When the Truth Hurts │Minimalism and Garage Problems

No place to park your car in your garage? You might have a problem.

Today on my morning walk, I was nosy. 

I wanted to see how my garage measured up to everyone else's. Our garage is relatively neat and everything is in its place (because minimalism is doing quite well in our home) and our cars fit nicely. 

But, keeping the garage tidy can be a chore with all the cars, four different schedules, and myriad projects happening at any given time regardless of my minimalistic wishes.

I wondered: Did everyone else have a better-looking garage than mine? I'm a minimalist but it's hard to maintain minimalism when four adults live under the same roof.

I also live in a neighborhood where we're told to put our cars in the garage no later than 10:00 PM. This is because of our HOA. This is our choice; we want to live in this neighborhood because it means clean streets and well-kept yards. But, it also means, no cars on the street or driveway after 10 and before 6AM. 

While that rule can be frustrating at times, it's not the issue. And in a way, my HOA is helping me maintain my minimalist lifestyle. Which is not something people can say often. A positive HOA experience is hard to find, but it looks like I've just found it!

So my walk was like a little investigation. A garage door would open, and I'd sneak a surreptitious glance into their garage. At other times, I'd say a friendly hello and glance a little longer their way trying to see how full their garage was.

I saw one garage immaculately neat and clean it put mine to shame. It was so clean I could've slept on the floor. With the rest of the homes - and I looked at about six garages - the situation was more dire. There were boxes tipping over like the leaning tower of pizza, stuff stacked to the ceiling, trays, plastic bins, boxes, and floor lamps. All this stuff and no one was using it.

Here's the conclusion I came to: 

If you can't park your cars in the garage because of your stuff, you have a problem.

I realize there are exceptions to this rule. If you've just inherited someone else's household because they've moved in with you, or they've passed on and you now have to sort through their stuff at your convenience (and it was cheaper to store it in your garage rather than a storage unit), that's different. 

Also, if you live in a big city and your dwelling is the size of a postage stamp, then having a storage unit is understandable. If you live in an apartment and can't hold everything you own because you had to downsize quickly, that's understandable too. (But going through the "stuff" so you don't have to pay for that storage unit should be a future goal.)

I'm talking about people who live in homes that are 2000+ square feet (with storage space available in the garage cabinets) who still can't park their cars in their garage. 

That isn't a garage or house size issue. It's a stuff issue.

Did you know that over a 1/3 of Americans use self-storage? About four in 10 Americans have a storage unit.  How many people in my neighborhood have a storage unit just so they can park their cars in the garage?

A lot.

Because I have to keep a clean garage to keep our cars in there (HOA), here's what I've learned. If you're looking to get out of being a statistic and want your garage back, take a gander at these suggestions.

  • The workout equipment needs to find a room in the house: I know many folks who work out in the garage, that being their main "stuff" in the garage. Instead, find a corner in the guest room, and break up the pieces into several rooms. Do what you can to get a space back into the garage for your cars. We did this and put the treadmill in the office and random other equipment in various bedrooms. Separating equipment is not ideal, but it works. Diversify your exercise equipment and you'll instantly have room in your garage.
  • Break Down the Boxes - If you're saving boxes for the "right time" to use them, don't. As someone who ships items of clothing to people worldwide, it's tempting to save that box every time. Especially if it's just the right size! (The Holderness Family did a hilarious video on this subject.) But, one box turns into three. And three turns into ten. I only hold onto a few at the time and dismantle the rest to store flat (which takes less space) or dump them into the recycling. 
  • Give Your (Older) Kids Their Stuff - So many boxes hold memories. And those are hard to go through and eliminate. This will take time, but it's also a crucial part of why garages are full. They're filled with memories you aren't looking at and most likely, your future generations won't look at either. Box by box, take them inside, and sort through them. Throw away what isn't pertinent, keep a few things that really mean something, and give your kids all of their papers from grade school! My parents held onto my papers for decades and gave them to me when they finally downsized. If I had known, I would've told them to trash them a long time ago! Give your (older) kids their stuff.
  • Pare Down Your Collections - Lots of boxes are filled with collections, dinnerware not being used, or stuffed animals from when you were a kid. (I know, because this was me) These are things that have sentimental value but have zero value sitting in a cold garage in the winter and baking in the summer. I'm a collector at heart and always will be so I know how hard this is. But, by eliminating collections you aren't using (donating or gifting them), it will free up space, and let someone else use what you can't anymore. This way, everyone wins.

Sift, sift, sift. What takes years to accumulate will take weeks and months to disseminate. So, give yourself time to go through every box, and every bin. Furniture is another big garage filler. If you're not using it in the house, it doesn't belong in your garage, that's for sure. Donate it or sell it on Facebook Marketplace. Also, get rid of electronics (responsibly) that are stacked in the corner just waiting to be recycled. 

The truth hurts. We don't want to be told we have boxes of stuff that aren't helping us but actually hindering us from living free lives. We don't want to hear we're "hoarding" or holding onto things that aren't important. I get it. I've been there.

But here's the result of listening to that truth: Being able to pull up into the driveway, open the garage, and pull into it!

It's worth it. 

The truth serves to help us if we let it.

A Collector and a Minimalist │Living with Less but Enjoying Every Bit of It

A cupboard of vintage mug
Being fully immersed in the vintage world, and as a forever collector, I know what it's like to collect, cultivate, and want to own "things" that spark our interest. 

I am also a minimalist. 

But guess what? The two can co-exist, intermingle, and thrive in a place where what is valued is also used.

I like to call myself a utilitarian collector. What I collect gets used. This means, to me anyway, that I'm not hoarding, I'm not collecting something that no one else can appreciate, but it's a collection I love that others can see (and use) and it's also something I use every day. 

