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Cleaning out our life closet

By The Minimalists Next Door with permission

Recently, I have felt that I have just needed to be quiet a while and ponder, and read, and reconnect with the things that matter most in life. My aunt’s passing was an awakening of sorts. Death has a way of making you re-evaluate your own life and ask the hard questions: Am I living my best life? Am I doing what brings me joy? And if I passed away today, what would my legacy be? I wish I could say that I’ve come to some amazing conclusions during my absence but there’s nothing new about my desire to live simply, intentionally, and as lightly as possible. Being mindful and meditating on those thoughts has only brought them closer to the surface and it is with that, that I pick back up writing today. 

On a particularly tearful day last month, I felt dissatisfied with some of the routines we’d let ourselves fall back into, particularly the habit of eating breakfast while working and watching YouTube over lunch. Though we have learned a lot from the gardeners and adventurers that we’ve watched on YouTube, it felt to me that we were subbing in these videos for actual connection and adventures of our own. So we stopped. We sold my desk (again), folded up the makeshift dining/craft table we were using in the dining room, and bought a real table from a posting on our apartment’s e-bulletin board for $25. For the past several weeks, we’ve eaten breakfast and lunch together, without entertainment. Some of those meals have even stretched into long conversations and inspiring idea sessions. 

During one such session, we were talking about mental clutter and time clutter. Offhandedly I made the statement that “our life closet was in need of decluttering, much like our actual closet once was” and so the idea of decluttering our life closet was born. What is a life closet? I suppose you might say it’s all the non-physical things that take up space in our hearts, our minds, and sometimes even on our calendars. It’s the baggage we carry around simply because we think we’re supposed to, like routines we’ve become accustomed to but no longer enjoy, and it’s the stuff that holds us back from living the life we want, like negative thoughts or feelings of not doing or being enough. 

To get started, we pictured an empty closet, with all of the stuff that once was inside removed, and asked ourselves: if life were an empty closet and you had to fill it today, using only those things that brought you joy (think Marie Kondo here), what would you keep? What would you let go of? And what are you undecided about? We each took a piece of paper and the morning to contemplate our own thoughts. After lunch, we reconvened to share our lists and make one of our own. It looked like this:

Morning coffee/reading timeSunday as our dedicated house cleaning daySocial Media
Weekly meal prep/planningDebtSpanish lessons
Family timeProcrastinating on important issuesVolunteering
Outdoor playNew purchases that aren’t a true necessityGardening
Earning moneyGetting another petMowing
Saturday morning yard sales/thriftingStore hopping for groceries
Buying local/U-pick produceBuying from Amazon
LetterboxingStressing out about things we can’t control
Travel & adventures
Individual hobbies

Our keep list is pretty self-explanatory: we want to keep all of the things in our life that bring us happiness or enable us to pursue those things without worry (i.e. earning money, which we’ll talk more about in another post). It was the discard list that surprised us a bit. While we’ve been on the same page about not going into debt, not buying “stuff” without purpose, and not getting another pet (right now), neither of us knew that the other hated our Sunday morning cleaning routine and that “store hopping” for the best deals got on both of our nerves. We were doing these things out of habit and because we each thought the other of us liked to do it that way. 

As for our undecided list, this might seem to most folks to be filled with keepers but for us, some of these things have become a burden. Social media is a huge waste of time. Gardening is something we love but can’t do in the way we want right now because we live in an apartment and no longer have access to a gardening space. (My Mom began to get stressed last summer with our garden being in her yard, so we opted not to have it there this year.) Spanish lessons were fun, but the app, with it’s daily notifications and pressure to keep up a “streak”, took the fun right out. Volunteering, again is something we love to do, but have had to cancel on several times already this year because of other obligations. And then there’s mowing… 

We’ve been mowing my Mom’s yard for 5 years now, and in the beginning, this was the only ongoing chore that she needed help with. Now, that has changed, and I’m finding myself helping more and more with household chores as well (and since she has opted to no longer drive, a part of my time is also dedicated to taking her to appointments and shopping too). Because of this, we have been considering the option of hiring someone to mow. Mowing is not a hard chore, it is just a time consuming one, and what takes us 3 hours would take a pro just 45 minutes (at a cost of $40/week). The problem here is that my Mom sees this as “we don’t want to do it”, not that we’re trying to shift our time to help in different ways. She’s completely against the idea and that’s why this particular item went in the undecided column and not the discard pile from the start.

At the end of our discussion that day, we decided 1) keeping or discarding social media would be an individual decision, 2) we would look for an alternative to the app for Spanish lessons and continue when we were ready, 3) we would garden at home on the patio and windowsill, 4) we would forego volunteering for now, and 5) we would try again to talk to my Mom about the mowing. The last one has yet to happen (and today is mowing day). 

Just like decluttering a physical closet, decluttering your life closet isn’t always easy. There are some decisions that may be deferred on the first go-round, but eventually (I hope), the end result will be a life filled with only those things we have personally chosen to be there. And as for not stressing out…well, that’s a definite work in progress, for which I believe this decluttering process is a good first step.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Are there things in your life closet that you want to get rid of? Things you’d like to add if you had the space? And is there a good/better/best way to approach an aging parent with things they don’t want to talk about?

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