Posts

My Meeting with the Minimalists

A couple of weeks ago, the Minimalists were in town promoting their book “Everything that Remains”, and held a free talk which I went to. The Minimalists, in case you haven’t heard of them before, are two Americans (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) who both had successful corporate careers, earning 6-figure salaries and living the American Dream (read – buying lots of stuff; gadgets, cars, huge homes, getting into debt) and who both gave it all up, becoming minimalists and embracing a slower, simpler, more meaningful way of life.

My husband has been following the Minimalists for a while. He feels he can relate to their story. He finished university and secured a good job straightaway, and progressed through the ranks. He spent his money on nice furniture and fine dining (he even bought a brand new car…and waited five months (!) for it to be available in the specific colour he desired). But despite the money and stuff, he wasn’t particularly happy. After getting rid of most of his stuff, travelling overseas and working as a volunteer (and meeting me!) he came to the same conclusion as the Minimalists – money doesn’t buy you happiness. Experiences, connections and living with meaning are what are important.

I can’t really relate to the Minimalists’ journey, because it has been very different from my own. I’ve never had the big six-figure salary. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever earned more than (or even the same as) the national average. When I got my first job after graduating, in 2005, I earned £12,000 a year. (In 2005 the UK national average was £22,411.) I never had the spare cash to spend on fancy gadgets. That said, I still saw shopping as a form of stress relief, and I still aspired to have/earn more – because more would make me happier, wouldn’t it? I had a few epiphanies in my late twenties and early thirties that have led me down this minimalist path – stories I’ll share with you another time. My conclusions have been the same as the Minimalists, however – stuff doesn’t make people happy. Neither does money. We may have followed different paths to get here, but we have the same philosophy.

Well…partly. I have my big zero waste/sustainability focus, which can be at odds with the minimalist philosophy. (Get rid of it. You can always buy another one if you need it. Something I struggle with!) A friend came with us to the talk. “Look around you!” she said. “None of these people are into sustainability!” People everywhere around us were clutching plastic water bottles and takeaway coffee cups. She was genuinely surprised. Another sent me a text: “Are you going to the talk by those Minimalist guys with the enormous ecological footprint?”

But minimalism isn’t about avoiding flights or bringing a reusable cup, it’s about living consciously. Living with meaning, rather than living on autopilot. Building relationships. Giving back. Recognising what is important – and what is important is different for each of us. Joshua and Ryan aren’t dictating a lifestyle. They aren’t telling anyone what to do. They are just sharing their story in the hope it will inspire others.

As someone very familiar with the idea of minimalism, the most inspiring thing for me was a room packed out with people who wanted to know more…but others were so moved they left in tears. It’s a reminder that each of us are a different point in our journey. I could easily have rocked up three years ago with a takeaway coffee cup in hand, without a second thought.

The Minimalists’ Perth talk was their 100th tour date – their final one. In the time they’ve been touring, their popularity has grown and there were a thousand people queuing around the block to see them. In order to avoid turning people away, they held another talk straight afterwards as the venue could only accommodate 400 people! I love that they genuinely tried to reach as many people as possible. Ecological footprints aside, these guys have a mission, and a great message to share.

The Minimalists have critics, of course. Not just my friends! People say it’s easy to eschew money when you’ve had it. If you’ve been rich, then isn’t it hypocritical? But minimalism isn’t about advocating poverty. It’s about recognizing what is enough.

Did the Minimalists come to a city near you, and did you have the chance to see them speak? What did you think? Do you like their message? Or is minimalism something that you just can’t embrace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave me a comment below!

Should Hoarders Get Second Chances?

Every time my parents read a blog post I’ve written about trying to minimalise, they have a good chuckle to themselves. “It’s easy to be a minimalist when you’ve just stored everything at your parents house!” they say.

When I moved to Australia almost three years ago, I sold and gave away many of my belongings. I had nowhere to store furniture; there was no need to keep trinkets and artifacts and stuff that wasn’t useful. But the stuff that might be useful? That was kept in boxes at my parents’ house until I had a better idea of what might happen next.

When I made the decision to go to Perth, I only had a one-year visa. After that, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, so I didn’t want to get rid of everything. I looked into shipping, but it’s expensive, and nothing was really worth taking the trouble to send across to the other side of the world. The boxes were happy enough in storage until I came back and could sort them out.

The boxes might have been happy, but my parents were less so. When I went back to visit in August, my parents want them sorted out. Which is fair enough. Their house is full of their own stuff (I think the tendency to hoard must be genetic), plus I have both a brother and sister who also, ahem, rely on the extra storage capacity of the family home.

The boxes were dragged out of storage and presented almost triumphantly to me.

“Call yourself a minimalist?!” my dad kept saying.

“Your blog is all lies!” he kept adding.

(Note – he doesn’t actually read my blog. If he did, as I keep pointing out, he’d know that I don’t say I am a minimalist, I say I’m trying to be one – and I’m still not very good at it!)

Here is the hoard:

Stuff for Decluttering

Quite a hoard, I think you’ll agree – especially one for a (wannabe) minimalist!

That is a lot of boxes in storage for a minimalist.

The first one I opened was a box of jewellery. I thought I’d got rid of all of it when I left. I remember choosing what would fit in my suitcase, and leaving the rest behind, but I thought it had gone to the charity shop. I had no idea that it was still amongst my possessions!

