Decluttering is difficult but anyone can do it. Maintaining that decluttered, minimalistic state turns out to be the hard part. In order to maintain minimalism, you have to deal with the IN flow of items to your home. If the in-flow is greater than the out-flow, you will always wind right back up in the disorganized place of too much stuff. And if you've even flirted with the Kon Marie method, you know that getting rid of stuff is often no small task, especially if you do it in an environmentally conscious way instead of just sending it all to the dump. So-- stemming the inflow is important. One of the ways to do that is to stop accepting free stuff.
As eagerly as I preach its benefits, some parts of minimalism have been and continue to be really difficult for me, and I've learned some things the hard and long way, including: just because its free does not mean that I need it.
I was raised to be thrifty and frugal (hopefully not too cheap) and our current financial situation necessitates these virtues. My husband is a full time medical student and I work part time sometimes, so I can assure you we're not exactly rolling in discretionary income. So pretty much anytime I had the opportunity to inherit anything of any kind of perceived value, I'd say "sure, I'll take it!" Sometimes this has been great and has saved our family a lot of money, like dressing in my sister's hand me downs and accepting used toys for my kids. It's also kind to the planet, as used items have a substantially smaller environmental impact than their new counterparts. But I've learned to be discriminatory in my willingness to take upon myself others cast-offs.
As discussed in an earlier post (is your stuff worth its burden?), when something is going to cost us money, we consider whether it's value to us is worth that monetary price, but there are hidden "costs" that we often don't factor in such as drain on our time, space, and mental resources. Well, it turns out that when something is free, it's even easier to ignore those hidden costs. "It's free!" Why not take it if it's not costing me anything? Now I ask myself more questions when accepting something free (or cheap). Do I really need this? Do I really want it? Will it bring value to me or someone in my family? Do I have space for it and where will I put it? Will this add clutter to my home? How much use will we get out of it? How much time, energy, or money will it take to take care of it? How will we eventually get rid of or dispose of it?
I'm not sure when or why this scenario began playing out in my head, but I started imagining myself walking into a Barnes & Noble (is there anything more beautiful and wonderful than a book store?) and being told I could take a book for free. Would I take one? Absolutely. What if they told me I could take 5? or 10? I'd probably spend a couple of hours carefully choosing which books I'd love to adorn my bookshelf for the next few decades. But what if they told me I could take 50? I think I'd think "wow! 50 free books! I love books. I'm sure I can find 50 I'd like to have. Maybe I could even use a few of them for gifts. Or sell the ones I end up not loving." But what if I could take 100? 200? 1000? What if I walked into Barnes and Noble and was told I could have as many free books as I wanted? The whole store even if I could manage to get them out of there and find space for them. What, then, would I do? What would be my ideal number? Would I load up my whole car and try to find space for all of them in my small house? Would I buy new bookshelves to accommodate them? Move to a bigger place? Would I rent some moving trucks and a storage unit? Start a business selling them? Is book sales really what I want to do with my life and time? How many would I take before I decided, "that's enough. I have enough that they will bring me joy and enrich my life, but not too many that they add stress, or take away from more meaningful ways I want to spend my time." Basically, at what point would the burden outweigh the benefit? I want to be able to recognize enough when I have it and be satisfied and content with what I have.
Every item entering my home should have a benefit that outweighs the burden associated with it.
It is okay to politely decline a freebie. Start paying attention and you may be surprised how often you are offered things like free pens, swag bags at events, party favors, beauty and makeup samples, or kids trinkets. Are you parents trying to pass down some of their old stuff to you? Do you have a cousin who drops off a giant garbage bag of kids clothes every time their kids outgrown them? It's okay to take free stuff, but make sure you actually want (all of) it first!
I'm reading The Joy of Less by Francine Jay, and in it she encourages us to be good "gatekeepers" of our homes and to deny entrance to anything that doesn't bring value. "A simple refusal up front will save you tons of decluttering down the road."
Be good gatekeepers, friends!