Suitcase Minimalism and 5 Things I’ve Learned

We gave notice on the flat we rented at the end of November, hoping to be able to move into our new flat but knowing that if we couldn’t, it would be an interesting lesson in minimalism. In the end, the new place wasn’t ready. Obviously we needed those lessons! On Christmas Eve we moved out of the old place and with nowhere to call our own, began relying on the kindness of friends and family. We stored some of our stuff in a friend’s garage and have dragged the rest back and forth across town as we sleep in various spare rooms made available to us.

We’ve been couchsurfing across the city for a month. It’s been novel. It’s been exasperating. It’s been fun. It’s been draining. It’s been challenging. And of course, I have had some interesting insights into my relationship with stuff.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Minimalism for minimalism’s sake misses the point.

We have put stuff in storage. A few bits of furniture, kitchen stuff, a couple of boxes of things. Most of the things in storage are not things we couldn’t bear to part with, but items that were convenient to keep. We are only moving a few suburbs away and we are not paying for storage, so why give items away only to have to buy them again later?

We could have got rid of everything, but what would that have achieved? What point would it have proven? I want to move into our new place and get straight into planting the garden, not spend the first few weekends re-accumulating all the stuff we gave away. Minimalism is about finding out what is enough and getting rid of the unnecessary, not getting rid of everything.

2. Minimalism is not about counting your stuff.

There are minimalists who have less than 100 items, or who can fit their entire personal possessions into a single bag. This is not me. I have no idea how many items I own, although I’m sure it’s more likely to run into the high hundreds or even thousands. And actually, I’m not interested in counting them.

There are plenty of minimalism counting challenges out there based on numbers: Mins game (where you get rid of 1 thing on the first day, 2 on the second, 3 on the third and so on all the way up to 30 – which means 465 things in total) or Project 333, where your wardrobe is 33 items of clothing for 3 months, or the 40 bags in 40 days challenge (actually, this would probably wipe out everything I own – I have nowhere near that amount of stuff in total, let alone that I want to get rid of!) are just a few I’ve come across. Counting the stuff you’re getting rid of, however, is different to counting what remains.

When we left our stuff in the garage, we didn’t count it. We felt everything in there was useful and we needed. What does it matter what that number of things is? What would we use the number for? To compare ourselves to others? Minimalism isn’t a competition.

Minimalism is a personal journey: finding out what is enough for you. Enough isn’t a number.

3. The less you have, the more you can focus.

It has been a revelation to me how much easier it is to get stuff done when you remove most of the distractions: and by distractions I mean stuff. With most of our stuff packed in boxes we are operating out of a few bags filled only with the basics, and it’s been surprising how productive I’ve been.

Jobs that I’ve been putting off that come under the “need to do but really can’t be bothered because they are boring” category, like finally tackling my ridiculously non-minimalist inbox, laptop saved files and hard drive and filing / organizing / deleting thousands (yes, thousands) of unnecessary emails and files. Tedious but oh, it feels so good to be onto it!

Also the jobs that come under “procrastination central”. The things I’ve been saving for when the time is right… which of course, it never is. When you completely run out of distractions the only thing for it is to stop procrastinating and start getting stuff done!

4. Too little stuff can stifle your creativity.

It’s been great paring down to the absolute basics. On the plus side, I’m getting lots of stuff done. On the downside, I can feel my frustration rising because of the limitations I have.

By limitations, I don’t mean distractions. I mean the things I love to do that I can no longer do. Like baking and cooking. I can cook still cook dinner, sure, but without utensils and ingredients and storage space, we’ve had to stick to the basics. We ate the same vegetable lentil ragu for dinner 4 days in a row. I miss my kitchen.

Getting stuff done is fantastic, of course. But I’m not a robot. I can’t just work at 100% capacity all the time. I need rewards and down time – and that is what cooking is for me. It nurtures my creative side. It gives me happiness.

Finding “enough” is finding your sweet spot, when you don’t feel frustration because you are constantly looking for / maintaining / cleaning your stuff, but you also don’t feel frustration because you don’t have what you need. Living out of a couple of suitcases has made me realise that a couple of suitcases is less than my “enough”.

5. However many clothes you have, it’s (probably) still too many.

Okay, so I don’t know how many clothes you have. But I know how many I have…and it is still far too many! I’ve written about my wardrobe decluttering struggle many times, but after posting most recently back in October I had a major epiphany and decluttered a whole lot more. I didn’t think I was done, but I thought I was getting close. Now we’ve moved I’ve observed I still have too many clothes. It seems you really don’t need to own that many outfits at all!

The main reason I’ve found this out is that there is very little wardrobe space where I’m staying currently, so most of my clothes are still in my suitcase. Being lazy, it’s far easier to wear the things on the top, wash and repeat. Which means I’ve probably been rotating the same 5 outfits over the last 2 weeks. Which means I could probably manage with 5 outfits most (all?) of the time. Not that I intend to cut it back that far (yet) but I’ve noticed that I haven’t felt restricted, or lacking in choice. In fact, it’s been super easy to get dressed every morning!

