How To Unlock The Mental Benefits Of Minimalism

Photo: Neeks & Gaston

One day, my wife Melissa and I were talking about the challenges of "adulting": mortgage payments, house maintenance, yard work. "Do you ever think about cashing it all in?" I asked, somewhat rhetorically. The question led us down a bit of a rabbit hole, and before we knew it we were daydreaming about selling the house, selling our stuff, and moving to a different country. A couple of days later, Melissa brought it up again, saying we actually could move to Belize. They speak English and use the U.S. dollar, after all.

And so began our exploration of a dramatic lifestyle change.

I’ve never been much of a pack-rat, but getting rid of the majority of my belongings to prepare to move across the world had its challenges. For me, they were mostly logistical, but there were some emotional hurdles in there, too. I decided the best way to approach this massive declutter was to work big to small. We started with the house and determined what, if any, work needed to be done before we could list it for sale. A little paint here, a new walkway and stairs there, and we’d be good to go.

Isn’t this what "success" is? We’re supposed to own a home filled with nice things. That’s when you know you’ve made it, right?

As Melissa coordinated the house projects, I moved to the next step: selling furniture and other large items.

Enter online yard sale groups. Where we lived, these were a gold mine filled with extremely active members excited for good deals. Stuff went flying out of our house: dining room set, ottomans, couches, bar stools, desk, nightstand, patio furniture. You name it, we had it.

As each room emptied, the mental clutter then surfaced. Why would we get rid of these beautiful pieces of furniture? Isn’t this what "success" is? We’re supposed to own a home filled with nice things. That’s when you know you’ve made it, right?

We would watch for universal signs that we were heading in the right direction, and the biggest one came in one of those online yard sale groups. Someone posted a note asking if anyone from our town was planning on putting their house on the market soon. She listed what her family was looking for and their budget, which was way above our home’s value.

I debated contacting her, but then thought, why not? I messaged her and told her we were in the process of finalizing house projects to then sell our property. I listed each room and the respective dimensions and sent over some pictures. I didn’t think for a second that she’d be interested because her family was so large, as was her budget, but I knew just by reaching out to her, I was putting energy in the right direction. She and her family came to see the house two weeks later, and within a week we had an accepted offer for much more than any real estate agent wanted to list our house. We closed the following month. Thanks, universe!

It's a crazy story, for sure, but I attribute it to our commitment to downsizing. That’s one of the powerful things about decluttering: You’ll almost always be rewarded for your efforts. Maybe a challenging task ends up being easier to complete. A job offer finally surfaces. When you clear things that no longer add value to your life, you open the channels for all sorts of gifts and opportunities to come your way. Here are five downsizing steps to make your mission toward clarity a bit easier:

1. Set realistic expectations.

Instead of waiting until you have a free day to clean out your bedroom, find a window of time to go through one dresser drawer. Your resistance will always win if you expect yourself to do a large project all at once.

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2. Use a focusing tool to keep your eye on the prize.

My favorite is called the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a simple strategy: First, eliminate any distractions. Shut down your email. Silence your phone. Let your family know you’re busy. Then sit down to the task at hand and set a timer for 25 minutes. Begin your sort and stay the course for the full 25 minutes. When you find yourself distracted (and you will), come back and remind yourself that a break is coming as soon as the timer goes off.

With clutter, the success is in the action, not the outcome.

3. Have a journal or notebook handy.

Often, the first clutter you need to handle is your monkey mind. Your resistance will chime up and tell you all the reasons you should be doing something else. Jot this noise down. Get it up and out of your body. This might be how you spend the first 10 minutes of your Pomodoro round, or it might end up being the whole round. It’s all good. You’re still clearing clutter.

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4. Sort into three piles.

When you begin going through items, don’t get caught up in finding homes for things. Just sort. Put items in one of three piles: Keep, Maybe, Donate. By using just these piles, your sort will go much more quickly, and you’ll soon experience the satisfaction of progress. With clutter, the success is in the action, not the outcome, so starting in this way fuels your fire to keep going.

5. Get rid of the "donate" pile ASAP.

After your sorting (whether just one round or more), send your donation pile off as soon as possible. Put it in your car to drop off somewhere, schedule a pickup, or ask someone who might be interested in the items to come get them by a certain day. The sooner you get these items out of your house, the sooner you open up the channels for abundance to pour in, in all its forms.

Using this approach makes things more manageable and ups your chances of getting it done. While you needn’t empty your house and sell it like we did, even by downsizing a bit you’ll see your life dramatically improve.

And while we didn’t end up moving to Belize (this Irish girl can’t handle their seasons: hot, humid, and hurricane), we are completing the build of our 230-square-foot tiny house on wheels that we plan to tow around the country as part of our new, location-independent lifestyle. Clutter, be gone!

There are some major health benefits to paring down to just the essentials. Check those out here, and read up on two minimalists who are leading the decluttering movement.

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