Back in my late 20s, I had a lot of stuff. The garage was never used to park the car because there was too much junk, and the back patio became a sort of storage unit as well. Add to that a cluttered office and a guest room that left no room for a potential guest, and you can see that my actual living space was very, very small.
Guess what? So was my actual life.
I didn’t make the connection to all of that until many years later when we started downsizing our stuff and upsizing our life. Warren made a huge impact on my life in my 30s because he is not an accumulator, though I tried bravely – nay, valiantly! – to convert him to my evil ways. The man is a pillar of minimalist strength.
Life is the space between our things. ~ Francine Jay
For those of you who have a clutter problem and live alone (or with another accumulator), there is hope. We’ve mentioned Miss Minimalist before, and if you have not checked out her blog before you should. She has a lot of great advice about becoming a minimalist, and every Monday she showcases another “real life minimalist” in various stages of the process. It is truly inspiring.
Miss Minimalist (government name: Francine Jay) has taken her experience and turned it into a book called The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide.
I read this book on my recent trip to visit my family in New Mexico, and my main goal was to see if her lessons on minimalism mirrored what we had learned in our own experience. I had no idea I would be using it as a primer to help my mother go through her cluttered storage building.
Francine’s book has four parts, a discussion of minimalism and how it can impact your life, introduction of her STREAMLINE method, a room-by-room application of the STREAMLINE method, and information about taking minimalism beyond your four walls and applying it to your entire lifestyle.
The STREAMLINE method is as follows:
- Start over
- Trash, treasure or transfer
- Reason for each item
- Everything in its place
- All surfaces clear
- If one comes in, one goes out
- Narrow it down
- Everyday maintenance
Francine made a lot of inroads in the first section about the psychological barriers that keep us in a packrat mentality. It was really amazing to read about this in the evening and then use almost her exact words to help my mom go through this storage building that had been bothering her for years.
How I applied the lessons from the book
As you all know, my mother is a saint, a legend, and possibly the world’s best mom. She is also incredibly organized and neat. But she does have a not-so-tiny problem with letting go of things, which is probably genetic. She keeps things for sentimental reasons, because someone else in the family might need it, or because it is still in good condition and she can’t bear to get rid of it. Over time, her very large storage building – my dad’s old workshop, actually – became crammed full of her past.
I’m not sure if the book increased my motivation or not, but when she expressed her disappointment at not being able to streamline her stuff I volunteered to help. A local church was taking donations for a community garage sale the next weekend, so we had the makings of a perfect storm: a deadline, a place to take donations, and a supportive helper who was not attached to the stuff.
Think about what minimalism is instead of what it isn’t:
more space instead of less stuff.
We spent a full morning organizing and going through boxes – quickly and decisively – and making space in the storage building. We had a donation pile and trash pile, and even though it was hard for my mom in some points, I think having me ask the question about why she was keeping something made her evaluate it more than she would have on her own. Francine writes quite a bit about this and I was surprised how easy it was for me to guide my mom through this (and how I wished someone had done this for me a few years ago).
Mom still kept quite a few things (this is a woman with 5 different “themes” to alternate each Christmas, after all), but we ended up taking the equivalent of 2 pickup truck beds full of donations and 1 bed full of trash away from her house at the end of the week.
Mom has more space in her life, someone else is able to use the things she wasn’t using, and she doesn’t feel the dread of knowing she has this big chore in front of her.
The think I liked about Francine’s book is that it is practical and addresses the concerns, excuses, and delaying tactics we all use when faced with this kind of project. She also advocates starting small, which I love. Think about it: if you start by decluttering a drawer or a shelf each day, or spend even 10 minutes a day on this, you will eventually get where you need to be.
It takes the same kind of effort and help to declutter your life as it does to start an exercise program, eat healthy, or study for a new career. It isn’t always fun, but the end result is always life-changing.
How you can use the lessons in the book
Francine has a way of making you think about things differently. She advocates MORE SPACE instead of LESS STUFF because minimalism is not about lack or deprivation. In fact, she doesn’t advocate living in one of those sterile homes you see in the magazines that look as if no human has ever lived there.
Francine wants you to LIVE, and to do that you need space: space for your kids to play, to have friends over, and to pursue leisure activities. This is your home, after all, and it should be the place you unwind, relax, and recharge your batteries. All of us who have lived in cluttered homes know how hard it is to relax in a home that is packed with junk, dust, and remnants of the life you are no longer living (treadmill, anyone?).
Minimalism is about abundance of space and appreciating the things and people who are important in your life, and this book is an excellent guide to help you or someone you love get there.
Holding true to Francine’s lessons, I gave my book to my mother when I left. That’s what I suggest for you: Buy it, share it with a good friend, and then help each other work through the rooms in your home. Before you know it, you’ll have created more space in your home and your life. And that changes everything.
And once you’ve learned the lesson, give the book away. Or else you haven’t really learned the lesson. 🙂
Full disclosure: Francine’s publicist sent us a copy of the book and the link above is an affiliate link for Amazon.