It’s very strange, opening a box and finding things that you thought were gone. I remembered all of the things that were in the box once I saw them, but if you’d asked me what was in the box before I’d opened it, I would probably only have remembered half. Now the box is open, I find myself asking if I still like any of them? If I’d use them? If I should keep them? Yet minutes before, I thought they were gone and it didn’t need another thought.

I’ve been given a second chance. The problem is, I don’t need a second chance! Letting go of stuff is harder than we think and I really don’t want to go through that decision-making process again.

The other boxes were an assortment of things: camping gear, climbing equipment, kitchen stuff, trinkets (I thought I’d got rid of all of these!), hobby stuff, books, and photo albums. Some I remembered, most I didn’t.

If you had boxes like this in storage and it had been three years since you packed them, would you even open them? Or would you assume that you couldn't possibly need the contents, and give the contents away?

If you had boxes like this in storage and it had been three years since you packed them, would you even open them? Or would you assume that you couldn’t possibly need the contents, and give the contents away?

Some things were easy to sort. The jewellery, something I rarely wear anyway, was neatly sorted and packaged for the charity shop. The hammock that I bought in Mexico and have never used as I have never had anywhere to hang it (and I went to Mexico in 2004, so that is a long time in storage!) was ditched. In fact, the charity shop got quite a hoard.

Some things I was able to sell. My Magimix food processor is currently for sale on eBay – there’s just no point keeping it in storage. I was hoping my parents might use it, but after three years, if they were going to, they would have by now! At least if I sell it, it will remain useful.

Some things fitted in my suitcase. I’d packed the minimum I could on the way over in preparation for bringing back things I thought I might use.

As always, the things I struggle to get rid of are the things I know I can’t pass on or sell, but I know are still useful. Kitchen things that are too battered to be passed on, but still functional and I know I could continue to use them for a long time. Climbing gear that I would like to dust off and use again sometime. Books that I like, but were too heavy to fit in the suitcase. Photo albums that I contemplated getting rid of, but everyone else said I should keep! Surely you should never discourage a hoarder who wants to get rid of something?!

Despite her wish for me to finally rid their house of all my stuff, my mother tells me it’s okay, I can leave it there. (What can I say? Hoarding is genetic!)

This is what remains:

Everything that remains in storage

Everything that remains. Fortunately my intention to declutter is still there too : ) It’s a work in progress…

I’m not proud. That is clearly far too much stuff in storage. It is a step in the right direction, though: this pile is half of what was there when I started, and I’m pleased about that. I truly believe that decluttering only works when we continue to chip away at it. I’d love to be able to do it in an instant; to spend two hours and rid all the unnecessary clutter from my life. Experience has taught me that it doesn’t work like that!

So what next, for all this stuff? Well, I have a wildcard. My parents are coming to Australia in a couple of months, and I’m hoping there will be the opportunity to bring some more bits and pieces with them. That will also give me two months to let go and decide to ditch the rest. I hope I can do it!

Hoarders shouldn’t get second chances. They definitely shouldn’t get third and fourth chances!

What do you think of my decluttering attempt? Do you have anything in storage at family or friends’ places, or have you taken some responsibility for your stuff (unlike me)?! Do you have boxes packed away and you don’t even know what’s inside? Have you got any tips to offer or experiences to share? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!

Minimalist…or (Closet) Hoarder?

I am a closet hoarder. It’s true. My wardrobe is far too full of things I never wear, and things I know I’ll never wear, and yet I struggle to get rid of them. On my path towards minimalism, my wardrobe is the elephant in the room, showcasing my hoarding tendencies.

Over the last two years I’ve got better at letting go and living with less. The stuff we buy and accumulate has many costs beyond the initial outlay, and recognising this has helped us step off the consumer treadmill, and stops us getting more. Understanding the emotions behind decluttering, the reasons why getting rid of stuff can be so hard, makes it easier to be kind to ourselves and know that letting go takes time.

This post should have been entitled “The Great Wardrobe Cull”. I’ve been thinking about my big wardrobe cull for a month or so, focusing on my intention to cut the number of items in my wardrobe in half. When it came to it, though…I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get rid of half my things. Fifty per cent was just too much… even though I do probably only wear half of what I own. There’s still some things that I’m not ready to let go of. You’d think it would be easy – I want to have less, I have items in my wardrobe I am unlikely to wear again, and yet I cannot let them go. I still need to give it more time. Decluttering and my minimalist journey teaches me a lot about patience, if nothing else!

In spite of this, I’m pleased with my progress. There’s less now than when I started, and I’m also very clear on exactly what I own, what I have far too much of and potentially what I need more of (meaning I will replace less useful things with more useful things as they wear out). I have a good idea of what my future wardrobe should look like, based on things that are practical and that I will actually wear.

Here’s a guide to carrying out your own wardrobe cull, based on what worked for me. It took a couple of hours because I was taking photos, but I’d recommend it if you want to do your own wardrobe cull because you’ll know exactly what you own, and you can use the pictures for reference later on when everything is packed away. In the past I’ve written a list, but after a few days it just becomes a meaningless list of numbers – if you don’t lose it first, that is. Pictures are the way to go!

The (Not-So) Great Wardrobe Cull

Step 1: The Clothes Audit

How you do this might depend on how you store your clothes, but it’s best to be methodical. If you can, use another room rather than the bedroom. It may seem like more of a chore but it will also realise that you have too much stuff!

