My minimalist journey

My journey of simplifying/minimizing began about 4 1/2 years ago, when it appeared certain that my husbands job of nearly 30 years was moving us to Texas. He only needed about 5 more years before we could “conceive” of retiring early. We still had our youngest in college who most likely would need assistance for graduate school. My work was transferrable.

We had lived in the same house for that entire time, 27 years.

We decided we wouldn’t sell our home but rent it out and we’d rent a small apartment or condo in Texas for the 5 years we’d be there and then return to our first home for retirement.

But, what to do with all our stuff? What would be the minimum we could get by with in Texas? We needed to downsize and minimize our possessions.

I started with one drawer, shelf or box at a time.

I read books. My favorites became The Joy Of Less by Francine Jay and It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh. I began to understand the psychology behind why I had kept things. And, please note, I’ve never been a hoarder and in general we’ve had less stuff then most American families appear to have. We’ve never had a storage unit and our home is about 1,400 square feet which by today’s standards is considered small. We did build a one car garage in our side yard as a wood shop for my husband. Woodworking is one of his hobbies and I wanted our regular garage for parking the car. I don’t understand why so many store their worthless “junk” in the garage and park their valuable car in the driveway.

I went from one end of the house to the other more then once. I created lists and collections of items that could be sold, donated, recycled and last and my least favorite, added to the landfill.

What surprised me the most was the monetary value associated with my clean sweep (name of an early 2000’s tv show that I used to watch). I literally found money. Cash! I found gift cards. Lots of gift cards. Did you know you can sell gift cards that you don’t use or need? I collected all the coins I found during my clean sweep. I literally had over a hundred dollar’s in coins. I found a few hundred dollar’s of cash. Hey, my cleaning had become profitable.

Next, I started selling valuable items on Craig’s List. Sold our piano. My husband really wanted a keyboard anyway. I sold two clarinets, a flute and a guitar. Our old music teacher was a great help in finding owners for the old instruments. Why was I storing them? Someone could be using them and my daughters had the guitars they wanted. I sold old bed frames, old bikes, old camera’s, our jaccuzi, and much more. We had a garage sell. It was liberating.

Seriously, we still had the port-a-crib. I think guests borrowed it once in the decades I held on to it.
Seriously, we still had the port-a-crib. I think guests borrowed it once in the decades I held on to it.
The girls came home to help and to sell some of their stuff too.
The girls came home to help and to sell some of their stuff too.

If I couldn’t sell it, I’d offer it on Freecycling.com. Books went to the local book reseller, if they didn’t take them they went to Half Priced Books, if they didn’t take them, then what could be donated to the library book sale was donated. And last, some had to be sent to the book recycler heaven. Lucky for us, California is big on recycling. Just about everything can be recycled. Scrap metal was recycled. Toxics (old paints, fluorescent light tubes, garden chemicals) were delivered to the appropriate recycling center in our county.

I learned to ask each item, Why are you here? What do you do? Can something else do this too?

I began to organize like things together.

As things became more organized and surfaces in the house kept cleared, I was able to finally tackle the second to last thing that needed organizing. Paperwork. I had boxes and boxes of papers that I “thought” I had to keep. I literally burned out the shredder and had to buy a new one. I now only keep the most recent statements or last annual statements for things I feel I need a paper copy of or I have set up online accounts for as much as possible.

I’m now down to a few well organized binders, one small cart with drawers and one two drawer file cabinet with old tax returns.

My binders of important papers
My binders of important papers
Small drawer cart for papers
Small drawer cart for papers

Lastly, I have put off the organization and digitizing of photos. I have two top shelves in a closet dedicated to boxes of film negatives and photo albums. A life time of memories. This has got to be the hardest area of my life to organize. I know what and how I need to approach this monumental task but getting started and sticking with it is going to be difficult. Photos bring back memories and precious stories. I can’t go through them quickly and decide why are you here? What do you do? Can something else do this too? Photos are different.

I think I donated these on Freecycling. I don't think there is much of anything that someone out there won't take for free.
I think I donated these on Freecycling. I don’t think there is much of anything that someone out there won’t take for free.

I do accept and realize that I will hopefully always have my memories. I may not need to keep so many photographs. I did photograph just about everything we got rid of and honestly, I don’t miss any of it. But it’s still fun to look at the photos of all the “stuff”.  Did I really need to save all those Christmas tins? No!  Glad they’re gone too.

Recently, I was attending a mountain bike race and I wanted to capture and image of my daughter crossing the finish line. Well, she surprised us and herself and was a top finisher. I didn’t have my camera ready. As I saw her round the corner, I realized in an instant, it was more important to be fully present in the moment then to snap a picture.

Our garage still has too much stuff and I have more wine glasses then I could possible use at once. But they all fit nicely in the cabinet so there’s no pressing need to downsize further. So, this journey shall continue.

Oh, the good news is that one week before my husband was to sign the papers that we’d accept the offer to move to Texas to keep his job, he found another job within the company that would allow us to stay in our forever home. And, as of last year, our youngest graduated and managed to get full funding for graduate school.

Even better, I had simplified our home and reclaimed a surprising amount of money in the process. Finding things has became easier. Everything is more organized. Traveling and camping is easier because everything we need is in its proper storage place. We have a nice guest room now that gets used monthly if not more frequently. I’ve had time to redo my garden, something I truly enjoy. I’ve found more time for volunteering, photography, cycling and spending time with my husband.

We go for more bike rides and hikes now instead of going shopping, cleaning, doing yard work or fixing things. And we have time to have friends over more often, to truly connect with people. And, hopefully, when our days come to an end, we will not be leaving a mess for  our daughters.

If you’ve read this far, you maybe interested in checking out this website/blog: http://www.becomingminimalist.com

I started following Joshua’s blog a couple of years ago. I’ve enjoyed learning about his philosophy and I realize that becoming a minimalist is different for everyone and it is a journey worth traveling. I’ve preordered his book and have signed up for his course on decluttering. Let the journey continue.