Minimalist Fail

rd-minimalist-fail

Reflections

For those of you wondering about my absence, I’ve taken inspiration from Frank at London Minimalists and have actually started a Masters degree. I’ve been meaning to start one for 8 years but something was always in the way (my stuff!). Although my free time is next to nothing and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of my amazing dryad wife, I’m thoroughly enjoying the learning.

It has been challenging to not be able to embrace minimalism with quite as much fervour as I used to: The Minimalist Movie is still on my to watch list on Netflix, I still need to sort out the attic etc. However I have continued to try and be a “good enough” minimalist and feel like most of the time I’m getting a good balance.

Today has felt like an epic fail! I was off to a good start with digital decluttering. On the way to the library, I removed Facebook and Ebay from my phone in the hope they will stop sucking my time, or perhaps I will be more responsible and go to sleep instead. I also culled my Facebook friends.

On the walk home from the library, I stopped at the local charity shop to see if they had any Duplo. Before Christmas a friend made the statement “all the plastic ever made is still in existence.” She’d heard it on a podcast and it has completely changed how I think about plastic, particularly toys. Hence my search for Duplo in a charity shop. I’m looking specifically for 4×2 bricks or bigger and large base boards. So why did I leave with:

  • a huge bag of Playdoh and related paraphenalia (all plastic),
  • a large box of Mechano (plastic again),
  • a dinosaur (you guessed it – plastic!)
  • 7 books (thankfully paper).

If anyone can enlighten me, I’d be awfully grateful! Perhaps I need to take a leaf out of Michelle MacGagh’s (the other half of the London Minimalists) book instead!


Discoveries

There is a new UK minimalist blog! Although I’ve not had chance to fully explore it Catherine is writing over at Midlands Minimalist. She’s got some great tips for getting started with #Unclutter2017.

Advertisements

Taking a purchase pause

R&D Purchase Pause

There are numerous advantages to pursuing a mindfully minimalist lifestyle. Since beginning to whittle down my possessions, I have already reaped the benefits of more time to spend how I want to: writing, learning to crochet, time with friends and family, & sleeping to name but a few. In my experience,The financial impact of minimalism however is a bit more complex. Through selling some of my possessions I have saved nearly sufficient to pay for a Master’s degree. While I have yearned to study at post graduate level for years, I’ve never had the financial means to do so without sinking deeper into debt.

Selling unwanted possessions has a downside. Attaching financial value to possessions you are removing is risky. It reattaches meaning and value to them, despite already deciding they have no place in your life. It can be harder to let them go as they are then deemed to be “worth” something. This was a significant barrier that held me back until recently.

I’m not sure entirely what clicked – perhaps it was the ever growing mountains of unsorted children’s clothes in the attic which made trying to retrieve anything a monumental expedition. I realised while eBay is a useful servant, it is an unhelpful master. After concerted effort and a very nice lady at the post office who allowed me to come back (after she had processed the 36 parcels) I have now changed my mind set. Not only do I have time limit on the items I am selling, I have become more generous. Items I would historically tried to make a little money from now move on immediately to charity. I’ve recently received my gift aid updates from two local charities and the items I’ve donated have netted them £400 + 25%. A helpful positive reinforcer for continuing this way.

Minimalism automatically drives towards mindful consumption. If you’ve put the effort into reducing your physical possessions mindfully, you are (hopefully) less likely to mindlessly accumulate more. However being mindful of your purchasing habits takes just that: mindfulness.

I disposed of all of my debt (except the mortgage), prior to the birth of my daughter, and a long time before I discovered minimalism. Since then I’ve been able to live within my means and avoid any further accumulation of debt. This includes while on reduced income during maternity leave, and while paying childcare despite both my wife and I reducing our paid work to 0.8 WTE. However I’ve had this nagging feeling for a while that I’m not spending my money how I want to.

Michelle McGagh at London Minimalists is currently a little over halfway through her year long no spend challenge, while Cait Flanders has just completed her 2 year shopping ban.

