Five Smart Ideas for Mindful Downsizing

Is decluttering on your new year's list? These five mindful downsizing tips will help you get all areas of your life back under control, once and for all.

How’d you do on your New Year’s resolutions last year? My New Year’s goal for last year is still an ongoing effort, but remembering to use the Calm Mommy voice when I want my kids to cooperate is becoming more second-nature. My goals for this year center around being more mindful each day, saving myself time as well as aggravation. Our experiment last month in less-is-more living went so well that I’ve been brainstorming ways to carry it into the new year.

RELATED POST: On New Year’s Goals

RELATED POST: Less Is More: Three Ways We’re Cutting Back And Living Better This Holiday Season

So far, I’ve come up with five New Year’s hacks to help us focus on what really matters in our daily living, by cutting back on the time and energy we waste on stuff that doesn’t add any value to our lives. Here they are, in order:

Is decluttering on your new year's list? These five mindful downsizing tips will help you get all areas of your life back under control, once and for all.

Five Smart Ideas for Mindful Downsizing

1) Downsize that inbox

Oh, my, do I waste time going through my inbox each day! I never realized how much time until my email hit a glitch last October. For a week my access to my account was rocky at best. When that week was over, I was floored by how much stuff I was getting on a regular basis that I didn’t really need. Professional newsletters and mailing lists whose posts I no longer want. Ads from stores where I’d purchased a single gift online for someone two years ago. And on and on.

The saddest part, though, was when it dawned on me that I’ve been mindlessly opening and reading these things even though I no longer need or care to. Why should I be wasting the two seconds it takes to delete each unwanted message, let alone the precious minutes I fritter away reading stuff without thinking about whether it will add value to my life?

Why should I be wasting the two seconds it takes to delete each unwanted message, let alone the precious minutes I fritter away reading stuff without thinking about whether it will add value to my life?Click To Tweet

So one of the first things I did, once my account was up and running again, was change a lot of mail settings. In many cases, I simply followed the “unsubscribe” link at the end of the message. For a few, I went onto the organization’s websites and set my e-subscriptions to “nomail.” That way, I still can access the information online when and if I choose. But the rest of the time, it stays out of my inbox.

For those companies whose online promos I still want occasionally, but whose shopping enticements I can mostly do without, I switched my email preferences in their systems. Specifically, the email account they spam with solicitations is no longer my primary email account. Instead, their ads now go to a secondary account I set up several years ago, precisely for collecting e-junk mail. (If you don’t have an e-junk mail account yet, I highly recommend making one. Mine is an old Hotmail account that I never check unless I want a coupon for something.)

Now that the new year is here, I’m once again turning a critical eye to my inbox, to see what other unneeded junk floats in each day that I can trim.

2) Let it go

I wrote last month about my renewed efforts to live more with less, and my room-by-room attempts to move beyond “a baby lives here” chic are bearing fruit. The girls are still mostly on board with caring for their slimmed-down selection of toys, and even my husband is working to keep his mail pile from taking over our kitchen peninsula.

Apparently I’m in good company. In recent chats with friends, it’s become clear that we’re all trying to cut back on the amount of “stuff” in our homes. And while many of these friends also have young kids, at least two of these conversations took place with women whose offspring are adults who’ve left the nest.

Have you ever thought about how stressful the extra baggage of our daily lives really is? As my psychologist friend Barbara noted yesterday, even the pre-K set can get stressed out by having too many choices in toys (read: too much stuff)!

Lives change and evolve. Not only do I not miss the dozen-plus scarves I purged from my collection last month, but having done so makes room in my closet for me to enjoy the beautiful ones my husband and best friend Raiah have given me for recent birthday gifts. Likewise, recent efforts to streamline my Christmas decor has helped me realize that it’s OK to let go of things from my single-gal life/apartment, if I’ve outgrown them.

Compared to the stress of too much stuff, it felt great this past weekend to unpack the final two boxes of stuff-from-our-last-move. I’d excavated these boxes from our garage last spring; their contents had not seen the light of day in a half-dozen years. With that much time and emotional distance from these former treasures, it was easy to sort most of them into piles of stuff destined to leave our home.

IMG_12913) When letting go, be mindful about it

But in that sorting process, I also tried to be mindful of what the best future home would be for each item. Certain types of cast-off clothing and household goods will sell better at my church’s next garage sale than they will at Goodwill, and vice-versa. Likewise, many craft items are more likely to find people who will use them if I donate them to our local crafting recycling store, rather than to Goodwill or a church sale.

While this may take a bit more effort on my part (three places to drop stuff off instead of one), I’ve realized that this “subspecializing in donations” is mainly about being mindful with the stuff going out of my house. If I’m serious about not just cleaning out my own space, but also about keeping the stuff I eliminate out of a landfill, then I need to think along these lines.

And knowing that someone else can use and love my surplus makes it so much easier to let go. As my friend Keisha put it in a recent e-conversation on decluttering, “I’ve finally let go of the guilt; if it isn’t our style, we don’t have to keep my grandmother’s nut bowl from the 1970s just because it was hers. Out it goes!”