Post writing that October article, I thought I’d made great progress. Now I know I could get rid of more. I’m rather looking forward to unpacking when we finally move and seeing what else can go. Maybe Project 333 (which I’ve always considered completely impossible) may be within my grasp after all!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried to find your “enough” sweet spot? What did you learn about yourself? What was “more than enough” and what was “less than enough” for you? What would your one thing that’s you’d never want to let go be? Have you ever tried living out of a suitcase? Tell us about it! What did you love and what did you struggle with? Any other insights you’d like to tell us? Please write a comment in the space below!

Stop Chasing and Start Living

From an early age we are taught that bigger is better, that more is better. Maybe we aren’t taught it directly, but all the advertisements we see show us that the more we have, the happier we’ll be. The more we earn, the more respected (and powerful) we’ll be. The better we dress (and the more we spend on face cream), the more beautiful we’ll be. The more holidays we take, the more relaxed we’ll be. If we work hard, we’ll be able to accumulate all this stuff, we can live happily ever after in a nice house and afford to retire comfortably and live in the countryside.

I used to believe this too. I had no reason not to. It seemed to make sense. A big house must be far better than a small one. Six bedrooms and space for a pony must be better than two bedrooms and just enough space to swing a cat. A job where you earn a heap of money must be far better than a job which pays only an average salary. A hundred pairs of shoes must be better than ten pairs of shoes. Several holidays a year must be better than one. Surely?

Like many, I graduated from university, went travelling, came home and got a full-time job. That’s what you do, right? I was at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but I was determined to climb it, to get that great job with the fat paycheque and buy all that stuff that was going to make me happy.

Climbing the ladder means working hard. I had to jump through hoops and put my hand up for “projects” that increased my workload but reflected well on me, and were noticed by management. I’d work extra hours, and take work home to try to get ahead. Slowly I began to climb. I got a few successive small promotions, with bigger teams, larger budgets, more pressure…and further to fall.

But I wasn’t enjoying my job. My passions in life did not match the work I was doing, and it was getting harder and harder to put extra effort into something that I had no passion for. I was frustrated, and miserable.

I started questioning what I’d been led to believe. Was more really better? I wasn’t earning big bucks, but I was earning the national average, so I could afford to pay my bills, go on holiday and still save a little. It was enough. I doubted I’d ever reach the heady heights of the luxury I saw on the billboards.

It seemed like aspiring to a life like that could only ever bring disappointment. Even if I worked harder and got closer, would relentless pursuit of promotions and payrises really bring extra happiness?

Slowly, another idea began to grow in my mind. What if, rather than working towards having more and then being happy, I learned to be happy with what I already had? What if, rather than trying to earn more money, I found ways to spend less?

If I am happy with myself and my situation, and accepting of who I am, I reasoned, even though I’m not perfect, then I don’t need to chase the external rewards I’ve been told will make me happy. I don’t need them. Who I am now is all I ever have.

That’s not to say I don’t (or I shouldn’t) aspire to change or grow or be more, and chase my dreams.

It just means I shouldn’t depend on this for my happiness.

What makes me happy is spending time with friends and family, being in nature, gardening, cooking and good food. Learning new skills. Seeing new places and experiencing new things. Being connected to my community. Contributing to society, and having a positive impact.

I’m not alone: research shows the three main things that make people happy are close relationships, a pastime they love and helping others.

What helps with this is having time. I don’t want to work more hours, I want to work less. I don’t want to spend more time cleaning a bigger house and shopping for stuff to fill the extra rooms. I don’t want to be too busy working (or too tired after working) to miss living life right now.

I stopped chasing. I stopped thinking about work as a career and started thinking of it as a job; something that paid the bills. I reduced my hours. Colleagues thought I was unusual: after all, I wasn’t semi-retired and I didn’t have children, the two socially acceptable reasons to work part-time hours, but it didn’t matter to me what they thought.

I spent more free time growing my own food, and doing the things that brought me joy. Interestingly, I found that with less time spent at work, I enjoyed my job more. I also felt less inclined to shop and “treat” myself – something I hadn’t consciously noticed I was doing in the past.

I owned (with a mortgage) a flat in the UK, which I sold when we moved to Australia. My husband and I have been renting for the past four years. I laugh when people say that renting is money down the drain, or a waste – actually it’s a great deal because you get somewhere to live in exchange for your money. There are plenty of things that I consider a waste of money, and renting is definitely not one of them.

We’ve been able to live in a suburb we couldn’t afford to buy in and live car-free with excellent access to everything at our doorstep. Now we plan to buy a flat, because we want to move to a new community and the project is something we believe in. We didn’t think about re-sale factors, or whether it was a bargain or over-priced when we bought it because we aren’t buying it to sell. We are buying it to live in. Maybe we’ll never need (or want) to move again.

We don’t need more. We need enough. Learning to accept what we have and being able to find pleasure in the simple things is something we can all do. Chase dreams, but don’t chase more in the pursuit of happiness. You might never get there.

