason you are trying to minimize your possessions.

Different gifts will elicit different feelings. Be prepared for emotional encounters with some or possibly all of your gift items. I tried to keep three thoughts foremost in my mind while I was traipsing down memory lane, “I want to live more lightly on Earth with fewer material belongings.” “These are my things so it is my decision whether to retain them or not.” and “I can keep whatever I want.”

Chances are that handmade gifts and heirlooms will be the most emotionally charged gifts. If you are a “tackle the hard job first” type of person, then start here and the process will get easier and easier. I am a momentum kind of gal, meaning that once I get started I am more apt to continue so I started with the easier stuff first.

How do you define easy? You will know by your willingness to put the item aside without spending a lot of time thinking about it. It could be an ugly coffee mug a coworker gave you for a secret Santa gift exchange, an extra second-hand skillet a friend gave you, or an unused crystal bowl you received as a wedding present. If you find yourself agonizing over a crocheted scarf that you never wore because you just do not like it but you kept it because it was made by your grandmother, then move on and come back to it later.

Take as long as you need to complete this portion of minimizing your possessions. I am fourteen months into my quest to live happily with less stuff and I still have a few gift items awaiting a “keep” or “no keep” decision.

Once you have set aside gift items that you will not be keeping, I suggest removing them from your home sooner rather than later by donating, selling, re-gifting, and in some cases putting them in the trash or recycle bin.

Dealing with Guilt

A person gives you a gift because they like or love you and think you will enjoy it, right? I think so.

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribbon and BowDoes that obligate you to keep the gift even if you do not like it, do not need it, or will not use it? If it was just what you wanted at the time, do you have to keep it forever? If you choose to let go of a gift, regardless of whether you liked it or not, does that mean you do not care about the other person or their feelings?

These are just a few of the feelings I grappled with while evaluating gifts. I kept reminding myself of my reasons for living with less stuff and that a thing is not a person.

This helped me push back on feelings of guilt.

Also, it is likely that my gift givers are probably in the same boat as me having received gifts that they do not like or no longer want, perhaps including gifts I have given them. I believe they are free to do want they want with gifts they have received so that should apply to me, too.

My love and friendship for people in my life do not require exchanging gifts or keeping them.

Every once in a while I still feel a twinge guilt or find myself wanting to justify my actions, but then I remember why I am doing this and I feel at peace.

Future Gift Exchanging

Once you complete your initial divestment of stuff, or even during this time, you will embark on the life-long minimalism phase of living happily with fewer possessions. That means you will need to minimize acquiring stuff in the future. This may or may not mean you need to change your gift exchanging philosophy. It is up to you.

Fortunately, at least for me, I got a head start on minimizing gifts several years ago when my spouse and I decided to opt out of exchanging Christmas gifts and shared our feelings with our family and friends. Happily, I now receive very few material gifts. This feels right for me.

Featured Image at Top: Earth Globe in a Red Gift Box with Gold Ribbon – Photo Credit iStock/adventtr

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