Group your clothes into categories. I grouped mine into: underwear drawer (smalls, tights, swimwear); T-shirt drawer (casual tops, shorts); smart tops; skirts; dresses; and trousers.

Work through each category one at a time.

Take a picture, and then make a note of the numbers of everything you own for that category. Remember to add anything in the laundry to your list!

Smalls decluttering

7 pairs of tights, 8 bras, 20 pairs of underwear, 16 pairs of socks plus 7 odd socks, all with holes, and 4 bikinis.

More Tops Decluttering

4 pairs of leggings (one for exercise), 7 pairs of shorts, 5 sleeveless tops, 7 racer back tops, 8 vest tops and 3 halterneck tops.

Tops decluttering

2 pairs of smart shorts, 3 white shirts, 2 blouses/shirts, 2 irregular tops, and 6 tee shirts.

Skirts decluttering

12 skirts. Yes, I have two skirts that are exactly the same. The ones on the right I like, but are really hard to find matching tops to go with, so I never wear.

Jumpers cardigans decluttering

2 long-sleeved jumpers, 7 short-sleeved jumpers, and 7 cardigans.

Dresses decluttering

13 dresses, of which I regularly wear… none.

Trousers decluttering

1 pair tracksuit bottoms, 2 pairs black trousers, 1 pair of smart trousers, and 5 pairs of jeans.

Bits and Bobs Decluttering

All the other bits and pieces… pyjama top and shorts, a hat, a skirt suit, and a blazer.

Step 2: The Cull

Once I’d taken a picture of a category, I looked long and hard at what was there, and asked myself what I was happy to get rid of.

Questions to ask:

  • Does it fit?
  • Is it broken?
  • Could it be repaired or is it too worn?
  • Do I ever wear it, and am I likely to wear it again?
  • Is it practical?
  • Do I have too many of this type of item?

I had items that were broken and beyond repair, items that were way too small (and had been for several years), and a top that I never wear because I don’t have a bra that works with it. I hate bra straps showing! I also had items I didn’t really like.

Do a recount once you’ve decided what you’re ditching and make a note of the new numbers.

Smalls decluttered

I got rid of three bras (one broken, two very uncomfortable), 5 pairs of underwear that don’t fit, and 1 pair of socks plus the 7 odd ones.

Tops decluttered

Reduced by 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of shorts, and 5 tops.

More Tops Decluttered

Reduced by 1 T shirt, 1 strange top that I never wear and 1 shirt that is too tight.

Jumpers decluttered

Reduced by 1 long-sleeved jumper (it is so worn you can pretty much see through it) and 3 cardigans.

Dresses decluttered

I reduced my dress hoard from 13 to 9, but I have a feeling that is still way too many for a tomboy like me!

Of the things I decided to get rid of, they were sorted into categories. Some of the new stuff I am going to see if I can sell on eBay. The better quality stuff or anything still in good condition is going to the charity shop. The stuff that’s tatty is going to be chopped up for cleaning cloths, bike rags and household use. The underwear, sadly, is going to have to go in the bin. I contemplated keeping it in case I ever fit into it, but it’s been 6 years so far (at least), so chances are I won’t.

Step 3: New Targets

Once I’d culled a category, I’d look at what was left and decide on what was a reasonable number of items to own. For example, I owned 13 dresses, and I probably wear dresses 6 times a year! I got rid of 4, but my target is to get down to 6. Once I reach that target, I will possibly make it smaller.

However, it also made me realise where I have too little. I only have 2 long-sleeved jumpers, and one I am getting rid of because it is almost entirely worn through. I think it would be useful to have another – probably one I can use for exercise. No-one needs 7 short-sleeved jumpers though! Reducing these will balance it out.

My new targets:

3 x pairs tights
2 x bikinis
10 x pairs of underpants
4 x bras
8 x pairs of socks
3 x pairs leggings
4 x pairs of casual shorts
10 x casual tops
2 x pairs of smart shorts
1 x white shirt
1 x blouse
0 strange tops!
3 x short-sleeve T shirts
1 x long-sleeve T shirt
6 x dresses
4 x short-sleeve jumpers
2 x long-sleeved jumpers
3 x cardigans
7 x skirts
5 x trousers
2 x jackets
2 x suit (top and bottom)
1 x hat
2 x PJs
1 x thermals

How Did I Do?

At the start of the (Not-So) Great Wardrobe Cull, I owned 169 items (plus 7 odd socks that are all beyond repair). I managed to cull 30 items. No way near half, but almost as much as a load of washing!

I didn’t include shoes.

FINAL DECLUTTERED ITEMS

The final cull – enough to make almost a full load of washing!

When I added my targets up, it came to 90 items. That’s what I think I could manage with. Actually, I’m pretty sure I can manage with far less than that, but small steps! I think reducing my wardrobe down to 100 items would be a bit of a landmark moment. That means getting rid of another 40 items…

Now I want to hear from you! How would you do in a wardrobe audit? Do you think 100 items is a good amount, too few or way too many? Are you already a minimalist in the clothes department, or would you have absolutely no idea how many things you own? Are you up for a challenge?! Please leave a comment below!

Sold the Toaster, bought…an iPad?!

Inspired by Tiny, the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, and reinvigorated to declutter, I’ve been listing things on Gumtree this week and I’ve had some success. People want to buy my old stuff!

