I gave away 465 possessions in the ‘Minimalist Game’—and here’s what I learned

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Editor’s note: To start the new year, CharlotteFive writers and staffers are committing to 7-day, 14-day and 30-day challenges from now through January to shake up our norms and lifestyles. Here’s the first in our series. 

When it comes to the minimalist scale, I’ve always been more of a maximalist.

Let me be clear: I’m not a diagnosable hoarder (though I’ve been called one affectionately). You won’t find any piles or bags of trash at my house, no old food lying around, no nasty bathrooms.

But do I have a hard time walking out of Target or Marshalls or — let’s be honest — anywhere without buying a handful of little things I don’t need? Yes.

Do I have an existential crisis when it comes time to toss Christmas and birthday cards with any sort of meaningful message? Yep.

Have I spent years collecting memorabilia in hopes of one day making several epic scrapbooks (that I never end up making)? You betcha.

The result: A home that could use a serious culling.

That’s where the 30-day Minimalist Game comes in.

I’d heard about it on an episode of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, founders of the Minimalism Movement, came up with the idea.

On Day 1, you get rid of one thing. On Day 2, you get rid of two things. Day 3, three things. You get the picture. Everything counts—clothes, books, toiletries, furniture, electronics, kitchenware, and so on. And “getting rid of” can mean donating, selling, or trashing.

By the end of the 30 days, you’ll have given away 465 items—no small feat, no matter how much junk you have.

I changed a couple of rules for myself:

  • You’re supposed to play the game with someone else and see who can last the longest. (You both win if you make it to 30 days.) Instead of delaying my challenge in order to find someone, I just dove in alone, with the goal of making it through the whole month.
  • You’re supposed to have the items out of your house every night by midnight. I’m much too busy to make 30 trips somewhere, so I made drops at the end of the week instead. Clothes and jewelry went to Crisis Assistance Ministries. Everything else went to Goodwill and the Salvation Army.
  • And rather than start it on Jan. 1, like lots of people do, I decided to start on Dec. 1, giving myself a head start on a new year that would hopefully have less clutter.

Day 1 to Day 7: 28 items.

Verdict: Super easy.

I said goodbye to:
–a refillable makeup compact freebie I got from a magazine subscription
–a stapler from an old job that had been sitting in my car trunk for three years (shameful)
–an old cosmetics bag, with six old pieces of makeup inside
— two pairs of socks
–a stack of old business cards
–and a slew of travel-size toiletries from hotels. (Why, oh why, do I feel compelled to take them every.single.time?)

Day 7 to Day 14: 77 items.

Verdict: Easy peasy.

Who knew I had so many old cosmetics? I trashed some broken headphones, a broken reading light, and some long-since expired rubbing alcohol.

I gave away a desk lamp, Clue: “The Office” edition, an empty scrapbook (never used…see above), ice cube trays, a couple of T-shirts from college, books, and lots of jewelry.

My husband, Ely, and I really started getting into it in Week 2. It was fun finding stuff to clear out. I was constantly looking for things I could add to the pile.

Open the linen closet to get a fresh towel: Do we need those old washcloths?

Open the silverware drawer to get a fork: Do we really need three sets of measuring spoons?

Open closet to put away a purse: How many black bags is too many? (Answer: the number I had.)

Day 15 to Day 21: 126 items

Verdict: Getting harder.

This week took more work. A lot of the low-hanging fruit was gone. I did a deep dive in my closet. Now, I’d already Marie-Kondo-ed my closet about a year ago (anyone else read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and get inspired?), so I’d trimmed a lot of the fat months ago.

But this go-round I found that I still had plenty of shirts, skirts, and dresses I rarely wore or wore but didn’t feel great in. Why was I giving these items real estate in my life?

My goal: to make it so that when I open my closet doors I see only clothes that I love and feel great in.

Gone went that one-size-too-small black cardigan. Goodbye to the expensive teal floral shirt I’d adored since high school (13 years ago!) but hadn’t fit into for years. Let it bring someone else joy. Sayanora to the sports bra that was too tight even before I got pregnant.

Which brings me to one of the main reasons I stayed committed to this challenge: I’m 16 weeks pregnant, and my husband and I have a guest room that needs to become a nursery that is chock-full of our stuff (mostly mine). We’ve got to clean it out in order to have room for the next phase of life. We need room for a changing table, for a shelf of children’s books, for a glider and a crib. We need space for a baby to crawl around.

So when this week required much more conscious effort, I remembered the goal: this wasn’t just a challenge I was doing for my coworkers. This was something I was doing to prepare myself for the coming adventure. 