These are utilitarian collections. And I think everyone should have at least one utilitarian collection.

Today, my collections are my vintage mug and vintage Pyrex collections. I also collect vintage belts (I own about 30 belts, and rotate through them every month), as well as a dozen vintage dresses. These are special dresses and don't get worn every day, but they do get worn. This is definitely part and parcel of owning an online vintage clothing store. I buy to sell but inevitably, certain items stay in my closet for good. Oops.

It's easy to assume that I can't possibly use them all. And you'd be right. I can't use them all at the same time. I can't wear every belt every day, or every dress every week. 

But I sure can use various pieces, from belts to Pyrex, throughout the month and year. And that's exactly what I do.

I've collected so many things over the last 40 years, that it's hard to pinpoint when it first began. But, I believe it was the Disney deer, Bambi, that I loved as a young girl. I love deer and so I collected deer, but especially Bambi. I had several dozen Bambis and I loved getting another one to add to my collection for Christmas or my birthday. 

But, because I wasn't utilizing this collection, I've since sold it off.

Do I miss it? A little. But, it also collected dust. I sold it off to people who wanted to collect it and now have space for something else or nothing at all. 

In my case, nothing replaced the deer collection. And it's perfect. I enjoyed the collection when I had it.

Over the years, I've collected many other things from books, Disneyana, Star Wars collectibles, vintage Fire-King dinnerware, depression glass, vintage Fiesta ware... it goes on and on. And most of the time, they were things I collected because I loved them. That's a fine reason to collect.

But, I also didn't use them. 

And that's a fine reason not to collect.

For the last thirty years or so, I've had a vintage Fire-King collection. Fire-King is a vintage dish company (via Anchor Hocking) that started in the 1940s. I loved the turquoise blue color. And had hauled this collection from home to home over the decades adding a piece every year, and enjoying looking at the growing pile.

A set of two blue vintage plates
The problem, as I rearranged my cabinets for the millionth time last year, was that I didn't use them. I mean, I used maybe one bowl, and the mugs, but that was it. All the plates, the bread and butter plates, and the salad plates - not to mention the salad bowls, berry bowls, cereal bowls, etc - just sat there and stared at me as I opened the cupboards passing over them for the pieces I used instead.

I wanted to use them. I loved them with all my heart, but loving them didn't mean I used them. 

And I didn't use them. 

So, I did what I should've done before my last move and a couple months ago began selling off the unused Fire-King items in my Etsy shop. I kept the mugs, and the mixing bowls, but everything else went.

Do I miss something I treasured and hunted for? Absolutely. I miss owning the collection. But I don't miss the actual collection. I never used it!

For me, so much of the thrill of a collection is the hunting, the treasure hunting. This is why my work of selling vintage is rewarding: I get to treasure hunt and sell off the items for a profit. It's a win/win situation for a collector and minimalist at heart.

Now, hopefully, the vintage Fire-King is going to homes for people who can use it. 

Today, I'm living with less, but using every bit of what I own. 

My collections are used, loved, used some more, and enjoyed. They're not collecting dust, they're not just "for that special occasion," but they're front and center of my kitchen being used and enjoyed every single day. 

Each morning, I use a different vintage mug. And every evening when I cook dinner, I try to use a different set of bowls in my Pyrex collection.

As I usually tell myself, being a minimalist is a constant work in progress. It takes time and willpower to continually go through things, not to collect (as the avid collector that I am), not to hold on to things I won't need or use. 

But, as I've learned over the years, by paring down to things I love and use, I can simultaneously be a minimalist and a collector and not feel an ounce of guilt about it.

Are you the same way? Is there a collection you know you should get rid of but you haven't because of the time you've put into treasure hunting it? 

Be easy on yourself. It's okay to collect. It's okay to love things. But if you're like me and want to live the simple life of minimalism, learning how to let go of collections is part of the deal. I've found a way to cope with my collector's heart by keeping only what I love and use and letting the rest go.

Of course, I miss some "things" but I find I don't think very much about them anymore. Why? Because I never used them in the first place. Just owned them, or more accurately, they owned me.

It's okay to collect. And it's okay to minimize. There's a healthy balance between collecting, using what you collect, and being a minimalist and keeping a minimalist home.

But, learning to keep only what I use has been a life-changing way to free myself from collecting too much. Now, the things I collect I love even more, and being able to use what I love is the cherry on the cake to my collector's (and minimalist) heart.

Minimalism Is For Our Betterment

Minimalism quote by Joshua Becker
Often, as a minimalist, there are things I hold onto in my home that I love and don't want to part with. 

These are things that do not need to be there, but items I cherish and truly value, so I persist in keeping them.

These are things like my vintage mug collection or my Pyrex collection. They are completely exorbitant and ultimately too much if I'm being honest.

But, I love them. I'm a collector at heart, so there are some things I don't want to part with because they give me such joy to have and use.

Then I remember the goal of minimalism, which is exactly what this image and quote are all about. This is from Joshua Becker's book, The Minimalist Home. 

This book helped me not only keep to my minimalist ideals, but it reminded me that I can keep what I love if I find it necessary in my life. It's a fantastic read.

"Minimalism doesn't take away everything," Becker says. But, he continues to explain, it allows us to see what we're not using; what is unnecessary, and also, what is necessary.

The few items I collect are necessary for my happiness. They bring me joy. And I love them.

As I always remind myself, "pare down to love." I've done just that, even in my collections. I've eliminated collections that stopped serving a purpose and only keep what does serve a purpose. Even if that purpose is only my happiness.

It's as simple as that.