Throwing a “family heirloom” into the trash is hard, and somehow feels like dishonoring our ancestors. Giving a family heirloom a new lease on life – by freeing it to be used again (by someone else) – is a great way to assuage the guilt, in my book.

And the biggest bonus so far about this new mindfulness has surprised me: it’s also made me more mindful about the stuff coming into my house. Do we really need New Gadget X in a brand-new version, or will a secondhand one do just as well? Or, for that matter, is it something we’ll use so infrequently that we could just as easily borrow it from a neighbor or friend?

4) Work toward “one in, one out” – but don’t sweat it

Thanks to our pre-Christmas editing, it was easy to find spaces for the girls’ Christmas gifts after we returned home from our recent visits with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. But what about my gifts? While purging excess household goods before Christmas was cathartic as well as practical, I wondered if I could go even further in the new year.

First, I thought about the clothes I’d received for Christmas – a lovely new sweater and dress from my mother, a much-needed new winter thermal top from my in-laws, and some equally needed summer gear that I’d picked out for myself on sale last September, put into my husband’s shopping cart, and instructed him to give me for Christmas. They all needed homes in my closet, but where?

I began to make a mental list of things that had hung in my closet, untouched, for a half-decade. In the process of actually pulling these items from the rods, I found a few more to add to the pile. Suddenly I had a sizable pile of clothes to get rid of – and enough space in my closet to hang my new dress!

clothes I don't need

Likewise, as I thought about the other new clothes I’d received, I remembered why these items had been on my Christmas wish list in the first place: the items they are supposed to replace are either too small, over a decade old, and/or worn out enough that they no longer work the way they were supposed to. Now that I have appropriate replacements, it’s time to let go of the old ones. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it really was a revelation.

If this is not the first anti-clutter blog post you’ve ever read, you probably already know the “one in, one out” rule: don’t bring something new into your house without removing something old. There are some areas in which this just doesn’t work, at least not if you have small kids: for example, I’m pretty good at pruning outgrown items from my kiddos’ wardrobes, so I don’t feel the need to hunt for an old item to remove every time they receive something new to wear. But this year, I want to be more mindful of thinking this way with other areas of our home, whether it’s everyday household purchases or the contents of my own closet.

5) The only systems that truly work, work for everyone

So you’re full of New Year’s zeal to downsize, streamline, and declutter your life. But unless you live alone, all your efforts will be wasted if the rest of your family isn’t on board.

Exhibit A:

My kids’ toys are a prime example of this. Back when the girls’ truck collection was half the size it is now, I remember trying to pile all the trucks into one of the large bins in our toy-bin storage system. But Kimmie had other ideas.

Trucks and cars don’t get heaped in a bin, silly Mama! They live in a garage, of course.

Kimmie and Essie's garageAll on her own, at the age of two and a half, after a long day of sorting her construction vehicles into lengthy caravans across our living room rug, Kimmie began lining them up in a nook at one corner of the living room when clean-up time came. (Apparently Keisha’s boys do the same thing with their trucks.) I quickly realized that it was better to roll with Kimmie’s ideas than fight them, especially if it meant greater cooperation with toy cleanup.

our new toy binsNow that we have new Christmas gifts involving new little parts, the open toy bins that have occupied our living room since Kimmie was a baby are less practical. So they’re on the way out, and in their place I’ve repurposed an extra bookcase from another room, plus an assortment of inexpensive clear storage containers. As we unpacked the new Christmas gifts from the car, I made sure the girls helped to decide which toys should go in which boxes, and which boxes should go where on the shelves.

Exhibit B:

Likewise, while I’m truly fortunate to have a husband who loves cooking as much as I do, the flip side of sharing a kitchen with him is that he has his own ideas about where tools and ingredients should live, as I’ve learned the hard way. And just as he gets frustrated when my mail pile creeps into his preferred food-prep area, I get annoyed when his just-inside-the-door countertop “home” for gloves, wallet, cellphone, and incoming mail creeps across the kitchen peninsula, which I try to keep clear for grocery-unpacking and meal-prepping.

While finding workable solutions to these challenges is an ongoing conversation, we both realize that neither of us can “solve” these “problems” of downsizing our spouse’s clutter unless said spouse is on board. At the same time, keeping the emphasis on ongoing conversation is important, too – talking about it gets us farther than, say, my unilaterally deciding to chuck half his mail pile, or vice versa.

Whatever your New Year’s goals or resolutions are, be gentle with yourself as you work toward implementing them, and remember that change takes plenty of time and baby steps. And if you have other ideas for downsizing your life and family toward a simpler, fuller existence in the New Year – or other hacks you’ve discovered to help you live more mindfully – please let us know in the comments!

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Is decluttering on your new year's list? These five mindful downsizing tips will help you get all areas of your life back under control, once and for all.

