Keep or Cleanse

Lately, I’ve been feeling like cleansing our home of unused and non-essential items. I get this urge every few months because objects fall out of regular use or purpose as our lives change. I notice the items collecting dust from being unused, and then I feel guilty because it’s still in my home and I call myself an essentialist?

I want to be an essentialist, but every few months I look around my home and feel like a phony. I think to myself, “These art prints aren’t essential… Do I need these old scraps of paper with my calligraphy on them? Probably not. I never dig them out to look at them. Ok, I know these books and magazines take up space, but I don’t want to get rid of my books. I value them and, even though they take up this space, I know they add to my life. We value these art prints too because they inspire and make me smile, so it’s okay to keep those…” I repeat these thoughts every few months to justify why my house doesn’t look like the photos of the typical all black and white minimal Scandinavian inspired home, complete with only two hand-crafted forks. Am I doing it wrong or not committing enough to this lifestyle?

The ideas and principles of essentialism in the home were instantly relate-able after I read Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, a few years ago. I’ve always liked to keep my space clean and well-organized, and owning less stuff means both of those things are easier to maintain. The essentialist lifestyle takes my home preferences and asks the deeper questions about my values and the purpose of the objects I keep.

Learning the values and principles is the easy part. Starting to cleanse your space can be manageable in small steps, like donating one object a day or starting with one room, or in one grand packing party. Maintaining these values is hard work. Because after you remove the clear non-essentials, you’re left with the hard decisions about which remaining objects truly add value or have purpose. Clear lines must be drawn to classify the things you need (your essentials, like a bed), the things with a purpose (like having two sets of bed sheets to rotate), the things you find value in (pleasantries, like the blanket that’s been a comfort in your life since college), and the excess (the other two throw blankets that just seem to stick around in the closet unused).

These lines are not always black and white, and that’s when these decisions are tough. It requires you to consider the facts (essential or not), know your personal values and needs, and then be disciplined enough to honor these self-truths. It is a constant cycle because what may hold value or purpose today, may not in a few months.

The Minimalist use a 90/90 rule: “Have you used that item in the last 90 days? If you haven’t, will you use it in the next 90? If not, then it’s okay to let go.”

The next question I ask is, “Does this add value to my life?” meaning does this object positively affect me.

There can be a lot of grey area on which possessions you keep or get rid of. The decisions rely on you being honest with yourself, articulating your values, and honoring yourself by doing what is best for you within your comfort level.

I cherish the books and magazines B and I choose to keep in our home, because we both gain knowledge and inspiration from them. They add value to our life. Our books are not minimal at all, but the books we keep we have defined as essential to us.

Being essential and having the minimal aesthetic aren’t synonymous.

Essentialism is about using objects as tools, even if they are transient, and cherishing the objects you value. It is not to force you to own a finite number objects or deprive you of the things you enjoy. It is a way to manage your physical belongings. You define and shape what your essentialism looks like in your home (and in your life, but this is a topic for another time). Your home should be a reflection of who you are and what you value, not what is pinterestingly appealing to others.

Too often, I confuse that minimalism and essentialism can be visually different. The confusion causes me to be unkind to myself by thinking “I’m a phony for owning excess things, and I could live with way less.” Instead of feeling guilty, I need to remember that every few months I will need to re-evaluate the objects I keep or cleanse. It’s part of the process as I grow and change. It is not my goal to be aesthetically perfect to others. My essentialist home will always be unfinished, but maintaining my values will ensure it always feels perfect to me.

(Day 57)