How To Maintain Minimal Things

I find the spaces above beautiful and actively try to make the rooms of my house more like them. Here's how I do it.

I'll preface with some bad news though: I haven't yet seen people I know who've tried to adopt my techniques make them work. The amount of stuff you have around seems to be more an inherent trait like being on time or maintaining an exercise routine.

The first important principle is "everything has a home". Every free object has a place where it goes when I want it put away. Most of these places are a container of some sort that's been placed within an enclosing space like a drawer, cabinet, or closet.

A select few objects have their homes on surfaces in plain view. These must be frequently used items. The less frequently used an item the less convenient it is to get it out of its home.

The second principle is "cull low utilization objects". I learned once that companies actively track and improve their office space utilization. I run the same process on objects in my home. If something hasn't been used in a while, I start thinking about what would happen if I got rid of it.

"But maybe I'll need it again" inevitably comes up. There's a few ways to fight this.

You can always just buy it again. I realize that sounds crazy. Ofcourse you don't want to do this regularly. Most people though don't think about the many hidden costs that come with keeping an item.

There's the cost of storage. Storage companies don't give out lockers for free. You pay to store things whether they are in your home or somewhere else.

There's also opportunity cost. By storing something you can't put something else in its place. And if the thing you might have put there instead would be used more or would make you happier then keeping the old thing is dragging you down.

Finally there's emotional cost. Clutter is demoralizing.

Keeping that under-utilized item means you're paying to keep it, you can't put something better there, and it's making you unhappy. For me the chance that I'll use it again has to be pretty high for me to stomach these costs.

And so get rid of it. If I think it'll get more than $50-$100 and move relatively quickly I'll try to sell it. Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace are the best. I give my cross streets and phone number in the ad and ask to be texted a 15 minute window when someone can make it.

If it's bulky I try to sell or give it away since our garbage company makes these hard to toss. The Craigslist free section works incredibly efficiently. Everything else I toss because it's easiest and you don't want to add any friction to getting rid of things.

I've been asked if I try to screen on the frontend and not buy things in the first place. I do two specific things here.

The first is that when buying anything bigger than a shoebox picture where it's home will be in your house before buying it. If it will make that space more cluttered think ahead about how to solve the problem or factor the cost of that clutter into the purchase decision.

The second is to just say no as much as possible to bulky kids toys like kitchenettes and miniature houses. This includes dropping hints to friends and family at gift-giving times. Frame it in the positive. "We love books for little Jimmy." Kids tend to get bored with most toys a few days after getting them. Let them play with these at friends' houses.

At least those friends that don't read this.

by Jonathan Berger
San Francisco
Updated: January 30, 2023