British designer William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” With those words as my guidepost, I have been tearing through the house in a spring cleaning and decluttering frenzy. Any time I question whether or not I need an item, I ask, “Is it functional? Is it beautiful?” I am trying very hard to become detached from my stuff; unlike my husband, I am not a minimalist. I come from a family that likes knick knacks, decorations, and stuff, and it’s taken several years of discussions with my husband and two truly amazing books–The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide, by Francine Jay, and It’s All Too Much!, by Peter Walsh–to shake some sense into me.
In The Joy of Less, Jay says, “Remember, the thing with which we choose to surround ourselves tell our story. Let’s hope it’s not ‘I choose to live in the past,’ or ‘I can’t finish the projects I start.’ Instead, let’s aim for something like, ‘I live lightly and gracefully, with only the objects I find functional or beautiful.” I like that. Who wants someone to come into their house and see stacks of unread newspapers, unopened mail, and an overflowing closet?
Very slowly, I have released the stacks of books I’ll never read again, the random birthday and Christmas cards, the 20 extra coffee mugs. A milestone for me last year was donating my wedding dress, which had been stuffed in a box since nuptial day, to Brides Against Breast Cancer. Since then, I’ve felt very few “things” are sacred. I am constantly trying to streamline our belongings, through donations to charity, nickel auctions, and clothing swaps. It’s a battle. Sometimes I’ll go through stuff and keep it, knowing full well that I will probably get rid of it the next time I do serious sorting; I’m just not ready to let it go yet.
I’m attached to things for a variety of reasons, but usually it’s because they represent the person I was (my old high school trumpet) or the person I feel others expect me to be (the thick, stuffy tome I’ll never read). You see the problem here? I should be focusing on who I am now, and who I want to become, and taking the steps to achieve my goals. Writing out a list of long-term goals was helpful for me because it showed me, for example, that I never plan on teaching again (ba-bye huge stacks of scholarly texts).
The “functional or beautiful” tip has been my guiding light while decluttering, but sometimes I get caught up in justifying the functionality of items. For example, what about items that are functional, but only rarely, or that will be functional, but not for a year or two? I think in those instances, it’s best to set parameters for yourself. Perhaps, “I will get rid of anything I wouldn’t replace if it broke, or that I won’t be using within the next 18 months (or year, or 2 years).” I gave my bread machine the heave-ho because I was using it less than 5 times a year (I prefer quick breads I make by hand).
We are constantly reminded that “life is short” and we must “carpe diem.” If life is so short, why would we fill it with things that we don’t absolutely love and need?
I also love this list of tips for beating clutter.