By Mark Zimmerman Special to Published Jan 10, 2015 at 6:07 AM

Stuff. It’s everywhere! Closets. Tabletops. Nooks. Crannies. Attics. Basements. Garages. Sheds. Storage units. Pick a place, area, room or horizontal surface; chances are it’s filled with clutter. When the stuff you own owns you, how do you respond? Do you add to it or fight back? The choice is yours, and the battle can begin anytime, anywhere.

The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu was onto something when he said, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I believe that anything worth doing requires commitment, and minimizing your stuff can allow you to live a better life by allowing you to focus on the things you find most useful, beautiful and meaningful. In a world of more, better and faster, you can recalibrate your place in it. You can deduce the things, people and experiences you truly enjoy and reduce or eliminate those that you don’t.

The journey starts with questions. Do I need these extra books? Is there a Little Free Library I could put them in? How many social media outlets do I really need? How many of these DVDs do I really watch? Ask as many as you want or can handle, but have the courage to ask the questions. Then open your mind to the possibilities. Embracing the answers can transform your life. They did for me.

Living in a small house with a wife and two kids is challenging. We utilize space creatively and ask tough questions. How much stuff do we need? What purpose does this serve? Do we really need to keep this (and this, and this)? By reevaluating, we simplify our lives. You can do the same.

There are many resources that can help you on your journey of less. Books like "Simplify Your Christmas" by Elaine St. James and "Minimalism: Live and Meaningful Life" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus gave me new perspectives on what’s possible and how to get started. These authors were saying things I needed to hear, when I needed to hear them.

Ultimately, the key is start somewhere, anywhere. Take an otherwise daunting task, and break it down into manageable, bite-size pieces. Organize your basement. Attack a closet. Get after that junk drawer. Clear enough space to actually park in your garage. The momentum you create is equal parts surprising and contagious. Or go out on a limb and do something crazy, like choosing a destination for your holiday celebration(s) instead of gifts.

This year, my family and I spent three days and nights renting a house on Lake Michigan instead of our traditional Christmas festivities. We simply tallied up what me might spend on each other collectively (the kids still got presents), and invested in an experience in hopes of transforming an old tradition into a new one. Everyone helped plan. Everyone contributed ideas and food and entertainment. We all cooked and cleaned and helped each other pack up when it was over.

Shifting our family dynamic required planning, communication and experimentation. But despite joking about earning "I survived" T-shirts, we all lived to tell about it, and plan to do it again in the future … with some tweaks.

So what would we change? Ironically, we would opt for less stuff: less food and more realistic portions, less cooking and more going out to eat, less packing and more space in the bags we did pack, etc. In hindsight, we’d all do less bringing and more trusting. It’s amazing what you can make due without, and the beauty is, you have the power and control to decide what those things are (and are not).

But you have to start somewhere. So, when choosing what to eliminate, remember, there’s no right or wrong place to start or pace to establish. We’re all on a "stuff" spectrum, and parting with it takes time and effort, more for some than others. As an aspiring minimalist, slow and steady has at least started the race against my superfluous stuff.

As I get older, I find myself becoming less self-centric (as far as stuff goes, anyway). And when faced with a decision to accumulate more stuff or enjoy an experience, the choice is simple: less stuff wins. It’s not an elitist perspective or about being more enlightened than others; it’s simply about looking at what you own, determining what you actually use and need, and eliminating that which no longer serves a purpose.

I’m of the belief that when you pick a direction to head in, the universe conspires to help you along. So pick a compass direction and go. Make it simple. Make it attainable. Reduce clutter. Eat better. Buy less. Workout more. Be kinder to strangers. Be more efficient at work. Spend more time with your loved ones. The list of ways to better yourself goes on and on, and if you choose to work toward a more stuff-conscious you, consider that less stuff equals less stuff to worry about.

In the spirit of resolution, be sure to keep in mind that although your journey includes many steps, it only requires one step to start. What will yours be? Where and when will yours start? On your mark, get set, go!