The Conundrum of the “Non-Essentials” Box (A step toward minimalism)

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We’ve felt the shifting winds of our upcoming move for some time. For all of last year I felt quite restless. We were under contract for The Green House for much of February. Renovations are pushing the actual move back to the end of March.

On one hand the extended timeline is a blessing which provides time to think through cleaning, purging, how to organize packing, etc. On the other hand the long wait is an effective measurement to see just how crazy Evelyn can get because living in this limbo of “yes, we’re moving but just not yet” is so hard!

I started packing boxes weeks ago because something just had to happen. I needed to see progress in order to feel like this dream of moving will indeed actually come true. (It turns out that living with packed boxes lying around the home is a difficult situation also, because I spend much of the day keeping the tiny people from climbing up/jumping on/hiding among/stabbing or “helping” by re-opening the boxes.)

So boxes packed with stuff sit in corners of the Shoebox. One such box is labeled “Kitchen Non-Essentials.” I knew even as I scribbled in permanent marker that the title of the box would surely serve as a dismissal notice for the items within but I wrote it anyways.

I have a problem with boxes of unused stuff lying around, though, and it is this: If I can live happily for over six weeks without something, maybe I’d be better off not owning it at all?

If I can live happily for six weeks without something, maybe I’d be better off not owning it at all?

Hence the conundrum of the “non-essentials” box. (And, incidentally, the storage unit across town which has remained full for 4.5 years yet I can only think of perhaps seven items that I actually want back.)

You might be wondering why one box of belongings is such a big deal when we’re moving into a larger space. Good question. It’s simple: Caveman and I both desire to see our life in The Green House develop into one even more minimalistic than we’ve enjoyed here. One way to see that goal realized is to set a very high bar for what actually enters The Green House.

Of course the heart of minimalism isn’t so much about forsaking stuff for the sake of merely owning less. It’s about focusing time and energy on that which is life-giving to us.

…The heart of minimalism isn’t so much about forsaking stuff for the sake of merely owning less. It’s about focusing time and energy on that which is life-giving to us.

Often times extra stuff detracts from such a motion and the result is simply owning fewer belongings.

Caveman and I wouldn’t call ourselves minimalists and maybe we never will. After all, as Joshua Becker often points out, minimalism is a journey like much of life. It’s not so much a destination as it is a mindset. A focusing past stuff on the more-important non-stuff stuff. 🙂

As we “downsize” to a slightly larger home, perhaps we should decide what lands in boxes by asking these questions of each item:

  • Does it support a lifestyle which is life-giving to us?
  • Does it help to reinforce the values by which our family lives?
  • In which ways are our lives enriched by owning this?

 

So back to that “non-essentials box”. Here is what is actually inside and if we are keeping it or not:

Packed box, unpacked. Lots of stuff

Random, I know. It’s a collection of, well, kitchen miscellaneous. Linens, some used some brand new. Lots of tea. There are vitamins or herbal supplements. Those are dried chopped carrots in that bag on the left, by the way. They taste like I imagine the cushions on an airplane seat would, so I never cook with them. They serve as a sensory activity for the children.

Further below that first layer lies the juicing machine, a couple glass serving bowls, more linens, more tea.

more stuff in a box

We chose to donate/ get rid of these items:

chopped carrots, a mug, miscellaneous

It’s a start. 🙂 For now I plan on crossing out the phrase “non-essential” on the box because we have determined that, for now at least, we will consider the rest of the belongings necessary. Going forward, we have our set of questions to assist in packing for our new start in The Green House.

Do you have a set of questions or method which help choose which belongings to keep and to get rid of? I’d love to hear. Start the discussion below! 🙂

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24 Comments
  • Jesse May
    March 12, 2015

    The first question that pops into my head when I hold an item for the “keep/toss” decision is, “Do we use this?” Then, “How often do we use this?” And over the last year or so, I’ve added, “Do I even like this?” If it’s a practical or somewhat sentimental item, but I never use it because I don’t find it aesthetically pleasing, why am I hanging on to it? (Some people may find this mindset frivolous, but as an artist and a lover of beauty, I can’t help it!) In the last few months, I’ve become fairly ruthless about tossing things that don’t appeal to my eye or my sense of quality, and thus I feel like my home has come to be more simplified and reflect our family better. It can be a sometimes exhausting process, but so much fun, too! 🙂

