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 If you asked me now what I removed….erm out of date medicine and my emails.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!

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Reflections & Discoveries: Digital downtime

swimmer

Reflections

This week has not seen much decluttering action. The readjustment to work after two weeks of blissful holiday has been a hard one, particularly the increased presence of technology in my life as a result.

I didn’t abstain from technology use completely while on holiday. We watched a couple of films, signed up for Netflix (now that we have amazing broadband) and regularly used our phone internet to find directions and opening hours of a variety of venues. However I used it a lot less on a day to day basis.

Coming back to reality has given me pause for reflection. That, and I went to the Leeds Minimalists meetup on Saturday. The topic under discussion…Digital decluttering. They were a great bunch of people with a variety of life and technological experiences. It was a wonderful feeling not having to engage in values foreplay before getting down to the nitty gritty.

Personally, I am firmly in the camp of technology should solve a problem rather than create more problems. I dislike technology for the sake of technology. While I imagine, in a similar way to Penicillin being an accidental discovery, technology for technology’s sake has unexpected benefits, but I take Penicillin when needed. I don’t have it as part of my regular diet. So while my post-holiday food diet is adjusting back to home-cooked meals, I’m not sure I want my digital consumption to be what it was pre-holiday.

I’m feeling in the need of some digital downtime. A digital diet if you will. I’ve written previously about my phone zombie ways and have managed to maintain two out of three of my commitments. I no longer use my phone while walking or feeding my daughter. Bedtime is still not consistent so some more work is needed.

Many websites and blogs suggest digitising to remove physical clutter (photos, DVDs and CDs etc.). I fear that ultimately it delays decisions and avoids harsh realities and truths. I think it is necessary to remove the physical clutter before digitising, not by digitising.

Given the state of my external hard drive I would say I’m a digital hoarder. Granted I’m gathering all my historical computer files as I slowly ‘declutter’ each decrepit machine – Marie Kondo digital style – however the fact remains that there is A LOT of digital clutter. So it is an unhappy relationship: needing to minimise my digital clutter while also needing some digital down time. My synthesis is carving out some protected space and time that is technology free.

Some spaces are sacred. In places of worship, swimming pools, and theatres, cultural expectations or physical environment deter the use of phones in particular. But what if those same expectations or restrictions are not present. We must create our own sacred space and fastidiously guard it’s borders. My walk to work is definitely a sacred space. So too is Screen-free evening every Saturday with my wife. Then I get stuck. How to carve out some more screen free time? The exception obviously being the baby monitor!

How about you? How do you get your digital down time? Where are your sacred spaces?



Discoveries

Christy King at The Simple White Rabbit is constructing a Minimalism A-Z. I love how accessible the posts have been and while they can be read as stand alone articles, they are also a beautiful series that explore different facets of the Minimalist prism. So far she has covered Authenticity, Borrowing (and lending), Capsule wardrobe, Debt reduction, Electronic Storage, Freedom and Gratitude. This week she wrote H is for Habits. She outlines the process required to break bad habits by replacing them with good habits. I’ve always found it easier to replace something rather than just give it up. Linking, or staking, a new habit on to an old habit e.g. taking the time a kettle boils as an opportunity to do some mindful breathing or a yoga pose. Her other suggestion is building microhabits. Starting, as the name suggests, really small. I’m going to try out naming the things I have done that move me towards minimalism on a daily basis (even when these are not identifying what to get rid of). What habits do you want to change or adopt?

Declutter 101: How to get rid of clothing

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“Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.” – Epictetus

While I have really enjoyed sharing my thoughts on mindful minimalism, I have no desire to reinvent the wheel. This week I’ve compiled a post that gathers the best resources I’ve found, in the great minimalist blogosphere, on how to achieve a minimalist/capsule wardrobe or basically remove items of clothing that are no longer required (either through fit, style or excess). Obviously one size does not fit all so I’ve included a few different links that have helped me at different stages of my journey.

This is partly in preparation for my second attempt at removing things from my wardrobe when I get back from Bonny Scotland. I completed started this task on January 1st 2015 producing 4.5 bin liners and since then a steady stream has continued to leave. Clearly I’ve not done a thorough job and my hope is that in Marie Kondo’s words if I “do it once and do it properly” the stream will cease. Until then I shall leave you with these.

