Spring cleaning my way to a minimalist life

I am a hoarder at heart. Maybe it’s the fault of my favourite childhood author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose descriptions of storage rooms brimming with canned goods and produce seemed so comforting and warm. Maybe it dates back further, to our ancestral days when the ability to stockpile food and tools significantly increased our odds of survival. Either way, there is something about having an abundance of things that just makes me feel good. Secure. Protected. Prepared.

And so I keep shoes that I’ve never worn, toiletries I’ve never used and university textbooks I’ve never read. I stockpile slightly torn gift bags and crumpled tissue paper, disposable planting pots and old bricks, Contigo coffee mugs and an endless supply of old white t-shirts. I save notes from high school, clothes that no longer fit, and numerous nameless items whose purpose remains a mystery. Because while some hoarders like me will argue, “You never know when you’ll need it,” I do know. It’ll be the second I throw it away.

I used to binge watch episodes of TLC’s Extreme Couponing, marvelling at the impeccably-organized stockrooms, and the lifetime supplies of toilet paper and cereal. But lately, something has changed. Lately, I’m more drawn to shows like HGTV’s Tiny House, Big Living. I’m impressed by people who are overjoyed to fit their lives into a 200 square foot space.

Maybe it’s because, with three kids and a spouse, I spend far too much of my time picking up other people’s stuff. Maybe it’s because it’s become impossible to find a place for everything we own. Whatever the reason, I no longer find comfort in this excess amount of stuff. Instead, the cluttered surfaces, stuffed drawers and jam-packed closets leave me feeling a little stressed, a little anxious. Maybe even a little claustrophobic.

Suddenly, I find myself craving clean surfaces and open spaces. I find myself seeking a simpler, more minimalist life. One that brims with relationships and experiences and an excess of time. And much, much less stuff.

But how do I get there? Where do I even start? I thought about buying Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, because I could use a little magic right about now. But I’ve fallen into that trap before, where I buy more stuff to help my organize the stuff I already own. It isn’t the fix, at least not entirely.

The trick is to purge.

Fortunately, I’ve come to this realization at a most opportune time — just weeks before our community’s annual garage sale, which draws hundreds (if not thousands) of bargain shoppers from the city and other neighbouring towns. Over the course of the weekend, our normally quiet street will stream with non-stop traffic. The first year we lived here, we wondered why many of our neighbours were so quick to head out of town, haphazardly tossing suitcases into vehicles like 1930s bank robbers making a getaway. As we found out, garage sale weekend is great if you’re having one. But not so great if you’re trying to back out of your own driveway.

Last year, my husband made the mistake of cleaning the garage during peak sale time, only to have strangers wander in and attempt to buy our stuff. As the movie Field of Dreams taught us, “If you build it, they will come.” Only you don’t even have to build it. You just have to open the garage door.

And so we will. And so, with a deadline now set, I have been methodically scouring our house for items we neither need nor want, and boxing them up in preparation for the big day. Being fast and ruthless is key. If I let my momentum lag, I’ll start to question my decisions and my inner hoarder will boot my inner minimalist to the curb.

I’m trying to get my family on board with this idea, with varying degrees of success. Because whether they want to admit it, they are just as much of the problem as me. My husband has boxes of cables for antiquated technology that will never again see the light of day. We moved a box of old Maxim magazines to three different houses before I finally convinced him it was time they hit the recycle bin. The guy holds onto boxer shorts until they resemble skirts, and would probably keep them tucked away at the back of his drawer even then if I didn’t toss them myself.

The kids are even worse, saving old valentines, lone earrings and dried out markers, “special” rocks and broken McDonald’s toys. They create a dozen drawings a day, and are enraged if they discover a single one in the trash, even though the fridge is covered, even though tomorrow they’ll create a dozen more.

I thought about purging their rooms when they’re not home — out of site, out of mind. Because past experience has taught me that the second I put something into a boxy to donate, it becomes their favourite toy. But this seems unfair, like a tiny betrayal of trust. And I’m not that desperate … yet.

So instead I tried to bribe them. “Hey guys, if you sell the toys you never play with, you can get money to buy new toys!” And for a moment, they were hooked. But then I pushed it a step too far and suggested we sell at least half the stuffies. Because there are so many stuffies piled on my kids’ beds that I’m positive a stuffy avalanche will one day bury them alive.

And that’s when I lost them. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, my six-year-old burst into tears. And suddenly I remembered what it was like to be six, and to believe that my stuffies had personalities. And feelings. And I realized that asking him to get rid of his stuffies was like asking him to get rid of a friend.

So maybe a purely minimalist life isn’t the answer. Maybe it’s OK if some things in our house stay. Not just the things that we need and the things that we use.

But also, and most of all, the things that we simply love.


2 thoughts on “Spring cleaning my way to a minimalist life”

  1. I LOVE this article! So funny, true, poignant and “me.” I am sure your husband will appreciate that we all now know about his skirted boxers…ah, ammunition!

    It is sooo difficult to purge, even as we sit in our childless (child-free) home….and we remember: when the kids were small, it was truly almost impossible to declutter. My advice: for now, work with the adults and don’t stress too much about the kids’ treasures. You are so wise to recall being age 6.

    And good luck on that open garage during the crazy weekend!

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