04 August 2011

The Joy of Less: Empty is Good and Other Priniciples to Live By

I was excited to find how much of a chord was struck with you all in my Joy of Less post. Seems as though many of us are very challenged by the possibility of less stuff ... and actually being glad for the stuff we choose to keep. I received several emails asking me to keep exploring this topic with you all.

It is rather fascinating to find out how other real-life people tackle this dilemma. I feel the same.

I'm in love with the idea that empty space, empty shelves, empty cupboards and even empty bins is a good thing! This allows breathing room for that which we truly want. When stuff is "stuffed in" it's not doing anyone or anything any good.

Additionally, another one of the key principles I have been using on my purging "benders" is the whole useful, meaningful, beautiful tactic. It helps me do less waffling and more decision making. Here's my take on it:

Useful: Yes, I know it can be used and someone on this planet uses it regularly. But do you? Do you actually and regularly use the melon-baller, the 72 flower vases, or comprehensive set of ratty "painting clothes?" Or how about towels and blankets, socket-wrenches and aprons, dvd's and puzzles? If you truly use every item, great. Keep it. But if each item doesn't make your life consistently easier and more joyful than move it all along. The melon will come out with a regular ol' spoon.

Meaningful: Sometimes stuff isn't that valuable or useful, it's just meaningful. This area is a tricky wicket, because it's quite subjective. If the item in question was destroyed in a fire would you actually be sad about it? Is it a family christening gown that may be yellowed or a bit shabby but lovingly represents the generations of your family tree? Or is it an outfit that nobody really knows the story to and doesn't really care about but it's kinda old and somehow you inherited it. Are you keeping it just because you feel like you should? Is there guilt involved? As said in the book, "You won't hurt your stuff's feelings if you get rid of it." 

Beautiful: Again, subjective, but valid. There are some pieces in my home that speak to me on a soul-level. The beauty of it registers with me deeply. Might be a book, or a plant, a set of curtains, or a travel tschotske. There isn't inherent value in the object itself, nor is there generations of family history. It simply speaks to me and a glimpse of it brings a smile to my face.

If an item in question does not fit into one of these categories I'm ready to move it along. And ... and this is a big one ... if you have multiples of an item worth keeping do you need all of them? Would keeping some be better than keeping all?

So tell me. Does this help? Tell me how this works for you. I'm interested!

(By the way, that Reisenthel basket in the above pic is sheer awesomeness. I've had it for over 5 years and literally use it daily. Library books, farmer's market, swimming lessons, picnics, you name it. The trick? Keep it empty so it's ready to use!)


  1. I have a knockoff basket which is great, but not as great as the original. Mine is green too! (Sorry for the fluffy response to a thoughtful post - I'm headed to bed)

  2. I like your three test criteria for keeping something. Guilt can be a big one. And sometimes it can come from other family members who say you 'should' keep a certain item.

  3. These are excellent things to ask when sifting through the mountains of stuff. When we moved I had to look at things unemotionally in order to decide whether to keep or not to keep. That's my biggest struggle ... my emotions. I realized that not EVERYTHING is precious to me.

  4. Kelly, that is so true. Save the emotions for that which deserve it!

  5. when I store an item, I also mentally store an air space buffer around it. Makes retrieval and returning easy, and after much training, now I see the buffer zone when tempted to stuff. Great post.


  6. I read something earlier this week that really resonated with me... "the fewer things you keep, the more special they are." True, isn't it? I think I'd rather have a few very special things than a basement full of every semi-special thing I've ever owned.

    Great post, Anna. At our house we tend ere on the minimal side of life (not so minimal as to throw away the bed frame...) so I really appreciate the notion of empty space. I've noticed that my brain feels cluttered when my surroundings are cluttered.