By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.
Minimalism isn’t about removing the things you love. It’s about removing the things that distract you from the things you love. —Joshua Becker
Both in my personal life and in my professional life, I have had to help clean out apartments after someone passes on. My mother, to her credit, had been purging for years before she passed, so when it was time for us to clean out her house, well, let’s just say it could have been much worse. The hard part about being emotionally invested in cleaning out someone’s stuff is that you tend to have a predisposition toward a sentimentality about the objects that can slow you down. I have found it far easier to empty a hoarder’s apartment who I barely knew than sort through one box of my mother’s items, special or not.
Minimalists believe in the mantra, “Sort, Sell, Donate, Discard.” Wash. Rinse. Repeat. There are specialists, now, including Marie Kondo, a Japanese consultant who has a method for decluttering including the following steps:
- Commit yourself to tidying up.
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
- Finish discarding first. Before getting rid of items, sincerely thank each item for serving its purpose.
- Tidy by category, not location.
- Follow the right order.
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
Marie Kondo’s method does have a bit more teeth and gets us part way there. She wrote, “I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy.”
But even this method falls short and misses an important opportunity – an opportunity to reflect with others.
This holiday season, I suggest we give the gift of time together. Most of us do not need more stuff, but wouldn’t it be great to go through a closet with your daughter and give her that old lace tablecloth now instead of waiting for it to yellow? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to tell your son the story behind the shoes even as they are being donated?
There are very few Americans that do not need to go through their closets and downsize. So many of us get sidetracked by better opportunities to spend our time. Why not do both and have a cleanout party where the whole point is to declutter together? Commit to helping them with one closet, one bookshelf, one room.
Tell them your plan:
My gift to you is time together to tackle a problem area of your house. We all have problem areas, so this is not a judgment. I’d like to help you clean out a closet to give us the chance to talk and laugh as we relive your stories. The real intent is time together, but if you want me to box up and donate items, I can also help with that.
If ideas are needed and wanted about how to downsize, you can certainly suggest ideas.
Your mom hates to throw out 17 towels because they are all part of a set but she only needs 3? Maybe sending a few with grandchildren going to college might feel less like throwing them away. Your dad cannot part with dog tags from someone he barely knew? Maybe you can Google his family together and him find closure and say goodbye. Your aunt loves her hats? Maybe she would consider donating to a theatre troupe.
Maybe, in the quest to find the bottom of the closet you end up finding what really matters – togetherness.