Personally I’m not one for extremes, however over the last three weeks I have been inspired to undertake a Purchase Pause. I got the idea from an article by Courtney Carver about the power of a purchase pause. She suggested 5 strategies:

  1. Fake it
  2. Buy it on paper
  3. Identify needs vs. wants
  4. Know what matters
  5. Make rules

I decided to opt for a variation of buying it on paper. I have been writing in my bullet journal what I have purchased, and what I have wanted to purchase, including the cost. Personally paper helps me to be more thoughtful about what I have been buying. I have also jotted down any thought processes I have been aware of. It turns out that the following have contributed to my spending:

  • Desire – wool
  • It’s easier just to get it – a near miss with Zero Waste Home
  • Necessity – a lightbulb & groceries
  • ‘It’s available’ – a near miss with a coffee grinder
  • Lack of planning – food usually
  • It’s for a good cause – donations at a Refugee week event
  • ‘It’s not real money’ – a credit note used to buy shoes
  • Entitlement – ‘It’s our holiday’ – Snacks after trampolining

It was certainly helpful to be aware of of my mental attitudes. Some of the items were purchased through need, but some were definitely wants. The most significant change however was by noting what I would have spent mindlessly (averaging £25 per week) I have been able to redirect this to where I would like it to go.

I have become more generous and seriously begun to think about what I am ‘voting’ for when I spend my money. Initially the money I ‘saved’, or more accurately didn’t spend, has been redirected to help others including pants for refugees, sponsoring a friend who completed Pretty Muddy for cancer charity, a fete in aid of Alder Hey Children’s Charity, supporting the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and a food bank donation. I’ve since discovered it is possible to make regular monetary donations to the food bank so that is on my list of things to do this week.

Perhaps mindful minimalism is a key to generosity.


Discoveries

This week I’ve been dipping into the ocean of Leo Babauta‘s Zen habits and particularly enjoyed A Simple Declutter Habit: Leave No Trace. The premise is fairly simple and focuses on tidying up after yourself, however he highlights the role of mindfulness within this. You have to notice as you move through life and from one task to another.When you finish a task pause and take stock before moving on to the next. His gentle guidance does not expect perfectionism, rather encouraging you to remember as often as you can.

 

Enjoy the little things

enjoy-the-little-things-906291_1920

Reflections

So no post for two weeks. I believe that says a lot!

However, accountability wise, I have been able to get back to walking to and from work, I’m eating less chocolate and have done more yoga (including a one day yoga retreat). The chapter is more written than it was, but is still on the way.

There are several exciting possibilities and actualities at the moment that in themselves also feel a little daunting but as season’s change so do we and change is therefore inevitable. What was once a good fit, starts to feel a little tight or a little loose. Likewise, something that was uncomfortable becomes suddenly right for us.

Minimalism for me is about paying attention to what is important by removing the excess distractions and therefore getting to enjoy the little things. So I’m going to weigh the pros and cons of new opportunities and strike forward to enjoy the journey.

Discoveries

This is not a recommendation for a particular blog post, but an entire blog. I love the images at Time Nexus. In an otherwise busy world they area little piece of perspective and beauty.

 

Reflections & Discoveries: Asking quality questions

R&D quality questions

Reflections

Have you ever visited someone’s home for the first time and taken a gander at their collection of music, films or books. It’s usually accompanied by judging and comparison. Do they like the same things we do? What does there collection say about them? It’s a type of values foreplay that I’m sure most people, myself included, have engaged in.

5 years ago when my wife and I met she was astounded by the number of DVDs I had. I did not have a TV but I had DVDs. LOTS of DVDs. She ‘modernised’ me, introducing a TV, kettle and microwave into my home but the DVDs remained. Over the last year I have whittled my collection down to a mere 280. Some of them are hers and I wouldn’t choose to keep them, but to be honest most of them are mine.

I’ve been through them twice already – a quick first pass and then using the Marie Kondo method of taking them all off and asking “Does this spark joy?” before replacing any that do. I was surprised therefore that joining Netflix triggered the immediate thought – well I can get rid of Heroes and 24. Netflix apparently is providing me with some form of psychological safety net. However not one to pass up the opportunity for self reflection and removing things I tackled the DVDs again.

I recently came across a quote: “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of questions you ask yourself and others. What are you asking?” My research suggests this is based on a quote by Tony Robbins, however the idea has been a sticky one. What if the quality of my decluttering is based on the questions I’m asking myself?

