Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
If you have an interest in decluttering and organizing and have read how-to books and articles, you have likely been introduced to the concept of Minimalism. In this post, we'll discuss some common misconceptions of Minimalism, and next month, I'll offer my favorite definitions by favorite minimalist thinkers. We'll also come back - a lot - to my favorite definition: Intentional. If it were up to me, we would call it the Intentionality Movement and probably reduce a lot of the misconceptions surrounding "Minimalism"!
As with so many things, Minimalism looks different for each person as they embrace its concepts with their personalities, values, interests, styles, and unique selves!! But when many people hear the term Minimalism, they instantly conjure up some mental images, generalizations that do not have to be part of what Minimalism looks like on YOU!
Myth #1: Minimalist houses are sparse and WHITE.
This is my first mental image, and there may be a definition of minimal interior design that makes this true. But the minimalist movement has moved beyond that interior design aspect. Minimalists can be collectors, love color, love sentimental objects, and surround themselves with warm comfy throws! But they will be intentional: curate their collections, choose great pops of color, limit sentimental objects to favorite memories on display, and get great use out of their decorative throws. What good are treasures in a box in the basement?
My house would scream minimalist to exactly NO ONE. But every time I sweep through with fresh eyes, or paint a room and decide what deserves to go back up on my walls, I seem to find another item that isn't earning its keep. If it isn't making me smile every time I walk past, it at least needs to be reassessed and reconsidered. I am continually amazed at the truth of the phrase: "less is more"!
Myth #2: Minimalists don't believe in fashion.
This might conjure the mental image of Steve Jobs: daily "uniform," black turtleneck, an almost empty wardrobe full of neutrals. Minimalists are unlikely to have closets stuffed to the gills with clothes they haven't worn in ages - whether because the clothes are the wrong size, poor-fitting, ugly splurge purchases, no longer in style, etc. They are very likely to be in tune with THEIR style rather than swayed by every newest trend. But plenty love fashion, and dress in colors and shapes that flatter their complexions and bodies.
I am no fashionista, but I am learning to be intentional with my purchases, only buying what makes me feel great, rather than what is on sale. I am learning to let go of the extras in my wardrobe that just aren't me, and give them away. To focus on the fact I have learned something about my style rather than just having lost money. I think the most surprising change for me is that I am slowly paring my neutrals down to black (rather than browns and grays and blues and blacks). It is my favorite neutral and looks great with the bright, bold colors I enjoy. And I don't feel I have to give up jeans - I'll keep wearing the dark wash I've always gravitated to.
Myth #3: They hate books, too.
<--Here's my mental image - the strong reaction of book lovers to Marie Kondo. Would the minimalist movement, or your favorite organizer, encourage you to reconsider your relationship with physical books, as you would other things? Probably so. Does this mean they don't read and disdain the pursuit of knowledge? Or that no minimalist home needs bookshelves? Probably not. But let's face it - sometimes we keep books on our shelves that we haven't even read because we like what they say about who we are. Sometimes we keep references we will never refer to or novels we will never revisit. And, in my mind, sharing is caring. Most book lovers are excited to share the books they truly love - loaning with open hearts - even while knowing they may have to repurchase the next time they want to "loan". I think it is with the books we haven't read that we have the strangest, or most unhealthy, relationship.
I think for me, this added some new questions to my arsenal. As I think about my intention to make my home a place of comfort and welcome, I often remind myself that libraries, museums, and gardens hold items for everyone to share and enjoy. When I look at books that have sat on my shelves for years, I ask: Will this add to the next "chapter" of my life? Is this something I would buy in the store if I saw it today? Might this serve a *better* purpose in someone else's home, temporarily, or permanently? And now we are back to being book lovers, sharing our treasures with open arms!
Myth #4: Minimalists count the number of items in their closet or home.