I’ve talked before about why I think selling stuff can be better than donating it to the charity shop. There’s no guarantee the charity shop will want it, and with electrical goods, not all places will accept them as they need to be tested. If you can find a new owner yourself, that is the best outcome from a waste point of view. If you give something away for free, it’s harder for people to say no, even if they don’t actually want it – they see a bargain!

Toaster

We put the toaster in a cupboard six months ago as a test to see if we really need it. After all, we have a grill, and we had a small kitchen with limited bench space. Now we’ve moved, we have even less bench space.

BREAKING NEWS! The grill will make toast just as acceptably as a toaster! Who’d have thought it?!

We don’t eat bread very often, and when we do, the grill is perfectly adequate for our needs. I’m the kind of person who stands over the toaster, impatiently popping it up to see if the toast is ready, so having to watch over the grill isn’t a problem. It’s not like bread takes a long time to toast!

Besides the toaster, we’ve had $2 here and $3 there, and amused but happy people removing clutter from our house this week. The toaster lady was looking for a toaster for her workplace, and thought to check Gumtree before buying a rubbishy cheap one from the store. We sold our dustbuster vacuum (something my boyfriend has owned for years) which was fine for floorboards, but completely impractical for our carpeted flat. The guy who bought it had just purchased a cheap vacuum for $40. The first time he used it, it died (taking planned obsolescence to the extreme?!). So he checked on Gumtree, saw we lived round the corner and gave us $5 for ours. He was blown away by the fact he could buy a vacuum for $5! An Electrolux, no less! We were happy to be rid of it, but I also hope that these transactions inspire people to look on Gumtree or eBay for what is available second-hand before buying something new.

Which brings me to my next confession…

We’ve bought an iPad.

ipad

I would love to say we don’t need one, but after much debate (probably a year’s worth!) we gave in and decided to get a tablet. We only have one laptop and no TV, and my boyfriend likes to watch DVDs on the laptop. I like to use it for all my blogging, research and other projects. Rivalry!

My phone is so completely useless it barely does anything other than make calls, and I thought a tablet might be a practical alternative. Laptops really aren’t that portable, are they?

I looked at all the second hand sites, but as I was buying something that expensive (second-hand ones sell for almost as much as new ones) I wanted the guarantee it wasn’t stolen or faulty.

I actually found a compromise via the Apple Store. They sell refurbished products (my sister bought a refurbished computer from them a while back and it’s been perfect). A refurbished product is basically a pre-owned product that has been returned to the store and repaired for reselling. Buying from Apple means it still comes with a guarantee. I’d seen other stores that offer this too, but customer comments told me that replacement screens were often cheap knockoffs, and not very good, and the guarantees are much less.

I think my boyfriend was expecting a beaten-up old thing to arrive in a bashed-up cardboard box. But no, it arrived looking just like new. It even had the unhelpful plastic cover wrapped around it!

Sad face : (

Stupid plastic protective iPad Cover

Despite the plastic cover and my guilt over questionable ethics (you can read an article I wrote about ethical electronics here), I have to say, I’m actually blown away by how clever, fast and useful the tablet is proving to be! It’s much easier to read from than a laptop, it’s better for looking things up, and it means I can finally get round to learning how Twitter works! (If you’re on Twitter, follow me at @TreadMyOwnPath, and feel free to give me tips on how it all works – I’m a newbie!)

So out with the old, and in with the new. Overall we still have less than we started with, and the iPad is something we actually use, so I feel like we’re still heading in the right direction. Plus, I sold the toaster using the iPad! That’s some consolation, surely?!

What do you think? Am I just kidding myself ?! How do you feel about splashing out on new technology? More importantly, could you get rid of your toaster?!

PS Whilst the decluttering is going well, I still haven’t tackled the wardrobe. I’m putting off, I mean, putting it back to next week.  : /

Decluttering, Minimalism…and the Emotions that Get in the Way

Inspired by the Tiny House movie I saw last weekend (I wrote a review of Tiny: A Story of Living Small in Tuesday’s blog post), I decided it was time again to tackle our stuff, and to declutter some more. We may not live in a Tiny House, but I still believe in minimalising our possessions. There’s no need to keep things in our home that aren’t useful, that no longer serve us and that create mess, take up time (to clean, to find, to sort) and bring up negative emotions (guilt for buying, guilt for keeping, stress for maintaining, frustration, and so it goes on).

As I’ve said many times before, I’m a natural hoarder, and letting go is something that I’m having to learn. A lot of this hoarding is attached to my dislike of waste – any waste. I’m someone who keeps used matches in case I can re-use them! But I also think that I use my dislike of waste as an excuse – even subconsciously. After all, it’s easier to say “I just hate waste”, than admit to myself that there’s more to it than that.

Thing is, there is a lot more to it than that. It’s not just about “stuff”. If it was, we’d decide we didn’t need it, and get rid of it. Simple as that. But that isn’t what happens. Particularly if you’re a hoarder, but it’s true for most people; our emotions play a much bigger part in the decluttering process than we realise.

Here’s some examples.

Say you buy a pair of trousers, and you know that they’re a bit tight, but you think to yourself – I’ll slim into them. Maybe you will. More likely though, is that they will hang in the wardrobe, not being worn, but a constant reminder of how you failed to slim down, how you failed at the task you set yourself; how you made a bad decision and how you wasted money buying something that you may never wear. Maybe you bought them, knowing you wouldn’t fit into them, because you wanted to hold onto the past. You don’t want to accept that you’re getting older, and you can’t wear the things you used to.