When deciding to remove possessions we all ask ourselves questions. Does this spark joy? Do I believe this to be beautiful or know it to be useful? Would I buy it now? Am I holding on to it because of an association? Am I holding on to it because it represents an investment? Is my fantasy future-self desperately trying to hold on to it? Why am I holding on to it? Would I prefer the money/space? If I let it go and regret it, is it easily replaceable?

What I became aware of was actually asking one question was too simplistic an approach. Would I buy this now? Well no because I’m not generally buying anything. Do I believe it to be beautiful or know it to be useful? It’s a DVD it doesn’t fall into the beautiful category and the usefulness is based on a scarcity and instant gratification mentality. Does it spark joy? Some of them were easy and brought an automatic smile to my face. Others however did not immediately spark that smile but I was uncertain about letting go. There were a fair few that ended up in an ‘I’ll watch once more and then get rid of’ pile. The following day this pile simply moved to the get rid of pile.

I don’t have a favourite movie and have always thought of myself as having eclectic taste. However through this process I have discovered the films I want in my collection are my go to movies. Those I reach for time and again and do not loose their appeal in the 100th viewing. That, it appears, is a much higher benchmark. I have discovered while I have enjoyed many different films, my tastes are quite simple. I like

  • romantic comedies,
  • a few straight up comedies,
  • feel-good teenage movies usually with some form of physical activity (gymnastics/dance etc),
  • musicals,
  • action-porn (think Mr & Mrs Smith, Day after tomorrow and you get the idea)
  • Specific Trilogy/series (X men,Lord or the Rings, Harry Potter, Sharpe etc).

But having enjoyed a film does not mean I’ll necessarily watch it again. I don’t have to keep it to remember the film. That’s just not going to happen: I enjoyed Ghandi a few years ago but have no idea what happened. So why was I holding on to the others?

  • Nostalgic value…Goldfinger was the first Bond film I watched on terrestrial TV when I was a child however I’m far more lilkely to reach for Casino Royale given the choice.
  • Life stage specific e.g. Human Traffic, Monty Python and Battle Royale.
  • Films said something about me. What I wasn’t always sure perhaps they were merely supporting my ‘eclectic’ tastes e.g. The Princess Bride & Life of David Gale.
  • Films I “should” have in my collection: Pulp fiction, Flashdance, & American Beauty all fit this description.
  • Excess of the films I like. Some films were simply not high enough calibre. They fit in the categories listed above, however there were others in my collection that were my “go to” movies.
  • Films and shows my fantasy future-self was going to get round to watching e.g. Spirited Away & City of God.

This time 200 DVDs survived the cull. That brings the total number of DVDs I’ve removed to 130.  It’s not even half way and there are a few that I’m erring about but for now it’s good enough.



Discoveries

Once upon a time, Leo from Zen Habits had another blog mnmlist. One of is last posts was entitled The Dangers of Reading. It was a thoughtful reflection on how reading can activate our fantasy future self (although that is not what he called it). Inspiration can lead to distraction and this lack of focus can keep us from doing anything well. His answer is not to stop reading, but to be more mindful of our impulses when we do.

Declutter 101: 7 tips to begin a minimalist journey

where to begin

This weeks post is motivated by a comment on last weeks Reflections and Discoveries: Is it fit for purpose? and gives 7 top tips to begin a minimalist journey.

If anyone ever asks me how I came to be a minimalist I blame the baby! My nesting instinct during pregnancy was to get rid of stuff. Lots of stuff! During my third trimester I embarked on 40 bags in 40 days. I was inspired by a fellow aspiring minimalist who I’m fortunate enough to now call my friend.

I lasted all of 9 days! In those 9 days I managed to create 15 “bags” albeit some of them virtual. If you asked me now what I removed….erm out of date medicine and my emails. My emails took 15 hours (2 bags) and the medicine cabinet 30 minutes (1 bag). Other than that I’d have to check out my list of places that I had identified before I started. I know some areas I’d identified still haven’t been done (the shed!) and others have been gone through numerous times, although not in that initial flurry of activity.

It took a further 9 months before I began my consistent, step by step journey towards a more mindfully minimal lifestyle. In November 2014 I started to remove stuff/things/items/possessions. Call it what you will, it was clutter and it was getting in the way.

