What is this minimalism stuff anyway?

28 Feb

“So how’s your ‘minimalist lifestyle’ going?” There’s nothing like a mildly bemused question from a close relative to get your goat…

To set the scene – our house is lovely, but it’s not big. A modest two up, two down Victorian terrace, with a downstairs bathroom and a shed in the garden. I’m a neat freak and I was starting to go a little crazy trying to keep it tidy and organised.

Then, last autumn I had a bit of a revelation. What started as my reading a rather sarcastic Guardian article about how minimalists were secretly obsessed with their possessions, ended with me getting rid of probably a couple of skips full of said-possessions and declaring myself as having ‘opted out’ of consumer culture. But what did that actually mean?

I have been brought up around Buddhists so my view on possessions has always been a bit left of field.

But when I started to question it I realised that, while I wasn’t into hitting up the shopping mall every weekend, I’d been hoarding just like anyone else. Especially when it came to my yarn stash. Ahem.

After some deep breaths I started to clear stuff out. Here’s the list of what I got rid of…

To my favourite charity or Freecycle:

  • The 70% of my clothes that I didn’t absolutely love, or didn’t fit – ie. the ones I only wore if everything else was dirty. Shoes too.
  • Half my young daughter’s wardrobe, book and toy collection, all well out of control thanks to piles of well-meant handmedowns being thrust upon us. Yes, I know books are supposed to be sacred, but she had so many they were in tottering piles she wouldn’t go near, probably for fear of being crushed if one toppled over!
  • All the books I’d read which I knew I wouldn’t look at again, including cookbooks (I sold a couple of the best ones).
  • Spare plates, cups, glasses, cutlery, cooking equipment.
  • Old technology I couldn’t sell. My old SLR camera and lens went to a lovely friend.
  • All my CDs I no longer played.
  • All the make-up and jewellery I no longer wore.
  • Excessive spare linen and towels.

To my landlord: The many pots of paint they had left in the house when we moved in.

To our local children’s workshop: Craft materials, wool and paint which wouldn’t get used. I gave away about a quarter of my yarn and fabric stash – mostly ill-advised purchases and well-meant gifts which were always going to be bottom of my list for using up.

To recycling: Magazines, and non sensitive paperwork over two years old  (check out the picture for proof!).

To shredding: Sensitive paperwork over two years old, apart from a few crucial items (wedding and birth certificates, car stuff, passports). I had a massive sports holdall full of this stuff which I carted into work to get shred.

In the bin: All the food lurking at the back of cupboards past its sell by date.

Getting shot of all this detritus meant I could also get rid of all the bits of furniture these things were stored on/in/ piled all over:

  • Two large bookshelves – 2m tall, 90cm wide, 50cm deep and previously stuffed to bursting.
  • A futon base – the mattress from it is now giving our bed a princess and the pea effect, which is awesome, and we still have something for guests to sleep on.
  • Two chests of drawers
  • A bedside table
  • A computer table
  • A ‘spare’ dining table stored flatpacked under our sofa!
  • Two chairs
  • A coffee table
  • A living room rug

Of all the things I got rid of, I probably sold 10%, gave away 70% and recycled or shredded the rest. Yes, I could have ebayed it all, but it would have taken forever. Frankly, life is too short, and I wanted to do it quickly, before I changed my mind!

In two weeks our house went from totally cramped and overflowing with stuff, to spacious and light. Cleaning became much easier as there was very little left to clean around! Picking what to wear for the day and doing the laundry both took a quarter of the time, because only the clothes we loved were left.

But it wasn’t just about getting rid of stuff. That was just the beginning…

I unsubscribed from all the email newsletters I never read, and the magazines I’d gone off. I stopped watching and reading the news and discovered I usually hear the ‘important’ stuff being discussed by other people anyway. I cut down my TV viewing and turned off the sound during ad breaks.

I gave small, mostly home-made or consumable, presents wrapped in my daughter’s drawings at Christmas and got small, consumable presents back from my co-operative relatives.

I’ve never blown cash on big items, but before all this I’d pop into our local charity shop and buy a top without even trying it on or questioning whether I really needed it all the time. Yes, I was supporting the charity, but I wasn’t helping myself or my bank balance.

Stopping that, and a zillion other small, but ultimately destructive spending habits, meant I also finally had spare cash at the end of the month, for the first time I could remember.

So, back to that bemused question, six months later, how’s it going?

