Essentialism 101: Step 4: What’s Not Working?

Hi there! Before the baby, I introduced Essentialism 101, or my fundamental formula for the best and most sustainable method for dealing with the excess in our lives. I wrote about the first three steps in more detail: Step 1: Stop Digging!, Step 2: Priorities! and Step 3: Figure Out What’s Working!. Let’s continue the series with Step 4: Remove What’s Not Working!

‘Tis the season for peace and joy! What does that mean to you and how do you get it? One way is to declutter your stuff and commitments to create more space in your life. Peace! And then spend and live within your values to create mental clarity and gratitude. Joy!

We’ve set ourselves up for success. After examining our habits, figuring out what’s important, and starting from a place of abundance, we can start to let go!

It’s hard enough to find the time and money to do and buy all the things we want (or need)… why spend it on items we don’t even care about? It’s time to reconsider what’s necessary in your life. You need to find things to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to those that really matter. Be ruthless. What’s inhibiting your vision? What’s adding noise? If you don’t keep something, you don’t have to clean it, organize it, store it, or even think about it!

Hobby clutter is a good example. You might love doing an activity but maybe the “stuff” associated with it has become a sort of burden. I’ve seen this happen again and again with clients: they work to get rid of the excess knitting yarn or records or musical instrument accessories and suddenly they enjoy the activity more! There’s less inertia, less weight.

I got rid of almost all of our books and then I started reading nightly again. The ghosts of unread books were haunting me. When I allowed myself to check out books that I wanted to read in the moment, I enjoyed reading again for the first time in almost a decade. I probably went from averaging two books a year to more than two a month!

(our "get it out of here" basket...)

(our "get it out of here" basket...)

We started to sort items in Step 3: What’s Working. You picked favorites, set limits, figured out what’s in line with your values. Here are some ideas to help you remove what’s not working:

+ Start small. Or start in a single section or category: one room, one drawer, or one type of commitment. Finish a small task, celebrate and continue! The momentum from small wins is important.

+ Pick the easy things to get rid of first. Trash is easy! And items beyond repair, duplicates, items that don’t make you feel good. If you’ve set limits, remove the excess items.

+ Completely empty the space and consider each item. Categorize before moving on: YES, NO, or MAYBE. We have a tendency to skip over annoying but important decisions, so contemplate each one.

++ Thoughts on allowing a MAYBE pile: One of the biggest challenges when doing this work yourself is losing your energy or enthusiasm. If you are truly stuck deciding on an item, label it “MAYBE” and move on. The momentum really helps the process. At the end, you can re-sort the MAYBES and will probably find that you don’t really need most of them. Alternatively, you can put the MAYBES aside for a few months and plan a time to reconsider them in the future. Your thoughts and emotions might be clearer after time.

+ Ask the right questions. Why is this in my life? is this for the real me or for some fantasy self? Am I keeping this out of guilt or because I feel a sense of “should”? Was it costly in time or money so it's hard to get rid of? Is it attached to a fond (or difficult) memory but no longer used? Is it getting in the way of my priorities?

+ Think of others. It feels better to be grateful for most of what you do and own. If that’s not the case, will somebody else appreciate it more? This can be that emotional cushion if separation has been difficult. Give a little joy to somebody else: those art supplies to a school, the books to your local library, the used video games or records to a collector…

(... labeled for "giveaway" and "returns")

(... labeled for "giveaway" and "returns")

Remove the easy things, the excess, the obstacles to living a life aligned with your values. Find that peace and joy by figuring out what’s important to you and then learn to let go of the rest. What can you remove?

+ In addition to your To-Do List, consider an Ignore List. See Two Lists You Should Look at Every Morning.

++ After the New Year, I’ll finish this series with the fifth and last step. We’ll restore and maintain! Happy Holidays!! <3