It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, but I’ve been thinking lately about a small series of posts I want to make leading up to our move date that answer common questions Dan and I are receiving. I will be highlighting how we chose to move to Arizona and why it means so much to us, how we are preparing for this move financially, as well as logistically, and what we plan to do when we get out there. With tomorrow being the beginning of our two month countdown, I feel inspired to take some actions that directly correlate with one of the most common questions we are asked: what about all of your stuff?
When Dan and I first moved in together we lived in an average sized apartment in Emmaus. Neither one of us was living on our own prior to this, so we had to furnish our apartment from scratch, and our little one bedroom dwelling looked so empty. So we filled it with “stuff.” We bought book shelves, decorations, throw pillows, lamps, rugs, centerpieces; everything that comes to mind when thinking of how to fill a space with meaningless items.
A year goes by, and we realize that Emmaus isn’t the town for us, so we pack up our nearly overflowing apartment and move to Bethlehem. Guess what? The Bethlehem apartment is too big for our stuff. Even with all of the non-essential items we have to fill the empty spaces, there’s just so much room. So we go out and buy more stuff.
Another year goes by and Dan and I get married. You guys know what happens when you get married, right? Yup! You get to make a sweet registry filled with things you’ve “had your eye on, but wouldn’t have purchased for yourself.” And do you know what else happens? Your super awesome friends and family buy you that stuff. They spend their hard earned money to buy you a kitchen gadget that you will use maybe one or two times. And you now have the accumulation of “stuff” from your first apartment, your second apartment, and your wedding. Your cabinets are overflowing with bulky appliances, you have knick-knacks that take hours to dust, and you have six extra blankets to take off of your couch and bed to wash each week.
I don’t know about you guys, but clutter stresses me out. I absolutely cannot be productive if the room around me isn’t clean and organized. So I started spending a lot of my time cleaning around my things. I would wake up in the middle of the night because I felt like things around me weren’t in the right place, or they were covered in dust. It took me nearly two hours to start my homework every day because I had to make sure all of my stuff was “just right.” I recognized that this was becoming such a huge problem for me, so my initial solution was to just give in to the mess and let it go. I tried to only organize and clean once a week, but the clutter just sent me into a depression. So I shopped. That’s right, I decided to combat my depression over material objects with more material objects.
You guys are smart, I know you can see where this is going. I was spiraling out of control, and I knew I needed to handle this situation in a more productive and positive way. So I stopped shopping and started selling, donating, throwing away. Dan and I moved into a new, much smaller apartment in Nazareth, and we downsized like crazy. We got rid of so much stuff, and we never looked back.
A few more months go by and we start dreaming. We wonder what it would be like to be like The Minimalists we saw on Netflix (seriously do yourselves a favor and check these dudes out here, I’m obsessed with their podcast right now), and to live more intentionally, keeping only the things that are necessary and bring us joy. We start imagining a lifestyle where we can just throw our stuff into a single vehicle and travel wherever we want. This idea excites us so much. It’s all we can talk about for weeks; so we start to make it a reality.
The real question, though, is “how did we downsize enough to fit all of our stuff into a pickup truck (with two cats and a dog)?” We made a plan, and we took the following steps:
- We downsized our wardrobes. When people realize how much clothing Dan and I have between the two of us, they either praise us for our abilities to keep things relatively simple, or they just about faint. Usually it’s the latter. But let me tell you, having a small and simple wardrobe makes life so much easier. We have less laundry to do, we don’t take as long to decide what to wear, and we know that every item of clothing still fits nicely. In order to get to this faint worthy point in our wardrobes, we did two things.
First, we emptied our closets completely, sorting our clothing into three piles: definitely keep, maybe keep, get rid of. The definitely keep pile was full of clothing items we wear daily, or at least few times a months. It was all clothing that we knew still fit, was in good shape, and fit our current style. This stuff got put back into the closet. The maybe pile was put into a storage bin, and included clothing that still fit, was in good shape, but we maybe didn’t have a reason to wear as often. We still really liked these pieces of clothing, but couldn’t really remember the last time we wore them. We closed up the storage bin and kept it in the closet for a month, promising to get rid of anything we didn’t pull out to wear in that time. The final pile was sorted through for donating, selling, gifting, or just throwing in the trash.
Now that we had a clear idea of what clothing we had left to work with, and where we might need to fill gaps, we started using this method by Kristi Soomer of Encircled. Kristi has a great way of helping you find your personal style and utilizing it to create a perfect custom minimalist wardrobe. We didn’t stick to her plan perfectly, but it really helped us to recognize what we really want and need from our clothing.
2. We carefully considered each item we have. This one is a bit more difficult than the wardrobe because it takes a specific mindset and strict personal guidelines. Dan and I went into this understanding that it isn’t “stuff” that makes us happy, it’s people and experiences. So we decided that we would take a week or two to slowly go through each room together. We grabbed a super fancy box of wine, and started ripping our apartment apart. If something was not used regularly to increases productivity or survival (think cooking utensils, sheets, towels), or it did not frequently give us joy (think record player, Playstation, Legos), then it went in the trash, to Goodwill, to a friend, or was sold. This one was not as easy as the wardrobe, but we held each other accountable, and it felt so liberating when we were finished.
3. We digitized. We have one small fire proof box that we keep our super important documents like birth certificates, social security cards, and diplomas in, but other than that, everything is digital. Pictures, bills, receipts, they all get scanned and sent to a Google drive for safe keeping. Whenever we can avoid having a trace of paper lying around, we do. This one is difficult for a lot of people, so if you decide to downsize, don’t feel bad if you have to skip this step or come back to it later. I get it, pictures mean a whole lot to people. The way Dan and I see it is that we rarely pull these physical photos out to look at them, so there’s no harm in carrying them with us on our phones and computers, instead. But not everyone feels that way, and that’s okay!
4. We started declining gifts. This one was the hardest for me by miles. I was raised to appreciate gifts, and value everything that is given to me. I mean, who wasn’t? So it was really hard to say no when people offered things to me that they thought I would like. I appreciate those sentiments so deeply, but we just couldn’t take on any more stuff. Here’s the thing though, our true friends and family totally got it. There was a little bit of resistance in some areas because it’s natural to want to give gifts to those you love. That feeling of giving is part of what people love so much about birthdays and Christmas. But when we explained that we simply didn’t have the space, and would rather they spend their money on experiences with us, rather than stuff that we probably wouldn’t use, almost everyone was happy to comply. Communication goes a long way!
I do want to note a few things. Dan and I both recognize that this is an extreme. We know that minimalism isn’t for everyone. I also want to make note that minimalism looks different for everyone. Minimalism to me is about simplifying to have more time, space, and energy for the things you love. If you are at your most peaceful surrounded by mountains and mountains of books, and that makes you genuinely happy, but you feel like you could simplify by getting rid of your TV, that’s great! If you’re closer to an extremist and think that mountains of books sounds like stressful clutter, and you would rather own a Kindle, that’s great too! It’s all about eliminating the things that don’t make you happy to make more room for the things that do.
Dan and I are two months out, and while we have decreased our stuff down to about a quarter of what we previously had (if that), we still have more to go. One thing I’ve learned is that minimalism is a never-ending journey. It isn’t just a once and done process. We will inevitably acquire more stuff, and we will have to purge our stuff pretty regularly. This is just the start of our journey. If you want to learn more, I cannot recommend The Minimalists enough. Listen to their podcast, read their blog, watch their documentary. A lot of what I’ve discussed here comes from their ideas and knowledge, and they have so much more insight to offer through any and all of their platforms.