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Roughly three years ago, I was trying to write a case analysis for my business consultancy class at around three in the morning. Equipped with tea, class notes and a laptop, the screen remained eternally blank. In the meantime … what can I do?

Procrastination lured in. How about sorting paperclips? I opened a drawer and was immediately swallowed by receipts, pens, papers and everything in between.

An hour later, I found myself sitting on the floor surrounded by every single thing that was in my desk. I started to throw out everything I did not use. With much diligence, the result came down to four notebooks, a folder with lined paper, a filled pencil case, a container of paperclips, a box of thumbtacks and a folder for important documents. It felt nice to have this clear, clean space. There’s a name for this … decluttering … no, a concept … isn’t there a book?

A Google search and voila: minimalism. Simplifying your life and decluttering your space. There are even two dudes who blog about this! The Minimalists … what a cool name.

Minimalism, as I found out, is a purposeful process of removing all belongings that are not used or do not provide value. For instance, take a look at your desk, open your drawer and look at the items it houses. Is it used every day? Is this a document you reference often? Do these pens still work? Investigate every item, establish its purpose and determine whether it is worth keeping. Minimalism examines the difference between desire and necessity, and it provides opportunities to recognize what is significant to you.


Often, people ask me: how is it possible to go through all of my possessions and sort it out? I won’t lie to you. It is an extremely daunting task. It is a habit to develop, just like exercising or eating consciously. It is a discipline that requires time to research, reflect and practice.

There are two tactics I would suggest, depending on your preference. The first is a corner approach. Decide on a room – even a corner of a room – and dedicate a week or two to go through all of its belongings. Empty everything, and create four piles: Keep, Donate, Recycle and Trash. As you go through each object, question it. Ask yourself if it has a functional purpose or if it fills you with joy. Be meticulous with every item. It is okay to not know the answer immediately. In fact, it provides a fun challenge. Grab another box, label it Uncertain, and place in it everything that you are unsure about. Close the box and store it away for the next 30 days. Anything left unopened or unused after that time period should be donated, recycled or thrown away. The second strategy, “a packing party,” is one created by The Minimalists. If you are leaning towards a faster process, pack up everything you own (yes, all of it), and tape up all of the boxes. For the next month, open to retrieve belongings only as needed. Everything not used within that time period is to be donated, recycled, thrown away or sold.

Decluttering is the starting point of minimalism. It is a difficult – even an emotionally draining – process that many avoid. Unfortunately, societal and economic factors have created and encouraged a culture of over-consumption, making it challenging to lighten our households and practice intentional purchasing. The over-consumption lifestyle produces an enormous amount of waste. Keeping this in mind, it is important to find what works for you and allow time to develop this practice, regardless of the approach you take.


There are many different ways to live a sustainable lifestyle. It can range anywhere from using public transportation regularly, composting and recycling, or installing solar panels. For me, minimalism means using everything I own to its maximum purpose. It offers three key components: 1) physical sustainability, by reducing the amount of waste consumed; 2) financial sustainability, by purchasing less and intentionally; and 3) emotional sustainability, by placing only the most important and meaningful belongings in your life. It has provided a long-term outlook in how I live, how I consume, how I purchase, and how I act.

I encourage you to explore this practice, should it catch your interest, with the understanding that this is not a one-fits-all formula. Every person will have a different set of values, priorities, and approaches. Reflection is to be paired with intention, taking the time to experiment, learn and discover.

In case you were wondering, by the way, I did end up writing that case analysis at around 5:30 AM, finishing in time for my 8:30 AM class. I passed with an A- (which absolutely shocked me, since I referenced a quote from The Godfather in it). Perhaps it was because I kept saying “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business” to what I was throwing away that evening. It was an unexpected start to a long-term journey.

Olivia Oudinot is the Programs Coordinator for Army Reserve Sustainability Programs.

All of the views and opinions expressed in Voices of Sustainability are those of the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Army Reserve Sustainability Programs, the United States Army Reserve, or the United States Department of Defense. Army Reserve Sustainability Programs, the United States Army Reserve and the United States Department of Defense do not necessarily endorse any practice, product, service or person mentioned in Voices of Sustainability. The authors own all copyrights to their work. For reprint permissions, contact us at usarsustainability@gmail.com.