  • Denaye Barahona’s post, at Dallas Mom’s blog, Why I got rid of my wardrobe, helped me believe a minimalist wardrobe is both possible and achievable (for me). I already have a wardrobe of clothes that colourwise work but taking it that step further to think about what combinations work is my next task. I love that this post has before and after photos of her closet and pictures of 12 different outfits she can assemble by simply grabbing a selection of clothes and shoes.
  • I really enjoy the accessibility of Joshua Becker’s posts at Becoming Minimalist and it is lovely to see how he has evolved as a minimalist (and writer) over time. He also includes regular guest posts. One such post was The story of enough by Sarah Peck, which resonated with last weeks post on being a Good Enough Minimalist. Sarah gave up buying new clothes for a year and discovered what she liked and what mattered to her.
  • If you’re still not convinced you can do it, then how about a look at Joshua’s post A practical guide to owning fewer clothes. He outlines 10 clear steps that are practical and applicable. I certainly need to revisit a couple of these!
  • No post on minimalist wardrobes would be complete without mention of Courtney Carter’s Project 333. Wear only 33 items of clothing, shoes, jewellery, and outerwear for 3 months. There are some exclusions such as workout gear, underwear and your wedding ring don’t count. If that is feeling a little daunting, I love her list of 33 things to eliminate from your closet.
  • And last but certainly not least is Janie Baran’s post over at Simple not plain on how to develop a minimalist wardrobe. It contains a step by step formula that combines consideration of colour, style and suggestions on what to have as your base items, secondaries and accessories. She suggests a 50 item complete wardrobewith a 33 item working wardrobe. It is a great guide to getting started and is an alternative approach rather than staring with a remove the excess approach.

I’ve no idea how to approach my next cull. Perhaps I should start with Marie Kondo’s ‘what sparks joy’ and then use Janie’s advice as a follow up. Whatever I decide, I’ll let you know what else I discover when my task is complete. Who knows, I may even find Narnia!


Items de-cluttered this week – From the depths under the sink I’ve disposed of 6 partially used bottles of cleaning product I don’t use, 2 brushes, several items that I’ve no idea what they were for and part of the fridge we replaced two weeks ago. I’ve also (finally) defrosted the freezer and in the process have disposed of a bag of food I would prefer not to admit to or think about!

A blog I’ve enjoyed – I love coming across posts that take ideas that I’ve had and extend them. This weeks post is one such blog. I’ve recently discovered the writing of Francine Jay over at Miss Minimalist and I have loved every post I’ve read thus far. Her post, Declutter your fantasy self, chimed so clearly with my post a few weeks ago about tomorrow is now that I had to share it. Her idea of seriously asking yourself what your fantasy self is like, and then being honest about our real self has already begun to help me think about the task of going through the wardrobes again when I get back from holiday.


Photo: 2015-02-14c Ideal for things to wear — index card/Sacha Chua/

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”.

The Behavioural Chain Analysis of a phone zombie

chain

I’ve worked for nearly a decade helping women change unhelpful behaviours and either discover, or recover, the life they want to lead. One of the technique I use is called a behavioural chain analysis: you analyse an unhelpful (or self-defeating) behaviour, looking at what made you vulnerable, what prompted the behaviour, what are the links in the chain and what are the consequences. You then move on to looking at what you could do differently, what skilful solutions can you identify, prevention strategies and how you might repair any consequences, correct the harm caused and then over-correct it (make things just a little bit better than they were before).

This weeks post is a follow-up on my phone zombie tendencies and I’ve decided to complete a Behavioural Chain Analysis, partly to see what it uncovers…


What is the problem behaviour I am analysing?

I have been mindlessly and habitually using my phone internet and would like to eradicate this behaviour. It is getting in the way of how I want to live. I do not want to completely stop using my mobile internet, I simply want to be mindful about when, where and why I’m using it. Particular problematic times when I consider it to be unhelpful, mindless and habitual are:

  1. While walking to work.
  2. While waiting for someone/something.
  3. While feeding my daughter.
  4. Before I go to sleep.

Describe the prompting event that started the whole chain of behaviour.

It has been a gradual, slippery slope of phone internet use which has become habitual. However this week I have noticed that there are two particular triggers that increase my likelihood of using it mindlessly.

The first trigger is urgency. I hadn’t previously considered the link between urge and urgency but there is certainly a sense of “I need to do this now”. Making a note of what I wanted to use the internet for helped me identify what was important enough to wait until my allocated time in the evening, what was actually urgent (looking up an address) and what was neither urgent nor important (these ultimately remained on my urges list). I only kept the list for three days as after this point my urges were non-existent. It goes to show that while the first step to behavioural change is becoming aware of how much you use a behaviour, the second is riding the wave of urges.