What about the ornament you’ve got sitting in a box in a cupboard – the gift from your nan? The ornament that you never really liked. The ornament that reminds you that your nan really doesn’t know what styles you like. She really doesn’t know what you like at all, actually. The ornament that reminds you that you aren’t as close to your nan as maybe you should be. You aren’t the person you want to be; the one you imagine you would be. The ornament remains, because you want to like it. You know that she spent quite a bit of money on it. You feel guilty about that. You feel like you should keep it, and what’s more, you feel like you should like it. But you don’t, and it reminds you of all the feelings that you wish you felt, but don’t.

Or the fancy kitchen gadget that you bought after seeing all the adverts – the ones where cooking looked so easy and hosting friends for dinner was made to look effortless? The gadget that you were convinced you’d use every day, that would turn you into a wonderful cook, yet it sits there, untouched. Because the reality was very different. You still don’t actually like cooking, the gadget is a pain to wash up, and actually, you’d rather go out for a meal with friends than invite them to your house. You still love the idea of being a great host, even though you know this probably won’t happen. The gadget remains because you feel foolish for being duped by the adverts, you feel guilty at having spent so much money on something you use so little. You want to see the gadget  as a symbol of that hope. Really though, it is a symbol of what you are not; an unwelcome reminder of a dream that didn’t come true.

Whatever it is, we all have moments like this. Most of us have things in our houses that we know, deep down, we should get rid of. Why can’t we? All of the items we have sitting in our homes that we don’t-use-yet-can’t-get-rid-of have some kind of emotion attached to them. These aren’t necessarily emotions relating to how we feel about an object, but how we feel about ourselves.That’s what makes it so hard to get rid of them.

We don’t want to admit that we made a bad purchasing decision, that we failed at a hobby, or that we weren’t the person we wanted to be. In this way, these objects represent us, and by keeping them, we still feel that there’s a chance that we might change…that it will become a useful purchase, that we will take up that hobby or that we will start to appreciate Grandma’s eclectic taste. But this pressure doesn’t make us feel good. It’s not accepting what is. We don’t live in the future, and we don’t live in the past. We live in the now, and we need to accept things as they are. To focus too much on the future or the past is draining. The guilt, the sense of failure, the embarrassment.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to remove all that bad energy and all those negative emotions? Well, we can. Simply by giving things away.

That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Don’t underestimate the power your possessions hold over you. But don’t give your power away, either. Take things slowly. Notice any resistance you feel, but don’t let it take control. Tackle one item at a time. Find the things that no longer serve you, and slowly let them go.

Do emotions play a big part in decluttering for you? Do you hold onto things you know you should get rid of, or do you find it easy to let things go? What emotions do you feel when trying to clear out your unwanted possessions? I’d love to hear from you – please tell me what you think in the comments!

A Movie Review – Tiny: A Story About Living Small

I’ve been to the cinema again, and this time I want to tell you about a movie that’s not about waste, but about simply living and small spaces. Tiny: A Story About Living Small follows the story of Christopher Smith, a 30 year-old American who has a dream to build a tiny house and live in the wilderness. With limited funds and absolutely no building experience, but overflowing with passion and enthusiasm for achieving his dream, Christopher attempts to build his own tiny house on a trailer.

You can watch the movie trailer here:

Here’s the official synopsis from the Tiny Movie website, which also gives a quick explanation of what the Tiny house movement is all about, if you don’t already know:

“After a decade of travel, Christopher Smith approaches his 30th birthday and decides it’s time to plant some roots. He impulsively buys a 5-acre plot of land in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of building a home in the mountains of Colorado. With the support of his girlfriend, Merete, he sets out to build a Tiny House from scratch despite having no construction experience.

From 1970 to 2010, the average size of a new house in America has almost doubled. Yet in recent years, many are redefining their American Dream to focus on flexibility, financial freedom, and quality of life over quantity of space. These self-proclaimed “Tiny Housers” live in homes smaller than the average parking space, often built on wheels to bypass building codes and zoning laws. TINY takes us inside six of these homes stripped to their essentials, exploring the owners’ stories and the design innovations that make them work.

When Christopher decides to build his own Tiny House, he dives into the tension between settling down and staying adrift, between preserving a parcel of land that he loves and developing it. Merete begins to ask her own questions about settling down, and both walk away with unexpected lessons about the meaning of home, the importance of place, and the personal impact of sticking with a project that became bigger than they’d ever imagined.

TINY is a coming-of-age story for a generation that is more connected, yet less tied-down than ever, and for a society redefining its priorities in the face of a changing financial and environmental climate. More than anything, TINY invites its viewers to dream big and imagine living small.”

I’ve read a bit about Tiny Houses, and I was keen to learn more. I found the movie, a mix of Christopher’s journey and interviews with other Tiny House dwellers, an interesting insight into the reasons people choose to live in such small spaces. I also found the movie quite motivational, and I left feeling quite inspired. I don’t know if I could ever live in a Tiny House, but it certainly reminded me that my ongoing journey to minimalise my possessions was waiting for me to revisit it!