A Christmas Gift-Giving Guide for Minimalists…and their loved ones

Christmas always seems like the hardest time of year to explain to people that you have enough stuff, and you really don’t need any more. Family, friends, colleagues…for most of the year they seem to accept (or put up with, at least) our plastic-refusing, stuff-avoiding, minimalist and zero waste ways, but somehow, when it gets to Christmas time, the message seems to get lost.

“But it’s Christmas! How about I buy you some eco-friendly stuff? Some reusable bags? A book about decluttering?” We don’t really want or need any of this stuff, but it can be hard to say no, or to explain how whilst you may have loved gifts as a five-year-old, times have changed and so have you.

Of course, we don’t help ourselves either. In turn, we try to push our own agendas onto our loved ones. We buy them cards from charities letting them know that rather than a present, we’ve donated money on their behalf to a village in Africa. We give them the eco-friendly gifts we like to use, like reusable bags, in the hope they will embrace our zero-waste ways. Or we give them nothing, thinking they will understand because they know that we don’t value presents ourselves.

Except often, they don’t.

We end up with a bunch of stuff we don’t need and don’t want, our loved ones end up with something they don’t want or appreciate (or worse, nothing when they did expect something) – and everybody feels misunderstood and unappreciated.

The truth is, gift-giving is complex, because giving gifts mean different things to different people. It took me a while to understand this. I was constantly puzzled why I would receive gifts despite asking for no gift at all, and that my close relatives would be offended because I hadn’t bought them a gift.

I thought that acting in the way I wanted to be treated would help them understand, but really it only brought resentment. Likewise, I couldn’t understand why my requests were falling on deaf ears, and I was left feeling guilty, with all this stuff I didn’t need and didn’t want, most of which ended up being donated.

It was a book I read that made me change the way I thought about gift-giving. It suggested we connect emotionally with others in different ways, and we feel appreciated in different ways… and one of those ways is through gifts.

Most people appreciate gifts, sure, but the idea that gifts could be someone’s main emotional “love language” – that it was the main way they felt appreciated and understood – was actually somewhat of a surprise to me. I assumed it was something we could all just “do without”. As someone whose major love language is “quality time”, I enjoy the festive season for the chance to spend extended periods of time with family and friends, eat good food and have long conversations.

For me, presents don’t need to be a part of that; I’d assumed it was the same for everyone else. I didn’t realise that for some people, presents are genuinely a big part of Christmas.

Once I’d understood this, I began to realise why I was receiving gifts I didn’t need or want. If receiving presents is the main way a person feels loved and appreciated, then it makes sense that they would want to give gifts in return. To them, it’s more than a bunch of stuff; it’s an emotional currency.

I thought everyone liked sitting around after Christmas dinner chatting and setting the world to rights, because quality time is my emotional currency, but I’ve learned that others (my husband’s family, for example) don’t get the same pleasure out of this at all! It’s easy to assume that what works for us works for others, but it doesn’t always.

With this in mind, I’ve relented on my hard-line “no gifts for anyone” policy. Remember, gift-giving doesn’t have to mean “stuff”. Being respectful of others’ needs doesn’t mean you need to buy a bunch of things.

Gifts can be experiences: meals out in restaurants, tickets to shows or concerts, a day out at a museum, time spent together as a group. They can be homemade (I prefer to stick to edible gifts with this; not everyone will appreciate a tie-died hankie), or homegrown (vegetables and fruit, cut flowers and seedlings all apply). They can be in the form of favours and sharing of skills (an evening of babysitting, an afternoon gardening, walking the dog).

I try to keep bought gifts to an absolute minimum, but if I decide that a physical gift is more appropriate, I opt for second-hand: charity shops and also vintage and antique shops, or online auction and classified ad sites.

This doesn’t mean I’ve got it completely right…it’s been a process of learning and understanding over the last few years. After all, for many years I gave and received gifts willingly. This is still new territory for us and our families.

It has been somewhat of an adjustment for friends and family to learn to accept that when we say no gifts, we really mean it, and for me to understand that just because I don’t want anything, applying this rule to everyone else may result in offense being taken (learned the hard way).

Initially, I suspect that our families thought this way of living was a phase that wouldn’t last. We probably thought that we could bring them round to our way of thinking. Now we’re all learning to find a happy medium. Slowly they’ve become more sympathetic to our different values and needs. Whilst they may not agree, they have begun to accept. Likewise, so have we.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How have you dealt with conflicting ideals between loved ones at Christmas? Have you learned to compromise, or reached a mutual understanding? Is it a compromise you’re happy with, or do you still think there’s work to be done? Do you stubbornly refuse to back down – or do they?! Is gift-giving still a source of conflict during the festive season? Have you had good experiences, bad ones..or both? What lessons have you learned? I really want to hear your insights on this so please leave a comment below!

Am I Really a Minimalist? I’m About to Find Out…

Since returning from the UK at the end of September, I’ve had a renewed enthusiasm for decluttering. Partly this was inspired by the success I had in finally letting go of old possessions stored at my parents’ house, and realising how far along this path I’ve now come… and that there is an end in sight. Partly it was inspired by Marie Kondo, whose book about the magic of tidying-up even managed to spark enthusiasm in my husband, who for all his dislike of mess and clutter, is never quite as keen to do anything about it as I’d like!

