When Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was released in 2014, an intense new wave of minimalism swept the country. People were getting rid of things left and right while espousing the joys of living with less. Communities like The Minimalists had been building steam for a while and there seemed to be a new movement within the interiors community that decided less is most definitely more. But with that movement came criticism. Lots of it. Mainly around the the idea that these new ideals were steeped in classism and elitism. And while I agree with a lot of those critiques, I think there’s always a grey area between both extremes were the truth seems to lie.
Thinking about minimalism has been a healthy way for me to better examine the reasons I buy and hold on to things
When Roshanda Cummings and Erin Johnson (below) shared their 10 Tips for Living Minimally Longterm with us last month, one of their ideas really stuck with me. They said to remember that you will always, “Begin Again.” Meaning, you’ll inevitably buy something new and end up doing another round of tossing/donating/giving to edit things down. Their long-term approach really clicked with my changing worldview, which is more about small, sustainable commitments rather than grand gestures. Their advice made me think about why finding more meaning in — and appreciation for — the things I do have is so important to maintain over time.
Over the past three years of living in a home that has space to expand into (which is a huge privilege), I’ve struggled with how to resist the urge to fill everything around me. That urge was informed by so many deeper issues that deserved more examination, and in that process, I found myself embracing minimalism in a way that worked for me: mainly, a version of minimalism that existed somewhere in the middle, in that grey area. I wanted to own fewer things, appreciate them more and support my community with that effort.
Like Roshanda and Erin, the process is ongoing for me. I’m often tempted to pick up a little thing here or there, or take in something my family offers to bring to me, because well, why not? It’s not like another plate is going to hurt anyone, so what’s the harm? But since figuring out how to make this commitment work for me, I’ve found ONE main tip that helps me stay committed to this change and makes those temptations easier to avoid.
Find someone who needs, wants, or appreciates that object MORE.
Whether it’s a pair of shoes or a gently-used coffee machine, there’s almost always someone near you that could use that object and would get greater pleasure and joy (or aid more in their day-to-day survival) than you.
I didn’t fully realize this until I started volunteering more in my community and getting to know what sorts of basic needs (books, clothing, food, transportation) were life-changing for people in my community. Here’s how I break it down:
- Old clothing and shoes: Most people think of great international organizations like Dress for Success (which is awesome!) when they think of donating clothes and accessories. But you can often find wonderful local groups and have a chance to learn more about the actual people in your community who will be using those donations.
- Those moments often lead to discovering new groups doing good work locally that you can support. When I donated old dresses to our local family crisis center I learned how many local teenagers needed help with dress-up clothes for church, school dances, etc. Those moments can be so formative in young people’s lives, so when I thought about how much those pieces might mean to them, it not only made it easier to get rid of some of the nice dresses I’ve owned, it made me excited to pare down and think about someone else enjoying the sparkly, stripey dresses I owned.
- Transportation (of any type): How we get around is something so many of us take for granted. I always knew it was hard to get around without a car where we live, but didn’t realize how unreliable and poorly timed most of the buses in our area were until I started working at our food pantry. So many clients weren’t able to pick up food packages because they didn’t have cars, bikes or a friend who could give them a ride. I’ve seen people pull donated furniture and boxes of food home on bikes and skateboards, so it really clicked how donating not-often-used bikes and other forms of transportation could make a huge difference in someone else’s life.
- Makeup and beauty products: I don’t wear makeup often, but I am sometimes sent it in press kits and I definitely invest in my fair share of skincare products. While it’s always important to only donate things that are safe to share and use, it’s worth noting that so many beauty products are okay to be used if they’re cleaned and stored properly. After working with an amazing LSW here in our county, I heard about how frequent the requests for makeup and body care products were. Those small things make a huge difference in people’s lives when they are transitioning into new or temporary housing, applying for jobs or going to important meetings. It helps people feel good about themselves and build up self-confidence.
- Homewares and Artwork: These can be the hardest for people in our community because we sometimes know the people who make these pieces or we’ve read about them online and feel invested in their work. But that doesn’t mean other people can’t or won’t appreciate them equally, if not more.
- When I want to say, clean out a cabinet of tableware or redo a room that just doesn’t feel like my style anymore, I look at the type of objects and set out to find a local group that could really benefit from these donations. If it’s a cabinet of mugs, glassware and dishes, I seek out shelters that have living centers that need to be furnished. Often domestic violence shelters or family crisis centers are in need of gently used home goods because they’re helping people start over who weren’t able to bring much with them to this new location. I think about meals they’ll eat on those plates or how they’ll pour their kids juice into those cups and I feel hopeful for the next life these pieces will have with new owners.
Whether you’re committing to a long-term process of living with less or just want to do a fall cleaning and pare down on your belongings, getting rid of things can be a powerful way to connect with and support people in your community. While there’s of course the benefit of creating a space in your home that’s less cluttered and calmer, there’s an even bigger benefit when you can donate something that might make a difference in the life of one of your neighbors.
Beyond that initial donation, you may discover a great non-profit group that connects you to new people, new parts of your community and new opportunities that can bring even more meaning and understanding to your life. When you’re able to connect minimizing with supporting your community, the change is so meaningful and powerful. –Grace
*If traveling to donate goods and give things back in person isn’t an option, consider a yard sale or online sale where you donate the proceeds to a local group instead. Or you can use those funds to support friends and family in need or for a specific purchase (like bikes, personal goods or food) that a local charity could really use.