Days 22 to 30: 234 items

Verdict: Holy crap. 

This eight-day stretch was no joke. It required hours of searching. And it required a new assessment of my jewelry collection and a serious dip into our bookshelves.

A note on the books: That’s kind of Ely’s and my thing. Our date nights often end at Book Buyers in Plaza Midwood or Barnes & Noble at SouthPark. We read all the time—just about every night, we find ourselves curled up on the couch or reading in bed.

He’s a history fiend and lover of all things outdoorsy and survival-oriented, while I love fiction, memoirs and coffee table books on decorating. Pre-Minimalism Game, we probably had close to 1,000 books in our home, spread across eight bursting-at-the-seams bookshelves. And to be sure, we’ve still got quite a collection.

Just two of our eight bookshelves.
More books.

But the challenge forced us to get rid of books we liked but didn’t love. We culled some cookbooks that were beautiful but never used. I nixed books I’d read and enjoyed but never planned to re-read. I got rid of some classics I’d bought because I felt like any respectable literature lover should own them—but hey, if I never touch them, why do they need to take up space in our home?

I considered selling some of the books, but then decided that would take an additional step. They could very well end up sitting in my car for two months until I found the time to make it to a used bookstore. Instead of waiting around to get $20 in store credit, I decided it was better to just get the stuff out of our house.

In all, we donated at least 150 books in this challenge, and the amazing (and absurd) thing is that our shelves are still overcrowded.

Challenge complete

It’s been one week since I finished the challenge, and it’s funny: our house is more orderly, but it’s my spirit that feels lighter.

There’s a lot of weight we carry emotionally when we see clutter. It’s a constant reminder of unfinished to-do lists.

For example, I’m a magazine editor, so I subscribe to other magazines for inspiration. But when I let them pile up—pre-challenge I had at least 40 unread—they’re no longer fun to page through; they become an assignment. (That stack of magazines is also a major nuisance to my husband, and that’s a relationship stressor that’s not worth it at all.)

So as a result of the challenge, I recycled a huge stack of them.

All recycled.

I also cancelled a handful of my subscriptions to keep the pile from reappearing; I kept subscriptions to just the magazines I love the most.

Post-challenge, I’m hardly a charter member of the Minimalist Club. But it was the most refreshing resolution I’ve made in a long time. And now I’ve got a new goal: to be more critical of what I let into my life in the first place—be that clothes in my closet, friends I spend time with, or items on my calendar. And that’s a great way to start the year.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Where did you get your living room chairs from? They are beautiful. I need to do this challenge btw. I git rid of a bunch of stuff when we moved recently. I still want to get rid of more

  2. When I moved from Virginia toCharlotte a couple years ago I auctioned or donated or threw out almost everything!!! Some of the items were worth quite a bit of money but I kept moving them with me for years and years and never used them. To be honest I have not missed a thing!!! The lack of clutter is so peaceful!

    • It is amazing how much we attach sentimentality to physical objects. Your observation and experience is so valuable to the letting go process and even if things were valuable, monetarily, it’s harder to let those items go. The process of letting go of monetarily valuable items I think sometimes has to do with how we were raised and whether someone has either internalized greed or poverty consciousness on why we hold onto something of significant monetary value.

  3. Hi Caroline!

    Great piece! I’m a minimalist and help my clients purge, purge, purge to freedom! So glad to hear your spirit feels lighter! In honor of celebrating #LessStuffMoreFreedomHappyLife, and the new year, I would love to offer one of your readers/fans of this piece a free 1/2 day (4 hours) of service if you’d like to offer that. My contact information:

    Diane Peacock
    Blue Lollipop Road
    Diane@BlueLollipopRoad.com
    804.339.6514

    I hope to hear from you soon! Here’s to less baggage and more peace in 2018!

    Diane 🙂

  4. Don’t get changing table, it’s a waste of space. You’ll end up changing the baby wherever you are instead of always taking them back to the table.

  5. Wow I need to do this! That’s a lot of stuff. I’m thinking of things I could toss right now but have it’s “usefulness” in the back of my mind. But I’m not using it lol. So it’s not useful. Ugh I need to declutter my house and my brain lol.

  6. Hotel toiletries can be donated to the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. They keep a stash on hand for the guests who arrive at the house in some unforeseen tragedy and didn’t have time to pack everything. 🙂

    • Ah that’s so good to know! Because — full disclosure — a bag of those has been floating around in my car since I finished the challenge. I didn’t know if shelters took them!

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