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Saturday, May 5, 2012

How I Got My Start in Minimizing, Organizing & Simplifying- and How I’ve Kept it Going

I’ve been “dedicated” to the lifestyle of simplifying, organizing, de-cluttering & becoming a minimalist since June of 2006. That is when I first read a book written by Elaine St. James entitled, “Simplify Your Life”. My reading of the book coincided with the first vacation I’d ever taken as an adult, going out to the countryside for a week. I was working at an ever-more-demanding job, but one which was fulfilling me less & less, where opportunities had begun dwindling rapidly. This all occurred shortly after a larger company had bought my employer out, slashing our benefits, essentially ending our raises & promotions (which had been very frequent before), laying off many workers with seniority in order to hire younger, less-experienced people that they could pay much less. The subsequent drop in our customer service levels, the inefficiency of some of the newest workers, and the palpable sense of grief amongst those of us who were left was very saddening. At that time, my personal life was going fairly well, although we were at the height of the housing boom, and I was frustrated that my income could not support renting even the cheapest apartments in the area. While I looked & felt quite good, still being in my mid-twenties, in great health at the time, and had a lot of my money saved away, something was missing. I tried to live the best Christian life that I could, be the best friend I could be, enjoy my community, take care of my health, and I looked forward to the future, in general. But I felt like I was barely treading water when it came to keeping it all together. An uneasiness had started to creep into my thinking. My home, especially, was a cluttered & sometimes dirty mess, more often than not. My beloved cat, whom I’d had since I was thirteen, had to be put to sleep earlier in that year due to a terminal illness. He was sixteen, and I’d had him since he was three years old, so he had literally been around for half of my lifetime at that point. So, all in all, I was in a receptive mood, and change was in the air, anyway.

I read the book, and it was a revelation. People have “Eureka!” moments all the time, but that was one of the first really gigantic ones for me. St. James listed one hundred things that I could do to simplify my existence. Of course, I didn't instantly or even ever implement all of them (not all were applicable), but I did a lot. I gave away dozens, probably a hundred, books. Same with CD's, DVD's & videotapes. I no longer own any videotapes, or a VCR. I got rid of every CD jewelcase & a lot of DVD ones, getting back valuable storage in my home. I tossed old furniture, clothes that didn't fit, shoes that hurt. I made up lists of things to do, things to get rid of, and things to simplfy- and stuck to them. I left a job that I hated, and ended up working for a job where I literally met my new best friend. It was a purging time in many, many ways- some good, some bad. I learned to appreciate white, empty space. But I wouldn't exchange that time in life- and there were times when it seemed impossibly unhappy- for anything. I know that every single experience that came out of simplfying was one that I needed to have. I've de-cluttered dozens of bags & boxes worth of items, things I'd sometimes spent money on, but didn't need or want anymore. Guess what? I can't list one single item that I ever tossed or donated that I regret getting rid of. Not one. If I did, I'd tell you. Trust me. The new that comes into your life, especially over time, more than replaces the old.

From there, I read another great book entitled, “Speed Cleaning”, at the recommendation of St. James, which taught me how to do just that- clean my entire house in a methodical manner each week. I’d always cleaned, but I was sick & tired of spending six to eight hours every weekend cleaning the house, only for it to look like a tornado had come back through it by the following Tuesday. My mother, whom I lived with, had an hour-long-plus commute even just one way, worked full-time herself, and wasn’t home much to help out. Between putting into practice some things I’d learned from St. James’ book, and implementing Speed Cleaning, I really got my home in better shape. I was spending less time each weekend on cleaning. But I hadn’t found “the missing link” yet. I was still struggling, because I didn’t know how to keep up the house on a day-to-day basis. And doing so was vitally important for my sanity, but also meant that my weekly Speed Cleaning could actually be done speedily! If you have to go around & pick up toys, clothes, dishes, etc. all around the house, if your laundry is up to the rafters, if used pots & pans haven’t gotten washed, dried & put away throughout the week, there is no way that Speed Cleaning can be done quickly or easily. It’ll become so tiring & frustrating that the cleaning itself may not even get done.

About a year later, I joined a program authored by Maria Cilley, otherwise known as The FlyLady. This program has a huge following, and for good reason. I truly believe that without starting with this program, many of the habits, successes, moments of clarity, and the recognition of my paths to follow would have alluded me. I highly suggest you check it out. It starts as simply as shining up a kitchen sink, but it can lead to something as complex as writing for the entire world. FlyLady can help take you to a mindset that you didn’t believe was possible. If you would have told me five years ago that my life path could be as clear to me as it is now, I would have thought you needed a head check. If you would have said that my success was as simple as establishing good habits, that it’s mostly just the utilization of one’s full brainpower at the end of the day, I then would have determined you were certifiable. I was convinced that it was so much more complicated than it really was. But I would have been wrong.

One thing I need to recommend to you- take it slow. You are going to have days of immense success, and you are going to have off days. That’s perfectly okay. An organized, simple, peaceful life isn’t built in a day. It requires constant vigilance. For most people, it takes years to get to true happiness with oneself, and I’m personally still working on establishing several habits which I know will lead me on to a better place in the world. This path is a lifelong journey- nothing less. I wish I could tell you that it’s all easy, that there’s a quick answer for everything in humanity’s problems, and that you’ll be successful in all you do. But this is a path that requires dedication, being willing to fail repeatedly & yet still get back up again, trudging in. You will experience moments of anger, illness & loss. But I do promise that while this journey may not always seem to be the fun one, it’s consistently been the most rewarding path. Keep on trucking!

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