When Mike and I decided to accept an expat assignment in Denmark and move our lives overseas we were ready for some incredible experiences. One we did not expect but have quickly embraced is minimalism. When we moved, we were of course worried about what we were going to do with all of our stuff. We spent hours sorting and boxing things to line our basement in cardboard storage. We also did some purging with several bags of clothes and other items being donated to one of our favorite charities. After 4 months away, we returned to a basement of our leftover items and my reaction is not what I expected – I WANT IT GONE.
I’ve never been a minimalist or bought into the recent trend, but the side effect of becoming an expat is that I now loathe the extra items that American consumers are drawn to. I have never been a shopping fiend or overly material, but I have had a tough time getting rid of things.
While going through items to keep, purge or donate, we held onto many for sentimental reasons – Dewey Beach bar crawl tee shirts and plastic Villanova Band mugs – things that we couldn’t bear to part with but I don’t even want to look at now. Because we have had to load suitcases with the most important things to bring back to Denmark, I now see the misplaced value in the “tee shirt and mug” type items and the perks of minimalism.
Going from a full closet to just the essentials has been extremely liberating. While we are home in the US this week, we are continuing to ride that high by eliminating more of our clutter that we left behind. If we haven’t needed it in the last 4 months, we know we won’t miss it or need it going forward.
Maybe leaving the country for a while and getting rid of what you don’t miss isn’t an option, but here are some things anyone can do to alleviate the junk and embrace some minimalism.
Lose Some Shoes
Footwear takes up a ton of room in any closet and shoes can be tough to part with. When we cleaned out our basement I threw away an entire plastic storage bin of shoes that I didn’t need. I saved a pair of running shoes that I trained for and ran the NYC marathon in back in 2007, a pair of green and gold pumas that I bought for a dodgeball tournament in 2010, 2 pair of boat shoes with worn out soles – none of which I needed, used or even missed. When I moved to Denmark I packed brown dress shoes, black dress shoes, casual sneakers and a pair of running shoes – mostly because I couldn’t pack anything else – and being down to just 4 pairs of shoes is nice and simple.
Purge Over Time
There are so many prescribed methods for eliminating clothes from your closet, the internet is full of them. My preference is moving things right to left on the hanging bar in your closet as you wear them. Find a way to mark the bar and while you move your clothes left you’ll quickly see what you’re not wearing. Decide on a time period to conduct a purge and get rid of anything that you don’t wear in that time period because it’s still hanging on the right. You could also do this by facing your hangers towards the back of the closet and switching them to face the front when you wear the item and hang it back up. However you track your closet traffic, just stick to your own plan and purge – you’ll feel so much better.
Make a Difference in Your Life and Someone Else’s
If you do one general purge, like we did before going to Denmark, make three piles – clothes that are trash, clothes you can donate, and those you can keep. When we left Philadelphia we donated to one of our favorite charities, Philly AIDS Thrift. PAT is an amazing Philadelphia charity that has donated over $2,000,000 to 29 AIDS agencies in the 5 Philadelphia-region counties charities including a $20,000 monthly contribution to The AIDS Fund. Their store is well-stocked, plenty of fun and volunteer operated which makes them a perfect recipient for all kinds of donations. If you’re outside of the Philadelphia area, find a local charity that speaks to you and accepts donations.
Clean off your book shelves too! Between Mike and I, we had boxes of books that we weren’t reading and haven’t touched in years. This was one type of decluttering that Mike was resistant to, but one way to ease the anxiety is to make a donation to a school or free library.
Craft Your Tees
Creating a tee shirt quilt from those sentimental shirts that you don’t want to wear, can’t store but won’t part with is a fantastic way to clean your closet and wrap yourself in memories. There are a myriad of online retailers that you can convert your old tees into a masterpiece of your past. There are also patterns online, so if you’re crafty and have a sewing machine you can whip one up for yourself. Mike and I met through a sports league in Philadelphia and we had boxes of league tee shirts from season after season of playing – this made a tee shirt quilt the perfect solution to declutter our lives while holding onto memories.
If you have a little time to wait and storage space to spare, eBay can be a tremendous way to unload your unwanted items and pad your wallet in the process. The month before moving to Denmark, I was able to list a ton of old clothes and other items on eBay while making a few hundred dollars in the process. You can sign up for free and sell 50 items each month at no cost. I listed things I was going to purge at .99 for a one week auction and donated what didn’t sell – yay capitalism!
Rotate Pictures & Knick-Knacks
Before we moved we had boxes of random items that we weren’t using or displaying but couldn’t let go. One trick we employed prior to moving was displaying items and pictures in rotation. For example, Mike’s old Villanova band mug looked great with other knick-knacks and pictures from that time in his life. After a couple of months we would rotate the items we displayed as well as the photos in the frames. It was fun for us to share memories, kept freshness to the house decor and gave purpose to items that would otherwise have been clutter.
However far you want to take it, decluttering your life and embracing minimalism can be extremely liberating. I’m not advocating you sell all of your things and live in your minivan, but it feels nice to lighten your load – give it a shot!