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What I Learned from the Minimalism Challenge

The Challenge that Changed My Life...

So first up, what is the minimalism challenge? Well basically, The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus posted the idea on their website in the spirit of “new year clear out.” The idea is that on the 1st of January, you get rid of one thing, on the 2nd, you get rid of two things, all the way up to getting rid of 31 things on the 31st. You can get a friend and see who finishes first, who gets rid of the most stuff, or you can just keep going through February, March etc. until you reach a natural end. I reversed mine because I’m a rebel and needed to see fast changes. It worked for me because I was so ready to clear stuff out, but if you don’t even know where to start, it’s probably not for you. I completed the challenge over the whole of January, getting rid of over 500 things, and here is what I learned.

1. I have a LOT of stuff.

Still. I got rid of over 500 things, and I STILL have too much stuff! Before the challenge I was literally drowning in stuff. I couldn’t focus, my mental health was awful, and I could barely breathe. I had to climb over everything on the floor to get around my room — not easy with a disability, let me tell you — yet I was still too overwhelmed to do anything about it. Literally hundreds of items of clothing I never wore, yet still accumulated and held onto. Things I once loved, but have been sat in a box for three years. Things I forgot I had, but when it came to getting rid of them, I thought “But, what if...?”

2. Nobody notices if you wear the same t-shirt the whole week.

Gross, but the point being, why do I have SO many things saved up for a special occasion? Why can’t I wear the same special thing to all of these occasions? I tested this theory on all types of clothes. Same skirt? No one noticed. Same jeans? No one noticed. Same t-shirt? Still no one noticed. Someone actually complimented me on the t-shirt “you wore yesterday” while I was still wearing it. You can wear the same things over and over; you don’t need an outfit for every day of the year.

When someone compliments you on something you’re wearing, it more than likely means they like it on you, and you should maybe wear it more. And while you shouldn’t dress for other people’s benefit, you shouldn’t hide that outfit away because people will recognise it. No one worth the time of day will call you out on wearing your favourite jumper multiple times a month. If you like receiving compliments, why wouldn’t you wear something you love that always gets a lot of compliments? (And if you don’t like compliments, that’s also OK, too! You do you!) At the end of the day, it’s just clothing. It doesn’t really matter.

3. Who I Actually Am and What I Actually Like

In that same breath, I learnt a lot about myself and what I actually liked vs. what I was trying to like because other people liked. There was a jumper that every time I wore it people would tell me how much they loved it, but I wasn’t so much a fan. The sleeves were a bit too short for my liking, and you couldn’t really wear a t-shirt or anything of substance underneath it because the neck was too low and the body was too short. But other people liked it, so I kept it, and wore it when I needed a pick me up, or when nothing else was clean.

There were also gifts that people bought me that were along the right lines of the things I liked, but didn’t quite nail it. Some I sadly never used, some I used just to say I used it. It’s really frowned upon to get rid of a gift, but if it doesn’t bring you joy, and in fact is bringing you down, what’s the point? People buy you a gift because they want to make you happy, and if it’s not doing that, then that gift is not fulfilling its purpose.

The same can be said for all aspects of life: hobbies, sports, people, relationships, books, academia, anything

Turns out, I do actually like knitting and sewing, though.

4. When you own less stuff, it's easier to tidy up!

A given, right? Well someone should’ve sat me down and told me this waaaaay earlier. As soon as I finished the challenge, everything actually fits in my room. My wardrobe is still rather full, but it doesn’t spread out into a floor-drobe. Before, I was using a chest of drawers, a wardrobe, the floor, the wash basket, the desk chair, the washing machine, AND the tumble dryer as storage. With less stuff, I had to find less places to put it. My room is now tidy a lot of the time, which is always very nice. When something is out of place, I now want to find a place for it, even if that place is the bin, a charity shop, or eBay.

