Decluttering and minimising

The difference

There is a distinction between decluttering and minimising. Although they’re based on the principle of less is better, the mindset when decluttering is moving from lots of stuff down to less. When minimising it’s about going from the bare minimum up to a thriving minimum. The questions we ask when decluttering are: Do I love it? Do I have another one? Do I use it? Regularly? When minimising, the questions are slightly different: Do I love it? If I didn’t have it, what would I do? Can I live without it?

The distinction is subtle so here’s a concrete example. I had a garlic press and used it every day because I always put garlic in dinner. When I decluttered, this little tool stayed in my kitchen. When I minimised, I gave it away and used my chopping knife for the job. It took a little more time to mince but less time to clean! Just because you use something every day doesn’t mean you need it.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to minimise down to the bare living essentials. There will be things that you keep because you love them and every time you look at or use them they make your heart sing. That’s what stylish minimalism is all about. There is a point between decluttered and empty where there is calm of minimalism fused with inspirational style. There could be a minimalist out there who keeps their garlic press.

Which one to use

If you have a lot of stuff, start with decluttering. The objective is to own things you use and enjoy often, and nothing more. The guidelines for how often depend on you. Once a month, or every week in season could be a useful guide. If you’re already clear of clutter, go to the next level and minimise. The objective here is further paring down things that you can happily do without.

Step-by-step decluttering

I love the FLYlady 15-minute technique. The key to this is that you declutter/minimise for a set time. After that time, even if you’re not finished, you stop. You don’t get distracted and start detail cleaning, or working on a project you found, or putting something away in the other room, where you start doing something else. You pick an area and work there for 15 minutes straight. You can do 15 minutes once a week or three times a day. No matter how often, you will be making progress. Even after 15 minutes there is a sense of accomplishment. Here are the steps.

  1. Pick a small area.
  2. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Start with a shorter time if you need to.
  3. Take one thing. Decide where it goes.
    • If you love it, use it or need it… keep it. Find a home for it, but don’t get distracted
    • If you’re ready to let go or have a duplicate, sell or donate it.
    • If you’re not sure or feel guilty about letting it go, put it in a box, write the date on it and put the box away. Whatever stays in the box for six months or a year isn’t part of your life. You probably don’t miss it and neither does anyone else. You don’t even need to open the box… go ahead and give it to the local charity.
  4. If you finish before the timer counts down, start on another section.
  5. When the timer beeps, stop! You’re finished unless you want to take a break and go again.

You can use the same steps for minimising. But since there’s less to start with, it might be easier to analyse things as you see them. Or pack things away and take them out as you use them, discarding the unused items after a set time.

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