Having Less is Good, Wanting Less is Better

I have difficulty writing about de-cluttering and simplifying at times, mostly because I don’t want to enforce the misconception that de-cluttering is the end game. It would be wrong to assume that the act of de-cluttering and separating yourself from your stuff will somehow fix all of your life problems. In a world constantly on the go, people seem to be searching for quick fixes. Correct the situation, then move on. No one seems to want to learn about the process. But it’s the process of the thing that will teach you about character. The process is what will shape you and the lifestyle you lead. It is the part that contains self-discovery, and builds self-worth. De-cluttering is just the very beginning of that process.

After ransacking and rummaging through my belongings to rid me of that which does not “spark joy” (which I know realize is such a funny measurement to go by), I got to a point where I’ve siphoned my heart out and was left surrounded by only that which made me happy. Reaching the end, however, did not make me feel complete. So I started the process over again (and again, and again…). With each re-start, I found even more things that I could let go of, which taught me a lot about my perception of this idea of stuff. Initially, when I finished de-cluttering, I felt a sense of pride in my success with clearing away 80% of my belongings. Why shouldn’t I? It IS a success to take the little steps that add up to something bigger. But then I kept thinking to myself, well, I could do better. So when I tried a second time, I found even more stuff that did not bring me joy. And the same went for the third, and fourth, and fifth… Eventually, I learned the lesson that the stuff itself does not spark joy. Seriously. It took me long enough! How could an inanimate piece of furniture, or a piece of clothing spark joy? It can’t. Therein lies my first lesson in de-cluttering. Surrounding myself with things that spark joy is a whole bunch of baloney!

Of course, the immediate result of de-cluttering was not the freedom from things. The immediate result was an additional problem to deal with, which was the sorting of and pawning off of the newly unwanted stuff. If you’ve ever looked long and hard at a pile of, (may I say it?) trash, you will understand the sadness I speak of when I say that our decisions to consume will directly impact our children’s ability to see green grass and turquoise waters. I embarked on a journey to try and re-sell the stuff, at thrift stores and Craigslist. The problem was that the thrift stores were already getting a large load of “donations” from other people that they had to be very selective in what they can take in. Most of the time, that was hardly anything at all. And people were not scouring for used items on Craigslist by the thousands. Meaning the rest of the stuff either gets sent to a landfill, or to another organization that then has to sort through the trash. The truth is that at the end of the day, a large percent of the stuff that you never even needed in the first place cannot be saved and will end up in a landfill. Even pulling up to the back of a Goodwill, you see trash bins into which donators can drop of their unwanted stuff. As kindly and gently as I’ve tried to drop my things, there is still a loud thud as they reach the bottom of the large abyss, where my short arms cannot quite reach. I feel the same thud as my heart drops to my stomach, knowing that Goodwill may also decide that this too, is unsavable.

Some thrift stores will actually incentivize you to buy even more stuff, amidst dropping stuff off. They will give you a higher monetary value if you choose “store credit” instead of “cash back”. An early mistake that I used to befall involved choosing the more “bang for buck” option and going home with, you guessed it, MORE stuff. Which I had to go through a few months down the road and de-clutter anyway. What I realized was that, we just have to cut our losses, and use the loss of money (by choosing the cash option) to constantly remind our future selves that we do not NEED anything more. No more stuff, no more money (which would tempt you to buy more stuff), no more de-cluttering projects, organizing parties, and wasting of time doing said things.

With every session of unburdening, I was able to detach myself more from the things. More importantly, I had a better grasp on the things that tie us down. Like having to work five days a week in order to save money for stuff. Or spending my hours on a day off cleaning objects that were collecting dust. Or organizing them into storage bins so that they didn’t collect dust. Or de-cluttering them so that you didn’t need to buy more storage bins.

