If I Keep it, I Must Clean It

It’s taken a bit longer than anticipated to work on this living room. While I’ve been steadily tinkering on it, I’ve not been painting so much as decluttering.

One would think that, as a minimalist I wouldn’t own a lot of things. Compared to many others, I actually don’t. That said, I’m still uncovering items as I shift and reorganize that make me ask the important question:

Do I want to clean it?

Do I want to clean it? Do I want to shift it around and organize it? Do I want to drag it out to the car and rescue it during a flood? Do I want to move it when it’s time to leave this place?

That answer is not as cut-and-dried as it appears. One would think that if you loved something enough to acquire it that you would want to care for it, clean it, and take it with you when you move but in my case, I’m discovering otherwise.

I am discovering truths about myself that are a bit awkward, but that I must face.

I collect books not just to read them, but because my childhood was spent reading the same small stack of books over and over due to a lack of reading material. I don’t collect books because I necessarily enjoy them, but because I am secretly afraid of being without. I remember dying inside as I watched a relative toss a book I was reading into a fireplace. It was in the way while she was cleaning. She’d already read it, so she eliminated it by using it to add a bit of heat to her home.

While I do read physical books, my interests vary and patience is a factor in my purchases. When I discover a title of interest, I want to begin reading immediately. Because of that impatience, I typically download digital copies to devour. The physical books I acquire are always titles that I stumble upon secondhand and add to my collection because they seem interesting. The majority of physical books I collect are never read, yet I keep them out of that old childhood fear of running out of reading material.

In this modern age, that is no longer a problem. There are enough blogs and books to keep me entertained and informed for several lifetimes, many of which are free on websites like Gutenberg.

I have no need to hoard physical books any longer. While it is a wise decision to keep the ones I’ve already read and actually reference, the act of collecting and hoarding books out of fear needs to come to an end.

It is time I move on from that practice.

When I came to that realization about myself, I also discovered that books are not the only things I hoard out of fear. I hoard food, cleaning supplies, and a number of other items. While I see no logic in eliminating something that I know I will use eventually, bit by bit I am coming to terms with this.

I have no reason to fear any longer. If I run out of something, I no longer have a child that will feel deprived while I sort it.

I no longer have to keep or clean things “just in case.”

Some things it makes sense to keep. It would be foolish to eliminate my kerosene heater because the very nature of our planet means that there will be power outages. It would be foolish to eliminate clothes that I will actually wear just to get down to some artificially-chosen number, knowing that clothes have a very limited lifespan, just like it would be foolish to toss good food or cleaning supplies. Better to use those items up, replenishing only after I reached a certain level.

So as I go through my possessions I now remind myself that if I keep it, I must clean it. If I keep it I must care for it, store it, and I’ll eventually have to move it when I leave this place. If I decide I don’t want to care of it, then it is time the item moved on.

As I work through this process I’ve discovered that I prefer my homes to be open and somewhat spartan in appearance. The more I eliminate, the lighter and happier I become. While I can tell that I’ll never be able to fit my entire life into a single backpack, I suspect that in the end I will possess a bit less than the average person.

Have you ever realized that a primary facet of your personality was a negative one such as fear? How did you handle that? Please share your stories in the comments below.


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I’ve written a lot of books sharing my odd view of life in hopes of helping others. My most notorious book is titled The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, but The Minimalist Cleaning Method is pretty popular as well. You can find them at the following places:

Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks
Smashwords (non-DRM)

Thank you for your support!

5 thoughts on “If I Keep it, I Must Clean It”

  1. I still hoard books only now they are ebooks. I already have way more than I may ever read yet I keep getting new ones because they are free ones on BookBub. I’m finally getting better about not downloading a book I may want to read some day just because it is free. After all, I already have a few hundred on my reader. I could be without internet for a long time before I would run out of books to read–as long as I have power for my e-reader.

    1. Bwahaha! I do feel you! I’ve so many freebies that it’s like shopping when I browse my library. “Oh! I didn’t know I had that!” Is a common refrain.

      At least they don’t take up physical space!

  2. I am totally with you, Annie, about recognizing that everything I own needs to be worth my time and energy to store and clean and be aware of and, yes, ultimately, to move.
    I am confronting a fear/anxiety based backlog of paper. This has been a lifelong problem — I have boxes and boxes of papers I have moved from home to home and from room to room (really closet to closet) because I could not wrap my head around what I could get rid of. This year (finally!) I have learned what I needed to learn about what I need to keep – and how best to organize it. I am about 1/2 way through my backlog. For people who don’t have the piles of papers issue, it is really difficult to understand, but, for those of us who have a paper handicap, it is a serious problem. I am fairly minimal in a lot of things, but paper chaos has been a constant drag on my peace of mind.
    Reaching out for help, and following advice is enabling me to deal with it. And, yes, I have identified the issues that kept me in chaos as fear of throwing out something important and fear of not knowing how to make effective decisions about organizing paper. That was eye opening.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post!

  3. I would say that one of the main things that I “hoard” is puerh tea. Puerh tea is unique post-fermented tea and it is the one type of tea that improves with age so, in theory, it has an indefinite shelf life and given that it is not the most commonly drunk tea in the USA I have to order it online. For me it is a bit of the convenience of bulk orders, which also saves on shipping. Some puerh also benefits from resting to air out before drinking it so it is a good idea to have a buffer to avoid needing to pay more for older tea. Still I will admit there is a bit of a fear factor of running out of a tea that is not as simple as going to the grocery store to buy more of, especially since it is only produced in China. So given the political tensions at times the past possibility of a trade war/embargo with China led to me stocking up more before a potential price hike or worse case access to the market being cut off to Americans.

    Other things that you could say that I loosely hoard are computers, as I still have my previous 2 computers back. My previous one is a Windows 7 laptop which unlike my current computer has a DVD drive/burner which is important as I do not own a DVD player (or TV), the one before it was one that I kept as a Linux experimenting machine. In many ways it would make sense to have a backup computer but truth be told if my main computer were to break I probably could go out and buy a Chromebook with cash from my local Walmart which now easily support both Android and Linux programs with relative ease at a lot less than the price of a decent Android tablet. Still, in some ways, it is hard to say how much holding onto older but still working (or instantly fixable by overwriting the OS with Linux) is smart or being stuck in the past before big business decided that all newly made computers should be more disposable.

    1. I’m not certain that either of those are considered hoarding. The tea you keep a large stock of due to the fact that it is rather hard to get (and may be impossible in the future). The computers you keep as backups.

      I keep old computers because they contain software that doesn’t work on the newer versions of windows (or is proprietary and tied to the individual system). I use those programs, so I keep the systems. I use my computers as my DVD players and stereos, so the two that possess official DVD playing software serve as a good example. Why eliminate an item when you know you will use it at some point?

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