The second trigger is overwhelming emotions. This only happened once during the week. Emotions are an important part of life, yet at times we are all guilty of using unhelpful strategies to avoid or escape from them when they feel “too much” (for example food, alcohol, cigarettes, other substances or psychological strategies). The occasion this happened, I was both aware of what I was doing AND wilfully continuing to do the behaviour. I was using my mobile internet both mindlessly and in bed. I was using it as a way to shut off from both my thoughts and feelings. This trigger is likely to be at play in my use (and probably other people’s use) of mobile phones while waiting. Who likes to be the odd one out, not on a phone?

Describe in general what things made me vulnerable (both in myself and in the environment).

I have a phone with internet capabilities which I have used for several years (environmental vulnerability). I have a, albeit misguided, sense of being able to fit things into less time, i.e. multi-tasking rather than engaging one-mindfully (personal vulnerability). I can value doing more than being (personal vulnerability). There is a cultural drive towards being ‘connected’, particularly via social media (environmental vulnerability). The transition to a new home internet provider did not go smoothly (environmental vulnerability).

Describe the links in the chain of events (these may be actions, body sensations, thoughts, events, or emotions & may include both helpful and unhelpful behaviours)

Although this is a general behavioural analysis rather than one focusing on a specific instance, there are certain common links I am aware formed part of many instances of the behaviour.

  • “I’ll just” (check/look up/find out/buy) thinking.
  • “I can’t deal with this ” (overwhelming feelings).
  • Sense of urgency.
  • Dealing with de-owning (particularly on Ebay and local parenting group).

What are the consequences of this behaviour?

Short term consequences

  • Wasted time (resulting in more stress as I have lots of things still to do).
  • Tired as I don’t go to sleep as early.
  • Fewer quality connections with actual people in my life.
  • I miss the world around me.
  • Less thinking space.
  • Fewer restorative experiences.
  • Superficial virtual relationships.

Long term consequences

  • Damage to relationships through neglect.
  • Exhaustion (physical and mental).
  • Ill-considered decisions.
  • Not living the life I want.

Describe in detail different, more skilful solutions to the problem.

Identifying a list at the start of what I could do instead was helpful, particularly as I had identified things I could do in both specific circumstances (e.g. read my book in bed as I can’t navigate away from it) and in general (e.g. using mindfulness). I didn’t do any yoga but my informal mindfulness practice has increased exponentially, particularly on my way to work. By being mindful of my walk to work, I have been mindful of:

  • The wake of a duck paddling across the river.
  • The army of purple thistles lining the path.
  • lots of bees buzzing around a plant with yellow flowers.
  • 2 types of thistle.
  • The hill at the end of my walk to work.
  • The warmth of the sun on my skin.
  • Plants scratching past my leg.
  • My daughter signing bird for the first time.
  • A dandelion seed blowing past my cheek.
  • Canine doo-doo.
  • Altocumulus and cirrus clouds
  • A discussion between my wife and daughter at bath time about Signor ‘Green Boy’ (a duck!) jumping out of the bath which one party found hilarious.

It is definitely easier to give up a behaviour when you have an idea of what to replace it with. I have also cleared more things of my to do list, including replacing the fridge which has been driving me bonkers for over three months and booking a dental appointment. I have even managed a couple of formal mindfulness practices which I feel very proud of.

Other skills that I could/need to use are:

  • Radical acceptance – I have had to rely on my phone internet to manage my de-owning efforts
  • Forgiving myself – it takes time to change behaviour and I’d like to aim for progress rather than perfection
  • Dialectical thinking – I can both be frustrated by my mindless use of the internet & want to change this AND have discovered this weeks blog I enjoyed while mindlessly using the internet.

Describe a prevention strategies (to reduce your vulnerability).

Mindfulness is a key prevention strategy to help me manage my vulnerabilities. The more I use mindfulness (both informal and formal), the more value I place on being a human being rather than a human doing. My interpretation of minimalism is just this; keep in your life the things that allow you to simply be.

I am used, in many ways, to living a life that is “different”, and resisting the desire to know everything, all the time, as it happens is another example of this. Trusting my intuitive knowledge of what is right for me (it doesn’t have to be right for anyone else) helps me to simply be. Therefore my mobile internet can be used to add value to my life rather than distract from what is important. For example, today it enabled me to arrange a play date that both I and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed!

