18 Feb 2019

The benefits of minimalism and decluttering

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:09 pm on 18 February 2019

On a Spring Sunday morning, Joshua Becker's son just wanted to play, but a garage in need of a clean-out beckoned and the pleas of a five-year-old were ignored. 

Becker knew there something was wrong with this picture, so he decided to simplify his life by embracing minimalism. 

He says getting rid of anything that distracts us from the things we value most is totally liberating.

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Photo: Wikipedia commons - CC BY-SA 3.0

But where to start?

His new book offers suggestions on how to decide what is important and worth keeping and what's not. It's called The Minimalist Home: A Room-by-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life

It’s a deeper process than a simple tidy-up, he says

“Decluttering seems to me about getting rid of the surface level stuff in your homes that you know you want to get rid of … minimalism I think would force some deeper questions on you, I would hope,” Becker says.

The garage clean-out epiphany brought things into focus, he says.

“I was cleaning out my garage and my five-year-old son was in the back yard asking me to play with him. My garage project was just hours upon hours. I had a piles of dirty, dusty things in my drive way.

“Salem was swinging away on the swing set, where he’d been all morning, and I realised everything I owned wasn’t making me happy, but even worse everything I owned was actually taking me away from the very thing that did bring me happiness and purpose and fulfilment in life.”

The value of minimalism, he says, is not in what it removes from your life but what it brings to it.

And it’s not just physical stuff that clutters out worlds, we can choose not to be busy.

“What do we want to accomplish with our lives? I don’t think anyone says I want to be as busy as I possibly can.”

Busy is always a choice, he says.

“We can never give up our right to choose, and no one can take it away from us, we can only forget that we have that right.”

The message that more is more is pushed at us constantly – home renovation shows are a good example, he says.

“I’m pretty convinced that most people already have the home that they need, and they just let advertisers and marketers tell us what our homes should look like.

“There is more joy to be had in owning less than owning more, it’s something most people know to be true, that there’s no great happiness in constantly pursuing more and more stuff.

“No one sets out in life to own as much clutter as they possibly can.”

The book moves room-by-room from easiest to hardest, he advises people start with easier rooms – not the garage, basement or attic.

“I encourage people to start in the easier lived in areas of your home - find victory in those spaces.”

Before embarking on a room declutter he says ask yourself:

What is the purpose of this room, what things do I need to do that, and what are all the other things that have piled up in this room that are preventing me from doing that?

Then there are three options, he says.

- Should the item be re-located to a different spot in the house?

- Does it stay in this room?

- Should it be removed entirely?

“Every single object in every room can be put into one of those three piles, I encourage people to put as many objects as possible into that third pile. Then sell it, donate it or recycle it.”

Decluttering the kitchen

Start with the purpose of the room and then assess which objects have accumulated in the room that don’t belong there, he says.

Look for duplicates the kitchen is a prime place for the multiple spatula phenomenon.  

Notice physical boundaries, he says. And allow them to guide how much stuff you have.

Drawers, cabinets, the pantry - often clutter begins when we force too many things into too small a space.

“Embrace the boundaries that you have and say OK this is how much cabinet space I have this is how many plates and cups I can keep in here.”

And beware the convenience fallacy, he says.

“This idea that we leave stuff out on the counters because we think it’s convenient, take the toaster, we use the toaster for three minutes a day then it sits out on our counter for 23 hours and 57 minutes, when in reality it would take us 15 seconds to put it in the cabinet.”

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