A Space in Time: Living simply, living lean by keeping only what you need


There is a closet makeover that encourages people to have no more than 30 items in their closet, which makes me think please don’t let that number include socks and underwear! Bumper stickers tout the phrase “Live simply so others may simply live.” It’s a movement towards leaner, simpler living, and it’s growing, especially here in pragmatic Vermont. Although this may be challenging to implement in your own life, it’s a beneficial goal to work towards. The less stuff we own, the less time we spend managing it, and the less space it takes up. 

But what does it mean to “live lean?” It need not involve sparse rooms and austere conditions. Think of it as having exactly what you need and nothing in excess. Picture having room for you, and your things — room to breathe. 

How does one go about achieving lean living? Start by avoiding shopping, unless you really need something. When you do have to shop, spend time taking inventory and making a concise list before you head out. When clothes shopping, for example, lay out what you own on the floor or bed and take a quick photo with your phone. That way you’ll know that you already have four pairs of black pants and three blue shirts. This helps to thwart duplicates and excess.

Recognize your weaknesses, be it shoes, kitchen gadgets, or books, and be extra vigilant when you visit stores that carry those items. Research has shown that while shopping, the more you touch an item, the more likely you are to purchase it. For online purchases, there is a process called neuro-marketing that is used to woo you back to something that you viewed earlier. If you don’t believe me, open your email after you’ve perused an online retailer and you’ll notice those items “magically” appearing in a sidebar next to your email list.

View every purchase as an investment, because it is. Unfortunately, most durable goods do not appreciate in value. Ultimately, it is more economical to purchase higher quality items the first time, rather than to replace lower quality goods that break. 

In college, I met a girl who was ironing her jeans in the dorm laundry room. It amazed me that she would take such good care of her clothes. She told me that she wanted her stuff to last and when she cared for it in this way, it did. I know, easier said than done. 

I’ve been slowly integrating lean living into my own life. One of my biggest challenges is when shopping for necessities, something else “speaks” to you, saying, “Take me home! You know I’m cute!” Or, “There’s a spot on your shelf for me!” Yes, there are many neat, tempting products out there, vying for your attention. But, in reality, not many of these are necessities and you likely already have something similar at home. Close your eyes, picture your lean and serene spaces at home, and then muster the willpower to say no.   

Of course, this vigilance towards shopping should be complemented by managing what you already own. Take the time to reduce your existing goods down to a reasonable level. 

This advice is not intended to make you feel guilty about getting a 50-roll pack of toilet paper from Costco. If you have the space for it, and know that you will use it, then it is a good value for a true necessity. Buy what you need, will use, or really, really love and feel good about it!

As you improve at lean living, enjoy the extra money, space and time that you used to spend on accumulating and storing excess goods. 

Amy Simone, owner of Uncluttered Joy, provides professional organizing services focused on helping people discover the joy of an organized life. Contact Amy at unclutteredjoy@gmail.com.

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