Slow Minimalism

Methods that focus on clearing out your possessions as fast as possible are efficient, but emotionally taxing. I take a slower approach.
Adam

Written by Adam on October 7, 2019.
6 min read. Minimalism. 12 comments.

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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 motivation 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 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.

Adam

About Adam

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12 Comments

Why not add to the conversation below? Your voice is welcome!

You mentioned a photo scanner, which is a fantastic idea! I love some of my physical albums, but I like to have most of my photos in a digital format.

Have you found a solution for something like greeting cards? I know the most emotional things I had from my dad were hand-written cards, and I have a hard time getting rid of any that people send me. I would be so thrilled with a digital repository of those, especially if it’s more elegant than just scanning them front and back.

Oh yes I love the idea of a digital card repository. I have too many and it always pains me to throw them out (especially the Papyrus ones because they are beautiful) but I also have an apartment overflowing with them. I wonder if it would be good enough for me to scan them and discard the physical version. I’ve always hoped I would find a way to display them in a glass case because some cards are beautiful enough to be decorations like fine art.

Have you found a solution for something like greeting cards?

I’ve been scanning these on my flatbed scanner too! Also using PhotoScan by Google, which allows you to take a series of photos of something and it’ll combine them into a single image. I like having a folder with all of these locally/Dropbox too!

Not the same as if you had the physical card of course. I’ve found that the image can jog the same memory in most cases. For a few very special things I’ll keep the original though.

Hey Adam,

Have you tried applying this method to kitchen stuff now that you are cooking so much? I don’t care about clothes but kitchenware is harder for me to part ways with. Especially when I get mad I threw out XYZ and a month later I’m using a dish that could have benefited from that esoteric tool.

Also, how well does your slow minimalism approach apply to relationships? 😛

Yeaaah, our kitchenware is growing a ton. In the past year, we’ve picked up an Instant Pot, an Air Fryer, a water boiler, a coffee grinder, a few bamboo steamers, a rice cooker and more. It’s very quickly taking up a lot of space.

Even with that, there’s a bunch we keep thinking of buying – a KitchenAid Mixer, a sous vide machine, a crockpot, etc.

I’m OK with this though! I think of it as a hobby that I’m still trying to figure out. Future me will understand more what devices I use, what I like to cook with most, and which devices give the most value for the recipes I favor. I try not to let minimalist-me tell hobby-me what to do. Hobby’s change over time and I trust that eventually it’ll become crystal clear which things we’re not using that it makes sense to give up.

For relationships, I’ve always preferred having a few close friends than a wide network (at least in person). One things that’s helped recently is having a few big group chats with friends going in Whats App that allows me not to be a little slower on the responses but always feel like we’re staying in touch!

This article is like permission for strict rule followers who want to try the KonMari method but can’t commit to doing it as fast as possible. 🙂

On keeping digital backups, what service do you prefer?

On keeping digital backups, what service do you prefer?

I’ve tried soooo many of these. Manual backups, scripted backups, Dropbox, Arq, BackBlaze.

What I prefer now-a-days is Dropbox, with a local copy and a local backup on a RAID array we have on our network. That backup to the RAID happens daily using the Mac app ChronoSync, which is really a fancy interface for scheduling sync jobs.

I also upload all photos to Google Photos as a just-in-case measure. At this point, I have about 700GB of photos though (many raw files), so I’m no minimalist in that. 😅

What? You don’t do manual CRON jobs? hahaha!

Dropbox is an easy solution with the autosync. I must confess I’ve done a crap job of backing up our photos, which right now is shared between two physical drives (not networked) and Google Photos. lol

Probably time to revisit that and make a more concrete plan. Your Quadruplicate strategy has inspired me. 🙂

I used to use a Cron Job! Once of the nice things that ChronoSync does is saves anything that’s deleted into another folder too. That lets me go through and occasionally clear it out, which also being sure things aren’t going completely off the rails.

I’d still LOVE to find a service that has really amazing tools for storing all of my photos. Starting to think the best thing would be a dedicated local device like a NAS that serves as the master copy of all photos, running some software for the organization. Maybe eventually. 🙂 For now, I’m good with my “years” > “(date) – activity” folder structure.

What? You don’t do manual CRON jobs? hahaha!

Dropbox is an easy solution with the autosync. I must confess I’ve done a crap job of backing up our photos, which right now is shared between two physical drives (not networked) and Google Photos. lol

Probably time to revisit that and make a more concrete plan. Your Quadruplicate strategy has inspired me. 🙂

My MIL’s house is full of stuff. It’ll probably take us a year to clean it out too.

Our home is a bit better because we moved recently. We already got rid of a lot of things. However, this home has a basement. That’s dangerous. It’s easy to just put stuff down there and not throw anything out…

Moving is the best way to reset for sure. Especially when you’re moving to a smaller place. We’ve never had a basement, but we have had an attic and a garage. It seemed like there was ALWAYS room for something in there.

I like the idea of constantly reevaluating what’s in there and getting rid of things that you’ve accepted that you won’t use again. I always feel so much lighter when I get rid of something in that case – even when I’m accepting that it’s a sunk cost.

We have a small storage unit in our apartment complex, and we love having an organized place for all of our camping, sports, seasonal and travel stuff. I’m sure things will sneak in there we won’t ever use again though, so trying to make sure we keep it organized. At least if we can see what’s there we’ll be less likely to store things we don’t use for too long.