It’s a funny thing, when I picture my “dream house” I often envision one of four scenarios (I love old buildings!) – a big old Victorian home, a smallish Arts and Crafts style bungalow, an above the store apartment, or a nonconventional building turned house (barn, church, gas station, etc.). But they all have a few things in common:
- It’s in a community where I can walk or ride a bike to most every place I’d need to get to, including work and the grocery.
- It would also be as energy efficient as possible.
- It would have a space that serves as a library and/or office.
- There would be a space for all of our various creative supplies.
- There would be a garage-like space in which The Goat could work on our bicycles and we could store our outdoor gear and tools. If this space is an actual garage, it would be large enough to also include space for a car.
- The kitchen is large enough for both of us to cook, can, and brew. It would include a pantry and a place for the few appliances we do have. It would also be large enough to be an eat-in kitchen.
Taking all of this, and the few necessary rooms (living room, bedrooms, laundry and bathroom) into account, our current home could come pretty close. Some of our current spaces just aren’t being used well – like our dining room. We don’t use it for eating in, entertaining, or in any other “dining room” capacity, so why do we keep it as a dining room? Would it be a better library/office for us?
One of the big issues for me right now is our stuff. We’ve got a lot of stuff. Not enough to be hoarders or terribly cluttered, but enough that it’s not practical to rearrange and repurpose rooms without seriously considering each item and its purpose in our home.
I’ve been really trying to push myself into decluttering and reorganizing. So far I’ve donated countless boxes to Salvation Army, and am slowly working my way through the house decluttering what I can. This is difficult because we’ve been married for 20 years (when did that happen?) and items belong to me, both of us or The Goat. I can only critically sort through those items that are specifically mine or that are broken, beyond repair, or no longer of use.
I’ve also been reading books or listening to podcasts about decluttering, minimizing, and downsizing. One of the books I just finished reading is “Letting Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life” by Peter Walsh (Rodale, 2017). While this book was more situational because it was assuming there was a life change forcing you or your parents to downsize, it reiterated a common theme from other books and podcasts – we are not our stuff.
Compared to the KonMari Method, the “Letting Go” method is more unstructured. Which made the book seem more vague, but not any less helpful, in my opinion. I realize that sounds like a contradiction, but if the structure of the KonMari method seems strange and unlikely to work for you, a book like “Letting Go” may be more helpful. While I enjoyed the books by Marie Kondo, many Americans find it unreasonable because of the amount of stuff we tend to accumulate, the “Letting Go” method is a bit more “lax” and never even touches on things like paperwork or discarding family photos. (See my previous blog to learn a bit more about the KnoMari method.)
However, like Marie Kondo’s books and many minimalism books and podcasts, Walsh’s book, repeatedly reminds the reader that it’s not one’s material possessions that make us who we are. He also states that downsizing is actually a normal part of life, and that we should view it more as an opportunity.
According to Walsh, what often makes downsizing so difficult for many of us is that we are often forced to downsize due to a major life change, and even if that change is positive, it comes with it’s own stressors and uncertainty. That in turn makes sorting through our possessions stressful because of all of the “what-ifs” (What if I need this later? etc.) and memories associated with our stuff.
One of the major themes that runs through “Letting Go” is to keep only the “best” of an item. For example, if someone you loved had a collection of items and you’re now tasked with downsizing their belongings, only keep one or two items from their collection that you feel represents them best.
He also suggests letting go of anything that brings up negative emotions, like sadness. If and item makes you sad because it reminds you of the loss of a loved one, get rid of it! It’s likely that you have good memories of that person too, so why hang onto something that makes you sad instead of happy when you think of them?
He also states that your home is your home. Items that made your parents or loved ones happy don’t have to make you happy. It’s ok to accept this and find other homes for items that belonged to them – you don’t need to take everything. Only keep items that bring you joy and mean something to you or that you will use now. It’s ok to let everything else go.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? But we all know how hard it can really be. We tend to attach a lot of sentiment to items, whether we want to admit it or not. Our homes are full of things we worked hard to purchase, items that were gifts, mementos of long gone family members. It can be overwhelming to go through it all.
This is where I find myself mashing the information I’ve recently gathered about decluttering. “Does it bring me joy, do I treasure it? Does it serve an immediate purpose or function? No? Then let it go! Yes? Where does it belong or live in the house?
I don’t think I’ll finish this task anytime soon. It’s exhausting. But I will keep trying, after all, it’s not about getting rid of everything or living with less. It’s about creating a living space that helps one live their best life. For some, that’s a clinically modern apartment, for some, that’s a cozy cottage. For us, it’s pretty close to what we’ve got.