Consider Essentializing – Part I

If you have too much stuff (and most people do), consider the concept of “essentializing.” Think about keeping only the things that matter the most to you.

It differs from “minimalism,” I believe, because in addition to living with as few materialistic things as possible, the focus is only on needs rather than wants. This may work very well for some people. For me, it’s a little extreme. There are things I really want to have with me! And that’s okay!

As I pondered the term “essentializing,” it went deeper than simply what I need and want right now. I began to think about what I would take with me if we moved from our relatively large home to a small apartment. This option could actually happen if/when we choose to move to a senior living community. To take it one step further, I asked myself, “What would I keep if I only had one closet, one dresser, one bookcase, one file cabinet, one desk and one storage cabinet?” That is actually guiding me now, as I reevaluate everything in our home. As much as we now love everything we have, we certainly don’t need it all. And now I realize that this process has resulted in reducing my emotional attachment to so many things I ‘ve treasured. I now know that some day I can let most of it go and pretty easily pass it on to others.

Many years ago, a client had to move suddenly from her rented apartment and planned to stay with friends until she found another place to rent. That meant that most of her possessions would go to storage and she could only have with her what would fit in her small car. As I look back on this experience, we were actually essentializing. Her essentials not only included clothes, toiletries, medications, etc., but, as she pondered her situation, she realized she needed and wanted to have with her the things that comforted her, that nurtured her, that meant the most to her well-being. With this in mind, she chose her favorite pillow, blanket & cuddle-up-on-the-couch alpaca throw, two warm pashmina shawls, her favorite CD’s and CD player, her nesting singing bowls, her guitar, 5 of her favorite books, a photo of her with her son, her journal and one small container of art supplies. I saw her a few months later, when she had settled into another apartment, and she was VERY excited to tell me this: Once she realized how easy it was to live more simply with just the “essentials” she had put in her car, she got rid of almost everything she had placed in storage because she didn’t need or want most of it any more. Wow!

This certainly reinforces what is known as the 80/20 Rule:  We rarely use more than 20% of what we have, and, when it comes to clothes, we’re likely to wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. Think about it!

Essentializing can certainly be applied to more than just your stuff. It can help you choose the company you keep, how you spend your time, what your goals and long term desires are, etc., AND, when applying it to your possessions, here are a few other things to think about.

  1. What do you consider essential? Take time to think about what really matters to you. What are the things that are most important? What will nourish and sustain you? What will bring you comfort and joy?
  2. How about future desires? Are there things you’ve been wanting to do and intend to take time for in your future? I know I want to spend more time writing and art journaling, so I want to have my laptop, printer and supplies for that. I plan to play my ukulele more, so that becomes “essential” as well.
  3. What if you had to move? When sorting through things, try asking yourself, “If I were moving to a smaller space, what would I take it with me?” This is often a helpful question to ask when you want to start paring down and having less clutter. You could even create a list of those things so that when it comes time to downsize, you have a head start. It also lets your loved ones know what’s precious in case something happens to you. Even though a move for me might me several years away, I’ve already started making this list and also making notes about my most treasured possessions and their value, as well as their history and/or who I’d like to have them.
  4. Try the concept of “containerizing.” Through the years  the concept of containerizing has made a huge difference for me and for many of my clients. Here are some examples. Decide to keep only the amount of books that will fit in one bookcase, or only the amount of papers that will fit in one file cabinet. When downsizing several years ago, I had three shelves in the laundry room full of sewing supplies—fabrics, patterns, rick rack, etc. My sewing days were pretty much over except for occasional mending, so I chose one plastic shoebox and decided I would only keep what would fit in that box. And it worked. I have what I need—needles, pins, scissors and thread. That still feels really good! Yay!
  5. Think about destinations for your stuff. Choose people and places that will appreciate the stuff you are letting go of. Sometimes it’s easier to let go of something when you know it will be passed on to someone who appreciates it—a warm coat you haven’t worn for awhile, books that no longer serve you, a precious teapot from Aunt Maude you never use that takes up too much room in your cupboard. It’s also fun to give things to your loved ones while you’re still alive so you can see their joy upon receiving them. I gave my older daughter a St. Christopher I treasured and wore all through high school and college, and now my granddaughter is wearing it! That brings me such joy!
  6. What drains you? How about letting go of the stuff that weighs you down, that creates more stress? Look around you and identify the spaces and objects that deplete you and drain your energy the most. Clear one of those spaces and see how good that feels. Get rid of something that brings up unpleasant memories. Simply removing these things from sight can be uplifting, but actually getting rid of them so you will never see them again can be very freeing. The intention here is to feel better about yourself and your surroundings.
  7. Think about your well-being. Studies show that letting go of clutter is a way of taking better care of yourself. Clutter creates stress. Simplifying frees up an amazing amount of energy. It gives you breathing space and decreases the load on your nervous system, enhancing your physical and mental health.
  8. Let the vision pull you. Think about how much better you will feel when you have less stuff around you—when you’ve done some essentializing. Sometimes dropping into those “feeling tones” of peace and serenity and calm can inspire you to bring this about more easily. I love the concept that one of my teachers Michael B. Beckwith (Agape International Spiritual Center, Los Angeles) shared many years ago:

The pain (stress, shame, frustration, despair) pushes you

Create that positive vision of clutter-free living and allow it to pull you into creating the peace and order you desire. Hopefully the idea of essentializing will help you get there. I’m finding that combining the two really works!

Here’s to creating a simpler life! It’s almost always a work in progress for all of us.


P.S. While writing this blog, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to add Part II in a few weeks, providing tips to go through each category of our stuff. Stay tuned!

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