The difficulty of getting rid of even one half of one’s possessions is considerable, even at removal prices. And after the standard items are disposed of—china, rugs, furniture, books—the surface is merely scratched: you open a closet door and there in the half-dark sit a catcher’s mitt and an old biology notebook.
~ E.B. White
One of the things that has been making my writing and blogging time patchy this month is housecleaning. I don't mean housecleaning of the mop-and-broom variety (though with a puppy in the house we get plenty of that too), but the ejection of stuff.
You see, earlier this year my mom discovered minimalism. No, it's not a cult. My own definition for it is a philosophy of housekeeping. Put very simply, it's the idea of living with just the things that you really need, use and love. Some might just call it clutter-free living. Minimalizing, as we call it, means parting with the thing you never use because you have two others you like better—or the thing that really doesn't fit you but you hung onto it because you like the color—or the things that have been taking up closet and cabinet space for years for no good reason you can think of. Mom says that the heart of the idea really is clearing away the unessential things so that you have the time, and the breathing room, and the peace of mind to enjoy the essentials.
Mind you, it's not always that easy. I'm not such a thorough-going minimalist yet as my mother and younger sister. I sometimes have to put things in a "thinking-about-minimalizing" pile and take a few days to get used to the idea. My sister is a born minimalist: she accepted the idea enthusiastically, already being one who likes to travel light. I, on the other hand, have a thick sentimental streak and a tendency to hang onto anything that might possibly be useful someday—whether that's a trait inherited from a branch of my family or comes of reading about the Great Depression, I don't know. But I can't deny the feeling of freedom you get from reducing clutter and clearing out things that weigh uneasily on you simply by the fact of their presence. It's amazing that you can steadily get rid of things for almost half a year and not miss any of it or notice any drastic difference in your home.
So we've donated a lot of things, and sold a few on Ebay—though I've learned that with the hassle of shipping, that's often more trouble than the price is worth. Our greatest success has come in putting things out on the street corner under a sign that says FREE. It is a study in human nature to observe the response to a sign that says FREE—to see the nice items you expected to be snapped up at once sitting there all day, while conglomerations of insignificant stuff you only half expected to get rid of disappear in the first half-hour. Or observing the incongruity of people's appearance and the items they take. And the variety of methods employed in carting things away—for instance, an effort to fit a full-sized table and four chairs into a small sedan. But the prize-winner was a jogger already laden with a heavy backpack, who trotted away with their arms full of dishes and a picture frame slung over their shoulder.
I should not advise you to let your children, dogs or car stand for too long near a sign that says FREE, or they might vanish too.
This month, everybody in my family is trying this minimalism challenge. It's a simple concept: on the 1st, you dispose of one item (large or small), on the 2nd, two items, and so on to the end of the month, or for however long you can keep it up. We each keep a list so we don't lose count (some people who participate track their progress on Facebook or Twitter). It's turned out to be much easier than I expected! Even my dad, who protested it was impossible at first, is joining us, and it turns out he's got it easiest of anybody. He's in charge of the hardware-and-yardwork section of our cellar, which has long needed cleaning up, so when he comes home from work he just dives down into the cellar and comes back up with his quota of items in five minutes. I wouldn't be surprised if he beats all of us yet.