Well, I haven’t replaced all the old stuff with new stuff. In fact, we’re still finding ways of getting rid of even more possessions. Perhaps we are obsessed, but every time we do it feels like a victory. Every time we do it lightens the load, financially and space-wise.

Yes, I do still spend money on things besides bills, food, and travel, but I always question whether I need whatever it is I’m craving, and when I do buy treats occasionally, I make sure I really really love them. If I’m buying books or knitting patterns, they go on my phone, which has a Kindle app. If I do buy clothes, I have a wear it til it’s worn out, one-in, one-out policy.

The funny thing about ‘being’ a minimalist, is that, six months down the line, it just feels like part of life.

I don’t miss my old ways one bit. I have more money, more time and more freedom.

I’m not trying to preach. Not everyone would want to do this. And of course, there are some minimalists who would say I’ve not gone far enough. But it’s given me peace with my life, and that is quite simply, an amazing place to be.

If you’re interested in finding out more about realistic minimalism, these blogs are good:

Becoming Minimalist, by Joshua Becker

Zen Habits, by Leo Babauta

Be More with Less, by Courtney Carver.

Rowdy Kittens, by Tammy Strobel

There are lots more out there too, but these ones became my favourites. And now, as I’ve written a distinctly un-minimalist 1158 words, I’ll be going!


8 Responses to “What is this minimalism stuff anyway?”

  1. Rhian February 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    This is something I’d really like to do, but I’m not sure I can really give up on the insane amount of books I own. I’ve head several major clear outs over the last few years and cut down a lot, but I’m still hampered by my acquisitive tendencies, and a husband who believes firmly in hanging on to everything because it might come in handy one day…

    (his mum is staying at the moment, and commented that she still has his old coins collection, along with a tonne of other stuff. His comment: ‘hang on to them, Harry might like playing with them one day’. I’ve told her that he’s 34, married with a kid, and she should throw them out)

  2. Elle March 1, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Minimalism is fab. Its how after 9 months in a 3 bed house for 2 people can still fit all our stuff in 2 rooms and be quite comfortable whilst we have building work done. We didn’t have masses of stuff anyway in the flat, but when we moved we really got rid of stuff. I went through every item of clothing and got rid of anything I hadn’t worn for a year (I do this every January anyway). I got rid of all the books I could buy for my Kindle (I only have Harry Potter and knitting books left now!). I even got rid of a butt load of yarn that I knew would never get used.

    After 9 months all our cds and DVDs are still packed away in boxes, and I’m seriously debating getting rid of them now. After all, I haven’t missed them.

    And in a couple more months… I get my own craft room so all my yarn and spinning fibre and whatnot will have its own cupboard to sit neatly in.

    Oh and the biggest bonus… clear surfaces = easy cleaning = Elle can do more stuff without going into a fibromyalgia flare! YAY!

  3. Rosee Woodland March 1, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Getting rid of books is a stumbling block for lots of people – I held off from properly editing my huge collection for years, and even during this process I left it til last.
    When I finally bit the bullet, it helped that the tops of all my books were covered in dust. I thought I loved them, but really they were just sitting there, gathering dust, making me feel all puffed up and clever because I’d read such witty/classic/counter-culture/edgy* books. I’m absolutely not suggesting this is the case for other people, but really, they were just bolstering my ego, which is sad. And the irony is, the book shelf was so big it could only fit in my daughter’s room. So, as I wasn’t reading them any more, and their only genuine and quite tragic purpose (to make me look cool/clever) was negated by their location, it made perfect sense to get rid.
    I kept a box of books I thought Storm might like one day (Harry Potter, Phillip Pullman etc) and got rid of almost all the rest!
    My rule was I had to decide instantly, and it could only be keep or ditch. 90% got ditched, my local charity shop probably got several hundred quid out of selling them all, and my daughter no longer had a massive bookshelf in her room just waiting to cause an accident.

    *Delete as appropriate…

  4. Morag Duller March 3, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    This sounds absolutely fab, would love to do this but I have a dear husband who is a hoarder and drives me mad saying ‘you never know when you might need ….’ . With my stuff I certainly do one in, one out policy. And as regards yarn I only now buy what I know I will knit with, so I actually have to have a pattern in my mind before buying any yarn. Not buying on a whim. Hope you are well. And congrats on the new job.

    Morag x

  5. Debbie March 9, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    This sounds so familiar! Our local Heart Foundation shop now takes electrical goods to be refurb’d and sold on which is such a relief – no need to store all those old toasters/hair tongs etc. that I couldn’t bear to send to the tip!


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