back to Space

Two weeks ago, I packed all of my worldly possessions into a bunch of boxes and bins and garbage bags. Then, some very helpful dudes with a truck helped me move them to a new place. This process is extremely ordinary – we all know the trials and tribulations of buying mysteriously expensive moving boxes, accidentally breaking that sweet beer chalice from that one brewery, finding things we’d already replaced hiding behind that dresser. But, as it turned out, the mundane process of prepping for the move brought me back to an important theme in my life (and one that demands ongoing effort): simplicity.

Turns out that three years in one apartment had spurred quite the accumulation. I’d amassed a ton of stuff, and now it all needed to go somewhere.

Here’s the thing: in my mind, I’m a minimalist who owns like five super-useful, beautiful things that somehow serve all of my needs. In reality, my possession count is sent skyrocketing by everything from a true love of shoes to my second life as a musician, which requires all kinds of awkward, bulky gear.  I’m constantly moving between my desire to own (and worry about) less, and my realistic realization that there are just some objects that I’m going to have to keep around if I’m going to keep doing the things I love.

And so, for me, the balance lies somewhere in between being a monk and a packrat. But even in that relatively flexible space, I’ve had to adopt some tricks to keep myself constantly paring down and being intentional about what I bring into my life. Looking for some direction in doing the same? Here are a few things that have worked for me, plus some great resources from some of my favorite minimalists.

1. Have a yard sale. Seriously, an old-fashioned one in which you put all of your stuff in the yard (or on your stoop, or whatever you’ve got), and people come buy it. Find a place with decent foot traffic if you can (no shame in borrowing someone else’s yard), list it on Craigslist, post something on Facebook, put some posters up, and put on your best salesperson pants.

Bonus points: Invite your friends to join. That way, the worst-case scenario involves y’all hanging out in the yard all day. I did this the weekend before my move, and it was both lucrative and a ton of fun.

2. Try the 100 Things Challenge. I kicked off 2014 by giving away 100 things – some to awesome nonprofit thrift stores, some to friends. Said things ranged from glitter pens (yep! I love glitter!) to a T-square to unworn clothing. It’s easy to start: just get a bin, and start putting things you don’t need and/or use in it. Everything that goes in the bin goes in a 100 Things List (mine was in Evernote). When you get to 100, give all the stuff to its proper recipients.

Bonus points: Find a thrift store that supports something you really care about. I gave my stuff to a local store that supports a crisis center for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors – a cause extremely close to my heart. When I brought everything in, it kicked off a very touching conversation with the women working there. Gratitude and warm fuzzies filled the air. Awesome.

Extra bonus points: Make it a monthly (or weekly, or daily) thing. Pick a number and a timeline that make sense for you, and keep up the practice.

3. Keep a one-month box. At the beginning of each month, go through your stuff and locate a batch of things that you may not really need. (Even if you’re not sure, any suspicion that an object is not either beautiful or truly useful should fit that category.) Put everything in a box. That is now your one-month box. Tape it up, put it somewhere out of the way, and then open it again at the end of the month. If you haven’t thought about the stuff in there in the last month, sell it or give it away.

I’m not perfect at keeping things simple, but the practices above have helped me pare down in both dramatic and not-so-dramatic ways. Clearing out physical clutter helps me stay mentally clear, less stressed, and more focused on what really matters. If you’ve been craving the same, go grab a box and get to it!

Want more? Master simplifier Joshua Becker has a great list of creative ways to declutter, and his tips point to some of my other favorite minimalist thinkers and writers.

Got other ideas to share? Let us know your genius decluttering approaches in the comments!


Mailande Moran is a musician, writer, and media consultant based in Durham, NC. She is a 2013 graduate of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, where she served as a Fellow for the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship's Impact Investing Initiative and the Center on Leadership and Ethics. In the summer of 2012, she worked with Enterprise Community Loan Fund to analyze and communicate the impact of green affordable housing and transit-oriented development in Colorado. While pursuing her MBA, she consulted with the healthcare NGO Healing Fields in India, the microfinance start-up Seeds in Kenya, and the for-profit maternity hospital LifeSpring in India. Prior to Fuqua, she focused on social entrepreneurship and philanthropy in strategy roles at Echoing Green and the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Mailande graduated from Duke University in 2006 with an A.B. in Art History. She is passionate about creating a safer, more equitable world. You can hear her music on Facebook (mailandemusic) and follow her other adventures on Twitter (@mailande). read more about