5 Biggest Barriers to Living a More Minimalistic Lifestyle
Over the past few years, my wife and I have strived to live a more minimalistic lifestyle. By this I mean that, while you’d be hard-pressed to call us “minimalists,” we have adopted some of the principles and have worked to downsize in certain areas. And while we still have plenty of stuff that could be deemed unnecessary, we have managed to keep things much tidier than we did previously.
All things considered, I’d say we took pretty easily to the basic ideas of minimalism — but the same definitely cannot be said for everyone. Indeed, there have been a few people we’ve talked to about decluttering who just couldn’t get past some of the very first steps of the process.
So why is that? Well, here are what I think are the top five largest barriers people face when it comes to downsizing, decluttering, and embracing minimalism.
5 Common Excuses for Not Downsizing or Decluttering
“I might need it”
This is perhaps the single most-used phrase among those looking to declutter. The idea of getting rid of something just to turn around and need to rebuy a similar item is admittedly troubling — but it shouldn’t be paralyzing. Ultimately, while this may be a reasonable fear in some cases, it’s usually not actually an issue.
Luckily, there are means of testing that can be done. For example, after looking through your items and doing a first round of noting possible things to discard, you can then revisit the matter in, say, six months. If you still haven’t needed (or likely even thought much about) the item in question, it’s probably time to say “goodbye.” Bottom line: be realistic about what you’ll actually need.
Another common clutter trope is “the future project.” Do you have certain items in your collection that would be great if you could just do [insert action here] to them? These projects may be well-intentioned — but will you really have time to undertake them?
A great example that comes to mind is t-shirt quilts. As someone who grew up going to concerts and collecting tees at many of them, I do love the idea of “upcycling” these threads into something I can use. Luckily for me, I have a wife who knows how to do so and has been able to execute on this idea to great success. But what if, instead, I just let those old t-shirts sit in my drawer or closet on the off chance that I’d someday acquire the skill to sew them together? Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen.
Honestly, your future project probably isn’t going to either, so you might be better off giving up on that idea and letting go of the items now.
“But I like it”
I trust you’re all familiar with Marie Kondo’s famous “does it spark joy?” catchphrase. It’s a nice idea — but, as my wife asked me, “What happens if everything sparks joy?” She happened to be joking but, for many people, this is a serious dilemma.
Once again, this is where the ability to discern need from want can really come in handy. Yes, there are some instances where simply liking something you own is enough of a reason to keep it around. However, if you want to downsize or declutter, then this isn’t going to cut it.
This isn’t to say that you should get rid of anything that isn’t essential. Instead, I’m really just saying that reducing your junk load can be beneficial. So, if you really like an item, do you like it enough to justify the clutter it’s causing?
Finding a good home
As the cliche goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. While it wouldn’t have necessarily occurred to me, as I’ve since learned, there are some people that take this phrase to mean that they should seek out the person for whom their trash will be treasured — otherwise, items will just go to waste!
Sure it would be ideal if there were an easy way to ensure that the items you were discarding went to people who could use and appreciate them. Sadly, however, that’s rarely realistic. Thus, some compromise may be required.
In these cases, I think it makes sense to go through a few mental steps. First, do you personally know anyone who might want the item? If not, is the item worth donating to a charity — and would they reasonably be able to find a real use for it? Third, if the answer to the previous two questions was “no,” can the item be recycled? If “yes,” great! But, if not, then just throw the item away.
At some point, you have to trust that the proverbial person who will treasure your item won’t be upset that you discarded it — and the item itself won’t have much to say on the matter either.
Separating memories from materials
Finally, we come to what may actually be one of the biggest hang-ups people have when it comes to decluttering: connecting memories to materials. I’m sure that, as I say this, you can already imagine your own examples. Nevertheless, I’ll offer my own.
When I was a kid, I collected keychains. In turn, when I visited new places, I’d often pick up a keychain and add it to the interconnected pile I’d assembled. Among those souvenirs were also a handful of junky keychains that had been given to me purely because the person knew I collected keychains. So, when I went through my items, there were a few that were easy to pick out and discard. Yet, there were others that proved harder to part with. Why? Because they were tied to minor memories — such as “that time my dad got a skateboard keychain from work and gave it to me.” That was a nice gesture on his part… but it’s certainly not “core memory” material!
In other cases, though, the memories tied to items may be much more impactful. Still, that doesn’t mean that the item must be kept in order to preserve the memory! Think about it: if you ended up birthing a child on your living room couch, would you then feel compelled to keep it forever? That’s quite a memory, but the couch itself has very little to do with it.
Trust that I know as well as anyone how hard this part of the process can be. In fact, as I’ve decluttered over the years, there have been times when I’ve felt a sense of sadness as I’ve parted with certain items. But, afterward, I’ve always felt relieved and pleased with my decision. That’s because, while the items may be gone, the memories remain. Always.
While being a true minimalist isn’t for everyone, I do believe that most people can benefit from at least some decluttering in their lives. Despite this, getting started can often be the hardest part. With that said, if you can overcome these five stumbling blocks, you’ll be well on your way to living more minimalistically — and, hopefully, more happily.