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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!

Doubt and What to Think About What Other People Think

It’s been almost two weeks since we moved from the tiny flat to the palace. I’ve found these last few weeks quite difficult. After we made the decision to move, the initial feelings of excitement and elation were suddenly swapped with feelings of doubt and panic.

“What am I doing?!!!”

Our old flat was comfortable, familiar, well maintained…and our home. We liked it. The new flat is new territory. It’s unfamiliar, and not particularly well maintained. People would ask us excitedly in the weeks before we moved: is the new flat better? We’d shift about uncomfortably, look at our feet and say…well, no.

Why does it have to be better? We have more space (which we wanted), we have an outside balcony, the new flat has a sunnier disposition and is warmer, and without the mold or damp problems of our old flat. However, it really needs repainting. And possibly rewiring. The bathroom and kitchen are the originals – so they are decades old. It looks tatty. Being a rental, there’s not much we can do about these cosmetic things, but these are the things that other people see.

What will people think?!

The thought kept going round and round in my mind. Would I feel embarrassed inviting people round? What would people think? Would they judge us?

What didn’t help is that right after the move (probably as a result of the stress that change causes) I got sick. When I get sick, I feel really sorry for myself. The sorry-for-myself thoughts compounded the doubtfulness I already felt. When we’re ill, we want to be comforted, and I found the unfamiliarity of the new place a little unsettling. Being sick also meant we didn’t get everything unpacked and into place straightaway, which delayed the feeling of homely-ness.

Over the last three weeks I questioned myself a lot. I questioned my journey, my motivations, and the way I was choosing to live. I felt really confused, and I struggled to write. I just couldn’t put into words what I was thinking.

Now, two weeks later and (finally) with a clear head, I’ve gotten over myself. No more self-pity for me; no doubts and no regrets either! I want to share some wisdom with you: words I really needed to hear three weeks ago!

What other people think of us is none of our business.

Who cares what other people think of our home? It only matters what we think; and we like it. I thought I gave up caring what other people thought a long time ago. Obviously I didn’t. I try not to care, but sometimes it can be hard. Change can be confronting and lead to doubt. The truth is, if this is the way I want to live, and I’m happy, and it doesn’t impact on anyone else, then it doesn’t matter what other people think. We don’t need the approval of others to validate our decisions.

Of course people will have their own opinions. We all have opinions! I just don’t need to know what they are, because they don’t affect me. I’m out to please myself, not someone else.

Don’t compare your life with others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

For me, the move caused a huge case of comparison-itis. What will people think also translated as would other people do what we’re doing? No? Why wouldn’t they? What are they doing instead? Should I be aspiring to what they’re doing?

I’m not living their lives, I’m living mine. Whatever they are doing is their own journey, and one I know nothing about. I only know about my own journey. I know my own values, my own circumstances, and my own plans and dreams and schemes… and the choices I make reflect this. In the same way that I mustn’t care what other people think, I mustn’t compare with what other people do. My life is about me, not them.

Looking back now this all seems so obvious. Yet at the time those doubts were very real. I think it was a good experience though…to question everything, and find the answers. Change is what makes us grow. Ultimately it’s made me more sure that I’m on the path I want to be on.

As for the flat, whilst it’s not exactly like home yet, it’s getting there, and we love it. On Mothers’ Day we invited both Glen’s parents and his sister and her family over; something that couldn’t have happened in the last place as it was just too small.

And check out the new view from my desk:

View from office window

I get to look out of this window every day! How could I not fall in love with a view like this?!

What about you? Do you ever worry about what others might think? Do you suffer from self-doubt? Do you find change a little unsettling? Or have you learned to just do what makes you happy and not worry about anyone else’s opinions? I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below!

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!

We’re leaving the tiny flat…

After a little over two years in our tiny flat, it’s time to say goodbye. We’ve signed the papers and handed in our notice, and in just over two weeks we’ll be moving out.

It was a tough decision. We really like our tiny flat, especially in the Australian summer. It doesn’t get any direct sunlight so it stays relatively cool, even when it’s above 40ºC outside (and in Perth in summer, that happens often). We like living in a small space, and it’s been an excellent teacher in living with less and making do with what we have.

Plus we like the area; as we don’t have a car we chose this spot as it had excellent public transport links, and lots of facilities within walking distance.

However, last winter was brutal. When you live in a flat that doesn’t get any direct sunlight, with gaps in the doorframes that cold air blows right through, huge panes of single glazed glass and a bathroom window that actually has a 3inch x 25inch gap with no glass at all, it gets pretty cold.

Australia might be hot in the summer, but temperatures can drop to 0ºC overnight in winter. Brrr. Not only that, but when you have a cold flat, it gets damp. Last winter our bedroom (and everything in it) went moldy. Whilst we cleaned it up successfully (with no nasty chemicals) and the mould hasn’t returned, I was quietly dreading the possibility of having to deal with it again this year.

There’s a couple of other things that are less than ideal. Our toilet/bathroom is en-suite, which makes it awkward when visitors come to stay. It’s too small to have more than a couple of extra people over at one time, and we’d like to have people round more often. It would be nice to have somewhere else to keep the bicycles rather than in the way in the bedroom, where I manage to fall over it at least once a fortnight.

We ummed and ahhed about it for a while (it’s such a lovely place to live in summer that it’s hard to remember the horrors of last winter, but I remember saying at the time there was no way I could face another winter in this flat). The flat is inexpensive for the area, and moving is another expense. We decided that if the landlord didn’t put the rent up, we’d stay for as long as we could stand, and then hopefully find somewhere else.

