Real Life Minimalists: Becky L.

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

I think you’ll enjoy this submission from Becky L., who tells us about her annual purge—something I also love to do each January!

Becky writes:

I married a minimalist, and he had a curious past-time in January of each year, of going through everything he owned. A consummate hiker and backpacker, he’d go through all his gear and fix, mend, and discard. He’d toss any book on the shelf that he hadn’t read that year, mend or toss clothes that were getting worn, and took a look at hobby paraphernalia that no longer suited him – an ice axe for technical climbing, jig saw puzzles, books on birding in New Zealand – and sent them out the door. He also went through all his paperwork so when tax time came, he was organized and ready to go. It goes without saying that unwanted holiday gifts went out the door as well.

I took up this annual practice with gusto! Armed with checklists and questions from the many simplicity books that abound (Do you love it? Do you need it? If you saw it in a store, would you buy it?), I roamed the house and not only purged my own stuff, but hit the kitchen, garage, and even the garden. It’s amazing how fewer plants often look better, and low-maintenance groupings that mimic the natural world are not only easier to maintain but are lovely to look at and great for attracting wildlife. I also purged many of my started projects like half a knitted hat, hand-made papers for book binding that I never got to, and quilting equipment that I kept even after deciding that quilting was designed for people more patient than I.

I make a point to tell people about this annual purge, and it’s fun to see their face fall when they realize that just tackling a closet would take them all of January. They were interested, though, and almost all of them said they needed to clutter clear themselves. Initially I enjoyed the process every year but as the days stretched on and I was still sorting and surrounded by papers and things I didn’t use, it wore me down. I also try to find homes for stuff and bring items to the break room at work with “free” signs, put them out on the curb, or donate them to a nearby pre-school that loves slightly used art supplies. This whole time-consuming process teaches me an important lesson — to lighten up so I can be doing other things with my time. I now think twice before bringing anything into the house!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

33 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Becky L.

  • A

    I adopted a similar paractice from a friend who spends the Martin Luther King holiday weekend purging his closets, files, etc.

    January is an excellent time because it’s the start of a new year, and if you keep paper or electronic records from previous calendar years (yes, some of us still have paper records not particularly worth scanning), you have a new year’s worth you can shred, recycle, or otherwise dispose of.

    It’s also a good time to take note of seasonal clothing needs – sales on clothes start in January so the winter inventory can be cleared out, so if a sweater is looking worn, it’s a good time to look for its replacement.

  • Loved to read your post. Wonderful

  • Tim

    Thank you, Becky, for sharing your story with us!

    It’s nice to see minimalist couples thrive off each other and get really involved and engaged in de-cluttering. Good for the mind, body and soul :)

  • I loved this post. Very inspirational! Seems you got lucky, Becky, marrying a minimalist.

  • this is awesome. I love the added garden minimalism. I hadn’t thought of that, but your right. Usually there is a bunch of plants but only a few that really look cool and the rest just fill up the space.

    I also need to purge out crafts, for me it is sewing. I seem to think I can do it and start projects only to get so frustrated. They are ‘for a more patient person than me’. Getting them out of the house gets rid of the guilt of not finishing them.

    With kids we do about a quarterly purge :)

  • Having to go through our own stuff and the process of getting rid of it really makes us think twice about bringing it in again. It is a lot of work, but it is our own fault for buying or bringing it in. I think it is a good consequence for our behavior and will keep us more aware before we buy things. We can also see how much money we have wasted through the years buying things that we really don’t need or use. We made the mess and it is our responsibility to clean it up! What a great idea to do the yearly purge. We are continually trying to keep our things decluttered, but I haven’t really thought about whether everything is in great condition or needs to be replaced. Thanks for the post!

  • I really like this annual purge idea. I’m constantly de-cluttering throughout the year but rarely have a thorough purge of the entire home at once. The dreary days of January are perfect for a big project like this.

