11 December 2012


Something rather surprising and unexpected happened to me in early November. I was removing the black shelving from the back of my desk, and wondering how to paint the laminate white, in accordance with my new décor goals.

And I suddenly looked at all the STUFF that I'd removed from those shelves — and was hit by the realisation that I didn't need all that stuff on my desk. I didn't want it there. I practically never used it.

Surrounded by all the gumpf on my office floor, I did what any sane person would do ... I hit the web. I read a few 'decluttering' blogs, and then stumbled upon Miss Minimalist's blog. I read. The mist descended ...

... A few hours later, I stumbled from my room. I saw everything in a new light. Minimalism was a thing I'd never heard of — frugal living, green living, all these, yes — they have similar methods, goals and outcomes, and I've worked at them in the past, but the philosophy of minimalism struck to my heart.

For years I have felt massively weighed down by our STUFF, all the belongings and clutter we haul from place to place. I used to feel envious of those nomads who could pack up everything in a few bags, hop on a camel, and head off, at a moment's notice. Well, I wasn't envious about the camels ...

I downloaded Miss Minimialist's (Frances Jay's) book The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize and Simplify Your Life to my iPad (it seemed a little weird to order a physical book about the minimalist life!). I kept reading. From Miss Minimalist I ventured to other blogs. The Minimalists is another one I like.

Image from Apartment Therapy

Several things in Frances' book really made sense to me personally. A big one for me was the relentless drive for perfection ... you buy another set of measuring cups because the ones you have aren't quite perfect enough. Once everything in your home is perfect, then will life be perfect? I know that this drive to 'find the best X' really was a problem for me. Kitchenware was especially a problem, my big weakness (not shoes or handbags, but garlic presses and cookie cutters). I would get the 'wanties', and with online buying being so easy nowadays, we had a weekly parade of delivery vans at our door ... (mind you, a lot of them are for Glass Son's glass supply deliveries).

I also found Frances' methods very effective ... tip everything out of a drawer, shelf, or cupboard, and assume it's all going. Only put back in the things you choose to keep! This is such a different mind-set from the 'throw out the stuff you don't want' tactic.

Since that epiphany, I have gone through nearly everything in the house at least once. I'm better at the process now, and am having a second go at rooms. I've done the bedroom, ensuite, office, pantry, linen cupboard, kitchen (that was a big one), the living room, dining room, books, and even my yarn stash. It's addictive, I can't stop working on it ...

I've unsubscribed from shop / sale site email lists. I've cancelled catalogue mail outs. I even deleted my lengthy 'lent to' list, where I was keeping track of who had which books or things I'd lent out ... let them keep them.

I reckon I've given away about half of our belongings now, but I'm not done yet ... 75% is my goal. I have a bit of a reputation in Freecycle Canberra. Most of my books went to Lifelife for their famous annual book fair. I donated yarn to a local nursing home. Friends have taken things off my hands. Doggy toys have been passed on to animal shelters (how many chewy toys do two chihuahuas need, after all?!). I sold some stuff (books, yarn, and designer label clothes) on eBay. There's been a few trips to the local tip. Each time something leaves, a little more weight lifts.

Image from The Minimalists
The upheaval and mess surrounding this process has been massive ... it looks like we're moving house. But I think the place is starting to look better now.

Here are a few before and after photos ...

My filing cabinet. I went from 4 drawers jam packed to only one. Papers with personal information on them were shredded before being recycled.

And the laundry ... I gave away several boxes of things we never used (duplicates of cleaners, floor wax, nappy soak, and so on). 

Because I'm not just tidying up, but getting rid of nearly everything, and only keeping what we actually use and need, the rooms aren't getting messy any more. You would not believe how much easier it is to keep the kitchen clean now, with half the amount of crockery, cutlery, cooking pots, bowls, and so on. How many knives or mixing bowls can you use at once, anyway?

Miss Minimalist's Short Guide to Consumer Disobedience really struck a chord for me, too. What is completely staggering to me is how I can now go to a shopping mall, walk around, and feel completely unaffected by the advertising and sales and all the stuff in all the shops — yes, even the kitchenware shops — I test myself by going into them. I can step into a bookshop and come out with nothing. No more wanties.

In the past six weeks I have bought about three things that weren't food, bills, postage, petrol, or medicine. A few pieces of Japanese fabric from a shop I wasn't likely to visit again, some net curtains to replace torn ones, and four teaspoons.

When I've cut back on spending before it because we had to, and were poor, or trying to be frugal. I could do it, but felt deprived. I was being strong, but fighting my desire to buy things. Now, with a minimalist view on life, I don't actually want things any more. I don't feel deprived at all.

I have been challenging myself every step of the way, and doing things like finding homes for sentimental items, like a little ceramic chipmunk from Mexico, from when I lived in Arizona as a child. I can remember living there, and I don't need to keep a knick knack to remind myself. I took a photo of it, and then let it go.

I met another minimalist, with years' experience under his belt to my weeks', on Freecycle; he and his family only replace things when they get broken. And no, he wasn't some long-haired hippy, he was a softly-spoken distinguished British gentleman.

The family has been supportive too. Hubby has halved his wardrobe, and is thrilled that I'm doing all this (especially as I'm doing it, and he doesn't have to!). Dotter has started to work on her room. Don't think Glass Son has done much, but there's only so much you can hope for, hey?

This is very much an ongoing process ... rooms need to be revisited, I'm getting better at culling and making the hard decisions as time goes on, and there's the daily battle against new stuff coming into the house. I want to digitise our whole photo collection, and remove the originals from the house.

But with each success over each area, whether a drawer or a room or an attitude, I can feel our life becoming simpler and easier. This is more than just 'decluttering', it's a philosophy of life. Lighter living on this planet. Less consumerism. Less clutter. Less housework. More time for the important stuff, like family, friends, and enjoyment of life.

Now, I just need to survive my nemesis. The Garage. Oh god, the horror ...

(If you'd like to venture into this minimalism world too, I strongly recommend reading Miss Minimalist's blog posts. Take it a little at a time!)