I actually restarted because I wanted to acquire something. A wooden 12 piece rainbow for my daughter’s first birthday. If 12 pieces were coming in I wanted to have sold sufficient ‘stuff’ to fund it. I didn’t actually need the money but it was useful having a target. I did it in 2.5 weeks. Since then I’ve used money from selling to fund two dress making classes and to buy another laptop. I can’t say replace as the previous four are still in the house but it is a replacement. I’m now saving to do a Masters degree.

I’ve tried numerous techniques along the way. Some have stayed, some have been discarded along with more clutter. These however are my top tips to get started.

1. Start

This may seem obvious, but just start. You don’t have to wait for the perfect time, or until you have the perfect strategy. Just start. Put the pile of read (or unread magazines in the recycling). Pick up 5 things that are in the wrong room and put them in the right room (preferably away but to be honest in the early days there may not be space).

2. Start with the end in mind.

Start with the end in mind and set yourself up for success. Most people know where their bin is and hopefully their recycling too. If you don’t I suggest you acquaint yourself with them as a first step as they are essential parts of a minimalist journey. It is much easier if you know where you are going to put the items you remove.

I use the four ‘box’ method – trash/recycle, donate, sell, relocate. They are not so much boxes as bags and a basket for the items for relocation. I prefer to have them all with me and then move them at the end of a period of decluttering (or when they’re full) to the end point (i.e. the bin outside/charity shop/put the relocated items away).

3.   Identify high hit rate areas

When paying off debt one school of thought is paying off the smallest debt first (while maintaining minimum payments on others) so you start to see small successes and can snowball them. I feel it is the same with minimalism. Rather than thinking I’m going to tackle the entire bathroom, focus on the medicine cabinet. Rather than the entire bedroom, do your sock drawer. Kitchen = pantry. It may sound crazy but I don’t think most people have a lot of emotional attachment to their out of date medicine or holey socks. Identifying these areas can give you quick wins as whether something needs to go is usually obvious. If you need any convincing on why it is important to get rid of out of date medicines then Anne Lene at Minimalist sometimes wrote a great piece on the very topic: Expired medication…It is important to remember to dispose of medicines safely at a pharmacy though.

4. Have a target

Having a targets has helped immensely. My original target was 40 bags in 40 days. At the rate I was going, if I had maintained momentum I would have done 40 bags in 24 days.

What I learnt was having realistic goals helped build momentum as I had a sense of achievement. The two most depressing days were the email clearing and eventually I counted it as 2 bags. It felt never ending yet on a different day, Medicine Cabinet – done. I may as well do the under the sink cupboard and pantry too. Three bags in one day!

Once I had embraced the idea of getting rid of stuff, early on I found it much easier to do  quick sweep round a room pulling out anything that I new immediately needed to go. This is great if you are wanting to do a lot quickly, however in depth decluttering will hone your skills.

Maire Kondo recommends a specific order with which to proceed as the difficulty increases. It leaves sentimental items until last and having recently been through the memory boxes in the attic, I was glad I had honed my skills as three rocks in a box and a bit of wood gnawed by a beaver could just go!

If you are at the start of a minimalist journey, the target of bin day or trash/recycling collections can be a real motivator as deowning is as important as the initial decluttering. Fill an extra bag with rubbish or recycling and get rid.

5. Take the Goldilocks challenge.

Never heard of the Goldilocks challenge? It’s making sure that you are taking the just right challenge. Rather than biting something off that is too big to chew like the entire kitchen, break it down to a challenge that is just right. You could break it down by location or type of item. Personally I’ve tended to break it down by location: the fridge; the freezer; counter tops; top cupboards; bottom cupboards. When you’re starting perhaps only doing one cupboard at a time, especially when you are time poor.

6. Aim for progress not perfection

As we are all so used to feeding our fantasy future self, it is equally important to not act into her when we are removing things too. She may want to live in an amazingly minimalist house, but you have to live in this reality. Even if you are on the journey it, much like a river, will ebb and flow.