    I also think twice before bringing anything into the house…I’ve found this really helps cut out unnecessary spending too! {Less clutter & more money!}

  • Darlena

    I’m still trying to get to that point where it is a regular purge for maintenance purposes. I’ve been working for several years to get down to the essentials, and that endeavor alone seems like a full-time hobby. Especially selling stuff on ebay – taking pictures, creating the listing, wrapping and shipping, repeat.

    Being more mindful about what comes into the house does help. I went to a baby shower yesterday, and I purposefully did very poorly at the shower games so I didn’t win anything.

  • Grace

    I prefer seasonal purges in addition to my weekly and daily clutter prevention.

    Winter: Paperwork

    Spring: Yard/Garage

    Summer: Household

    Fall: Clothes/Personal Items

    • TessaH

      Grace, that is a great idea too! I like the way you break up the sometimes overwhelming tasks.

    • Wow! Great idea! I love to purge, but I often get overwhelmed while doing so. Your method seems to break the task down into bit-sized portions easily doable. Trouble is…down here in Atlanta, it’s technically spring but it’s as hot as July. Arrrgh!

  • TessaH

    Wonderful idea to do a major purge. I like how items that are kept are repaired and cleaned. It’s rare that I make time to do that respectful task for the things that I deem valuable enough to keep. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  • Judy

    Great advice and you are even Minimalist in your writings..Just the facts, Mam. Most helpful to get a reminder to lighten up our loads once again.

  • Way to go, Becky! I love the idea of a regular purging, be it annual, quarterly, or whatever suits one best. If my father had done that, I wouldn’t be the curator of a storage unit now – but then again, this is my journey now and I’m learning a lot from it.

  • Very good, interesting post.
    I’m curious about this specifically:

    He’d toss any book on the shelf that he hadn’t read that year

    That sounds good, but just for curiosity’s sake, not that either way would be inherently better or worse:
    If he got a book in december, and that book seemed interesting enough to not ditch upon receiving, but it turns out it wasn’t interesting enough to actually pick up and read, would he keep it one month or thirteen months? E.g. what is a “year” from the perspective of clearing out the books every january?

    I have a very hard time parting from books, myself, but I’m hoping to either come to terms with keeping them, or facing up to giving them away. If I ever get around to digitalizing them the latter might be easier.

    As it is, I am so conflicted about all my possessions but books and boardgames in particular.

    They are, on the other hand, easy enough to know how to get rid of. Most of my other items are mysteries on how I should ditch them.

    I have a portable radio that needs a new (special, expensive) battery and power cord in order to work—without them, I couldn’t give it away or sell it—with them, I would probably keep it.

    I have a thick glass bowl that I loved and used for cooking, baking, everything until a dropped ladle made a big sharp hole in the bottom a week ago. Can’t really throw it in the glass recycling since it’s not wrapping material, can’t really throw it in the burnables either.

    Broken mp3 players with no hope of repair… can’t give them away, but seems bad for the environment to just dump it, too…
    every item is a mystery!

    That would be a great minimalist book—what to do with everything you don’t need.
    Many books are more about teasing me about how good it is to be minimalist, causing guilt.
    Admittedly, The Joy of Less is more practical than most
    and I think I will get good use of it if I can get going.

    • Karen

      Sandra, depending on where you live, there may be places where you can recycle old, broken electronics like your mp3 player. The one closest to us takes an amazing array of things, such as broken computers and related gear, small appliances, video and audio tapes, CDs and much more. Two weeks ago we dropped off an old computer monitor from the 1990’s that finally died.

    • Erin

      Here in the US, Best Buy has an electronics recycling program, where you can recycle pretty much anything (even if it didn’t originally come from Best Buy). They have lots of info about it on their site, along with a list of what they accept.

  • Betty

    Excellent post! How lucky for you to marry a minimalist.