This enthusiasm has meant that every weekend since we have been back (4 so far) there has been some mention of decluttering, some effort made to donate / sell / fix / discard things that we no longer need, want or use. There has been much discussion about whether things are useful or not, needed or not, wanted or not. To be honest, whilst the idea of a clutter-free home is very exciting, the groundwork needed to achieve this is rather less so.

You may remember a few months ago that I mentioned  we were planning to move at the end of this year. We’re buying a flat in a community we love and can’t wait to move in. The only thing stopping us is that it isn’t quite ready, and we’re still unsure about whether it will be ready at the end of the year. We’ve renewed our current lease a couple of times on short term contracts, and the current one is due to expire on 21st December.

We’ve been wondering what to do next, and whilst faced with (yet another) weekend of thinking about decluttering (because the “thinking” part seems to take up far more time than the actual “doing” part), I had an epiphany. Decluttering will take as long as we have. Whether that’s two weeks or six months, it will expand to fill the time and deprive us of spending that time doing fun stuff. What if we set ourselves a deadline…and don’t renew the lease?!

Moving the week before Christmas might not conventionally be the best time, but actually we won’t be doing any last minute Christmas shopping, we won’t be decorating our home and we won’t be having family or friends over, so really it’s the ideal time! There’s just one detail missing…where will we move to?

And that detail is the beauty of it.

What first attracted us to minimalism was the freedom it promises. The freedom of a life not enslaved to stuff. The freedom to spend our time doing the things we love, enjoying the company of our friends and family, taking the time to explore the country we live in. Our possessions restrict us. They take up space and they take up time. We’ve been working to reduce our possessions to just the essentials (meaning the things that we personally need…essentials of course, are different for everyone), but moving out with nowhere to go? That is the ultimate test.

The truth about moving, is that whilst we always tell ourselves that we’ll get organised beforehand, what actually happens is we run out of time and shove everything in boxes, which we move at great effort… These boxes then languish in storage until we (finally) get around to opening them, at which point we wonder why we ever bothered to keep all this stuff (having forgotten that we even owned most of it) before taking it all to the charity shop after all. That isn’t going to happen this time. That can’t happen this time. We will move the essentials. The superfluous will go.

Strictly speaking, we have somewhere to go. The other advantage of moving out at Christmas is that people often go away, and we have friends and family whose homes we are welcome to stay in. The emphasis is on “we”. There may be room for us, but there is no room for lots of stuff.

Is this really a good idea?! I don’t know. Maybe I’m wildly underestimating how much stuff we own, or how easy I will find decluttering. Part of me wonders what will happen if our new place still isn’t ready when our friends and family come back from their Christmas holidays and no longer want us squatting in their homes. Only a small part, though. A far bigger part of me is relishing the adventure. That’s the fun part of life, isn’t it? To explore the unknown, to take risks, to accept challenges, to have experiences…and learn and grow from them, whatever happens and however things turn out.

That’s why we chose minimalism, after all. To set us free.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Does this appeal to your sense of adventure, or would you balk at the unknown? Have you ever experienced something like this yourself, and did you have far more stuff than you realised? Or have you moved recently and discovered that you are far more minimalist than you thought? Freedom is one of the things that appeals to me most about minimalism – is it the same for you? Or are there other motivations for you to live with less? Please join in and leave a comment below!

A Minimalist Wardrobe: The Ideal…and the Reality

When I think of the contents of my ideal wardrobe, I picture something like this: I open the doors to a neatly hung and folded small selection of clothes, all of which I like, all of which I wear, and all of which I have worn recently. I have a clear idea of what matches what, and actually most things match a number of other things. Choosing an outfit is easy. I enjoy wearing the things I own, and they make me feel good.

This, however, is my reality: I open the doors to a wardrobe with shelves stuffed with messy piles of various clothes that I can’t really see, plus a rail with a jumbled assortment of things. I have only worn half the items I own in the past 9 months. Many of the items are too small, the product, I suspect, of working long hours behind a desk for the first time in my life, which hasn’t fared well with my love of baking (and eating). I’m never entirely sure of what goes with what, and I spend far too much time trying on and discarding outfits, before leaving the house flustered and grumpy. Most of the time I imagine I look like I’ve pulled an outfit together from the jumble sale, and that doesn’t make me feel great.

Wardrobe Pre Decluttering Oct 2015

The contents of my “minimalist-in-the-making” wardrobe October 2015.

I’m very clear about what I want, but how to get there? This is my ongoing struggle. It’s been a while since I tackled it, and feeling inspired by my recent decluttering success I decided I needed to make the most of the momentum, and give it another shot.

At the start of the year, I conducted an experiment to find out how much of my wardrobe I actually wore. The idea was, I tied a scarf to one end of my wardrobe and as I wore things I put them the other side of the scarf. I was planning to review it after 3 months, but then it was autumn and the weather was changing…and I hadn’t worn much of what I owned, so I extended it by another 3 months… and then a bit more, it seems. It was 8 months when I finally looked at the results.

