Slow Minimalism

I’m a huge fan KonMari method. Prior to the release of the book, I’d heard it mentioned enough that I preordered and read it the day it came out back in 2015. It hits a sweet spot of being motivated while still focusing on real-world advice that is immediately useful.

Bonsai Tree
Bonsai Tree

If you’re not familiar with the KonMari method, it’s the premise of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The premise and recommendations from the book are simple, but reading Kondo’s kind words drives them home better than I could:

Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

This is where the English translation comes from keeping only those items that “spark joy” when you hold them close or think about them. The word used in the original word “tokimeku”, which more closely translates to “makes your heart flutter”.

This feeling is so easily relatable! Keep things that make you feel something deep in your heart. Most of the takeaways from the book to me are more about my relationship with clutter/things and reframing that into something healthier.

There are many other caveats and details that are often overlooked when trying to distill the book down to a sound bite.

  • You should still keep things that are useful – there’s no need to throw out your silverware just because they don’t “spark joy”.
  • Take everything you have out so you can make a decision for every individual item.
  • Do this in as short a timeframe as possible.

While I love everything about this, the last one is where I personally run into an issue when it comes to execution.

My Experience

My mom passed away when I was 23 years old (back in 2005). I spent the next year driving from Orlando to St. Petersburg every weekend to clear out her house (usually alone), schedule repairs, and deal with a deadbeat tenant.

I hadn’t read much about minimalism at this point – it was still a relatively niche topic. The juxtaposition between my small apartment I shared with a friend and a 2,500 sq/ft house was stark – and made me realize just how little space I needed.

Without realizing it at the time, I somewhat did the KonMari method for everything I inherited. If you’ve ever gone through the possessions of a loved one, you can likely empathize with how emotionally draining this is. It didn’t take long before I needed to take a break (which for me at the time was binge-watching Star Trek: Enterprise – an underrated show!).

The problem I ran into was the sheer amount of stuff! It took me an entire year of weekends to sort through everything due to the sheer scope of the work involved. Pulling everything out and understanding it was only the first step – there’s still a question of what to do with everything

Slow Minimalism

One major difference between the Japanese audience and the American audience is the sheer scope of the houses and clutter here in the US. Japanese homes and apartments tend to be smaller and haven’t swelled in size like the US. In the last 60 years, homes have TRIPLED in size while at the same time, household size has dropped.

House size in the US

Going through all of your possessions in a weekend has a much different meaning if you have a 700 sq/ft apartment vs a 3,000 sq/ft house with a garage and an attic.

My approach when is to take a multi-step approach instead:

  1. Stick with the KonMari method of going through your things one by one, focusing on clothes, books, papers, utilities, and sentimental items.
    1. Give yourself as much time as is needed to go through each category. This could be days or even weeks.
  2. After you’ve completed the initial run-through, keep an ongoing list of things you want to tidy.

The initial pairing down takes a long time at first. For me, that took an entire year for my mom’s house. Even after that, I brought home WAAY too many things, which triggered another round of pairing down.

The key for me is to let #1 take as much time as is needed to do it, and then create a healthy schedule where you consistently keep things tidy going forward. I love creating little systems that help automatically reinforce this:

  • Having a set number of hangers for clothes means I need to declutter to bring something new in.
  • Once your kitchenware satisfies your needs, STOP! Only replace things.
  • Having a photo scanner means I can save a digital copy of any photos, tickets, paperwork or other sentimental items.
  • Maintain a todo list focused on your digital clutter, physical clutter, and areas that need tidying.
  • Do a little bit every week towards these goals.

Having this ongoing list helps keep my mind clear. This follows the Getting Things Done method. “GTD” focuses on not weighing down your brain with an endless todo list. This pairs well with the idea of “slow minimalism”! Keep track of what you plan to work on and chip away at it.

Here’s what my todo list looks like for this:

Uncluttering Todo list

Paired with this is a personal practice of tackling 3 things on my todo list every day – a technique recommended in Organize Tomorrow Today.

You’re never done tidying up, but there’s a point where things are “good enough”. There’s nothing on my list that gives me stress to think about. Instead, these are all incremental improvements that will help in the future.

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I'm , a full-stack product developer in Salt Lake City, UT. I love enlivening experiences, visualizing data, and making playful websites.

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