You will read books and Challenges referring to numbers of items. I picture Minimalists humble bragging about how few things they own, or into what tiny suitcase they can squeeze all their worldly possessions. Minimalism could be defined as a process of figuring out the "minimum" you need to be content. I think some personalities strongly identify with a challenge and taking the more extreme route. But the minimalist movement is more about being intentional about what we own and allow in our lives than keeping tallies and should never be about comparison or judgment!
I can't imagine trying to hit artificially chosen "number of items" goals in my home, in a room, in my "capsule wardrobe". But the concepts of figuring out what I can do without, what is the least I need, what others would benefit from more, really inspire me at times. We are so accustomed to our society of overabundance that these ideas go against conventional thinking!
Myth #5: Minimalism happens overnight, is all or nothing.
The image is: You either ARE a minimalist and fit within a particular box (perhaps the myths above), or you are NOT a minimalist. Again, some personalities are more extreme, more all in, more inspired by challenges than others. But Minimalism is a mindset and a journey, and the path looks different for everyone.
My sister and I have played with the idea of writing an organizing book together in the future. She jokes that she will share the extreme view - her side of the book will be called the Spartan Method. I will share the slower, more patient view - I may call it the "What turns your Heart on" Method. People process differently, and it is okay to grow in stages. I have always been amazed to watch the "GROWTH SPURTS" God fashioned for babies and children, and I don't think they only apply to the physical. So be gentle with yourself as you make intentional decisions about how to fashion your life and surroundings! Maybe you can join me in being an "intentionalist" who also aspires to Minimalism!
Myth #6: Minimalists are all backpacking the world or living in tiny RVs - crunchy, vegan, millennial free spirits avoiding all responsibility.
I think many Minimalists started with a significant life change, but here we are, back to the all or nothing box! Your priorities might not have anything to do with travel: you may spend your newfound free time serving the elderly, or your extra finances (from more thoughtful purchasing habits) supporting a battered women's shelter. Perhaps you will use the additional space in your easier-to-maintain-home to host neighbors, coworkers, and family regularly, investing in relationships. It's about taking FULL responsibility for the choices that shape your reality and realizing we don't have to walk the same hamster wheel.
This myth makes me laugh because this description may be the antithesis of me. Still, the concepts of Minimalism and the definitions we will explore in the next post inspire me to really consider my big picture. And watching people make dramatic choices on their journeys, no matter how different from mine, is encouraging too!
“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there's a large kitchen, a warm stove, a simmering pot and a mom. "
One of my very earliest memories involves the story of me, my dog Bridie, and the pudding. Now, this is one of those family stories that has been told and retold, so that you have to wonder whether I actually remember the event, or just being told it at an early age. But, I have this mental picture of a dawn kitchen, lights still out except the bulb in the fridge, in front of which I sat around the age of 3, on the floor with a large bowl of pudding my mom had prepared the night before. My dog is on the floor right next to me, keeping me company. Now, it turns out, in my parents retelling, the pudding was being eaten with one bite for me, and one bite for my partner in crime (eww!), they didn't even yell at me ("I mean, you were such a good kid in general, what was the big deal?"), and the story repeats itself at some point down the road with me, Bridie, and a bag full of Oreos!
But, really, our kitchens are the places of family meals, late night snacks, early morning cups of coffee. The work of meal planning can be the bane of our existence, but the feeling of serving a hot, healthy meal of comfort food on a cool evening as everyone gathers around hungry, enjoying the delicious smells, is one to cherish.
Kitchens have so much happening in them, it can be hard to keep up. But, in most kitchens, overflowing drawers and cabinets are doing us NO favors. Counters cluttered with kitchen appliances make meal prep and clean up even harder, and outside items are just in the way. So, here are categories you can organize in your kitchen today!
1. "Junk" Drawers:
I just reduced from THREE kitchen junk drawers down to two and it feels great! (See, organizers don't judge!!) The old junk drawer became the home for my caddy of herbal teas - it looks great in the drawer, just below our electric tea pot, and it is wonderful to have it off the counter!! All of my junk drawers have desk organizers and each contain their own general category, but they are still "catch-alls" for items that probably don't warrant the "high rent" space of my kitchen's top drawers. Junk drawer #2, I'm gunning for you next! How about you, do you have a drawer that should be in YOUR crosshairs?
