“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…
- 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!