Home > How To > Five Questions to Minimize Your Possessions

Five Questions to Minimize Your Possessions

I’ve been doing my best to be a minimalist for the last four years.  Most people don’t know this about me, but they do notice the results.  My friends have made comments ranging from how quick helping me move was to how does a librarian only have around 200 books of her very own?

Recently a couple of friends have told me they would love to have the organization and ease of care that comes with owning less random stuff like I do, but they don’t know how to accomplish it.  I’m actually going to be helping one of them out in person, but I thought given American’s propensity to be packrats, perhaps a blog post of my techniques might be useful to other folks on the interwebs.

In order to minimize the stuff you already own, you of course will have to sort through it.  Allot yourself plenty of uninterrupted time to do this.  Have trash bags handy for junk and boxes for donations.  I recommend doing the sort as close to trash day as possible so you can get the junk out of your house asap.  Here are the questions I use when evaluating whether to keep something:

1.  Is it actually junk? If it’s a piece of clothing, is it torn/stained/beyond repair?  If it’s a game, is it missing pieces?  If you think you can repair it, stop and think if you actually will.  How long has it been waiting to be repaired?  If it’s going to take you more than a week to get to it, toss it!

2.  Do I need this? By need I mean need as in I’ll have to go naked/starve/will lose my sanity without this.  I count clothing, bedding, and things that help me relax under this category.

3.  If I don’t need it, do I have valid reasons for wanting it? or Am I only keeping this for sentimental reasons? Things that are ok to want for sentimental reasons:  a picture, a letter.  Things that are not ok to keep for sentimental reasons:  that piece of ribbon your girlfriend tied around that bunch of flowers she gave you one time.  The key behind this logic is the minimalist mantra of quality over quantity.  You won’t lose the memory of her giving you the flowers if you throw out the ribbon any more than you did when the flowers died.  It really is just a piece of ribbon taking up space and how often do you really look at it?  In contrast, a stuffed animal she gave you that you snuggle periodically is a quality reminder of your love for each other.  See the difference?

4.  Are there negative emotions/memories attached to this item? Even if an item is useful and in good condition, if every time you see it you remember a negative experience or emotion, you shouldn’t keep it.  It just serves to bring a negative vibe to your household.  Maybe you dread opening a particular drawer because that item is in there, or a lovely painting is on display that everyone likes but you feel badly looking at it.  These are simply not worth keeping.  They aren’t improving your quality of life; they’re bringing it down.  This goes for items that predominantly bring negative emotions/memories, not that have a minor one attached that you rarely think of when seeing it.

5.  Is this a quality item? This is my final sorting step, and one that has really helped me keep items I’m prone to collect down to a reasonable number.  Remember that your possessions take time to maintain.  Items that aren’t as high-quality to you will prevent you from enjoying other items as much.  My book collection is a good example of how quality vs. quantity helps to minimize possessions.  I only keep books that I either loved or want to have around to loan to people.  Yes I love books in general, but my collection is a reflection of me.  I want to look at my bookshelves and know that I only kept around the ones that are truly of quality to me.  Otherwise it’s just collecting for the sake of collecting isn’t about the enjoyment received from the item.

After you’ve finished sorting, bag up the junk and get it out of your house.  Take the boxes of donations to the best places for them to be used.  Now you are left with only things you need or that truly bring more happiness to your life.  Put everything left away.  Don’t be afraid to reorganize as you go.  You’ll have much more free space and new ideas may present themselves.

  1. September 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

    There is a strange confluence of peoples thoughts today that I seem to be somehow involved with.


    I wrote that almost a year ago. It’s about a design principal with regards to life, involving minimizing possessions. Its also got provisions for beautiful things, and then only if you’re sharing them with other people. If it’s beautiful and in a box, what’s the point?

    Here’s the idea behind it.

    It may belong to you, but it does not belong with you. You weren’t born with it. You won’t be buried with it. It needs to be out of the space-time vicinity. You are not its archivist or quartermaster. Stop serving that unpaid role.

    • September 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

      That’s such a great post, Fran! I like his four categories; they are what I was basically alluding to, but I also really like his point of it being selfish to lock something away that others could share and enjoy.

      Maybe the strange confluence is due to erm fall cleaning instead of spring cleaning? 😉

  2. blissbait
    September 15, 2009 at 10:37 am

    That’s a very cool, concise list that you are sharing. In my twenties, somewhere I read the Native American thing about passing something on for someone else to use if it hasn’t been used at all. It’s easy for me to part with stuff, so this practice has made me happy.

    Thank You.

    May All Beings Be Happy.

    • September 16, 2009 at 9:06 am

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you liked the list.
      It’s an excellent point to pass on something that you aren’t using. If you aren’t using it, you may as well let others do so.

  3. minski
    September 16, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I LOVE this post!!! I need to take your advice and just get rid of things … thanks for the tips!

    • September 16, 2009 at 2:21 pm

      I’m so glad you found it useful! Yay!

  4. Jessica
    September 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    #4 is the big one I’ve been working on.

    I have gotten my belongings down pretty close to minimum. Still, I often feel guilty getting rid of something because I don’t like it. I don’t like to waste money, so it feels weird getting rid of a “perfectly good” whatever it is in order to buy a new one.

    Still sort of stuck on that…. Also goes hand-in-hand with quality. Do I wear the jeans I don’t particularly like but look okay and are doing the job until they have holes, or do I buy new ones I feel good about? When am I going for quality and when am I becoming one of those consumers who always assumes new is better and replaces stuff just because I get sick of it?

    • September 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm

      Jessica–Part of the “quality” step is you actually liking the item. Your current problem of owning things you don’t like that much will right itself in the future if you make well-thought-out purchases of only high-quality items you actually thoroughly want. For instance, I have a friend who really loves jeans. IF she doesn’t have nice jeans, she feels badly about herself. So in lieu of buying 7 pairs of crappy jeans, she spends the same amount of money for 3 pairs of high-quality jeans. (High-quality clothes last longer too). In this respect, you won’t become the perpetually buying consumer because you will be making well-thought-out purchases that will last longer. Thus, you will be making fewer of them too.

  5. September 17, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Jessica, Don’t throw everything away then, I’ve got a box set aside (I got to make sure it doesn’t sit around forever.) to stick things I don’t want. I’m planning on dropping it off at a local church that has a flea market as soon as I’m done going through things. I should probably just take what’s in there now and get rid of the box and take over more stuff later when it’s ready.

    If you give it away consider it charity, if you’re not going to use the stuff you’re just wasting it in your closets instead of of the dump.

    There is a level where none of this really matters, but if it keeps popping up in your head you might as well deal with it.

    • September 17, 2009 at 1:43 pm

      Good point Francis! I tried to make it clear originally, but yes you shouldn’t just throw out everything. If it isn’t junk, it should be donated. Also, junk should be recycled when possible.

  6. February 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    This is really helpful…i like the point of quality…I also try to ask myself if I love it..this works with clothes…if I don’t love it…out… if you have a minute check out http://www.getridofa1000thingschallenge.blogspot.com All good things

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