  • Apple

    I am rather impatient, so tend to part from things ‘on the go’. :)

  • Amazonfan

    I am so envious of this discipline to purge regularly. I am not a minimalist but would love to get there. I am a long way off but I love reading these posts and comments. I just helped my daughter clean out her closet and got rid of a trashbag full of stuffed animals and three boxes of clothes. We just can’t seem to put purging as a priority. We have a large home with big closets so it’s easier to buy more hangers than get rid of clothes. Please keep posting the info because it is very inspiring and I hope to stick with a plan to eliminate items and clothes my family does not need. We love our home so we won’t be getting a smaller home but to have space available in the closets and drawers would suit me fine.

  • This is an AWESOME idea!! I am totally going to do this.

    A great way to take stock and make sure that clutter isn’t creeping up on you again. After all, a lot can change in a year in terms of lifestyle and priorities. It’s good to re-evaluate, and also if an item hasn’t been used in a whole year, then chances are you don’t need it….

  • I like the idea of having a certain time to do this. . . but I have accumulated so much that I foresee burnout if I try to tackle this in one shot.

  • Great post Becky. I love how the two of you work together to keep possessions under control. It’s wonderful to read about couples who share minimalism.

    I enjoy purging so do it regularly, and this helps keep on top of stuff with two young children. I like the fact that there is always something to go through. If I look at everything in my home with fresh eyes, I can always find something I can now let go of that I missed before. And paperwork especially is quick to pile up even when it is cleared daily.

  • Elizabeth

    Great post! I’ve been in the habit of tackling things one day a month, but annually sounds great too.

  • Thank you for sharing, Becky! Your husband is inspirational : ) I’m just now starting my yearly “Project Eliminate” to get rid of all the unnecessary extras. I agree, it’s an exhausting process that definitely helps me reevaluate what’s allowed in our home in the first place! Keep up the good work!

  • Carol

    This is a great example on how we influence more by being an example than by preaching people :-)

    Now regarding the yearly purge, I’m too lazy to go through the whole house at once, so I purge a little every weekend while I’m cleaning the house. One day I tackle a drawer, another day a shelf or shoes or toys before a birthday party, and so on.

    When I started with minimalism, I purged a lot at once because I wanted to see everything done quickly, but now that I don’t have much stuff, I prefer to do it little by little.

  • Okay, that’s a wonderful idea! I’m going to try this come January (hopefully I’ll remember). Thanks so much for sharing your ritual!

  • Tina

    I have been going through my home drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf, getting rid of books, craft supplies and even some clothing. I have another pile of books ready to donate to the library and half a bag for Goodwill. I find purging easier a little every day .

  • Tina

    I just returned 5 books to the library and came home with 2 I borrowed and a brand new craft magazine someone gave away and a 2 year old Vogue. I like to look at the colors and the accessories. Some fads never catch on, but some things are always in style. I never wear pastels or florals because they go in and out of style so quickly. Native American jewelry is always in style especially with jeans or any denim. Gold heart pendants are a classic, the small, dainty ones look good for summer. Pearls, real or fake, dress up any outfit. I like it when someone notices one of my cheap, minimal outfits and points it out to someone else. It’s a fun game for me.

  • Tina

    Targeted more for giving away. Collectibles go to various organizations as fundraisers. Clothing and household goods go to Goodwill. I am saving some junk mail for collages as the paper is thick and in beautiful colors. I have more magazines to give to the library.

  • Emma Guild

    I have little bags, boxes etc all over the place ready to be sold, given away etc. It drives me mad I’d love to shove it all in the bin and not think about but I’d feel bad.

  • I think being a minimalist takes vigilance.

  • Tina

    I found a beautiful Orrefors crystal vase at Goodwill. So I had to get rid of a vase. I have a box of china for Goodwill so a vase is in there and a candleholder is in a bag for my DIL. I did buy a pair of slacks and a pair of shoes this year. We also got new bedspreads because the old ones were 16 years old and ripped. I also put a lot of papers in the recycling.

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