Wardrobe Minimalism Scarf Trick

The starting line…

Scarf Experiment Wardrobe minimalism 9 months later

…and the finish. Everything on the left of the scarf has been worn, and everything on the right has not.  You can clearly see I haven’t even worn half of the contents : /

It’s clear from this that I probably own twice what I actually need. I only wore half the items in my wardrobe! When I started the challenge I had the idea that I’d discard what lay beyond the scarf, but then another idea came into play.

On holiday I finally read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s not a book about minimalism but it is still very inspiring, and I particularly liked her views on clothing. She has some great ideas about folding, and also on letting go of things that no longer serve us. I suspect that Marie Kondo is someone who enjoys shopping, and is less concerned with waste, but many of her points are relevant whether this is true for you or not. (If you haven’t read the book, I’d recommend reading it.)

Marie Kondo says you should only keep things that “spark joy”. As someone passionate about zero waste, I think I have a different idea about of “sparking joy” to someone who enjoys shopping and puts great pride in their appearance. That said, it did make me realise that several items in my wardrobe that I wear regularly do not spark joy. I don’t feel good wearing them. They sap my confidence. I keep them only because I don’t want to send them to landfill.

I also realise that many of the items in my wardrobe that do spark joy no longer fit. (Or maybe I mean did, and would.) If you told me now that I’ll never slim back into them, I’d probably get rid of a quarter of my wardrobe. I know you should never keep clothes that you intend to slim into as it rarely happens…but I really want to believe it will with me!

Then there’s the question: if I remove everything that no longer sparks joy, and everything that no longer fits, I am left with very little…can I trust myself to buy the perfect capsule wardrobe? Can I face the idea of buying so many things at once?! (Answer: of course not!)

I’m still deciding where the balance lies. The weather here is just changing to summer, so there is still the opportunity to wear winter clothes for a few more weeks. I want to give myself the benefit of the doubt that eating less cake will mean my summer skirts fit once more. I didn’t let the excuses stop me from going through everything in my closet, however! I removed another 30 or so items from my wardrobe: the things I disliked the most (even if I still wear them) and the things I know in my heart I will never fit into, or actually wear even if I did. That means my current wardrobe count is around 105 items, including underwear, socks and sportswear. This time last year it was 139, after a big decluttering effort reduced it from 169.

What I do know, is that decluttering definitely gets easier. Getting rid of 30 items a year ago was far harder than getting rid of 30 items today, even though I had less to choose from. Maybe the next 30 will be a breeze! ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is wardrobe decluttering something you struggle with? What are the reasons you hold on to things? Are there any excuses you tell yourself? What are the best tips you’ve found for letting go? Or do you have a minimalist capsule wardrobe? How did you do it? What are your tips? Anything else you’d like to share? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Can you be Zero-Waste and a Minimalist?

They sound so contradictory, zero waste and minimalism. Zero waste seems to mean hanging on to everything, and minimalism seems to mean getting rid of everything. Surely you can’t get more opposing ideals?

Yet I feel that I belong in both camps. I aspire to zero-waste living, and I’m equally drawn to minimalism. What’s more, I don’t really feel an internal struggle between the two. Which means they can’t be so contradictory at all…can they?

Minimalism, Zero Waste – and How It Began for Me

Was I a minimalist first, or a zero-waster? I’m not entirely sure. I think both ideas were there, even before I became either. At Christmas and birthdays, I’d always feel confused about being bought presents. After all, I didn’t really need anything, so I’d suggest that the gifter found me something useful.

It didn’t occur to me back then to say I didn’t want or need anything at all, but I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Anything I did have I knew could one day come in useful, so I kept cupboards full of glass jars, and shelves full of old tins, and a wardrobe full of clothes I might need if it suddenly got hot enough to wear summer clothes / I lost half a stone / I gained half a stone / hot pink suddenly started to suit me.

The minimalism really took hold when I moved to Australia. I didn’t have anywhere to store stuff whilst overseas, and I didn’t know how long I’d be staying, so there was no point shipping my worldly possessions across the oceans (not to mention, I didn’t have the funds for that). Everything I brought with me had to fit in 1 suitcase.

I remember thinking, when I move back home, I want everything I own to still fit in that one suitcase. It was my first real experience of how liberating it is to have few possessions.

Once we found our first place to live, the things we owned started to add up… but slowly. Our first flat was so small we couldn’t fit a lot of unnecessary furniture. It wasn’t that we consciously tried to be minimalists, but circumstances led us to be that way.

Then, a few months later, I found out about the Plastic Free July campaign. Quitting plastic for a month? Sure! Up until then, I’d been an avid recycler. I’d save my plastic bottles up and traipse across the city to the only depot for recycling. I’d wrap all my tiny bits of aluminium foil into a big ball before putting it in the black box to ensure the machines could pick it up. I composted my scraps. I thought that was enough.

Quitting plastic was only meant to be a month-long challenge, but once we’d seen the devastation that plastic causes in the environment, and understood the health implication from exposing ourselves to plastic, how could we ever go back?

