A First Foray into Minimalism

When Jillian and I learned we were expecting our first child, we asked ourselves a lot of questions. Some were mundane, like wondering where we’d put his stuff. Others weren’t. How should we gift at Christmas? How can we expose him to the right amount of advertising? How interactive do we want his toys to be? How many toys do we want him to have? What sort of relationship did we want our son to have with stuff?

Part of our conversation was realizing that we’d need to do a better job of trying to be the people we’d want our son to grow into. Since we didn’t want our kid to be one who just had to buy every video game, have the latest cell phone, or have the flashiest toys, we’d need to be more careful about what we bought. And since we wanted to make sure he always puts people before things, we’d have to be better about doing the same.

Jillian, book person that she is, read through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and went to work. Books were listed on Half.com or sold to our favorite local bookstore, clothing went to Swap and ThreadUp, and bag after bag after bag of donations went to St Vinnie’s. We filled our garage full of boxes, ready for a garage sale in the spring.

Despite promising we’d get as little baby gear as possible, it piled up. Partly because we struggled to find a balance between minimalism and frugality. We probably didn’t need another giant bag full of clothing for our son, but could we really know?

After he arrived, we needed to get serious about making space. But we needed some additional motivation to keep minimizing while also caring for an infant. When Jillian spotted a friend playing the Minimalism Game, we decided to play along. To accommodate our strange sleeping schedules (me from 9-2, then Jillian from 2-4, 4-6, and 6-8), we’d give ourselves twice as much time. And, because we’re very competitive, we’d use different colored pens, so we’d know which of us found more items to discard.

Toward the end of the challenge, Jillian read The Joy Of Less. One of the most useful phrases she learned was aspirational items. It turned out I had a lot of those. My old artificial intelligence text, cognitive neuroscience text, a data structures text, and bunch of others. I aspired to read these books again one day — I’d been aspiring to read them for ten years. It was time to give up. I minimized the books.

Our minimalism game chart. A triangular set of grid squares, checked off in colors that correspond to us.

I ended up winning the challenge, but we were doing so well I agreed to a rematch. And Jillian is crushing me. She’s up by over a hundred items. And she’s over at her desk right now, minimizing office supplies and increasing her lead, while I write this post and our son naps in the next room.

After months of filling up boxes in the garage with things to discard, this weekend we finally held a garage sale. We only sold around fifty items, but it was affirming putting prices on all the things we’d minimized and realizing we hardly missed any of them.

Half of our garage sale stuff in our driveway. Mostly books, plus our dog taking a nap

Looking around our house now, there’s certainly a long way to go. We’ll probably never be those people who can fit all their possessions in a backpack, and the house still needs tidying — today’s mail is still on the kitchen table. But our lives don’t feel as cluttered. The house is easier to clean. We’re less hesitant to have people over. It’s easier to focus. We don’t worry as much about people stopping by. I think minimizing has also brought us closer together. We even started a few more challenges together.

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