This is the text of the minimalism speech I gave at a Toastmasters meeting in April. I got a lot of good feedback, mostly of people who agreed that they wanted to part with a lot of their crap. A couple of guys insisted that as Connecticut Yankees, they could not part with their stuff because they were sure they’d need it at some future time.
You might notice this is a lot of text for a 5-7 minute speech. I always write more than what I actually say, because I tend to panic and forget half of what I wanted to say once I am in front of the crowd. This was the first speech I presented without using any notes.
Have you ever stopped to think about how much stuff you own? I recently saw a statistic that stated that the average American household contains over 300,000 items. Our culture places a lot of importance on stuff. There’s a perception that the more stuff you have, the better off you are. The more stuff you have, the wealthier you are. More stuff equals more happiness, right? Our society is constantly encouraged to be buying and acquiring more stuff. Americans have a lot of stuff, yet America ranks #1 in rate of depression the world over. Could it be that we’ve gotten our priorities a bit mixed up?
In my own life, I have fallen into the trap that more is better. As an artist, I was always eager to acquire more art supplies. When I was young, I had basic art supplies. I used them all the time, and I enjoyed them. As a young adult with a job, I enjoyed collecting art supplies, imagining the fun I would have using them. Through the years, I have tried many forms of artistic expression, from drawing to painting to sculpting to jewelry making. As a result, I have boxes and boxes of supplies for each of these activities. You would think this would make me happy, but it doesn’t!
Now I have so much stuff that I don’t know where to start or what project to work on. It’s overwhelming and discouraging. I spend more time trying to organize my stuff than actually enjoying it.
Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps it’s not art supplies, but your children’s toys, or the endless piles of laundry you’re folding and sorting and putting away.
Before I even heard of minimalism, I knew there must be a better way. I wanted a simple life, but I needed a little help figuring out how to get there. There are endless websites and magazine articles out there that tell you how to organize and store all your stuff. But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem – that you just have too much stuff!
That’s where Minimalism comes in. What exactly is Minimalism, you ask? Does it involve running off to live in a cabin in the woods for a year, like Henry David Thoreau? Does it mean you have to get rid of all your stuff?
No! Minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of anything. Minimalism is the intentional focus on the things you value most and the removal of anything that distracts you from that. It’s about taking control of your life and not letting your stuff take control of you. It’s clearing away the physical clutter, but also the mental clutter that comes with it. It’s about living mindfully, being conscious of what you’re choosing to buy and why.
The more stuff you have, the more your stuff controls you. When you have less stuff, you have less to worry about, less to insure, less to clean, less to organize. Imagine being able to find anything right when you need it, because you have just what you need and you know exactly where to find it because everything has a home.
Declutter your home and consequently your mind, and have more space to play, to create and to enjoy the important things in life, like family, friends, relationships. So where on earth do you start?
It can be daunting to look around your home, at the overstuffed bookcases, the attic or garage filled with boxes of old things, your wardrobe overflowing with clothes.
It is suggested that you start by minimizing stuff in a small space or relatively simple area, such as the bathroom. A simple rule of thumb is, if an item is not essential, remove it. If you are trying to decide whether to keep or purge certain items, put them in a box with the date clearly marked. If after a few months you haven’t needed them, it’s likely you can live without them. A handy tip for decluttering your closets is to put all the hangers backwards. After you’ve worn something once, put it back in the closet on a hanger that is facing the right way. At the end of the season whatever is still hanging on the backwards hangers is something you did not wear, meaning you don’t really need or want – so get rid of it.
What do to with all this stuff? You may pass items along to family or friends if it will be useful to them. You can also turn your old stuff into cash. In addition to garage sales, there is Ebay and Craigslist. You may prefer to just donate your old stuff by taking it to the Goodwill, but a local homeless shelter or women’s center would be thrilled to receive quality items. Of course if the items you’re getting rid of are too worn out to resell or give away, there is always recycling or trashing them completely.
Once you complete the challenge of paring down and decluttering, there’s the additional challenge of keeping it that way. It requires some mental effort, but this pays off. Remember, the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you. The fewer things in a home, the easier it is to clean. Personal belongings are not the key to happiness. Learn to enjoy things without owning them by making use of libraries, museums and parks.
When you pare down your possessions, you simplify your life. When life is simple, you are less stressed, and when you are less stressed, you can focus on important things like spending time with people you love instead of spending time organizing or cleaning all your stuff.
If having a clutter-free home doesn’t appeal to you, maybe this will: You can’t take it with you, and so someone else will be going through your stuff after you’re gone. Save them some grief by keeping it simple.
When you go home tonight, take a look around your house. Is it a calm and welcoming place? Or is every day a battle to contain the chaos? If you don’t feel relaxed and peaceful when you arrive home, perhaps it is time to try a minimalistic approach.
Toastmasters International Competentent Communicator book, Speech #9 – Persuade with Power