Although I’m no stranger to decluttering, I’m new to minimalism. So in the last few weeks, I’ve read dozens of minimalism blogs and articles as I moved towards this new intention of creating more space in my life. After a while, the blogs all started to sound the same, preaching the benefits and offering some number of simple steps to start working your way towards the minimalist life that promises the answers to all our problems.
I’m just in the beginning of my journey, so I can’t yet swear by the long-term benefits, but I wanted to dig into 3 key experiences as a newcomer in what feels like a sea of seasoned veterans.
The one thing the blogs all agree on: Minimalism isn’t about the stuff — neither the stuff you let go nor the stuff you keep. It’s about defining what’s important to you and focusing on those aspects of life instead of being distracted by the stuff — physical or not — that doesn’t really matter.
Here are the 3 things that I wish I’d known before I started moving towards minimalism and decluttering my apartment.
Decluttering may be an emotional process
And it may not simply be nostalgia when you sort through your sentimental items like photos, old letters, yearbooks, or wedding memorabilia.
For me, the physical act of purging created space for some surprisingly intense inner work. If you experience the inner upheaval along with the physical messiness, don’t be alarmed if you start to feel some amount of grief triggered by this process.
And I’m not talking about feeling a little sad about your stuff (if you are deeply sad about getting rid of a certain something, you might consider keeping it) — I’m not grieving over my actual possessions.
The grief I experienced was triggered by the decluttering process as I mourned the passing of my former self. Even though the time had come to close the chapter on the self who had fulfilled her purpose, letting go is sad. Change is hard, no matter how much you want it or how ready you are for it.
As I moved through this process, I started to notice or remember old wounds and knit them back together, but I also found myself hurting as if the wounds were fresh, and the pain was renewed. I didn’t even necessarily remember what caused each of the wounds initially, but I finally see them and can finally heal them.
It’s ok to grieve; that’s part of the healing process. It’s ok to mourn the loss of the part of you that has been there, maybe since the beginning — or for a very long time, at least.
So when you’re decluttering, when you’re sorting through your stuff and you start to feel some feelings, feel your feelings. Allow the feelings to arise, and then allow them to pass. If you are struggling with these feelings, reach out to someone who will support you during this process. Whether that’s a family member or friend, just make sure it’s someone who won’t judge or shame you for whatever you’re experiencing.
If your goal is minimalism, this will take a while
Because this process can be so emotional, it can take a long time. I thought this purge would be like the Great KonMari-ing of 2017 and I’d be done in a weekend. Ha! I was purging for 3 months before I felt like I was at a good stopping point — even then it was with the understanding that I was only temporarily pausing.
Maybe you will be done in a weekend — this time. But if you’re moving towards minimalism, you’ll need to do this again. And again.
I’ve purged and decluttered about twice a year since 2017, and each time felt like The Big One, the one that would be the last. But as we grow and change, what we want to bring into the future with us will change too. So each time we go through this process, it’s with new eyes and maybe a different future in mind.
You might also need to set items aside to reconsider them later. Letting go of them right now might be too difficult, but you might feel differently later — or you might decide to keep them. That’s ok too.
Every time you do this, you’ll refine what’s important to you and get closer and closer to focusing on what’s important to you.
Letting go will probably hurt a little — or a lot
Even if you’re ready to let something go, it might still sting a little. And that’s ok. Or it might mean you’re not quite ready to let go of that particular item.
A small part of you might feel a little guilty, sad, or any number of other emotions when you place that item in the donation box or list it for sale. It’s a little easier for things that are broken or not usable, but when something is perfectly functional, or when you paid a lot of money for it, or if you spent a lot of time trying to find it, letting it go is probably going to be a bummer.
If something has been stuck in a closet or gathering dust somewhere else for a while, I feel better knowing that the next owner will appreciate it more than I did. I’m glad to let someone else give it new life and purpose.
If you know you want to re-home an item but are struggling with the idea of giving it away, read 3 Tips For Decluttering When You Can’t Seem to Let Go.
Maybe this process isn’t emotional for everyone. Maybe decluttering is easier for other people than it was for me. But my process involved a lot of inner work, deep healing, and self-exploration. I was surprised by the discoveries I made as I worked my way through the stuff.
But as I stubbornly sifted through it all, I found that, little by little, the muck cleared away. I’m not there yet, but I’m moving along the path. Minimalism is not a destination; it’s a journey. It’s a choice you make every day to live with intention and in alignment with your values — which is harder than it sounds, but it’s what makes life worth living.