When I wrote my previous post about the influence the FlyLady has had in my life for the past three years, I left out one of the most important aspects of her system. I knew I would need to devote an entire post just to the freedom I have found in decluttering my possessions. The FlyLady always says, “You can’t organize clutter. You can only get rid of it.” She expects her FlyBabies to pick an area in their homes and spend 15 minutes every day sorting through all the clutter. We have to decide for each item if we will put it away, throw it away, or give it away. She has ways to make it fun like “Hot Spot Fire Drills” and “27 Fling Boogies,” but the task is essential. How can I wipe down my kitchen counters if they’re covered in piles of junk mail, expired coupons, and recipes I want to try? How can I vacuum my bedroom if there are piles of clothes on the floor? When we don’t have clutter everywhere, it is much easier to follow our routines.
When I started on the FlyLady’s babysteps, I began to look at all my stuff differently. Why did I have three rubber spatulas? If I didn’t even like that book when I read it in college, why is it taking up space on my bookshelves? If we don’t have any full-size beds in the house, why do we have full-size sheets in the linen closet? One reason we hold onto things is the fear that we might need it someday. It can be anything from a twist tie to an old sofa. The thing is, I’ve been filling my home with things I might need someday, but I’ve been denying myself what I do need right now: peace. I’ve lost count of how many boxes of unneeded items I’ve given away in the past three years. I haven’t missed any of it.
Every so often I look at spaces I’ve already decluttered with new eyes and see more that I can give away. This has happened several times with my bookshelves. I used to think that I could never own too many books. Now I see that I was keeping every book I ever read as a trophy to show off. Visitors to my home could see how well-read I am. However, some of those books I never liked, and others I liked well enough but had no interest in ever reading again. Why not let go of them so that someone else could read them instead of leaving them on a shelf to collect dust?
Similarly, I always welcomed books as gifts for my children. For one thing, new books meant I didn’t have to read the same stories over and over again. For another, I thought that shelves full of books in their rooms would guarantee that they would love to read. Instead, it means I read drivel to my children all the time because well-meaning friends and relatives are always giving them the latest stories about Sofia the First, Spider-Man, and Tinker Bell, stories that Disney cranks out to make more money without much concern for the quality of the storytelling. Their shelves are so jam packed with books that they don’t even see the amazing stories with beautiful illustrations like Miss Rumphius and Blueberries for Sal. More books are not better. Good books are better.
One book I’m glad to have on my shelf is Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker. I heard about this book about a year ago and looked it up on Amazon. After reading the first few pages, I ordered it immediately. Now that I had decluttered so many of my own possessions, the clutter from the rest of my family was starting to irk me. I was hoping to find some tips on how to cope with all the toys, books, and DVDs, but I found so much more. I found a whole new way of looking at life.
When their children were five and two, Joshua Becker and his wife decided to embrace minimalism, intentionally living with fewer possessions. As I read about all the benefits they had found in letting go of stuff in order to focus more on relationships and experiences, I knew I wanted that for my family too. The Beckers do not live in a tiny house, and they haven’t limited themselves to 50 or 100 possessions. They have espoused what Becker calls “rational minimalism,” finding a balance that works for you and your family. It’s about making intentional decisions about what to buy instead of impulse purchases. It’s about talking back to the commercials that want us to believe that our value comes from what we own, or maybe consuming less media so that we’re not exposed to those commercials in the first place.
Since reading that book, I have discovered Becker’s blog, becomingminimalist.com, which has inspired me to give away even more. I limit myself to my own personal possessions or anything I would consider family property like kitchen items. I don’t go into my children’s rooms and take away their stuffed animals, but I have set some limits for them. We have a box in the living room for coloring books and when it is full, we have to choose some to recycle before we get news ones. We have one shelf for DVDs, one small drawer for stickers, and so on.
I keep hoping the the rest of my family will be inspired by my efforts and join me in my journey toward simplifying our lives by eliminating clutter. My children are little, and it’s natural for them to wish for toys that they think will be lots of fun, but I want them to learn gratitude, to appreciate their blessings, and it seems to me that it’s not easy to appreciate a pile of cheap plastic toys, especially when the pile keeps growing larger. Little by little, I hope I can lead the way down a new path, one that is full of the joy of new experiences shared with each other because I would rather spend a summer afternoon splashing in the kiddie pool than sorting clutter into decorative baskets.