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Five Lessons from the Minimalism Game

I read that the average American household has 300,000 items in it. When I decided to take on the thirty day challenge of playing the Minimalism Game during the month of September, I was more than ready to purge my home of unnecessary objects because of the excessive amount of things I was holding on to. The challenge required me to get rid of 465 things over the course of the month which I’m happy to announce I did!

Our downstairs toilet overflowed back in July damaging the hardwood floors. It forced us to move all of our downstairs furniture outside and into the garage for the month of August while the floors were being repaired. I realized in doing so we had been storing way to many things we just weren’t using. I was so ready to take on the challenge for the thirty days of September.

I took pictures every day of all the things I removed from my home to document the game and shared many of them on Instagram. I also challenged myself by restricting myself every day to a category instead of gathering random things. In taking on this challenge I experienced a few takeaways, my top five lessons below!

daily donations from purging and decluttering

Lesson 1: Challenge > Desire

Being challenged is more motivating than the simple desire to declutter. Having deadlines and keeping promises to yourself gives you that extra push it takes to show up every day on a month long assignment like this. Each day I woke up I had to make it part of my daily routine to get rid of things we don’t use or need. Declaring I was doing the challenge on social media and posting every other day about it kept me on target because I never gave myself reasons to give up or permission to quit.

Lesson 2: Separation Helps

Spending time away from your stuff makes you realize you can make due without most of it. This is true for anyone who goes on a long vacation and comes back to realize they lived with so much less. It happened when my daughter went away to college and came back and declared she wasn’t interested in keeping most of the things that had collected in her room from previous years. It happens to anyone who rents a storage unit, eventually you question why you’re paying to store stuff you don’t want or need. It happens when you move and you put all your stuff in boxes and then open them months later wondering why you didn’t donate those things a long time ago.

One of the benefits of moving all our stuff outside and into the garage in August was it was all exposed and it became clear we really had so many things we didn’t need anymore. Moving everything outside made me question if I wanted to bring it back in and made it easier to place so much of it in the donation pile.

Lesson 3: Proclaim the Purpose

We learned from Marie Kondo that we should ask the question, “Does it spark joy?” when deciding whether to get rid of something, but in reflection it may be that joy is not the only value. Anything that is pretty or has sentiment attached to it can “spark joy”, and I do see the value of keeping a few things that have sweet memories attached to them for sentimental reasons.

However a better question might be when deciding whether to sell or donate is “Does this thing serve a purpose?” One thing I learned after a month of ruthless decluttering is that  the absence of a lot of stuff I had been keeping (that served no purpose) and the empty space I gained created more joy than the presence of those things in my home. I looked at every item before I sold or donated and questioned its value. If an object truly didn’t serve a significant purpose, out it went.

Lesson 4: Weekly Evaluation Works Best

It was a tough mental exercise to remind myself every day I had to get rid of a certain amount of things. I found myself reluctant to continue toward the end of the month as the days passed and numbers of items I was challenged to get rid of got higher. It forced me to think and be creative, resorting to cleaning out closets and drawers, getting rid of paint samples and old DVDs just to keep up with the numbers.

In reflection I believe the decluttering process is easier as a lifestyle choice if you challenge yourself weekly instead of daily. I deep clean my house on Thursdays and do a light cleaning on Sunday evenings. I found it was easier to focus on decluttering and getting rid of unnecessary objects during the practice of cleaning rather than making it something to think about daily. So I decided for the future to keep my home clean and clutter free, to think about purging anything once a week instead of once a day or once a month.

Lesson 5: Less Stuff = More Peace

Looking back on those photos I took of everything I removed makes me breathe a sigh of relief knowing those things no longer exist in my drawers, closets, or spaces. They’re being used elsewhere, by others who bought the larger items and the donation facilities that are offering them to other people. They’re getting a second life somewhere else and that makes me feel pretty good. Also my home just feels calmer and lighter. The less stuff I have to organize or store gives me more time to focus on things that matter to me: family, friends, exercise, creativity, and maintaining a work/life balance.

Honestly, I think I could do it all over again getting rid of 465 items if I didn’t limit myself to specific categories and just got rid of items large and small without them belonging to a particular group.  Less stuff gives me greater peace and more freedom to do what I want with my time instead of being bound to care for things that don’t matter.

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In closing I’ll leave you with this very funny bit by Jerry Seinfeld talking about Americans and all their stuff. 🙂