I also had a better grasp on things that mattered. That tugged at my heartstrings and broke me down. When my dad had a heart attack last year, I was reminded that people matter more than things. As I started to need less, I started to work less. As I worked less, I had more time to grab lunch with my friends, cook dinner for my parents, spend one-on-one time with Mike. I had more time to talk to my brother about his career, and to hear a new-grad’s view on life. I also started to focus on actually living. I took many classes, delved into hobbies, started writing, tried to learn guitar (and three new languages), and more. I dedicated time every morning to give back to my body by doing daily yoga. I stopped adding back unnecessary things right after I’ve gotten rid of them. I simplified everything, and learned how to avoid turning around and complicating it again. We are so attracted to complications these days. “Life is so hard”, or “Life isn’t as easy as it used to be”. These statements are being thrown around carelessly, as if we’ve somehow forgotten that we are in control of our lives and that we have the ability to make the decisions.

This is what I mean when I say that de-cluttering is not an end-all, fix-all thing. You can de-clutter your entire home, from the foyer to the bathroom drawers, but nothing will ever change until you also stop adding stuff back in. Decluttering itself does not simplify your life. It is the process (which I recommend doing repetitively), that will define your values and solidify your character. And when you’ve done that, THEN you will have more control. When you no longer have a complicated life, your judgement is not clouded. You are not too busy to stop and lend a helping hand. Life isn’t going so fast that you don’t have time to do the right thing, which usually is the hard thing. The process will never teach you anything if you are just doing the same thing over and over again. If after de-cluttering, you add back in only to land back on square one of the game board. De-cluttering is not only about letting go, but also about understanding WHY we want things. We learn how much society plays a factor in determining for us what we want. It’s about having less, but more importantly, wanting less.

 

Curating Closets: Neutral Palettes

When it comes to curating my closet, practicality reigns supreme. In order to facilitate dressing up with ease, I naturally gravitate to a more neutral color palette. It isn’t to say I am above colors, for I still tote my single neon yellow summer blouse bi-weekly in the warmer months, and my favorite deep purple, velvet dress during holiday season, but I do have a tradition of choosing more subdued colors for ninety percent of the year. Frustrating past mistakes of taking home a recently purchased colored article of clothing, only to realize that it is in need of something to match it still haunt my memory. A case of needing more begets more. You may be compelled to buy yet another article of clothing, just to wear the one. Or you might do the opposite, and just never wear the new item. Possibly, you wear it still, without purchasing anything, and just revel in the total freedom that mismatching gives you. For me, versatility is key. I have curated my closet well enough to have confidence that things can liberally mix and match. And while neutrals will match with almost anything else, just keeping most things neutral makes it all the more easier, so that that neon yellow shirt does not end up atop bright pink shorts.

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My morning routines are made more efficient when I know to reach for a standard black tee. I actually have five black tees, and by Saturday, I’ve likely used them all. If I am feeling a bit adventurous, I may reach for my dark grey, or a blue and white stripe. Never have I felt comfort in a white tee, so despite the fact that they look extremely polished in the winter and cool in the summer, I cannot get myself to own one. It may sound that I have a tee too many, but they are all continually being used. I hardly reach for anything else. Tees are versatile, thanks to the perfect eighty-degree weather that is SoCal.

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Add to that my repertoire of beige cover-ups, egg-shell sweaters, and off-white jackets. I almost ran out of adjectives to describe something so vanilla. Softer hues are nice for colder days, when the moods reflect something calm and sleepy. Sweaters in gray are in full stock as well, not because I go out there and buy gray often, but because over the last ten years, that’s just the hue I seem to embrace. I have my 18 year old frame to thank for these collections.

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As far as bottoms go, I mostly grab blacks and blues. Jeans are my everyday armor, and I wear black pants to be a bit more sophisticated. I hardly stray from those colors. I think my biggest regretful purchase would be Nike athletic leggings in neon pink and atrocious purple, tie-dye fashion. While I haven’t quite gotten to de-cluttering it, because it is practical to keep workout pants, I hardly find myself wanting to wear them ever, not so practical. Keeping it for the just-in-case, something I can improve on in the near future.

Now I do have certain colors that I allow into my space at times, but to be honest, they don’t stray far from being neutral. Mostly, olive greens, and muted oranges that border closer to tan than yellow. And tawny hues find their way into my heart occasionally. For some, a minimalist wardrobe may involve a different color scheme, cloudy blues or fierce reds. For others, a minimalist wardrobe is defined by a collection of their most loved pieces, no matter how loud. To each their own.

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