When most people think of clutter, they imagine messy stacks and piles that they wish would just disappear. While this can certainly be the case, not all clutter is either obvious or troublesome. In fact, sometimes clutter can be hidden. At the most recent meeting of Minimal Quest – a free, monthly webinar on Minimalism – we talked about this type of clutter, and how we might identify remove it from our spaces. Would you like to pursue hidden minimalism? If so, read on for a few ideas.
First, as a reminder, I like to always revisit Joshua Becker’s very helpful definition of minimalism:
“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”~ Joshua Becker
Whenever we are working to eliminate clutter, we need to mindful about our belongings, taking the time to assess what we use, need, and love. Clutter often accumulates because we defer dealing with it, and/or because we stop paying attention to it. We stash, shove, pile, and otherwise hold onto things, rather than focus on and process them. To some extent, this is necessary. Life is about more than decluttering, and we have more important (and fun) things to think about on a daily basis. At the same time, it is necessary to incorporate “review” into our lives so that we maximize the space available to us for using and enjoying what matters most.
When it comes to hidden minimalism, the goal is to give focused attention to belongings that we may be overlooking or otherwise neglecting. This could be for a couple of reasons:
- They have been stored out of sight, and we have forgotten about them.
- They are out in plain sight, and although they are no longer needed, they have been there so long that we no longer notice them.
- They are items that we use, but only periodically, and might no longer be fresh or in working order.
- We may have used them in the past and have never acknowledged that we aren’t using them in our current lifestyle.
- They are objects that we have made a habit of keeping even though we already have enough like items in our possession (e.g., plastic food containers).
- We didn’t know how to get rid of them, so we put them in a box with a vague idea of dealing with them “later.”
All of these reasons, and more, can cause us to mindlessly amass possessions that – at a minimum – are taking up space, and potentially are interfering with living our best lives.
Therefore, to jumpstart your decluttering efforts, here are some possible “wins” for pursuing hidden minimalism.
Let’s go space by space:
In the kitchen/pantry, look for:
These have a shelf life of four months when they are unopened. After you open them, oils will last a shorter time. Give your oils the sniff taste. They shouldn’t smell stale, fermented, or like old crayons.
While spices don’t technically go bad, they do lose their flavor. Ground spices generally last two-three years, whole spices last up to four years. By the way, if you have any of the old Durkee™ red and white tins, odds are these are no longer good as they stopped making these tins years ago (with the exception of for ground black pepper).
In general, flour will stay fresh for about eight months at room temperature. Wheat flour, gluten-free, and nut-based flours don’t last as long, due to higher fat content. To extend the life of your flour, store it in the refrigerator. Again, if it smells wrong, let it go. Also be sure to check the expiration date on premade baking mixes (e.g., Bisquick™ and pancake mix), because they do expire.
Baking Powder, baking soda, and yeast
Unopened baking powder has a shelf life of six months, while unopened baking soda has a shelf life of up to 18 months. If opened, use both within six months. To test to see if they are fresh, add baking soda to hot water with vinegar. It should fizz. You can do the same with baking powder, but you don’t need the vinegar. Yeast usually has an expiration date. Yeast can also be stored in the refrigerator for four months, and in the freezer for a few years.
If more than six months have passed since the nuts were purchased, there is a good chance they will have turned rancid. Freeze nuts to extend their life.
Unopened syrup lasts one year. Open syrup will also last a year if in the refridgerator. If your syrup is opened and not refrigerated, look for mold.
Food Gifts, Souvenirs, and “Try” Items
If you have received food items or purchased them as souvenirs, but you haven’t eaten them, it is wise to let them go. Just because someone gives you a gift, doesn’t mean you have to keep it. The same goes for items you bought to try, but nobody liked. Don’t keep the unopened bag or package stuffed in the back of a cabinet. It won’t become more appealing after a couple of months.
Sprinkles, Sugar, Food Dye
These items can go rancid and lose their value over time. If they have an odor or have discolored, it is probably a good idea to let them go.
In the bedroom, look for:
I find a lot of free items from hotels, stores, and promotions in the bedroom, such as free slippers, shampoos, makeup bags, etc. Only keep these items because you truly use them. If unopened, these make for desirable donation items.
Perfume can go bad. Normally, it either stops smelling like anything at all (the scent fades), or it starts to have an alcohol-like odor. Test your perfume collection, and only keep the ones that have a scent you love. Remember that perfume is not wine, it is not going to get better with age, only worse.
Most people have some items in their closet and drawers that they don’t like wearing. This may be because they don’t fit, they hurt our feet, they dig into our sides, etc. Alternatively, it could be because we don’t feel good in the clothing, perhaps because our body has changed or they have gone out of fashion. Set a limit to the space you allocate to “aspirational” clothing, which is clothing you hope to wear and feel good in at a future date.
On your desk or in your office, look for:
Old business cards
Most of us gather business cards, and these can be very helpful for connecting us with people and service providers. They might be in an old Rolodex™, in a drawer with a rubber band around them, in notebooks with business card holding pages, etc. If you haven’t updated your business card collection (i.e., sorted through them and removed the ones you no longer use), odds are that you have a lot of information that is out of date. If you can’t trust the cards, they aren’t serving their purpose, and now are simply cluttering your space. Business cards, as with all reference items, should only be kept if they are reliable.