I gave up plastic, and switched to buying things in cardboard and glass. Both of these are noticeably heavier (especially when you don’t have a car to carry your shopping home) and I became aware for the first time of how much packaging I was consuming. Packaging that served the sole purpose of moving something from A to B, and then, with no further purpose, was thrown away.

During that month of Plastic Free July, I also found out that glass isn’t recycled in my state. Yes, it’s accepted in the recycling bins, but it’s either trucked to another state or sent to landfill.

My zero waste journey began.

Zero Waste and Minimalism are both about Simplicity

It’s easy to think that zero waste and minimalism are conflicting ideals. One seems to advocate keeping everything, whilst the other seems to advocate throwing everything away! Actually though, they are both much more similar than first appearances might have you think.

Zero Waste means sending nothing to landfill. Truly zero waste means sending nothing for recycling either. For most zero-wasters it’s an ideal we aspire to; a journey with a destination we may never quite reach but one we are always working towards. For me, the biggest realisation with zero waste is if I don’t want to send anything to landfill or recycling, I have to control what comes in through my front door.

Zero waste means simplifying. I buy in bulk using my own containers. It means I’m limited to where I can shop, so I don’t get dazzled by special offers or buy more than I need. I no longer have multiple bottles of toiletries cluttering my bathroom because I felt compelled to stock up whilst they were on 3 for 2.

If I can’t find what I want without the unnecessary packaging, I look for an alternative, consider making my own, or go without. Occasionally none of these are options, and I’ll make the purchase anyway – I am human after all, and that is why zero waste is an ideal! It’s not about deprivation, but making conscious choices.

Zero waste means I avoid shopping malls where beautiful models try to sell me clothes that I don’t need, or gadgets, or toys. I don’t go to the shops to browse, only when I need something specific. I think about the life cycle of a product before I buy it: what’s it made from, will it last, and how can I dispose of it at the end of its life?

Hang on…or is that minimalism?

Minimalism is about asking ourselves, what is enough? Keeping things that are useful or practical, and getting rid of the clutter. Getting rid of all those “just in case” items that fill our closets and spare rooms and storage space. Choosing the important things and ditching the rest.

What is ‘enough’ varies from person to person, so there are no hard and fast rules for minimalists either. Again, it is an ideal. It’s also a journey and one that requires constant work, because there is always more stuff. As with zero waste, one of the most important ways to keep clutter out of your home is to control what enters through the front door.

Minimalism is actually a huge complement to zero waste living, because it addresses the elephant in the room – or rather that huge big pile of stuff in the room that we’re keeping in case it might ever be useful. Well, that’s how us zero-wasters justify it to ourselves. Don’t want to send it to landfill, it might come in handy!

Look more closely though, and that pile of stuff is probably harbouring a whole heap of negativity. Things we bought that we didn’t need, or want, or use. Waste. Guilt. Things we received as gifts that we didn’t like. More waste. More guilt. Clothes that no longer fit. Further waste. Further guilt. As zero-wasters, we feel guilt even more, because we care about the embedded energy in these things.

The irony is, that as these things sit collecting dust and generally not becoming handy, they may as well be sitting in landfill.

Minimalism is confronting. It makes us question these choices. It makes us look long and hard at our shopping habits and spending patterns. Most importantly, it makes us buy less of what we don’t need – meaning less waste.

Can you be Zero Waste and a Minimalist? Yes!

Zero Waste isn’t about hoarding. Minimalism isn’t about sending constant streams of stuff to landfill. There’s only one key area where zero-wasters and minimalist thinking differs – convenience. Zero wasters are all about reducing what they send to landfill (and/or recycling). Minimalists are all about reducing clutter. Zero wasters are more likely to carry reusables;  minimalists are more likely to use disposables. It all comes down a personal decision as to what is “enough”, and different people have different values. There are zero-wasters who will never embrace minimalism, and minimalists who will never live a zero-waste lifestyle.

Then there are those of us who want to do both.

And yes, it is possible. Both ideals have so much in common. They are both a reaction to waste, to rampant consumerism, to buying more than you need. They are both about mindful living and making conscious choices; deciding what’s important and doing more of that, and less of the stuff that isn’t. Buying fewer things and choosing well. Making do or doing without. Simplifying.

Now I want to hear from you! Which side are you on…are you a minimalist, or a zero waster, or both? (Or are you neither?!) Which came first? Have you found one path has helped you on the other, or hindered your progress? What are your biggest challenges, and what have been your biggest realisations and triumphs? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Don’t Get Organised. Get Less.

One of the things I noticed when we returned from holidays is how cluttered our home is becoming. Having spent 10 days with just a handful of possessions that could pack neatly into the boot of the car, it was somewhat of a shock to be back amongst the midst of the disorder that is our home.

It sounds strange, but walking back through the front door, I could physically feel the presence of all these things in the room. A literal weight on my shoulders.

It’s not that we have a lot of stuff, but over time we do accumulate things. We also have very little storage, which makes it hard to tidy the things we do have away, because sometimes they just don’t have places to go.

You hear about minimalists who can fit their entire belongings into a single duffel bag. That will never be me. My zero-waste / plastic-free lifestyle means I need possessions to make it work: glass jars, a reusable coffee cup, storage containers, a stainless steel water bottle, produce bags etc.