Some of the people I went to the screening with felt the movie was lacking in depth. By focussing on two aspects – Christopher’s story of building a Tiny House and also the lives of others who choose to live in Tiny Houses – there wasn’t enough time to go deep into Christopher’s story, his plans and his dreams beyond the consturction project, nor to truly understand how Tiny House dwellers make living in a Tiny House work. The film finishes with Christopher towing his newly built tiny house to his patch of land in the wilderness. But questions remain about how this house can really be home. What about food? Water? Fuel for the heater? Work? Is he intending to live in this dwelling, or is it actually more like a campervan for holidays?

For me, this movie was a beautiful story, and I felt like I could really connect with the reasons behind the choices these people make. If you want to see an inspirational look into the lives of people who choose to live differently, then this film is for you. But if you want to know more about the practicalities of Tiny House living, of what happens once the choice to live this way are made, then the film will probably still leave you with a number of questions.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Do you have any thoughts on Tiny Houses, or the Tiny House movement? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a message in the comments!

The One Golden Rule of Decluttering

I’m moving home in just over a week, and there’s nothing like a house move to flex that decluttering muscle and have a clear-out. All that stuff piled away in the corners of the flat that we’ve probably forgotten about?

It’s one thing to let it sit there, not bothering us; but it’s quite another to have to drag it out, dust them off, pack it into boxes, lug them somewhere else, unpack them at the other end and then find somewhere new to stash it all until they’re forgotten about once more.

As a natural hoarder, one of the hardest things for me to do is to let go of things that might be useful in the future. Which basically means, stuff that I don’t need now. Or probably more accurately, stuff I don’t need.

I can get rid of things that aren’t useful at all and I know won’t be useful in the future. I try to avoid getting these types of things in the first place, but it happens.

I can also get rid of things that are useful, but that I have no use for – especially if I know someone else who will be able to use it, or I know that we could sell it (so there’s a financial sweetener to counter the pain of getting rid of it).

However, things that might be useful in the future translates as things that are broken and need repairing. Cables for some kind of electronic device but which one exactly I’m not sure. Stuff for hobbies that I don’t even do but think I might try in the future. Half-used toiletries or jars of strange ingredients that I don’t really like but know I paid money for and can’t bring myself to throw away.

When we move, I’m going to have to challenge my resistance to getting rid of things that might be useful in the future. We’ve lived in this flat for almost two and a half years. If something hasn’t been useful in all that time, and I still can’t actually envisage when it will start becoming useful, then it needs to go.

Sounds easy enough, but will I be able to follow through? To help strengthen my resolve, I’ve been thinking about what I tell myself in order to convince myself to hang onto these things. If I can counter these arguments in a logical way, maybe I’ll be able to let these things go.

Here are the three top excuses, and my counter-arguments.

But I feel so guilty!

Most of this stuff is stuff that no-one else will want. Broken bits and pieces, scrap, textbooks, centuries-old cosmetics, random condiments that I wouldn’t trust to eat, unused kitchen tools… and so on. Why then, do I feel so guilty about throwing it away?

One reason, maybe, is that I paid for some of this stuff. It cost me money. To throw it away is to admit that I made a bad purchase. I like to think of myself as good at managing money, but these items make me feel like I was reckless – a spendthrift! I feel guilty. The paradox is that every time I see these items, I am reminded of my bad purchase.

If I got rid of these things, I wouldn’t think about them again, and I’d actually be free of these emotions!

Another reason is that these things may have some functionality left, but I don’t want to use them any more. This is the case with toiletries that I have since discovered contain toxic ingredients, or plastic cookware, or foodstuffs that I don’t like. Yet to get rid of something that still has some life left seems wasteful, so they remain, just in case. Yet if I don’t want to use them (and I don’t want anyone else to use them, either), then actually they don’t have any life left. It’s an illusion.

The guilt I have, I’ve realised, is misplaced. When I got these items, and started using them, I didn’t know they were toxic/unsafe/unpleasant. If I had, I’d never have bought them, or never have used them. We make decisions based on what we know at the time. I can’t feel guilty about what I didn’t know.

I’m saving it from landfill

If it’s something that I’m genuinely going to use, then yes, I’ve saved it from landfill. If it’s something that just sits in my house, gathering dust, then I haven’t actually saved it from landfill at all. I’ve just delayed the process. It’s still as useless as it was, and it will end up in landfill eventually (if not by my hand, by someone else’s).

I’ve picked up things from the verge (old carpet, reticulation tubing) that I’ve thought would be useful once I have a garden. I don’t have a garden, and I won’t have a garden when I move, so I still don’t need these things.

Maybe in the future I will have a garden and need these things. But that’s a maybe. (Actually, I don’t know that old carpets are good to use in gardens anyway, because of the chemicals that leach out of them.)

This wasn’t my waste, it was someone else’s. It’s waste that I tried to save. I failed. But we all fail sometimes. That’s how life works.

What if I do need it later?

You know what? If it so happens that I suddenly need that item that I finally got rid of, I’ll check with friends and family to see if they have one I can have, or borrow. I’ll check in the classifieds and see if there’s one for sale second-hand. If not, maybe, just maybe, I’ll have to buy another one. If I really genuinely need it, then the new one I buy will be a useful purchase!

I think the risks are pretty small, and I’m gonna take my chances.

 The Golden Rule of Decluttering

There’s a quote I see bandied round the internet a lot. A motto maybe, of minimalists everywhere. Words to live by or strive towards. When it comes to decluttering, I think it’s perfect.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ~William Morris

What I have come to realise is that I cannot feel guilt for things I purchased in the past, or for decisions I made before I started on this journey. I cannot feel guilty because I don’t find something useful or can’t make it useful. Just as there is no space for junk, there is no room in the tiny flat for guilt, and there’s no room in the new place either.

