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Thursday, May 17, 2012

What to Do When You Are Committed to Minimalism, Organization & Simplicity- But the People Around You Are Not

You can be gung-ho about changing your life around, willing to put things back when you’re done using them every time, de-cluttering every item that you no longer want or need, and stay committed to recycling- but it is quite possible that your significant other could not care less about this quest of yours. Your kids, your mother-in-law, your friends, and many more people can & will (however unconsciously at times) attempt to corrupt your values. This can be incredibly disheartening. When you’re trying to redesign your world into a haven of cleanliness, sparse beauty & elegant simplicity, the people closest you may only be interested in picking up the latest video game that’s come out, the new must-have clothing items of the season, or buying their next sports car. What often stops us from making real headway is not so much personal laziness or our own unwillingness to change, but from the reality that the people around us don’t share our commitment to these desires. When our values don’t match theirs, and when we’re on vastly different paths, usually two things occur. One, it makes the simplifier feel like a martyr- “Why am I the one having to do without new clothes because I want to get out of debt? Life is short- why shouldn’t I just have fun like everyone else? Why should I get stuck cleaning the house every week? I mean, yes, I want a neat & clean home, but I’m not the only one who made messes in here over the last week! Why don‘t they get it?!”

Two, the simplifier may just give up the minimalism quest entirely, returning to their old ways of spend, spend, spend & collect, collect, collect. Or you may remain partially committed to minimalism, but you’re not applying the principles to every area of your life that you want to. I would never ask that you organize, minimize or simplify your life to the point where you’re suffering, unhappy & bored to death all the time. That isn’t the point at all. Actually, I would love to see you minimize, organize & simplify only to the point where you get back to having time & money for fun. Fun can mean a lot of different things to different people. Quiet pursuits such as reading a book, surfing the net & knitting are all fun things to some people. Others love to get active- they’ll play tennis, run, go to a dance class, or join a softball club. Some people want to travel for fun. That’s exactly what I want you to be free to do. I want your life to be so lightweight that you feel free to do what you love, have fun, enjoy the people in your life TODAY & feel happy more often than not. Being a martyr, obviously, isn’t at all fun. Nor is being too broke, too tired, or too overworked to go out & live life.

So here’s my point. It might not matter to your significant other that the dishes are piling up in the kitchen. They may never have established the habit of taking their used dishes to the kitchen. If you’re really unlucky, your housemate may have absolutely no time management, filing, cleaning, cooking or laundry skills whatsoever. Maybe their parents never taught them how to do these things. Maybe they were taught at some point, but just didn’t care to learn or retain the skill. But give them the benefit of the doubt. Ask them to pick up after themselves, and politely repeat yourself periodically, if need be. Take a good, hard look at their surroundings, too, and make sure that you’ve set up your home to suit their particular style of living. Some people can’t stand filing cabinets because they’re out-of-sight, out-of-mind souls, for example- they‘re not deliberately ignoring the system you spent hours setting up to organize papers in a file cabinet. Work with what their natural style is. One frequent example is paper clutter. If your SO has bills, newspapers, magazines, catalogs & more papers on the surfaces of your end tables & other flat surfaces, rethink your setup of furnishings. Buy or make furniture that has open shelving, where they can clearly see & reach what they need. Use a label maker or handmade labels to further clarify to their eyes what items go where. Alphabetize it, sort out their stuff by chronological order, and respect that they may not feel the same comfort level with tossing papers as you do. Be aware that you may have to spend a few minutes a day sorting new mail into the set-aside slots, shelves, cabinets, etc. But do encourage them paper hoarders to see the advantage of digital storage. Pass on articles to them which talk about what papers can be tossed, and what truly needs to be kept. De-cluttering is a vital first step to making sure that the other person can think as clearly as possible. Offer to help them sort through the backlog of papers- they may just feel overwhelmed & don’t know where to start. Often, once someone sees a clean, neat, organized home where they can find everything that they need, they will start to go along with your own changes. Resistance drastically lowers when a former hoarder feels the serenity that comes with a minimalist home. Make your personal changes as positive for them, too, as you can. When you get simplified & de-cluttered, sometimes that’s enough to make them realize that they actually want the same thing. Work on your own items in the beginning, not theirs, if at all possible. Unless you know they really don’t care about the stuff being thrown out, don’t sort & toss their stuff without them knowing about it. I also suggest holding off if they’re not available for consult, as to what must stay & what must go. I’m not saying that you should baby them or that they should never have to compromise or work with you, but try to be diplomatic. Remember that this is a new journey for them, too.

One of the best books I can recommend to help you organize what you do have left after de-cluttering is called, “The Beverly Hills Organizer’s Home Organizing Bible”, by Linda Koopersmith. I’ve certainly read a lot of good organizing books, but none that so thoroughly describes how to set up each closet, drawer, cupboard & more to maximize storage. The only real caveat of the author’s method is that it requires money to buy the organizing items, and in some cases, building skills that you may or may not possess. Again, though, remember that you must sort through your stuff first, assess what you have, purge what you don’t need, and measure before you buy storage containers. Make sure to do your research before you buy- try to read reviews on the products that you’re considering buying beforehand, compare prices between stores & watch for coupons, sales & deep discounts. Be willing to wait if you feel like the price is too high for the item that you want, and save money instead of buying on credit, if you can. Unless it’s an emergency item, don’t get yourself in debt to “get organized”- that is a direct contradiction to the simplicity lifestyle, and to minimizing your life’s stresses. Take it slowly, working on one drawer, closet, room, etc., at a time. This is a lifelong path to walk, and it doesn’t all need to get done immediately.

-Liz

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