I also get a lot of joy from spending time in the kitchen and I consider my various pots and pans all to be necessities.

However, for all those things that I consider necessities, there are plenty more things that are not. Just as we accumulate things as we need them, items that we already own become redundant, taking up space and causing stress.

There are two major lessons I’ve learned about minimalism and decluttering. The first is that you are never finished. I love the idea of the decluttering muscle, and the more we work (at) it the stronger it gets, and the easier it becomes to let go of things we no longer need.

However, I really don’t think there’s an end point. The things that we need and the things we no longer need are always changing. We accumulate things not just by purchasing, but via gifts from friends and family, through work, events we go to and items in the mail. We can make our decluttering muscle really strong, but there will never be a point where we can say, “that’s it, the decluttering is finished forever, and now I can sit back.”

The second is that having too much clutter doesn’t mean you need to get organized. It means you need to get less. It’s very easy to pop your items into storage, and because they are out of sight, feel like you are in control of your possessions. But are you really?

I’m not just talking about external storage either, but putting things in cupboards, boxes, the attic, the shed, the spare room, drawers, files, etc. Do you really know what stuff you have in each of those places? Could you make an inventory? Can you find things when you’re in a hurry? Probably not.

I’m not suggesting that people don’t need some level of organisation, or that drawers and cupboard aren’t useful! It’s more that when we start to feel overwhelmed with our clutter, we think “I need to get organized”. We then head to the nearest shopping centre to arm ourselves with new folders, bigger cupboards, or extra storage cabinets…which is more stuff and clutter!

In reality we probably have too much stuff, and need to let some of it go.

Whenever I’ve tidied and organised, the stuff has eventually resorted back to its pre-organised chaotic state. Keeping things continually tidy and organised is a lot of work! There is far less energy required to simply get rid of things.

With this in mind, when I arrived home from holidays, I resisted the urge to find a big box and stuff everything in the spare room. I gritted my teeth, and I flexed my decluttering muscle… and I let…things…go.

I listed a few things on Gumtree. I returned some borrowed items to a friend. I took a huge box to the charity shop. I recycled a pile of unnecessary papers. I donated some old towels to the local dogs’ refuge. Of course, there’s more work to be done, but our home (and my shoulders!) feel lighter already.

Fed up with battling the never-ending need to tidy up? Want to feel more in control of your space and your possessions? Don’t get organised. Get rid of them.

Now I want to hear from you! Do you wish you could be tidier, or think that you have too much clutter? Have you tried just getting rid of things rather than trying to organize them? Do you still cling to the hope that this time, you will be able to make things tidy and keep them that way?! Or maybe organization has worked for you – in which case I’d really like some tips! Please leave a comment and join the conversation below!

Have Experiences. Not Stuff.

One of the biggest highlights of our holiday last week was heading out to the Bremer Canyon to see killer whales (orcas). The Bremer Canyon, only discovered in 2013, is a place where more than a hundred orca come together to feed during February and March. It’s 65km offshore, and this is the first year that it’s been possible to go and see them as a tourist, and only for these two months.

It’s not your typical tourist adventure, heading out into international waters and rough, icy cold seas on a small boat for several hours, and even the small village where the boat departs from is in an isolated spot, a 2 hour drive from the nearest town and several hours drive from Perth.

When I heard about the tour last year something really grabbed my attention. Whether it was the idea of sailing to the edge of the earth, the rare opportunity to see killer whales in their natural environment, the fact that this spot is so newly discovered that very little is known about it…I’m not sure. I booked two tickets as a birthday present for my husband.

We’re not really into buying presents, and we no longer buy each other Christmas presents. For birthdays we often get tickets so we can experience something together – concerts, theatre, talks. We don’t have a budget or hard-and-fast rules about what we spend but we both agree: there’s no point shelling out money for the sake of it.

The tickets to the Bremer Canyon tour were expensive. Really expensive. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever spent that much money on tickets before. I ummed and ahhed about the cost. There was no guarantees we’d even see anything, and as the tour had never run before there were no reviews to check or compare.

But it was such a unique, exciting adventure, in the end I had to do it.

It made me think. I balked at the price, and yet a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought anything of spending the same price on a gift for my husband. When you consider how many people receive bigger (or smaller)  iPods, thinner iPads, upgraded mobile phones, better computer games consoles, expensive clothes and fancy cameras for Christmas and birthday presents, I wouldn’t be alone.

Now I’ve had a total rethink on stuff, and the idea of spending money upgrading something that already functions perfectly well makes me cringe. As does buying something new just because it’s the latest fad, or because there’s an obligation to purchase a gift. We have everything we need. Rather than spend money on newer, better versions of things we already own, we make do with what we have, and spend the money having new experiences and creating memories.

Back to the tour. Last Saturday we joined the boat, the other tourists and two marine scientists that were studying the orcas and headed two hours from land into international waters to see what was out there in the ocean. There’s no guarantee that the whales will be there. When we arrived at the co-ordinates, though, the whales came. And they were beautiful.