As we pack up this flat to move, this quote is our mantra. If it isn’t useful or beautiful, then it’s not coming with us.

How about you? What do you find easy to get rid of, and what things do you struggle with? Do you have a motto or rules that you live by when it comes to decluttering? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

So…You Want To Be a Minimalist?

Decluttering. Minimalism. They seem to be the new buzz words right now. There’s definitely a shift towards people being more interested in owning less stuff. At the Less is More Festival last week, the Decluttering workshop was full to capacity and there was standing room only. Even with the doors closed, a “workshop full” sign and a volunteer on the door telling people there was no room, people were still fighting to get in!

There’s nothing fun about clutter. It drains our energy, and research has shown that it increases stress and even causes depression. It also takes up time – in cleaning, moving it all around, and searching for the stuff you’re sure you have but can’t quite remember where you put it. Plus there is a monetary cost – in paying higher rent or mortgage repayments for a bigger house, or renting extra storage, just to house that stuff we don’t really need.

So the idea of decluttering seems pretty appealing. So does the idea of getting organised so our houses are no longer boxes with roofs that exist to hold our stuff, but sanctuaries of calm and zen. And minimalism, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

googlesearchminimlaismIf you search for “minimalism” under Google images, this is what comes up. Spacious apartments with clear surfaces, clean lines, neutral tones. Minimalism is also a design style, which helps confuse things a little. But when people talk about being minimalist, they’re not talking about what furniture they buy.

If you really want to be a minimalist, if you really want to have less clutter, there are a few things you need to know.

Things to know about being a Minimalist

1. Minimalism doesn’t mean having amazing storage so all you see is a sea of clear bench tops and surfaces.

Minimalism does not mean you have an incredible capacity to organise. It means having less stuff. Don’t think you can organise your way to minimalism.

2. Minimalism means letting go.

We are natural hoarders. We keep things because we think they might come in useful. We keep things because they remind us of things that happened in our lives. We keep things because we attach emotions to them – we feel guilty about disposing of things that others have given us, even if we don’t actually like or want or need them; or shame at having spent too much money on something we never use.

Maybe we worry about the cost the environment. But if we really want to live with less stuff, we need to look at our relationships with our stuff. We hold memories in our hearts and in our minds, not in boxes stored in the garage. If things no longer serve us, we need to let them go.

3. Becoming minimalist doesn’t happen overnight.

We can’t just decide to declutter and that’s that. It takes time. Some things are easy to let go of, and others are much harder.

Even as we let go of things and give them away, more things come into our life. It is something we need to work on. Maybe it is something we never stop working on. It’s definitely not something we complete over the weekend, and then go back to “normal”.

4. To truly embrace minimalism, we need to look within ourselves.

That may sound a bit new-age, but decluttering and getting rid of stuff doesn’t automatically stop us from desiring things. We are constantly bombarded with adverts telling us our lives will be better if we buy this or that; that we’ll feel happier or more content if only we spend our money with these companies.

As long as we believe this, we’ll continue to buy more.

Think about your happiest memories. Do they involve spending time with friends and family? Do they involve holidays, special occasions, exploring nature, being outdoors? Or do they involve buying the latest gadgets? We don’t need stuff to make us happy.

5. It’s not a competition.

It’s not about who can have the least amount of stuff, it’s about what is the right amount of stuff for each of us at the point of our lives we are in right now. It’s easy to feel like giving up because we know we’ll never be as good as x.

If you’re feeling like you have too much stuff, if you know there’s things in your house that you don’t really need, if the piles of clutter are stressing you out, then you will benefit from letting some of it go.

That doesn’t mean you can’t stop until you only have two outfits left in your wardrobe, and two bowls in the kitchen cupboard. That might work for some people. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t matter.

Do what feels right for you.

Reap the Rewards

No-one said it was going to be easy. It’s so much more than just taking a couple of boxes of old junk to the Good Sammy’s. But the rewards are so much more than just having a couple less boxes of stuff, too. Try it and see!

My minimalist living space (I’d like to show you around…)

I often refer to the “tiny apartment” that I live in, and I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be nice to take some pictures and, well, invite you round for a (virtual) look.

But then I didn’t, because the flat was never quite tidy enough. Despite my constant quest to have less stuff, there always seems to be stuff cluttering up the place. It’s not that we have a great deal of stuff, but we also don’t have huge amounts of furniture or cupboard space to hide all our stuff like other people do. It’s a constant reminder to us that we have too much.

Another thing that put me off was that despite me calling our home the “tiny flat”, I realise that it is far bigger than many other “tiny” homes. In fact, there is a tiny house movement, and if you know anything about that you will realise that our flat in no way qualifies. Tiny homes are seriously tiny, and our apartment is palatial in comparison. I didn’t want to face the wrath of readers outraged that I have been making fraudulent claims all this time!

Lastly, I’m well aware that our flat is never going to be photographed for House Beautiful (or whatever those glossy home magazines are called). My eye for style goes as far as to recognise that some decor does indeed look pretty and stylish, and our flat has nothing like that in it.

