How To Start Living With Less
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
My journey of living with less began when I was packing up for college four years ago. It forced me to decide; what am I bringing into a tiny dorm that I also have to share with another human? Hence, the process of filling boxes with my favorite clothes, shoes, and knick-knacks began.
The reality check occurred when I had packed up a car’s worth of stuff and walked back in my room. It looked like nothing had changed. I still had two closets bursting with clothes and a room that looked untouched because we had purchased new decor and bedding for the dorm (also, a later regret).
While this was a shock, I didn’t get rid of that stuff just yet. They had a hold on me. What if I needed that sparkly dress one day for a party? What if I ruin all my shoes and need those other pairs “just in case”?
Well I’ll tell you right now, I didn’t need any of it. But off I went to experience freshman year and every time I came home to visit, all my things were there to greet me. Or rather, sit there collecting dust.
After I didn’t touch much of what was left in my room and closet for a year I began the process of donating/giving away the items that I had in there for years.
I had no excuses anymore. Once those were gone I felt better, and I started getting rid of the items that I’d more recently acquired, but no longer served a purpose in my life at that moment.
Fast forward to sophomore year, I studied abroad in Scotland for four months living out of a suitcase (a rather small one by most people’s standards, I might add). When I came back I was even more inspired to cull my belongings down to what I loved and used often.
After a few years have past I've realized I took the long way around of finding my way to “living simply”, and that’s perfectly okay. There’s only one timeline, and that’s your own. So, don’t feel like decluttering your belongings has to happen right now this second. It takes time. With that being said, there are some ways you can start living with less right now!
1. Forget Your Assumptions
Let go of the pressure or feeling that you have to have a “perfect” looking house or life and if you don’t, you’re a failure. That’s an extreme expectation that no one can live up to. Also, perfection is boring. Although we should strive to meet goals for ourselves, striving for perfection all the time is exhausting.
If you want to live with less and create that life for yourself, give yourself a break. It’s going to be an on-going process, so relax! Going through these steps shouldn’t give you anxiety or put unnecessary stress on yourself, it should make you feel motivated and excited for positive change.
2. Start Small
The easiest way to conquer a home filled with things is to start with small, manageable projects that can be incorporated into your daily routine. Similar to Marie Kondo's method in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, write down a list of categorized items in your home. Then, start going through each item on the list one day at a time.
For example, a few category examples could be: movies, clothes, books, shoes, tupperware, linens, hair products, etc. One night start by going through all of your movies and deciding what ones to keep and which ones to give to friends and family, or to put in a donation pile. This makes it a bit more manageable than taking it room by room if you live a bigger house. Also, this makes you aware of how much of a particular category you own.
I was guilty of not realizing the amount of clothing I owned until I dragged everything onto my bed and saw it spilling onto my entire floor. My exact thought was; "One person should not have this many clothes!" But that was just me, for you it might be nail polish, cleaning supplies, or tools of some sort.
Keep in mind, I'm not telling you to get rid of things you are passionate about. If your thing is makeup/reading/journaling and you actually use those items? By all means, keep them. Move on to a less intimidating category. I found that I came back to a lot of categories over time and was easily able to downsize it once I had decluttered other areas in my home.
Some projects will also be more daunting than others. Going through books will take less time than going through an entire closet or all of your paperwork, which you’d save for a day when you have more time (for the paperwork, more patience and sanity).
Once you get through the list of categories, then you can move onto the bigger projects, like the garage and basement closet. Then you can ask yourself: what stresses you out by looking at it? A junk drawer bursting with stuff? A bathroom cabinet you can never seem to navigate? Time to tackle those once and for all!
3. Be Honest with Yourself
Keep it real with yourself. If you have too many skin care products for you to use up on your own, find a friend who would use it instead. If you know you haven’t worn that sweatshirt in the last 3-6 months, donate it to someone who will get more use out of it.
One thing that helped me through this process was also something suggested by Marie Kondo. Touch each item and see if it “sparks joy” or not. Does it make you feel happy? Do you use it? Do you love it? If so then by all means, keep it! It sounds corny, but it works. And if it brings up sentimental value but you don't have a use for it anymore? Take a picture of it and donate it or re-purpose it.
However, if it brings up negative emotions (guilt, anger, sadness) remove it from your life! It doesn’t matter if you spent a bunch of money on it. If looking at that $100 pair of shoes makes you upset because they’re too small so you never wear them and you never will, get rid of them. Sell them, if you like, but get them out of your room and out out of your life.
We have enough problems as it is, why keep items in your space that make you feel anything but happy? (Obviously-a can opener doesn’t exactly spark joy but it does get used often-you get the idea.)
In other words:
Do you really need 5 pairs of high heels? Are you going to use up all your hair and makeup products before they go bad? Do you have to keep all the miscellaneous electronic cords just in case you ever find out what they belong to?
The answer is, probably not. Most likely, you’ll already know the answer as you’re going through your things, so be honest with yourself!
4. Organize/Clean as You Go
The best way to make life easier for yourself is to organize your space as you go through the categorized list of things to declutter. This step is relatively self-explanatory but while you cull through your bathroom products, wipe down the gunk that’s accumulated in the drawer you keep them in. Put them away nicely so you can see each product clearly and know what you have in there. The same concept goes for your kitchen gadgets, towels, pantry, etc.
Make your mind and space clearer, more organized, and easier to navigate. Trust me, it will save you so much time whether you’re getting ready in the morning or cooking dinner. Not only will it look appealing and become less overwhelming, but it’ll make you excited to use the things you already own!
5. Continue the Declutter Process
Keep on keeping on, folks. Living with less is a journey, not a destination (cliche, but true). Meaning, you have to keep on top of the items in your home. Try not to let unnecessary things accumulate. This includes putting into practice some habits that will help you keep unwanted items out of your space, like:
-Sort the mail right when you get it inside so it doesn’t clutter up your table.
-Put items away in the correct spot so you can keep an accurate account of how much of that item you have.
-Practice non-attachment (letting go of the things you like but don’t necessarily need anymore-it’s good for the soul).
-Saying no to people that try to dump their stuff onto you: “Hey, thanks but we really don’t need another crock pot/toy for the kids/insert whatever item you don’t want but feel obligated to take."
-Fixing broken things in your home instead of buying a new one (do your research-more often than not, having someone tailor your jeans or fix your computer is less expensive than buying a whole new item).
-Continue to declutter each month and have a small donation box placed in your home to store things temporarily until it's filled.
I could go on and on with habits that will help you keep items (and negative energy) out of your home, but these are just a few key ones that will make a true difference if you stick to it.
I know it may seem like a lot, but like I said earlier, don’t let it get to you! Let your assumptions go, work on living with less one day at a time and eventually you’ll be saying, “Wow, that really wasn’t so bad."