    • Evelyn
      March 12, 2015

      Hi Jesse May! Those very practical basic questions are the first that pop into my head too. I LOVE that last question. You pretty much wrote a paragraph that had been in this post and I deleted it…. it basically said that I love that quote from William Morris that says, “Have nothing in your home which you do not believe to be useful or beautiful.” (Ish). 🙂 However, as much as I like that idea, I’m starting to lean towards being a little more picky– I almost want the bar to be held at both useful AND beautiful! So I”m right there with you. 🙂 Thanks for your sweet comment!

  • Sarah T.
    March 12, 2015

    I completely disagree that Aeropress filters are nonessential! Though, I reuse mine a lot, so I go through them very slowly. I have a box in the garage I keep my nonessentials. When we move I plan on keeping the things I have gone out to use and donating the rest. I don’t mind a nonessential if I use it and have a designated place for it.

    • Evelyn
      March 12, 2015

      Sarah! You are a kindred spirit–I love that you knew exactly what that contraption was. 😀 I actually haven’t used a paper filter in a long, long time. Caveman bought me a metal reusable filter for my birthday years ago and I LOVE it. I thought that the paper ones absorbed too many of my delicious dark oils. YUMMM. The metal filter is awesome! I kept the paper ones just in case the metal one breaks or something, but the thing is a workhorse. I really probably could get rid of the paper ones. 🙂 That being said, I love the nonessential box in the garage. We keep a pile of “sell or giveaway” items in the house, but I’d love them out of the way. Thanks for commenting, as always. 🙂

  • Anna
    March 12, 2015

    One question I ask myself is how does the item make me feel? If it makes me feel guilty or “less than” in any way, its gone, no matter if I do use it. Who needs that? If it makes me smile I keep it, even if its just to look at.

    • Evelyn
      March 12, 2015

      That’s a great perspective, Anna! I like the question, “Does it make me smile?” 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Beth
    March 12, 2015

    Mmmm, yum, raspberry tea! That would be one of the last items I would pack up. Last box packed with toilet tissue, puffs, snacks, water, tea, and cups, first box unpacked!

    • Evelyn
      March 12, 2015

      Hi Beth! That last box sounds like a treasure. 😉 I only drink Red Raspberry leaf tea near the very END of pregnancy, and I won’t be needing it for another 10 weeks or so. Right now my hot drink staples remain black tea (with milk, duh), and coffee!!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Jlynn
    March 13, 2015

    The questions I ask, which I gleaned from another site are:

    1. Do I use this/how often?
    2. Does it bring me joy?
    3. If I get rid of this and find I need it can I replace it for $20 or less 20 miles or less from home?
    4. For books: If there was a fire, would I replace this?
    5. Does it have a home? Everything needs a place (not just a box, or junk cupboard)

    The questions you posed are also ones I consider too.

    P.S. I also use Goodwill and Thrift shops as my “storage.” On the rare ocassion that I find I really need something I gave away I shop for it at Goodwill and Thrift Shops (thus the storage reference).

    • Evelyn
      March 14, 2015

      All great questions, JLynn. Also ones that cross my mind when I’m considering tossing something… Wonderful idea to use thrift shops as “storage”. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  • Ronnica, Striving Stewardess
    March 14, 2015

    I love the “purge” phase of moving. When I moved here from North Carolina, I was determined to do so in a Ubox though some friends thought I was crazy. Knowing that I had only a finite amount of space (plus what I could fit in my car) really helped me to pare down things that I hadn’t been ready to get rid of to that point (a box of scrapbook-type stuff and 2/3 of my book collection come do mind).

    If I’m here in this apartment for more than another year, I think I’m going to “move” and force myself to make that type of decisions to pare down my belongings again!

    • Evelyn
      March 14, 2015

      HI Ronnica! Moving certainly is good for purging, that’s for sure! There’s something about putting things into boxes that gives so much clarity to whether or not we actually need the item. Thanks for commenting! You’ve got great stuff on your blog, by the way. I snooped around… 😉

  • Christy King
    March 17, 2015

    We have the fun of moving twice in 2 months….So when we packed up our house to move into an apartment, there were a number of boxes labeled not to be unpacked until the second move (to a townhouse).

