Becoming a Minimalist: How to Sort the Junk from the Essential

Two Rules for Making Clutter-Clearing Easier on the Journey to Become a Minimalist

While surfing the internet, I bumped into theminimalists.com (by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus). I discovered their 21-day challenge for becoming a minimalist. (Not a challenge I’m ready to take on at this time because I don’t really want to be a minimalist. I just want to have a lovely, clutter-free home and a happier husband.) I’ve learned that studying an extreme version of what you want can speed up the process. I’m passing along a few of their useful tips. What I’ve noticed is that these guys have taken the well-known “rules” and tightened them up—a lot! Here are two rules to try:

The 90 Day Rule

When considering an object, ask “Have I used this in the last 90 days?” and “Will I use it in the next 90 days?” If the answer to either question is “yes,” then keep it. If the answer to either questions is  “no,” then out it goes. This is a tighter variation of the six month to one year rule. If you haven’t used it in six months, or a year for seasonal items like holiday decor, then out it goes.

One In, Ten Out Rule

You’ve heard the rule, “One In, One Out,” which is great for maintenance but doesn’t help get rid of excess clutter. Instead, try “One In, Ten Out.” How does it work? Buy one new book, get rid of 10 books. Buy one new shirt, get rid of 10 items of clothing. This has two positive effects. First, you’ll be less likely to buy something if you have to get rid of 10 items. Second, you’ll dramatically speed up the process of clearing out clutter. This is a good rule if you have just begun the decluttering journey. Once you’ve made serious headway, you can later loosen the rule to “One In, Three Out” and finally maintain your clutter-free life with the “One In, One Out” rule.

Now, why become a minimalist or simplify your life in the first place? To focus on what is truly important in life. If stuff is distracting you from what matters most, then get rid of the stuff.  And don’t waste time organizing your stuff neatly either because that means you’ll forever be organizing it. If you get rid of it, it never has to be tidied or organized again. As Joshua Fields Millburn says, “The best way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it.”

Now, what if you’re thinking, ‘Hmm…I really should declutter someday’ but aren’t making any significant progress?

Convert “Shoulds” into “Musts”

The minimalists recommend a motivational exercise to convert our “shoulds” into “musts.” For example, instead of muttering to yourself, “I really should eat healthy foods and exercise every day” convert that to, “I must eat healthy foods and exercise every day.” By taking a list of shoulds and making them musts, you get rid of the lazy, hazy, someday, draggy feeling. Instead, you create an active, get this done now, can-do attitude.

Simply make a list of all your shoulds and then write them down as musts. This is a variation on the tip in my book, Coach Yourself to Success, where I suggest tossing your shoulds, and picking fresh new goals that excite you. This works, too. For example, “I really should exercise” has no energy and is a dead goal. Ditch that dead goal and select a new goal that sounds like fun such as, “I’m going to take ballroom dancing classes, or play racquetball with a friend.”

You could also combine both strategies. I MUST exercise makes it feel terribly urgent and important – a no holds barred approach —  then it follows that you must find some way to incorporate exercise into your life. I’d go for the option that looks easy and fun as you’ll be more likely to continue and the best exercise is the exercise you actually do. It’s okay to start small and easy. Then, as you build up your strength, you’ll naturally gravitate to more challenging exercise.

The minimalists then ask a great question:

 What is standing in the way of your “musts”?

What is standing in the way of healthy eating?  I thought about this question and I wrote a list of things that came to mind (and a few rebuttals from my inner coach).

The kids have allergies. So it is hard to create family meals we can all enjoy, making meal-planning complicated.

Coach: True, but because of their allergies it is even more important that they eat healthy, home- cooked meals without any additives or weird ingredients that might cause problems (like guar gum).

I get tired of cooking and buy prepared meals for convenience.

Coach: You know how to cook and can easily whip up an omelette in the same time it takes for you to pop the prepared meals in the oven.

The prepared meals at M & S are tastier than the meals I make from scratch. So why bother cooking at all?

Coach: You don’t really know what all those things are on the label. Many of these meals have rapeseed (canola) oil. And you’ve recently read that vegetable oils may be the new evil ingredient causing all manner of health issues.

When the kids have after school activities we don’t have time to make meals from scratch.

Coach: That’s true, but you could make a dish on the weekend that is ready to go mid-week if you were really committed to health being your top priority. Maybe health isn’t your top priority. That’s okay, but let’s be honest about it.

When I look at this list of the things that are in the way of healthy eating, I realize it is a list of excuses. The real things that matter are time to cook and money to buy healthy food. I have the money to buy healthy foods and I have the time to cook healthy meals — if I were truly committed. That is the bottom line. The rest are excuses. I have chosen to let ease and convenience take priority over health. And yet, without health, nothing else matters because you can’t fully enjoy life.

Let’s see if chatting with my inner life coach works on clutter…

Coach: What is standing in the way of your musts?

Maybe I should become a minimalist…I must become a minimalist.

Coach: Why?

To make my husband feel better. If he is less stressed by stuff, then we’ll all be happier. And stuff really bothers him. A happier husband means a happier household. He has already told me that he thinks his mental health and happiness should take priority over my things. It is hard to argue with that. Plus, I’m not actually attached to these things.

Coach: What is in the way of becoming more minimalist?

My personal enjoyment of having things I don’t need or use in the house.

Coach: Ha! Ha! That doesn’t sound like a rational reason.

Hey, I like having lots of choices. It is my right to have choices. This gives me freedom to choose.

Coach: But lots of choices leads to decision fatigue. That isn’t the best use of your time. And it’s not in alignment with your highest purpose in life to lead and inspire others. Save your mental energy for your writing instead.

But I can’t choose which things to keep and which to discard because I like them all equally. I need  decision-making criteria to help me clear things out, otherwise I end up shuffling things from one place to another in the house.

Coach: Okay, how about keep only the things that you’ve used in the last year? That seems fair enough. Or, you could keep the best in class. If you have three Mexican cookbooks, keep the one you use the most often and donate the other two. You can photocopy the one or two recipes you use from the other cookbooks before donating.

What about clothes?

Coach: How about keeping only the clothes that make you look fabulous?

This weeds out all the clothes I can’t fit into right now that I’m saving for when I’m thinner. I want to keep the thin clothes so I don’t have to buy new clothes when I lose weight. Besides, there is plenty of extra space in the closet so what is wrong with keeping them?

Coach: What? Who are you kidding? Of course, you’ll want to buy new clothes. And you know full well that by letting go of the old clothes, you’ll create the space for new and better things to come into your life.

True, I know that. Thanks!

Try having a conversation with your inner coach and see what you come up with. Start by writing down your list of shoulds, toss them or convert them to musts and then start a dialogue with your inner coach.  To quote Millburn, “Day one. Or one day. You decide.”

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