By the time I turned 24, I had a well-established reputation among family and friends as the guy who never remembered where he left his keys. And by the time I found them, I was at least 20 minutes late to wherever it was I was supposed to be going.
At the time, I saw that everyone around me seemed to have one system or another in place to organize their physical space and social lives: suction bags to save space on clothing, color-coded labels on boxes for books, photo albums, digital calendars that accounted for their every hour. I was so impressed by the organized people who surrounded me, but I didn't think I could ever become one of them. I didn't have a system to organize my chaos, and I had resigned to that fact.
The decluttering "game" that changed everything.
It wasn't until I stumbled upon Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the simple living experts behind The Minimalist website and documentary, that things began to change. What struck me about their philosophy was its simplicity: They said that the best way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it.
Their 30-day game plan made sense to me, so I decided to play. It went like this:
Day 1: Trash, donate, or sell one item.
Day 2: Trash, donate, or sell two items.
Follow that pattern up for 30 days, and at the end of the month you'll have trashed, donated or sold over 500 things.
The first few days are supposed to be the easiest, nudging you to get rid of the items you've been too lazy to part with in the past. But even as I continued to work my way through the month, I noticed I wasn’t removing anything I truly valued. It was just all the excess stuff: clothes I hadn’t worn in years, kitchen accessories I no longer used, boxes of "just-in-case" items, old magazines I might read one day (but probably wouldn't).
And as the 30 days went on, I noticed that my shiny new physical space was giving me a newfound sense of mental space too. It was creating room for me to breathe.
Organization shouldn't stop at home.
By the end of the month, these physical changes had made such a positive impact on my head space that I wanted the benefits to transfer to other areas in my life. If a simple cleanup of my physical surroundings could feel this good, what could decluttering the rest of my life do? What would happen if I only committed to the things I really valued and scrapped all the activities I didn’t really love?
I stopped going to every social event just to fulfill other people's expectations and started planning my days more intentionally. I limited my screen time and decided to use the extra hours to read, write, or go to the gym. I also realized that now that I wasn’t spending so much money on stuff I didn’t need, I could afford to work one day less each week and commit that day to writing, learning, and investing more into my own business.
I couldn’t believe how much free time had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, all because I got rid of the excess in my life.
Six years after these initial changes, the benefits have continued to add value to my days. I now focus my day on my faith, family, and health. I no longer buy everything that excites me in the moment, because I know that in most cases I appreciate free space more than a new object.
It turns out that I’m far more organized than my friends and family ever realized. When you don’t have as much to organize, you don’t need as many systems in place to do it all for you. I’d just been trying to do too much at once.
Maybe you are too.
Eager to learn more about the duo that inspired this journey? Check out mbg's interview with The Minimalists here.
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