Choice Minimalism in Action

I’m sure I’m not the only one in the world who struggles to keep some semblance of order in the chaos of my daily life. Herein lies the process I’ve been using to streamline my life and increase the amount of happiness I get from the stuff I do and own. I’ll break down the process itself for you, and then follow up with my answers. Ready?

Make Some Decisions

First up, you need to take a look at things and decide what needs minimising.

What creates the most stress around decision-making in your life? What eats up the most time or attention?

  • For me, it’s deciding what to eat. Or what to wear. I’m NOT a fashionista by any stretch, and trying to look well put together stresses me something chronic.
  • Constantly picking up the crap on the lounge room floor also takes a giant pile of time and attention. I find it hard to stay calm in a room with a messy floor. Ditto cooking in a kitchen with messy/cluttered benches.
  • Oh, and checking my email takes foooooorever. I only do it once a week and I have a lot of subscriptions to newsletters and survey companies.

Where does having a choice really, truly make your life happier? Where does it make your life harder?

Foodwise, I’ll happily sit and deliberate over the restaurant menu when we eat out. Day to day, though, I don’t want to put that kind of effort in. I could happily eat the same two or three breakfasts and lunches every day for prolonged periods – in fact, I did for five straight years in high school. Breakfast was usually toast or porridge, and lunch was a cheese, meat and tomato sandwich. There’s no reason I can’t eat similarly now I’m all grown up and responsible (hah!) and stuff.

Some choice is nice with my clothes, but I don’t need 795 different outfits for every season. Just enough to last between washes and give me some colour options. (This is complicated somewhat by being genderfluid – I need “boy clothes” and “girl clothes” to feel comfortable when I get dressed in the morning.)

So, to sum all that up, my problem areas are: Meals, Clothes, Email, Floors, and Kitchen Benches.

Once you’ve got a list of problem areas, the next step is to simplify.

Start by listing any good “rules” that come to you for an area. Then expand until you have 3-5 for each area that bothers you. For example:

  1. I wash clothes about every 3 days. Therefore I need about 5 full sets of clothes (winter and summer). At least 4 of those outfits should be things that are easy to cycle in.
  2. I’m happy with eggs, beans and spinach for breakfast since it’s easy to change the type of bean or vegetable when I get bored (Fellow Tim Ferriss followers will recognise his signature breakfast from The 4-Hour Body.)
  3. Sandwiches are tasty, and baked potatoes are easy, so I’ll vary between those two for lunch.
  4. I need to either check my email more often, unsubscribe from things I don’t read any more, or employ better filtering so I can find the important things. (Probably a bit of all three.)

Your rules will change and be added to as you start to live with them. Consider the first 2-3 weeks a trial period, then start tweaking. Remember, the goal here is to simplify your life by reducing the number of decisions you need to make on a daily basis. I’ve put some of my base rules at the end of this post to give you some ideas.

Simplification: Eliminate and Automate

Good Old De-cluttering

De-cluttering is a part of establishing minimalism because it gets rid of all the extraneous stuff that’s accumulated over the years. The goal, once the crap’s gone, is to keep it out. There’s a ton of de-cluttering and minimalism blogs out there, so I won’t go over it again here.

My personal guidelines are:

  • Only keep it if it gets used every six months or more.
  • Only keep it if I love it.
  • Only keep it if it has a designated place to live (the French term is mise en place – it’s not just for cooking!)

Once you’ve got rid of all the stuff you don’t want, the next step is to keep more pointless stuff from taking its place.

One in, One out

This is the foundation from which keeping our things organised and minimal flows. Once you reach your target number of “things” in a given category, that’s all you get. If you want to buy a new sweater, when you get home you have to get rid of an old one to make room. Kid gets a new toy for their birthday? Time to cull one from the current stash (though PLEASE make sure you involve the child in the decision-making. No one likes it when their stuff mysteriously vanishes on them. Plus it helps them learn personal accountability and how to take responsibility for their own belongings.)

The key – and the hardest part – is to make sure that everyone in the house is aware of, and on board with, the “one in, one out” concept. This can be especially hard if you or your partner (or both!) have hoarder tendencies.

From my personal perspective, the tendency to keep hold of stuff long past when you should have let it go can be made up of many things. Habit, upbringing, emotional ties that the objects are keeping, and most of all, fear – they all play a part. The best remedy, for us at least, has been a lot of conversation. It’s still a work in progress as we nut out why we’re holding onto things that no longer serve us, or whether one (or both) of us is being unreasonable, but we’re more or less on the same page.

So that’s the plan. Next week I’ll share an eclectic mix of the organisational tools I use to try to keep us on track around the Squirrel house.

Below are some of the life rules I’ve established to save myself time and brainpower.

Email

  • Set a timer/alarm and check email for 30 minutes, twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday). Only deviate from this if a “confirm you’re a person” email is sent from a service.
  • Stop signing up for newsletters! And Unsubscribe from any newsletter that I haven’t read an issue of in the past three months. (I don’t need that many recipes, anyway.)
  • Filter all survey invitations by the “Surveys” label and Archive.
  • Filter all newsletters by the “Updates” folder. Have no more than 6 newsletters that are sent weekly or fortnightly.

Clothes plan

Cold weather clothes:

  • 2 pairs of jeans (I can wear these 2-3 days in a row in the winter, and I don’t wear them in summer)
  • 4 pairs of leggings, black
  • 4 dresses or long tunics (to go over the leggings), plain colours
  • 6 long sleeved t-shirts, 2 black, 2 white, 2 plain colours
  • 3 hoodies or jumpers
  • 3 sleeveless pullovers

Hot weather clothes:

  • 6 pairs of shorts, black or dark blue
  • 6 short sleeve t-shirts or tank tops, plain colours (these can be worn alone or layered with the long-sleeve shirts in winter)
  • 3 sets of “exercise” clothes (I work out three times a week and cycle for exercise the rest of the time)

House Plan

  • Run the dishwasher twice a week (Sunday and Thursday) to catch up with the backlog of dishes. (Our dishwasher and washing machine share a single power point and water hose in the bathroom – it’s a major pain to swap them out.)
  • Wash up for 10 minutes while dinner is cooking.
  • Keep a milk crate next to the bench for dirty dishes if you need bench space fast. Put dishwasher dishes in there to cart to/from the bathroom.
  • Since mornings are the most crazy-making time, spend 10 minutes the night before putting stuff away and clearing the lounge room floor.
  • Label where things go! Better to be seen as neurotic and have a husband that can find things.