For helping remind me of this I love Elsie Joy’s poster Big Things Happen One Day at a Time. It helps me to remember that even if I don’t manage to do something everyday it is the overall progress that is important. Commit to working on having a more mindfully minimal life and every day you take a stem towards it, cross a day off.

7. Get a community

I’ve already written on The importance of community on a minimalist journey. Whether virtual or real, set up your support systems (even if they don’t realise that is what they are).

It helps to have people in real life who you connect with over minimalism, whether a partner, friend or community who just get it. They understand why shopping is not, in your world, a leisure pursuit without feeling judged.

As I said, my inspiration came from a very good friend who is also an aspiring minimalist, and since then many in my local parenting community have embraced to a greater or lesser extent the idea of decluttering. Even when decluttering is taking a back seat in my life I enjoy seeing how much others are doing online but I must admit it is the face to face conversations I find most powerful. The evolution of ideas that come from dialogue rather than monologue. While on maternity leave I spent many a Friday lunchtime discussing minimalism and I now no longer get the chance to do that which saddens me.

Having said that, in the early days, in the middle of the night I gained inspiration and enthusiasm from reading blog posts. Online communities can be as powerful, sharing ideas across the globe. Many blogs are US based and it was with these I started, particularly Becoming Minimalist. However there is a growing online community in the UK and a list of UK Minimalist blogs can be found here.

Ultimately, if you want to become a minimalist (or even just a little more minimalist), start today. Tomorrow is now!

The Good-Enough Minimalist

Person at sunset

Every two years I have to re-register with the Health and Care Professions Council as an Occupational Therapist, to be able to continue practising under a protected title. As part of the process I have to stand up (or rather tick a box on an online form) and say that I continue to meet the Standards of proficiency, conduct, performance and ethics expected of my profession. Having just completed this process for the 6th time (where did all those years go?) I have been pondering about the standards we expect of our selves.

I am not perfect. I know I’m not perfect and I’m glad about it. Perfection is fraught with difficulties both for the individual who is apparently “perfect” and those around them. Perfection is exhausting, unrealistic and as Gloria Steinem said “a pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space“.

Personally, I’m aiming for Good-Enough. To be a good-enough mother; a good-enough wife; a good-enough friend; a good-enough colleague; a good-enough OT; a good-enough minimalist. Being good-enough suggests that failure is tolerable, mistakes can be admitted and progress is sufficient. Inbuilt is the idea that I am able to decide, for myself, what is “good-enough”. I don’t have to try and achieve anyone else’s standards but my own.

I’ve never seen the appeal of counting my possessions. I’ve way too many for a start, but I also know that I will never be a minimalist with 51 things like Colin Wright, 72 things like Tammy Strobel or even 288 things like Joshua Fields Millburn. Each to there own but taken to the extreme I find minimalist environments cold and clinical and I’m just not that kind of minimalist.

I worry when people see a number as being the magical answer, whether it be weight, size, savings account, pay check or number of possessions. The fundamental flaw in this approach is that the number is merely representative of something else. I’m sure at one time or another we’ve all bought into the “if only…” way of thinking. If only I earned more, weighed less etc, etc. The one thing that is guaranteed with “If only” thinking is dissatisfaction.

When it comes to minimalism, the “If only” trap is still a trap. “If only I removed more possessions I’d be…”. Don’t get me wrong, the more possessions I remove from my life, the fewer I need. I’m sure at some point I will reach a point of equilibrium where it becomes more about maintenance and regular review rather than the constant river (sometimes tidal wave) currently leaving. However I’m not aiming for a specific number, either in terms of total number of possessions or in % removed. What will be will be. It just needs to be good-enough. Good-enough for me!

How about you? Do you have a specific goal in mind? What’s good enough for you?


Items de-cluttered this week – Jewellery (I didn’t want to count it all as it looked like a lot. I do know that what is left are pieces that I love and will wear regularly).

A blog I’ve enjoyed – This week’s blog I enjoyed only landed in my inbox 2 hours ago. To be fair I was going to share another blog by Melissa Camara Wilkins however When your life art is messy just resonated so completely with this piece that I had to share it with you. Melissa writes about life artistry and how even when the edges don’t quite line up and what you end up with is nothing like what you imagined, you continue the messy work of creation and revision. After all “It’s art. There’s no wrong answers”.