My daughter brought my attention to a concept called minimalism last year, through a film called ‘Minimalism-A Documentary about the important things’.
At the time we were just about to move internationally again, the movers were booked, I had already done what I thought was quite a lot of decluttering (and minimalising, I suppose, although I didn’t use that word), yet after watching the documentary, I looked around my house and went, ‘Ah, man! It’s too late this time around, I don’t have time to get rid of any more stuff!’. The concept resonated with me, however, as I looked around and wondered how on earth we had managed to accumulate so much stuff.
We moved in, unpacked some things, donated quite a bit straight away (I was quite proud of that) and got on with accumulating more stuff.
Fast forward less than a year later, and my husband and I are about to move again (our kids are both at university, but we still have all their excess stuff as well) and this time we are downsizing; our new house is significantly smaller than any space we’ve lived in for the last 20 years.
We have arranged to store some of our extra furniture, 4 or 5 larger items that definitely won’t fit in this new house (#theminimalists would say we are ‘hoarding’ our excess furniture; hoarding is a synonym for storing)… and as for the rest of our belongings, I am doing my usual clear out. Now, if you know me, you know that we’ve moved house quite a number of times. Many of these have been international moves. I clear stuff out every single time.
We once stored most of our belongings for three full years, having taken with us only what we were allowed, which amounted to clothes and some personal items to make it ‘feel like home’. We actually came back with more than we’d left with, and when we got the rest of our stuff out of storage, we spent the first two weeks unpacking it all and saying, ‘Why did we keep this?’ before carefully storing it in our new home. (I know, I know…)
Wow. I didn’t realise I was quite as bad as that until I wrote it down. I now realise am a hoarder of cooking utensils and equipment, cookbooks, shoes, socks and underwear (WHY???) just for starters. I have more jute shopping bags than an entire small village would need, because I hate having to buy or accept plastic bags when I’m shopping, and I regularly forget to bring my own bag. We currently have 7 different ways to make coffee, never mind teapots we have never used. (One of them is just so beautiful and I am worried it will leak.) Is it useful? Probably not, the last one wasn’t fit for purpose, so we exchanged it with the potter. We thought it was a fault in the glaze, but I bought my parents one as well, and theirs leaked too…SO, if it probably doesn’t brew tea without leaking all over the table, why are we keeping it? You see, even with the regular clear outs, we have so much that we neither use nor need.
I have been listening to The Minimalists podcast this week. The concept of minimalism resonates well with yoga, mediation and mindfulness to me – to move all the excess, all the extra stuff out of the way (physical or mental) so you can focus on the important things, that’s what yoga, mediation and mindfulness are all about. Leading a deliberate and meaningful life, clearing out the stuff that’s not useful, or doesn’t add value. In yoga, I ask myself, ‘What is blocking your progress in that posture?’ In other words, what is stopping you from achieving what you are setting out to do. It can be a physical blockage like an injury or a mental blockage like fear or stress. I think it’s the same with our lives. What is important to you, what are you passionate about? Are you doing it, practicing it, spending time enjoying it? If not, why not? Move all the excess out of the way, the things that aren’t useful or adding value to your life; they are blocking your view of what’s important.
I have just put 10 cookbooks, one coffee machine, a popcorn popper and a pair of purple suede fur-lined FitFlop ankle boots into the donation box in my living room. I am not sure how I feel about that yet. I will sleep on it.
Let’s be clear. I’m not solving the world’s problems by donating an ugly pair of footwear. Also, cookbooks are useful. As long as you, you know, use them. I enjoy browsing through them, although I must admit that I have never cooked a single recipe from many of the ones I own. The ones I am (tentatively considering) donating (or recycling, let’s call it minimalising) are ones I haven’t even opened since they went into storage almost 5 years ago.
I could probably find most of the recipes from those cookbooks online these days. I could also scan recipes, borrow cookbooks from the library, or buy them from charity shops and re-donate when I’ve used them.I won’t be short of recipes just because I no longer own 10 Jamie Oliver cookbooks. Can you tell that I’m trying to convince myself more than you? We’ll see what happens in the morning.
I digress. You see, that is one area of my personality that highlights an issue. I’m clearly a hoarder at heart. The words, ‘Oh, I’d better keep it just in case…’ feel very familiar. One look in my wardrobe would probably flag that up.
So we are trying baby steps here. I have already donated novels we’ve both read, (though not reference books that we will use again, not maps and my dear husband has an obsession with anything that says ‘Wainwright’ or ‘Edward Abbey’ on the sleeve…you do what you can). We’ve done a clear out of old DVDs that we won’t watch again, and most of our CDs went years ago.
I’d like to free up space to make more space and time for people and experiences and writing and just being and breathing and yoga.
Kitchen cupboards are next. How many coffee cups does one family of four need? At a rough estimate, I would say (forgetting the ones the kids have taken to Uni with them) we’ve currently got over 50 mugs (and some ‘proper’ teacups with saucers as well). Don’t get me started on plastic travel mugs that neither keep the beverage hot nor allow you to drink it in the car without dribbling coffee down your blouse.
On The Minimalists podcast, they said that someone had said in criticism of them,’Oh, these guys say they are minimalists, they haven’t gotten rid of anything important!’ And that is the point. You get rid of the excess, so that what remains is useful (or essential), adds value or brings you joy. I’ve added the ‘joy’ part, but I guess that falls into it adding value to your life.
Before he left the house this evening, as I’m preaching all about minimalism and clearing out the clutter, my husband looks up and says, ‘Do I get to stay?’ To which I replied, ‘Of course, my darling, but maybe not all your sports equipment that’s been festering in various storage spaces for the last 25 years.’ Actually I didn’t say that, I’ll let him wonder what’s missing when we move in.
I had a rather parallel conversation with my parents last week. They moved 16 years ago, and still have packing boxes that they haven’t opened. My mother still knows exactly what is in them, mainly because they were all the things that my dad decided to keep, ‘just in case’. They were the ‘if there’s room in the container, throw them in’ items.
We’ve not got that luxury this time- the new house does have a smallish loft for storage, but no garage, a ‘summer house’ and potting shed but no real storage shed to speak of, which in itself may pose a problem. Here’s a little brain teazer: We are a family of four; between us, we own 6 bikes; one member of the family doesn’t own a bike at all. How many bikes does my husband own? Answers on a postcard! (I tease him about his bikes, he teases me about shoes. We all have our weaknesses.)
Right, I’m off to advertise all of our furniture on Gumtree, wish me luck.
P.S. Lifejackets are useful, please wear them. Probably not necessary unless you are in water.
P.P.S. The lifejacket picture is for my parents, and my sister. They will understand.
*Quote from The Minimalists Podcast