Boxes, moving, organizing

Not perfect. That’s how I would describe the minimalist challenge my friend, Lynne, and I did last month.

Our plan was simple.

We would get rid of one thing on Jan. 1, two things on Jan. 2, three things on Jan. 3 and, well, you get the idea. This continued until the last day of January. We agreed to send daily pictures of the items we purged as well.

Persistence was our goal, rather than perfection — and that was a good thing.

There were times when I sent pictures a day late or had to get creative with the way I counted the items I was purging. Still, I didn’t give up, and that’s where the value of doing this challenge with a friend came in for me. When Lynne sent her pictures every day, her persistence encouraged me to keep going so I didn't let one forgotten day turn into two.

And while it wasn’t perfect, the challenge did teach me a lot about myself and the way I view the “stuff” sitting around my home.

The biggest surprise was that purging items was often more about letting go of an idea I had about myself than it was about the physical item itself. Like the tiny flower pots and seeds that had been sitting on my front porch for 2 years. I imagined myself planting them inside with my boys during the winter and then transplanting them outside when it warmed up.

In order to get rid of them, I had to let go of that idea. I had to admit that, as much as I want to be the gardening type, I’d rather play a game of cards or go for a bike ride with my kids instead.

Still, there were some things I wasn’t quite ready to let go of yet — like the two giant binders from the Masters in Counseling courses I took before we moved 15 years ago. I don’t anticipate ever wanting to be a counselor again, but there’s still a part of me that’s not ready to shut the door on the idea. So I allowed myself to keep the binders and called it introspective progress. At least now I know why I’m keeping them.

The minimalist challenge didn’t just teach me what I’m struggling to let go of, though. It taught me things about myself I had forgotten.

Searching through papers in a filing cabinet in the deep, dark recesses of our basement, I found meticulously balanced checkbook ledgers from before I was married. It reminded me I’m not just thrifty because of my husband’s influence; I’ve been that way all along. That sense of consistency in my personality was comforting, especially when confronted with so many half-started projects and inconsistencies this month.

And I discovered a few scary things about myself with this challenge, too.

For example, if I don't like or want a food, I don't just throw it away. Instead, I let it rot in my kitchen until it reaches a state bad enough I don't feel guilty throwing it out. Why? Why must I let things rot in my kitchen before I get rid of them? I'm getting a little better now at spotting the bad fruit and avoiding the moldy mayhem.

In the end, the minimalist challenge felt like a tremendous success. I was able to purge five giant bags of donations, one massive couch and love seat, a little kids table and chairs and a huge toy barn. The hard work and self-reflection were well worth it for the feeling of liberation it gave me, but I'm not done yet! I can’t wait to purge just a little bit more.


Jenni DeWitt is married and has two sons, the youngest of whom battled childhood leukemia — and won. Jenni writes weekly for She is the author of “Forty Days” and “Why Won’t God Talk to Me?” You can read more about Jenni here.

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