Have you ever tried to pare down your belongings when you have no money?
It takes a steady hand and a brave heart, that's for sure.
I came across Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, a little over a year ago, when Karsten was still quite small. I started implementing some of the techniques — picking up objects and determining whether they sparked joy, and even folding my socks the KonMari way — and immediately enjoyed the increased serenity that came with less clutter, less crowding, less need to organize and cram and put away. I am a declutter-o-phile and reforming packrat, and the KonMari options clicked with me.
|How I redid the kids' drawers. I love how visible everything is.|
|My mismatched socks before. I'm NOT KIDDING. These are all SINGLE SOCKS with no mate.|
HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? These all went bye-bye.
|My sweet little socks and undies afterward, with socks organized and separated by color family.|
But … it was around this same time that we realized how little money we had coming in. Sam and I work for ourselves, which means our "paychecks" are unpredictable, so things can sometimes coast for a bit before we realize there's been an income swing. We've always had a dip like this when we've had a new baby, but this one was perhaps deeper because the pregnancy itself was hard as well and we have — count 'em — three children now to care for and homeschool. I don't worry about telling you this, because I trust I've been honest that being self-employed is only for those who can handle some degree of risk, and we are such people. Our income has always been cyclical, so we tightened our belts while we devoted what energy we could to earning more money, and we have pared way, way, way down on spending.
And this is where the KonMari giddiness took a nosedive.
I suddenly no longer felt confident about giving up items, even if their joy-sparking potential was limited. For instance, I had gathered bags full of lesser-desired hair items: styling products, accessories, curlers, chemical processes. Unlike usual, I actually got around to listing the haul on Freecycle, and someone bit right away. The only thing she didn't want was the half-bottle of spray gel, because she didn't use spray gel, so I removed it, intending to include it with a future Freecyle offer. Not long after, my preferred, somewhat pricey brand of haircare product ran out. I couldn't justify reordering. I wasn't even sure if I could justify buying new gel at the grocery store or if I should just use whatever Sam was using. I dug through my Freecycle remnants and found that half-used bottle of spray gel, and darn it if I wasn't relieved that I hadn't given it away after all. I used it gratefully.
Lately, my remaining underpants have gotten ratty. Yes, I know, underpants! This should not be a big deal. Marie Kondo would have me tossing those puppies out in a heartbeat. But I've really come to love a certain brand of undies (cotton ones from Victoria's Secret — don't judge!), and I can't justify buying them and have had bad experiences with the sizing on box-store brands. Undies aren't the sort of thing I really want to acquire used. So I'm wearing my holey underpants and making do. They still cover my butt. Good enough.
It's made me ponder, from my still admittedly privileged middle-class position, how hard it is to live as a minimalist if you know you can't replace anything you give up and then miss. The KonMari Method suggests that you'll be happier to get something new and better as a substitute — but for many, such a fortunate outcome is not an option. I have to make do with our disgustingly dirty couch (no, seriously, it's gross, but it's a comfortable sofabed that doubles as our "guest room"), because new furniture is not in the cards. I have to live with having one pair of jeans that fit well, because I'd rather spend our clothing budget on my fast-growing boys (and then at the thrift shop or with hand-me-downs when possible).
On the one hand, I personally really love the lightness and clarity that getting rid of excess grants me. I don't even mind being in frugality mode. But I can't deny the fear that comes along with getting rid of perfectly usable items when I know I won't be replacing them. This calculus might change a bit if I were selling the items, of course, but even then, you don't usually make money on used goods, and selling takes an energy that could be spent better elsewhere. In almost all instances, it's cheaper and more efficient to keep something and live with it than get a new item. Something might not be ideal, but it's often a heck of a lot better than nothing.
I expect our income situation to level up soon enough, so I'm not particularly concerned for us and not asking you to be. We walked into our own situation with open eyes. And I'm not speaking for any or all low-income families. I know several such who do embrace minimalism and declutter frequently, and I hope maybe I'll be able to write a follow-up post about how I conquered this fear of losing stuff myself.
But I resolve to remember in the future that decluttering and minimalism, while perfectly admirable for those who like that sort of thing, are not for everyone. This is a no-duh message but needs to be spoken amidst all the gleeful Pinterest pins and blogposts about getting rid of anything that's not perfect (my own included). Some people, whether due to current or past or fear-of-future economic downturns, will feel more comfortable holding fast to the stuff they have so they don't have to worry about doing without.
|Helping organize those clothes|
|The Sorting Cat|
Have you decluttered during disparate periods of family income? How did it feel for you?