It was such an amazing experience. The orcas gather in groups, and they came up to the boat, swimming alongside and underneath it. We saw them surfing the waves. There was an enormous bull whale and some small calves, whose white patches were still yellow. They came so close it was incredible. The boat just sat there, bobbing in the ocean, whilst these amazing mammals swam around us. I had a couple of out-loud “wow” moments. It was worth every penny.

We only managed to take a couple of photos. Letting go of the rail long enough to use a camera was a tricky task!

Bremer Canyon orcas

Bremer Canyon orcas

Bremer Canyon orcas

Bremer Canyon orcas

These photos weren’t taken with an SLR camera. They were taken with my husband’s point-and-shoot camera, with no zoom to speak of. We don’t own an SLR. We were able to go on this tour because we don’t own things like fancy cameras. Turns out, when you’re this close to whales, you don’t need a fancy camera anyway.

Orcas on camera

You don’t need a fancy camera (or any camera) to create memories.

These pictures aren’t the thing that’s going to stay with us. What will stay with us is the experience we had. The memories we created. Photos can’t capture the smell of the ocean, the sounds, the movements as these beautiful creatures rode the waves or glided in synchronised groups alongside and underneath the boat. The feelings of total amazement and wonder.

Collect memories. Not stuff.

Seas and Trees: A Week in Pictures

Last week there was no writing. No posts about rubbish bins, or plastic, or having too much stuff. Instead, I was on holidays, journeying through some of the National Parks and other beautiful places that Western Australia has to offer. There is so much natural beauty, amazing scenery and incredible wildlife here to experience.

Sometimes we just need to get out there and remind ourselves that the world truly is an amazing, beautiful, wonderful place. We’re pretty lucky, living on a planet like ours, and taking time out to appreciate just how awe-inspiring it really is really re-ignites my commitment to working to protect it.

I thought I’d share a few of the pics I took in the last week with you. I hope they inspire you as much as they inspired me…the earth is a beautiful place, and worth looking after : )

Bluff Knoll peaks WA

Bluff Knoll, Stirling Ranges National Park

Bluff Knoll landscape

Stirling Ranges National Park

Le Grand Beach Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Le Grand Beach, Cape Le Grand National Park

Cape Le Grand National Park Beach Esperance WA

Cape Le Grand Beach, near Esperance

Lucky Bay Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park

Hellfire Bay Cape le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Hellfire Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park

Flowers Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Shrub in Flower, Cape Le Grand National Park

Tourist Drive Esperance WA

Waves crashing on the rocks, Esperance

Tourist Drive Esperance WA Steps

Esperance coastline

Kapwari Wetlands Walk Esperance WA

Kapwari wetlands, Esperance

Boardwalk Wetlands Esperance WA

Boardwalk at Kapwari wetlands

Fluffy Clouds in Esperance WA

Fluffy Clouds

Stokes National Park Esperance WA

Stokes National Park, Esperance

Shark tooth wattle

Shark-tooth wattle

Bremer Bay Walk Bench

Moody Bremer Bay

Bremer Bay beach

Bremer Bay beach

Pelicans at Bremer Bay

Pelicans at Bremer Bay

Bremer Bay Beach walk

Bremer Bay in the sunshine

Beach at Bremer Bay

Around the cape at Bremer Bay

Orange Bottle Brush Denmark

Orange bottle-brush in Denmark

Nature is amazing, and it makes my heart sing : )

It Began With Chocolate Brownies…

On Wednesday it was my boss’s birthday, and I decided to make chocolate brownies to take to work. These raw chocolate brownies that I originally posted the recipe for back in 2013. (They are extremely simple to make, do not require baking and are so delicious – you must make them!)

I knew the recipe was buried deep in the archives of my blog, and I managed to find it. I realise though, that if you didn’t know that the recipe existed, you wouldn’t have searched for it, and you’d never have known it was there. That’s an awful lot of people missing out on delicious chocolate brownies!

The same goes for lots of other things I’ve written about. They’re lost in the depths of the internet. It’s pretty rubbish, not being able to find something unless you already know it exists. I’d like to think that some of that information would be useful to people!

Feeling inspired (and with the extra energy given to me by eating too many offcuts of chocolate brownie) I’ve set about rejigging my site to make it easier for readers to browse through old content. It still looks pretty much the same, but now there are four tabs at the top that link to pages that showcase some of the old archived posts.

The four new categories are:

Minimalism and Simple Living

Real Food and Recipes

Zero Waste

Plastic-Free

They aren’t perfect (I’m not a website developer!) and they don’t list every single post I’ve ever written, but it’s a much more user-friendly way to browse the site. I promise I’m going to work on making the introductory text a bit more exciting!

I hope you like them. Now you have plenty of things to do to keep you occupied this weekend – reading and chocolate-brownie eating! What a perfect way to spend your time! : )

Please give me your feedback! I’d love to hear your thoughts so please let me know any idea or suggestions in the comments below. Do you find the new pages helpful? Are there any categories you feel I’ve missed? Is there any other information you think I could add? I really want to make this site more helpful and user-friendly for you, the reader – so tell me your ideas!