We don’t have strategically placed cute retro teapots, or a surf board (why is it that every house I’ve seen photographed recently, no matter how far from the ocean, has a surf board?), or candles and flowers in all the corners. We don’t have quirky vintage antique stuff, we have old (and in some cases a bit tatty) stuff.

But then I got a grip on myself, and thought, so what? I like my house. Do I care that my house isn’t a interior designer’s dream? No. I like it. We like its simplicity. I like not having to dust all those quirky vintage nick-knacks.

Does it really matter that our flat isn’t the smallest house ever? Not at all. We are happy with the amount of space we have, so why would I compare it with other far smaller houses? They may be cleverly designed, inspiring and beautiful, but they would be too small for us at this stage in our lives. We need a space that we can live in, not one that impresses others with its tiny-ness.

Does it matter that it’s a bit messy and full of stuff? Well…I’d rather it wasn’t, or course… But we still invite our friends round, so why wouldn’t I take photos and invite my virtual friends round too? It’s just stuff, and it really shouldn’t have the power to influence my decisions!

So here’s the tour. It’s our attempt to live simply with less stuff; we have had some successes, but there are still plenty of areas we’d like to improve. It is a journey, and one that we’re always working on.

The Living Space

When you walk through the front door, you immediately step into the living space. There’s no porch or entrance hall. Our flat is pretty much a square, so from the front door you can see right the way through to the other side.

Livingspacefinal Livingspace2 LivingspaceothersideThere’s no storage aside from what furniture we have, which means lots of things can’t be put “away”, as there is nowhere to put them. My bicycle lives next to the dining table, and our broom sits next to the fridge.

This is our entire book and DVD collection. We don’t own a single DVD, and of this little stack of books, three are actually loans from friends. Who needs books and DVDs when you can borrow what you want from the local library?

Books are a minimalism success; my desk, however, is not. On a typical day, it looks something like this. That’s not to say that I’m not organised, because I actually know what’s on all those little bits of paper and always notice when they get moved. I just have a terrible habit of writing on the back of old receipts and old envelopes, and they accumulate. Mess and clutter are not healthy though, and I need to go paperless to get things a bit more zen in my litter corner of the room.

Messydesk

The Bedroom

It’s a bit more zen in here. There’s no space for any furniture in the bedroom, although we’ve had to squeeze my boyfriend’s bike into the small amount of spare space that we do have.

Bedroom Bedroom2 Fortunately we have an enormous built-in wardrobe…

closetcombined…and it is full to the point of almost overflowing! Yes, we have far too many clothes. No, they’re not all mine! Yes, I do have far too many pairs of shoes. Yes, they are all mine. Definitely an area I need to work on. But progress is being made. I’ve given clothes to the charity shop, and I’ve downgraded others to kitchen rag status. Last year I only bought a handful of items, and so far this year I’ve bought none. I don’t intend to buy anything else until my collection has at least halved. This is my compromise to myself, because I don’t want to send stuff to landfill, and there’s a lot in there that is too worn for the charity shop to take.

The Bathroom

Bathrooms in rented apartments are generally nothing to write home about, and ours is definitely no exception.bathroomsmallThere’s not too much clutter, but we do have a ridiculous amount of towels. (This isn’t even all of them – there were some hanging out on the line when I took the picture!) I’m reluctant to get rid of them; the charity shop won’t be able to sell them for much and I don’t want to send them to landfill. So another compromise – as they wear out they won’t be replaced. Right now, they (just about) fit into the space we have, and so they can stay.

towels

The Kitchen

I would love a bigger kitchen as I spend a huge amount of time here (you may have noticed that I like to cook?!). Learning to manage with what space I have has been hard, but I think it’s been good for me. Oh, and don’t judge us – we rent this flat and did not choose the lime green/acid yellow tiles ourselves!

Kitchen1 Kitchen2I’ve been able to keep the cupboards pretty orderly, and I only keep the things that we use regularly.

The pantry, however, is a different story! No matter what I do, I cannot seem to empty it out. I am pretty good at finding things in there, but my boyfriend does not fare so well, unless he knows there is a jar of chocolate spread… (I also don’t label the jars – surely everyone knows the difference between ground turmeric and ground cumin? Or rapadura sugar and soft brown sugar? They don’t? Oh. No wonder my boyfriend is reluctant to cook!) It’s cluttered, and awkward, and there’s been a few near-misses with almost smashing glass jars. But my love of food (and the bulk produce stores) means it never gets any less full. Any tips greatly appreciated!

PantryThose jars to the left of the pantry are there because they don’t fit in the pantry. Definitely a sign that I have too much in there!

Outside

We have a small space outside, which houses our two worm farms and various gardening-related bits and pieces I collected from verge collections. I then discovered we don’t get any sunlight so we can’t grow anything much here, sadly.

balconySo that’s the tour. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking around. I’d love to hear what you think, and if you have any tips for those areas that I need a bit of help with, please share them below!

My public holiday nightmare… and some advice needed

This Monday was a public holiday here in Perth, and we had plans to take in Kings Park and the wildflowers and go for a leisurely walk around Lake Claremont, relaxing and generally enjoying the extra free time.

Until, on Sunday night, my boyfriend pulled a bag out of the wardrobe. “Do you think this is mould?”, he asked, showing me some white marks. Hmm, it did look like mould. We pulled a few more things out. More mould. The further we looked, the more we found. Arghh.

And so it was, we were able to make the most of the glorious weather that is so long overdue… Read more