5. Managing my disabilities is SO much easier now.

Do you know how much easier it is to take the right medication in a sleepy, brain-fog haze when you don’t have 15 boxes of redundant medication (four of which have expired, two of which I’m allergic to) next to the one I actually need? Why do I hold on to medication that could literally kill me if I accidentally take it? And why on earth do I keep it next to the medication that keeps me alive? Furthermore, preventable dislocations and subluxations are down at least 30 percent now that I don’t have to do an obstacle course just to get to my bed, and that when I plain old give up on climbing over the stuff and step on it instead, it doesn’t fly out from under my feet! My walking stick and my knee supports aren’t buried under mountains of crap! I can both see AND use my desk chair! Rejoice, rejoice!

6. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to mental health.

I’m not saying that adopting minimalism into your life is going to cure mental illness; it doesn’t. I still have depression and anxiety. It’s still an issue. It’s still hard to deal with. However, I did notice that I felt less overwhelmed just sitting in my room. Tidying up is no longer this monumental task that’s going to take the whole day, maybe two days, to accomplish, it takes me no longer than an hour, and I try to keep on top of it and do it once a week or so. Self-care is so much easier for me now that I don’t live in a cesspit of a room. I clean my room and suddenly it’s so much lighter, I can take a deep breath, take my meds, enjoy a nice cup of tea, and just relax. No guilt from, “I should really tidy my room,” or, “I should really take these plates out."

That being said, I do still cheer myself up by buying new things, be it an adorable china cat ornament, or a new skirt that I didn’t try on. I don’t really help myself, and I didn’t before. I was overwhelmed by stuff, and I just kept trying to fill the void by adding more stuff. I’m still working on that, so watch this space.

Minimalism isn’t just about physical stuff, though. It can be about only keeping people in your life who bring you joy/don’t bring you down/don’t stress you out. It can be about your own attitudes, and just letting go of things emotionally. I would hold on to people simply because, “I’ve known them a long time,” or “they’re family,” which would not do my mental health any favours. I’d hold on to Facebook friends who would consistently post aggressive, transphobic things, simply because, “oh we go way back, they like me though, right?” (another story for another day) or because I work with them. Obviously not good for mental health. The minimalism challenge taught me to just let go. Let go of people who stress me out and cause drama, let go of people who are transphobic, ableist, racist, homophobic etc., let go of people who you simply don’t want in your life. I wasn’t helping myself, but now I’m at least one step further forward than I was. 

Seriously, why am I holding onto things and people that are making me sad? 

7. I’m sitting on a goldmine!

OK, slight exaggeration. But seriously, most of these 500 things are going through my eBay store, and most of the things that do are bringing in some extra money, which is always nice. It’s nothing to make a living off, but it’s enough to be able to afford basic things in life, like my medication, emergency dental visits, taking the edge off unexpected bills, mobility aids etc. I’ve been without a real phone for over a year now, so some of that money is going to go towards that. And it’s really nice to think of people being happy with things that used to bring me joy, or the things that I enjoyed getting rid of. And I also get the satisfaction of feeling productive when I get new things posted on there, and out of my spare room, and out of my house.

8. I don’t actually miss any of it.

Out of the more than 500 things I got rid of, only ONE thing has made it back, and I’m wearing it now (and not just to say, “see, I used it! I can keep it!”). One of the biggest dogmas in the minimalism world is, “Don’t hold on to the clutter, just get it out of your house as soon as possible.” The idea behind it is that when you keep things in your house (i.e., in the spare room like I have), things will have a tendency to make their way back, and you’re still cluttering up a space in your home. You haven’t finished decluttering unless it’s actually gone. However, there are only a certain number of listings you can have on eBay for free each month, and as a student, money is always tight. Nothing is coming back into this room unless I’m taking photos of it to sell, or showing to someone who I’m gifting it to.

I have 500 things sat in a room not 20 metres from me, and I don’t miss any of it. I didn’t need any of it, and it was just weighing me down. Knowing this helps me to not bring anything else into my space unless I need it, love it, AND have a place for it to go. The one in, one out rule helps with that one, too. 

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