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Minimalism and Tidying Up

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I have a confession to make. I love cleaning up. Throwing things away. Tidying up. Getting rid of things. I have read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Story of Stuff, and The Power of Less. The appeal of minimalism is great, but it somehow never works. I also rebuy things in regret (see collecting physical games). Cleaning up and recklessly throwing stuff away is also a sure way to get into a big fight with my wife.

To my big surprise, Matt D’Avella, minimalist and host of the Ground Up Show podcast, mentioned that his wife is not a minimalist, but they somehow made it work. Although they also fight over things, like buying Christmas decoration—a fight he lost and that upped the amount of stuff they owned by 30 or so. I love reading and hearing about these squabbles. They make my own ones a bit less daunting. Matt recently counted all the stuff they owned1 (1,641 items) and had to admit that he owns more than his wife, even with her walk-in dresser!

A thousand items? That probably doesn’t even cover my study. Does 3 VGA cables count as one? What about those broken motherboards? How about all books on computing? No? Okay okay, another confession. I like the philosophy of minimalism, but I’ll probably never be one. In 2021, I restored three old computers, because that made me happy, Marie Kondo style. During the last two months, I haven’t touched any of them. We love buying physical books, because that makes us happy. Sure, once a year, we get rid of the ones we think we can do without, but it’s always a lot less than what comes through the doorway.

Sometimes, minimalists do cheat by forgetting to count their digital possessions. I can buy an e-reader, buy all books digitally, and get rid of our shelves. There, 200+ items gone—or are they? They’re just moved. Why does one Game Boy cartridge count while a downloaded game does not? Because you can’t see it?

In the podcast video below, Matt chats with the guys from The Minimalists, concluding that minimalism is actually about deliberate usage of items. Everything you have should have a purpose and be used/useful. It’s not about the numbers. And I do like that mindset. That is why I like buying games that are really good and I can replay, and sell the ones I don’t care for anymore. Same for books—in theory.

YouTube video WNAy8DAaHsY

Our garage is a mess, and so are a lot of our drawers and cupboards. Once in a while, I’ll get a cramp, throw out everything and sort through things. Sometimes, it’s simply too exhausting. But yes, that means minimalism works, as things just pile up. Having less clutter to look at also makes me feel more at peace, although most minimalists tend to take this way too far. A little bit of coziness can’t hurt. Do I mean messiness? Life is inherently messy. A sterile environment feels unnatural—but so does our junk-filled garage.

I must admit that I’ve been complaining about the absence of a cellar in our house for years. I like fermenting my own vegetables and a cool place with a stable temperature is a godsend for that. But when looking at friends and family, it is true: getting a bigger place just increases the amount of junk. It’s like Parkinson’s Law!

Sometimes, cleaning up seems to have little effect, as Ruben noticed when he engaged in an apartment cleanout:

The only frustrating thing now is being reminded that possessions are a gas, not a liquid. We’ve shifted dozens of boxes and bags of junk, and the apartment looks… exactly the same. I guess it’s a process… and a constant reminder not to buy more junk in the first place.

So true. But how do you convince your significant other to let go of that smartphone of 2010, that old laptop that just takes up space and is broken anyway, those useless Buddha heads, and papers full of administration that can be digitized? It’s a process… I’ve lost a lot of battles and started amassing my own set of junk that “sparks joy”, so I can’t really say I’m doing a lot better. I admire Ruben for scanning and shredding his own personal notes. I would never even consider getting rid of my journals, although they are scanned. Those are probably the last things to go.

Another thing of note. How many minimalists keep pets or have children? If I had to count the items we have that are dog and cat-related, I think I’d easily count over a hundred. We do try to throw away a toy if we decide to buy another one.

It certainly is easier to throw out soaked and smelly stuffed bears our Golden Retriever loves to chew on.


  1. I found out about Matt’s videos via Stefan Imhoff’s blog. Thanks, Stefan! ↩︎

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!

Minimalism and Tidying Up by Wouter GroeneveldWouter Groeneveld (brainbaking.com) I have a confession to make. I love cleaning up. Throwing things away. Tidying up. Getting rid of things. I have read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Story o...

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