    Some aren’t “nonessential” – they’re just things like out-of-season clothes.

    But there are several “nonessential” kitchen boxes too. I expect that when we unpack them, we will find a bunch of stuff we’ll now be happy to donate. There are some things I’ve missed though.

    It’s a good way to find out which things we can happily live without.

    • Evelyn
      March 19, 2015

      Wow, Christy that’s a lot of moving! You’re right–I’m expecting that the purge will definitely continue once we unpack boxes as well. Here’s to less stuff to worry about, right?! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  • Jayleen @ How Do The Jones Do It
    March 17, 2015

    Last night I helped my 12 year old son list video games and Skylanders on eBay. It was hard for him to package up those Skylanders that hold so many memories. He has his sights set on a new thing though and the money he will earn will help him get to his goal.

    When I’m cleaning stuff out, I often think, will the money I earn from this be more enjoyable than letting it sit on the shelf?!

    • Evelyn
      March 17, 2015

      That’s a great point Jayleen! Good for your son. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Minerva
    April 7, 2015

    You are doing so good with the packing! It is great that you pack your boxes with so much love and attention! Good luck! Thanks you for sharing! Greetings, Man With Van Holland Park Ltd.

  • Megan
    April 9, 2015

    Hi Evelyn,

    Congrats on the new home and new baby on the way! I love following your growing family, and am especially interested in your attempts at minimalism with a big family. After reading this post, I’m trying to wrap my head around something… do you think there ways to be “more minimal” in a larger home? I guess I’m asking if there are “essential” things you’ve needed in the Shoebox that won’t be essential in a larger one. Does that make sense? I tried to think of examples, but couldn’t. I guess in some ways “minimalism” isn’t just about the amount of stuff you have, but rather how it fills your space… a larger home can “look” minimal because you’ll have spots for all your things, whereas things might be crammed in the Shoebox. Anyway, forgive my rambling. I look forward to future posts! Happy packing. 🙂

    • Evelyn
      April 10, 2015

      Hi Megan! Thanks so much for your comment and thought. Wow, what a GREAT question!! We are now mostly settled in The Green House, although it is still unfinished in some details. 🙂 Boxes still lie in corners of each room because storage looks different here. I’ve repurposed many of our shelves or dressers for different rooms and that change has left many items temporarily without a home. Right now because we have the exact amount of stuff that we owned in the Shoebox–yes the house looks very minimal and plain. I love it. 🙂 And actually, YES is the answer–there are a few pieces that were in the Shoebox but remain in the garage right now because I don’t have a need for them yet in the house. Example: a corner shelf, a square mirror, little things like that. 🙂 At the same time, there are items that I feel like we NEED to make life work here in a different space. Like a couch. And a different storage system for shoes and the officey-type stuff. So the larger/different space did dictate a few new additions. But I’m confident we can add those items without overloading our new home and going overboard. Mostly because I’m determined to keep things minimal here! Haha. 😉 Thanks for your super insightful comment! Glad to have you here.

  • Deirdre Reid
    April 11, 2015

    If I’m having trouble letting something go and it’s not something I’ve been using, I think about the real reasons I want to keep it. For example, I was hanging on to a bunch of art books because of my ego — they represented part of my self-image and although I hadn’t opened them in years, I kept them around to look cultured. A harsh assessment but true. Now I’m looking at everything with that same critical eye.

    One thing I’m having trouble with — and maybe you or some of my fellow readers have some advice for an approach to take — the clothes that no longer fit but I’m keeping because I’m trying to get back down to that weight. I have wardrobes for many sizes. Ack!

    • Evelyn
      April 12, 2015

      Hi Deirdre, what wonderful insight to why we often keep things! We are just now seeing boxes of stuff that we haven’t opened in 5 years, and it’s amazing what kind of stuff we’ve held onto–even more interesting why! 😉

  • Layla
    May 13, 2015

    You have great approach to what you want to enter the Green house and what to stay away! Probably I’ll do the same once my husband and I start packing the stuff for our moving abroad. I’m so excited for you! 🙂

    • Evelyn
      May 13, 2015

      Ooohhh! A move abroad is exciting! So far the method is working ok… 😉

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