 

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Five Smart Ideas for Mindful Downsizing

28 thoughts on “Five Smart Ideas for Mindful Downsizing”

  1. My favorite email hack is “unroll.me” which organizes my emails for me. I can choose whether to unsubscribe, keep it in my inbox or roll it up. When it’s rolled up, I get one email that shows a summary for all the “rolled up” emails that I received that day. If there’s something that I really want to read I can click on it and read the whole thing. Saves me so much time while still allowing me to keep up on those things I want to be aware of.

    1. Oh my goodness – THANK YOU, Jennifer!!! I need this for work-related stuff – do NOT need every little alert from certain services, but sometimes the subject line makes clear that it’s a “must-read”. Thank you for this super tip!!!

  2. I’m pretty good about de-cluttering. There’s nothing like a good trip to the thrift store with a bunch of donations. I like your tips about setting up a junk email address. Sometimes my email gets overwhelming.

  3. I’m pretty good at decluttering. Nothing like a good trip to the thrift store with a bunch of donations. I love your tip to have a junk email address, I need to set one up because email can be overwhelming.

    1. Best. Thing. Ever. I LOVE having a place to go find all those discount coupons ONLY when I want them, vs having constant “come buy me!” distractions cluttering up my inbox…

  4. I definitely want to downsize a few things in my life (starting with my butt, lol) but I haven’t actually set a plan for it. Your article gave some great ideas to start with!

  5. I really need to downsize everything inn our home and many things in my life as well, including my inbox. I am re-reading the Mari Kondo book these days as I need inspiration and practical solutions. But you are doing really great by your own.

  6. great tips here for downsizing. I’m so on board with a few of these, but really need to work on #5. While I’m on board for minimalism my hubby is not so keen. Got to realize that and move forward regardless.

  7. These are useful tips. I’ve been slowly going through my clothes and donating them to Goodwill. We are also going through toys in old baby clothes in donating those as well. It’s a great feeling. Thanks for the tip!

  8. Maybe I’m weird (well, that’s a given), but I kind of LOVE getting ruthless about getting rid of stuff. Some tricks, I learned from my mom who’s a professional senior move manager (boy, can people accumulate some junk if they don’t learn how to pare it down along the way). So worth the effort – especially when I can find someone who wants/needs what I’m getting rid of, or if it’s otherwise able to be recycled. These are great tips!

  9. We’ve been in the process of selling our home of 25 years and downsizing and so, I’ve had to do these and more. It can be overwhelming at times but, it’s worth the effort.

  10. We are working towards retirement in a few years and want to downsize. I have a plan for getting through the house and slowly getting rid of what no longer serves us. One idea I found out about was turning hmyiur hangers backwards on the rack. If you go a year (or whatever period of time you decide) without wearing it and turning the hanger the right way you can get rid of the item. Thanks for some great ideas!

  11. Downsizing mindfully has made such a difference. The concept is similar to Marie Kondo’s KonMari method: hold each thing and see if it sparks joy – if it does, keep it, if not, thank it and allow it to continue on its journey outside of your home. A not-so-obvious insight to your post is that homemaking an active effort, a skill set that can be developed and constantly improved and tweaked. As everyone in the family (like your sweet daughter) pitches in to create the house the home everyone loves, the home experience becomes sweeter. Thank you for sharing at the #HeartandSoulLinkUp 🙂

  12. These are great! #1 is my favorite because my brain thinks that when I get an e-mail I need to do something about it. 😉 That’s not always true AND I just feel a lot better when I don’t feel like everything in the world is coming into my inbox. I also loved your “but don’t sweat it” addition to #4. I think “don’t sweat it” is fantastic advice all the way around. Try to improve and do better (on anything), but don’t get stressed out about it! 🙂 Thanks for sharing at #heartandsoullinkup

  13. I downsize our stuff pretty often. constantly reorganizing and trying to find a better storage area. I like these helpful tips and think im going to apply them to my next cleaning session.

  14. Letting it go I think is key. I’ve been using the whole of it doesn’t bring me joy let it go. I just took out like 90% of my closet using that. I actually found it was easy for me.

  15. A couple years ago, we went from living in a 3 bd house to a tiny box in the city. I gave away soooo much stuff. I just let a bunch go. Now, we’re in a 3 bd house and it made me realize how much stuff I got rid of! Felt awesome to really get rid of things we just didn’t need but were holding onto for whatever reason, lol

  16. I just told my husband that after our cruise we NEED to go through our guest bedroom closets and get them clean. My parents left some boxes here and I don’t even know what’s in them, so why hang onto them?

  17. These are awesome hacks and definitely, we need to remind ourselves that everything takes time. Thank you for sharing!

  18. It’s so important to constantly re-evaluate. Things that were once important tend to lessen in importance over time. Also, our circumstances change. One good thing about moving as much as we do is the ability to constantly interact with everything we have in our home and make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.

  19. I’ve been slowly going through each room in our house to downsize. I like to go through and decide if things are keep, move, donate, or trash. Keep items go back in the room/closet I am working in. Move means they belong somewhere else in the house. Donate and trash are obvious. It feels so good to cull through and only have what we really need.

  20. Pingback: On (Not) Being Responsible for Everything - Super Mom Hacks

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