2. Things that just don't belong in the kitchen:
Junk mail, laundry baskets, soccer balls, craft projects - sometimes our kitchen counters are the easy drop off point for all sorts of crazy stuff. Take a few weeks to get consistent with your family (AND YOURSELF!) and reinforce a new rule that outside items can't land in the kitchen!!
3. Rarely used kitchen items that aren't earning their high rent:
When you are cooking and cleaning, the important items need to be easy to grab - you don't have time to dig through overflowing drawers and cabinets.
The first question to ask is whether you really NEED these items if you haven't pulled them out in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years. If your friend borrowed this and lost it, would you be running to Amazon to replace this at full price? Or could you live without it?? If you would just live without it, is it really worth having to move it out of the way every time you need your favorite pot? Let these items GO - and if they are in good shape, let them find a new home where they will be used and enjoyed!!
But, there's a second category that we often find not earning high rent - the once or twice a year items. Maybe in the summer you make homemade popsicles with your kids, or ice cream, or fruit pies. Maybe each Christmas it is worth having 5 cookie sheets and cooling racks for a marathon session. Maybe you have a "birthday season" like we do here, and during those weeks cake decorating tips, cupcake carriers, and cake stands get used regularly. But maybe these seasonal items sit unused the other 45 weeks of the year. Don't give them prime cabinet space!! Put them in the basement, garage, the tippy top shelf of a closet that requires a chair to access. It's okay that they are hard to get to next season - enjoy having them out of the way while they aren't earning their keep!!
4. Items that seem to "reproduce":
Here are the top 3 in my kitchen: linen items, knives, and spoons/spatulas. These are the items in our home that need replaced most often I think... but when the new ones come in, the old ones get justified because, "You can always use an extra [knife, dishrag, wooden spoon].
For me, linen items includes washcloths, cute kitchen towels, potholders and aprons. I love these items fresh and new, but they each have their space and they can't exceed their limits. So, I'm getting pretty good at following the one in, one out rule and rotating my dish towels seasonally.
Knives - another organizer confession - I have TWO woodblocks on my counter right now. One was a wedding gift, but likely no longer contains ANY of the original knives (which I loved!) just a nice mix of individual replacements. The second was an attempt at a full replacement. I tried Chicago Cutlery and I HATE this set. Others in my family use it, but the first is still my go to when I am grabbing something for chopping. Putting on my organizer hat, there are easy solutions - I'm going to implement one in the next month and only keep the ones that "bring me joy"!
Spoons/spatulas/scrapers - this category's problem is a mix of both - either we keep because "you can't have too many" OR because we just still like the old one better... even if the old spatula has a little tear in the silicone. But, again, get clear on the space allotted, and stay well within it!
What are your chronic reproducers? What limits can you set?
5. Food items:
I recommend a good system for those edible items that need to circulate. Maybe you like to give a mouse a cookie, so you go to the grocery store to shop for cookies. At the grocery store, you find a great sale, so you buy a WHOLE BUNCH of cookies. You bring the cookies home and try to put them away in your pantry. But your pantry is already full, because the grocery store had a great sale last month, too, and you also stocked up then. Because you really like giving cookies to mice. Your child is helping to put away groceries, so he stuffs them all into the front of the cabinet... Confusion, disorder, and food waste ensue! Don't be tempted to use your pantry as a grocery store - just buy what you need! For now, get things in order by date, and get rid of the expired items. Consider donating perishables you have too many of to a food bank - don't just let them sit in your cupboard going out of date!! And commit to not buying more until you open the next-to-last package of each item and it is actually on your grocery list!
Help your kitchen work for you! Streamline it - don't stuff it to the gills! Give yourself room to maneuver and enjoy your kitchen again!
Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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