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!
We all have an innate desire to complete tasks, some personalities more than others! Harness the drive of that internal task master and put it to work for you! Here are some ideas:
1. The To-Do List: In one sense, the power of checking items off a to-do list goes without saying, but the benefits are so many. There is so much value in the exercise of considering your goals, breaking them into smaller chunks, and choosing your priorities for the day, week or month. Keep a long term/reminder to-do list, and one for individual projects, but keep the daily list manageable, and always highlight the top 3 items - if you've gotten THOSE done, it was a successful day.
Remember that sometimes, top items need to include caring for the physical or emotional health of yourself or someone close to you - health is a LOFTY priority and should never be dismissed as unimportant just because it is a little less tangible!
Consider your favorite way to mark items completed - a nice bold strikethrough, the classic checkmark, a smiley face, dragging and dropping a digital item to DONE? And relish the action! Have fun with your to-do list!! I've started calling mine my HOT List - it makes me smile and feel more empowered!
2. Don't Finish what you started: Sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out! I came across this idea in the book PRE-SUASION by Robert Cialdini (he is quizzing a colleague for tips on how she commits to writing so consistently) and it really got me thinking:
Then, offhandedly, she mentioned a strategy of her own that I have used profitably ever since. She never lets herself finish a writing session at the end of a paragraph or even a thought. She assured me she knows precisely what she wants to say at the end of that last paragraph or thought; she just doesn’t allow herself to say it until the next time. Brilliant! By keeping the final feature of every writing session near-finished, she uses the motivating force of the drive for closure to get her back to her chair quickly, impatient to write again.
his is so great! It overcomes your brain's reluctance to get started with the next session, because you AREN'T getting started - you are wrapping something up, and are anxious to get that done! I have a lot of projects to apply this to - research (Ancestry jumps out at me), photo books, writing - I would say most creative pursuits have that point where you can walk away and leave yourself ready to jump right back in. Here's a quote from Moveable Feast that shows Ernest Hemingway used almost this exact strategy: “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” So, you'll be in good company!
3. Start the next thing: As I was marveling through how true the idea above was, I began to realize that for less creative items, the strategy had a complementary flip side - start the next item NOW rather than in the next session. In working toward a reading goal, I am finding (especially with non-fiction) that if I start the next chapter in this session, I am inclined to pick the book back up sooner with the next chapter started - the finish is closer, I know the theme of this chapter and am eager to come back to it.
What about an email you need to write or a card you want to send - can you open the new email, enter the sender's name, a subject and a first sentence? Can you choose the card, find its envelope and write Dear ____? These are easy steps, won't take any time, and your brain will not be overwhelmed by them. But, when you come back to your computer or desk it will be a little easier to write the body of the correspondence, rather than starting from scratch. It really helps to overcome that very human mental hurdle to getting started!!
What else could you apply this to? Almost any kind of data entry or long impossible list - get through the F's, March, the first page. Just Finish the Thousand!
5. Just 10 minutes: You can do anything for 10 minutes (or 5, or 30). Let go of that mental requirement to get a PROJECT done, and just set a timer and be DONE then - 10 minutes of cleaning my kitchen sounds a lot more doable some days than getting my kitchen CLEAN. But I make a lot of progress in 10 minutes, and some days I just keep going, because, hey, I'm almost there! Either way, it is a LOT better 10 minutes later than if I hadn't tackled it at all!
6. So much finishing: Back to Hot Lists, some days and weeks having three main tasks works for me, at other times, I need MICRO lists - I break down tasks into TINY baby steps. Cleaning my bedroom could easily be 6 items on my list - make bed, file papers on desk, clear nightstand, new box of tissues, straighten the dresser drawer that's been driving me crazy, wrap the present that has been sitting in the corner for a week.
Sometimes my mindset is such that itemizing to that level and creating mini-wins that are easy to complete makes it easier to get started, keeps me focused, and encourages me with small successes - embrace the micro list if that is the kind of day you are having, or stick to the general categories and commit to your "three big rocks".
So, combat the part of your brain that throws up roadblocks to getting started, and embrace the side that likes to complete a job. Find ways to overcome those mental hurdles and finish some items on YOUR hot list today!
I actually love goal-setting: saying it out loud, writing it down, quantifying it - this is the first step! But it needs to be followed by the second step - making a plan - I always think of that as "baby steps" - how do I break this into bite-sized chunks I can actually wrap my head around?? (This goes for short term as well as long term goals!)
Two Personal Examples:
Goal 1: Read 50 books this year. That's an average of a book a week or just over 4 books a month. 4 books a month works better for me, because I like to keep a variety of books open for different moods - organizing books for when I am up and cleaning and learning, fiction and classics when my mind needs to wander, business books, etc. Even if I read on car rides, while cleaning, and before bed, I'm actually likely to reach the goal - so that's the plan! Have something in the queue for car rides, turn on an audiobook for 30 minutes of cleaning time, and read 20 minutes before bed. If you haven't checked out Scribd - I HIGHLY recommend it for audiobooks (works like Netflix for books!) https://www.scribd.com/g/6o2xxl
Goal 2: Get the CPO designation from NAPO - this requires 1500 paid hours in 3 years. Yikes! That's 500 hours a year which is 10 hours a week, but I plan to exceed that during the summer weeks. It is still a stretch for me, but I am making plans to average 6-8 hours and the goal is seeming reachable! I'll be tracking carefully and watching my progress!
Do you have any goals you are working towards?
Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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