The landlord decided to put the rent up.

We wrote to him to ask whether they would hold off for three months, to give us time to adjust. The job I was working on finished at Easter, so losing an income source on top of a rent increase was not ideal.

They said no.

We resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d have to start looking, and then something perfect came up.

The flat next door!

In our block of 16 units, only four are one-bed units. The others are two-bedroom, and our neighbour’s flat is one of these. This means it is slightly bigger, and the bathroom is not en-suite. It also has a big front balcony area with some natural light which means we might be actually able to grow some plants at last! Also, it’s not technically next door but across the passageway with a different aspect and far more natural light. In the 8 years our neighbours lived there, it never went moldy. Plus, it’s the same price!

The downside? It’s not in such good condition as our current flat. Most of the features are original (read dated and falling apart). The kitchen is even less spacious than our current (and fairly tiny) kitchen.

We’re really excited to be moving, though…and yet glad to be staying where we are. The best of both worlds. There’s nothing like moving house for the chance to declutter, either – and we intend to move with far less than we currently have. All those things that we’ve been keeping in case they turned out to be useful? Well, if they haven’t been useful in two years, perhaps now is the time to let them go.

Two weeks tomorrow and counting…

The gift of giving (and what it has to do with minimalism and living simply)

Meet Grace. She’s 15 years old and lives in Uganda. She’s attending secondary school, thanks to a great little charity from the UK called ACE.

UWIMANA GRACEACE stands for Aid Conservation through Education. They are committed to supporting rural primary education in rural Uganda in communities bordering the national parks, believing education is the key to conservation and poverty eradication. Whilst primary education is free in Uganda, parents have to supply pencils, exercise books and uniforms. This is complicated by the fact that many children have been orphaned dues to the AIDS epidemic, so rely on more distant family members to support them. A single class may have more than 200 children, with only one teacher and no teaching materials. Classrooms and other buildings are often in poor condition, and without electricity and safe toilet facilities.  ACE help by providing equipment including books, desks and chairs, and funding repairs and construction of new buildings and latrines.

Back to Grace. She was a pupil at one of the primary schools that ACE support. She was one of the brightest pupils, in fact, but also one of the poorest. To go to secondary school in Uganda you have to pay, and it is unlikely she would have been able to attend… were it not for ACE. In addition to their core work, ACE run a sponsorship program for the brightest and poorest pupils to attend secondary school. Which means that someone like me can pay the fees and expenses so that someone like Grace can attend school.

Their sponsorship scheme is well thought out. ACE realised that pupils who board do better than day pupils, who have to walk long distances between the school and their homes and don’t have time to study in the evenings because of needing to help their families. They decided that all sponsored pupils would board at the school. So in addition to day school fees and equipment, I also pay the boarding fees.

The money they ask for correlates with how much they need to spend in Uganda; £30 a month (around $50). It costs what it costs. If people can’t afford to commit this much, of course they are happy to accept donations for their other projects, just not for the sponsorship programme. If you’re wondering how much it all costs, it is laid out below. Total transparency.

KisoroVisionAdmissionLetterIt’s not a fluffy ‘sponsor a child’ scheme with membership packs and yearly Christmas cards. They only have one paid staff member – in Uganda. They choose their pupils based primarily on exam results but also on the poverty level of the family; not by how photogenic they are or whether they’ll look good in a glossy brochure. They don’t do glossy brochures. Their website may not be flashy, and the children in the photos may not be all smiles and laughter (that we’re used to seeing), but it just makes them more real. After all, if I was 14 years old and leaving my family for the first time, having never been away from home before, and going to a strange new place, I would probably not be all smiles either.

Being part of this means I’m making an actual difference to someone’s life. To Grace’s life. Whilst I don’t know a great deal about Grace (she sends me letters three times a year, but English isn’t her first language), I do know that when she’s not at school she lives with her mother in a temporary house built from mud, poles and metal sheets, with no electricity, no running water and a single paraffin lamp for lighting. They are too poor to own any livestock. I hope her education will open up opportunities for her as an adult.

For me, this is another great benefit of minimalism, or living simply. By not wasting my money buying stuff I don’t need, I can give it to people who can really benefit. I don’t miss the money being taken from my account. I could easily spend that same amount on coffee or chocolate or an evening out every single month and not even notice. When I think about how far such a small amount of money can go, and what a real difference it can make to someone’s life, how could I not want to do something to help?

“No-one has ever become poor by giving.” ~Anne Frank

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!

The Less is More Festival is (more or less) over…

I’ve been planning for it since May 2013 and it’s taken up almost every spare moment of my time since January this year, but yesterday was the day when all that planning became reality, when all the hard work paid off and people flocked to the Grove Library to take part in the Less is More Festival. And yes, they flocked! Read more

Holiday packing: the battle of minimalism vs sustainability

In less than 12 hours, I’ll be on my way to the airport for a month-long break overseas. It’s not my first trip abroad, or course, but it is the first time since I really started embracing the sustainability path. The last time I went overseas I hadn’t taken part in Plastic Free July (or given up plastic), I wasn’t passionate about reducing waste, I’d never heard of simple living and i thought minimalism was a furniture/design style.

Fast forward 18 months, and all of these things have become really important to me. I don’t want my ideals to go out of the window just because I’m going on holiday, although it would be much easier to take a break from all of that too.

I have decided to pack as lightly as I can. Having been on numerous trips where I’ve taken far too much and cussed as I’ve had to haul heavy luggage all about the place, this is something I’ve been working on for years. Read more