Clippings, Catalogs, and Expired Coupons
Back before Goggle™ and Pinterest™, many of us used to collect articles, clippings, project ideas, and more. Some of us still do this today, perhaps in a folder or hanging file. We also may have collected coupons, with plans to use them on big purchases, or catalogs with plans to come back and order something. If it has been a while since you looked through your files, piles, and folders, this might produce some “easy wins.” For example, sadly, the Bed, Bath, and Beyond™ coupons can go.
Maps and Travel Guides
The world went through a major shift in 2020, and many businesses either closed, changed their hours, adjusted their prices, or otherwise altered their offerings. In order to rely on a travel guide, it needs to have current information, which most likely means it was published after 2020. Maps are also something that “people of a certain generation” have. If you are a map collector, enjoy your collection. However, if you kept them out of habit, but now use GPS to navigate your way, these old maps (which may also no longer be completely accurate) can go.
We all have old electronics. We often hold onto these items because we have anxiety about letting them go. For instance, we think, “But what if I need that cable?” or “But what if there is data or photos on these devices that I want?” As with all items for which an action needs to be taken, we should focus our energy on pursuing the action, not on postponing the action. If you have a drawer or box of e-junk, begin by removing obvious clutter (e.g., how many airplane earbuds do you need?). For other items, such as old computers, charge them up, assess the contents, offload desired files onto flash drives or directly onto other devices, and then search online for instructions on how to properly “wipe clean” the device for disposal. E-junk can then be safely recycled through a local resource.
[Bonus hint: label each and every cord that comes into your life from now on. Something as simple as a piece of painter’s tape can suffice!]
Checks from Closed Accounts
If you have changed banks or closed accounts, you might have some inactive checks tucked into drawers or containers in your desk or closet. Shred the old checks if it makes you comfortable, but as long as the accounts are closed, it is probably safe to simply dispose of them.
Photo Printer Paper
This was an item that was very popular when high-quality printers became widely affordable. Vendors like Hewlett Packard used to include a packet of photo paper with their product. In the early days, many of us were excited to print photos. However, it didn’t take long to realize that printing photos uses a lot of ink. Today, most people either do not print photos at all, or send away to a service to print the few they like best. If you do print photos, by all means, keep the photo paper. But if it has been many years since you printed a photo, let that paper go.
Pens, Pencils, Markers & Highlighters
Writing implements accumulate, and often end up cluttering drawers. Next time you are on a phone call, take your stash , along with a piece of paper, and test your writing implements out. Pens don’t last forever, markers dry up, and life is too short for tiny pencils with no erasers.
In the family room, look for:
Cassette tapes, VHS tapes, CDs, and DVDs
As a society, we are shifting toward digital and streaming entertainment, so these are candidates for disposal. I recognize that you may have spent a lot of money accumulating your collection, and if you still use these items, enjoy them. However, if you are not using them, remind yourself that you probably are not listening to 8-track tapes or LPs either. This is just something that happens periodically as platforms shift. What matters most is to be able to easily access and enjoy whatever media you prefer.
Many families have accumulated games over a lifetime. We buy and receive new ones, and rarely cull the old ones. If you have never played a game, or played it and didn’t like it, let it go. Most people gravitate toward a couple of favorites, and those are the ones to keep. If you have puzzles, and you didn’t work them during the lockdown, odds are you never will. Feel free to throw away games and puzzles that have been opened as charities don’t generally receive these (they must be in mint condition).
This is one type of belonging to which I encourage you to take a “keen eye.” Take a hard look at your decorative items and ask yourself, “Do I still like looking at this?” Again, we often add a lot of new items to our shelves and bookcases, and rarely go in and remove anything. The same idea applies to bulletin board and display spaces. The tendency is to add so much, and leave it there so long, that we largely stop even noticing whatever we have displayed. Refresh these spaces periodically, prioritizing them for what you like the most.
In remote spaces, look for:
Old Greeting Cards
Greeting cards are meant to be just that – a greeting. They are meant to be received and enjoyed, not kept. If you have cards that say something such as, “Love, Dad,” and the rest of the message comes from Hallmark®, that isn’t providing much of an emotional benefit. In contrast, if you have a card with a long, hand-written note from Grandma, that is a true memento. If you have been holding onto years of old holiday cards, perhaps with the intention of crafting with them or cutting them up into gift tags, be honest about whether you will actually do this. Certainly, there is no guilt in recycling old cards. They fulfilled their purpose the moment you opened and read them.
A few empty boxes are wonderful. I keep boxes of differing sizes for wrapping gifts, and on top of the refrigerator in my garage I have nested some boxes for shipping. However, there needs to be a limit. Boxes are mouse food, so if you are holding onto boxes in your basement, attic, or garage, beware that you are likely to attract mice.
Art on the Floor
I frequently see art stacked up, leaning up against walls, where it may have been sitting since a move or renovation. This is not great for either the art or the frame. Ask yourself, “Am I ever going to hang this up?” If the answer is no, let it go. If the piece is valuable, you might be able to sell it. Otherwise, it can be donated. If you want to hold onto the image, but are unlikely to display it, it is more memorabilia than art. Take a photo, or remove the art itself and get rid of the bulky frames.
When we have carpeting installed, it is common for the installers to leave the remnants behind. They say, “I’ll leave these here so you can replace a section if it is gets stained or damaged.” However, in my experience, it is very rare for anyone to actually do this. Unless you experience damage shortly after installation, odds are that either the original carpet or the remnant will fade over time, and the two will no longer match. Remnants take up an enormous amount of space, so feel free to let them go.
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Even if you don’t consider yourself a minimalist, you may be able to free some space for what matters most by removing items from some of these categories.
Do you think you might have some of these items?