Friday, December 18, 2015

Varsity Level Minimalism and Decluttering Techniques


If you're starting out with decluttering, Marie Kondo is your copilot. But if you've already KonMari-ed and are reaching for more extreme minimalism inspiration/voyeurism, here are some unusual ideas from reads I recently enjoyed.

Min-max the density of your storage and living areas

I loved Greg Kroleski's account of living for four years in a 400 sqft studio apartment with his wife and two kids. In a long & juicy post, he explains the "minimalism by necessity" methods the family used to live in such a small space (they weren't tiny home enthusiasts, just couldn't move due to the crazy rent-controlled SF housing market).


I'm a sucker for tiny homes--my mother-in-law and I spend hours on vacation poring over tiny home photo books from the library--and I have a soft spot for studio apartment living. Except for the mice, I was happy living in a studio. Still, I never imagined moving a family in! My wife spent a lot of time there when we were first dating, but she didn't move in until my next place. I can't imagine having kids there (but then, I can't imagine having kids). My current household consists of 3 adults living in 830 sq ft--almost triple the square feet per person as Kroleski's situation, plus a lot more walls. Still, I feel like that makes it all the more important to be vigilant and purposeful about our space, since the constraints won't do it for us.


What's great about this article is that he explains not just the specific ingenious fixes, like lofting beds and finding hidden storage space, but the mental adjustments required to live in a small space. One idea I took from the article that I'd never thought about was the idea of thinking of your home in terms of density of stuff. In a living area, you want the density to be low--maybe 10%, with 90% open air--so you feel free to move and live freely. In storage space, you want the density to approach 100% as closely as possible (minus needed access space). Kroleski notes that where a lot of people get into trouble is not drawing a firm distinction between the two, so they waste living space by cluttering it with stuff and waste storage space by not filling it densely enough.


Living in a home with abundant enough storage space that I have the luxury of using it inefficiently, here are the points I take from this into my own life:


  1. Define the job of each space: storage or living. If the space is for living, don't store stuff there. (I'm thinking I need to make some decisions, specifically about tables and countertops.)
  2. Given a choice between expanding storage space and packing items in more densely into existing storage areas, choose density and get to Tetris-ing. There is more downside to giving up living space for storage space than to having less beautiful storage space. After all, the storage space isn't for people to see, the living space is.


This makes me feel right to hate glass cabinet doors.

Readjust your "frequency of use" ratio

Another article I've been thinking about is this Simple Dollar post called "Do we have our possession backwards?" The post, which is by Trent Hamm, describes ideas from Jacob Lund Fisker's Early Retirement Extreme. While I feel a little silly describing a post that is itself a description of ideas from another source, I cannot read Early Retirement Extreme--I just find Fisker's writing style unbearable--so I'm happier to have the ideas from it described by someone else!


Anyway, the idea is to think of your stuff in terms of how often you use each item. For most average consumers, Fisker agues, the ratio is all off, because it's weighted toward infrequently used items. So, for example, you might use 5% of your stuff on a daily or weekly basis, another 10% monthly, and the rest a couple of times a year or less. Fisker argues that it should really be the reverse--that most of your items should be things you use on a daily basis. In other words, you should discard infrequently used items to the point where the items you use on a daily basis make up the majority of the stuff you own.


Now, Fisker is extremely utilitarian, so I'm sure he doesn't even own items that can't be classified in terms of usefulness, like pictures on the wall or houseplants or sentimental items. (I am pretty sure Fisker would have no understanding of keeping an item because it "sparks joy"!) But when it comes strictly to items whose purpose is to be used, I think it's a point worth noting. I know that I have kept a lot of items because they pass the test of "useful in certain situations," not really thinking about how often those situations actually occur.


Find additional uses for specialized items

The last idea isn't one I read recently, but it's heavily influenced by the idea of spending out: find additional everyday uses for items you love but use infrequently.


For example, I don't travel often, but I have a purple hemp canvas toiletry bag that I love. It sparks joy, and it's extremely useful on trips, but trips are so rare! Then, at work, I found myself thinking, "I should keep a little toothpaste and toothbrush here… maybe some band-aids… but where would I keep it? I need to buy a nice little bag." After DAYS, it dawned on me that I already had that stuff and it was already in a little bag. It seems like one of those revelations that is only revelation is you are quite dumb, but it can be really hard for me to see beyond the mental boundaries I've put on an item. Obviously a travel bag wouldn't be useful at work. It's for travel!


I've been trying to break those mental boundaries and see multiple purposes in other things. Using a cleaning bucket as a small laundry basket. Using a loaf pan as a drawer organizer! I don't make the kind of bread that requires a loaf pan very often, but wouldn't it be cool if my drawer organizer could withstand temps of 500 F? My wife has used a stack of books as a monitor stand for years, so obviously she has already had this revelation.


This may be a brazen attempt to justify keeping things that fall into the "handful of times a year use" category by using them more, the opposite, I think, of what Fisker intended. But it's a fun way to spark some creativity and, possibly, avoid buying something new.

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