Describe how you are going to repair, correct and over-correct the harm.

The repairs to relationships, particularly with my wife and daughter, have already begun. When I am with them I am mindfully present, enjoying their company and appreciating the subtle changes that occur daily. Completing this behavioural analysis has been part of the correction of the unhelpful behaviour as it contains reflections on the behavioural changes I have already made (i.e. the new skilful behaviour I am now using).

To over-correct the harm and make things a little better than before I have shared this behavioural analysis in the hope that others will become more mindful of when, where and why they use their phones. I’m also going to extend (or is it shrink?) my boundaries. For a month I’ll not use my phone at all on my walk to work, while feeding my daughter or before sleep.

Reflections on this behavioural analysis.

Given I ask my clients to think about thier unhelpful behaviours in this way, I really should not be surprised that this structured approach can be beneficial to identify what leads us into using a behaviour that interferes with minimalism and the life we want. Many of us have used the mindless pursuit of possessions as an attempt to assuage or completely avoid our feelings, impress others, or pursue a life that does not leave us fulfilled. I feel strongly that the removal of physical clutter achieves nothing if we do not understand our reasons and drives for the original accumulation. If we remove the excess we are left with ourselves and, if unable to tolerate what we find, the cycle begins again.

Mindfulness can lead to acceptance: it is as it is. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. We are as we are.


Items de-cluttered this week – This week has been (unsurprisingly perhaps) all about removing the digital/electronic clutter.

  • I’ve removed all items from my email inbox (again!) and several email folders have been deleted without even looking in them.
  • I’ve removed all files from one computer so I can dispose of the computer. I realise I’ve merely postponed the hard drive declutter but I’m using Marie Kondo’s technique of getting everything in the same place first. Only two computers to go!
  • I’ve unsubscribed from a variety of email newsletters and have set up more rules for my emails coming in.
  • I’m trying to adopt a new approach to only checking my emails at certain times (work in progress!)
  • I’ve tackled the cables box (I’m sure everyone has one!) and removed 2 cable tidies for phone line (we don’t use a landline), a phone line extension (we don’t use a landline), two bases and one portable phone (did I say we don’t use a landline?), Adsl filters x3, 2 Wifi routers,  Adaptor plugs x3 and a 5m TV coax cable and female adaptor (I have no idea what this is!). What I kept were (in addition to the extension leads we currently use – a 3m coiled extension, a 10m coiled extension and 2 other adaptors. I know we use all of these (although not permanently).

A blog I’ve enjoyed – As I’ve been limiting my use of the internet this week (particularly in bed) I’ve not read as many blog posts and become more selective about the ones I have. Hilary Barnett’s article Tidying up, over at  No Sidebar was a useful reminder that minimalism is about what you are keeping rather than what you are removing. While I will continue to include a snippet at the end of each of my blogs about what I have de-cluttered each week (I prefer actual examples over vague hypotheticals) I will also bear in mind the balance of what I choose to keep in my life.

Photo: Chain/Pimthida/CC BY-NC-ND

Are you a phone zombie? I am.

Phone zombie

Last Thursday evening I went to the pub. Historically this would not have been significant, however last week it was the first pub adventure since munchkin arrived skinside AND, more importantly, I had given my phone a bath two hours earlier.

It was the start of what prove to be an eye opening 48 hours during which I realised I have turned into a phone zombie. It is not so much my phone that is the issue, rather my use of the internet on my phone is the issue. Granted earlier in the week we had failed to effect a smooth transition between internet providers and are therefore without any home internet for at least a fortnight but I had not appreciated how mindless and habitual my phone internet use had become. I apparently use it while walking my beautiful commute to work, while waiting (for just about anything) and before I go to sleep.

My wife and I actively avoid the use of technology around our daughter. We don’t watch TV or use the computer. We have very few electronic toys that provide instant gratification at the push of a button. I respect that other parents choose to use and encourage their children to use technology. Our choice is not a criticism or judgement of theirs, it is merely a mindful choice we have made. So my mindless, Zombie-like use of my phone sits uncomfortably with this.

I’ve therefore decided to set myself some boundaries to explore what’s going on. I’m hoping that in identifying boundaries it will help me to pause and bring the eye of mindfulness to the situation. What can the harm be?

So this week:

  1. I can use my mobile internet in the morning to check the weather forecast.
  2. I can use my mobile internet for 30 minutes in the evening based on my priorities. (Any time I have the urge to use it, I’ll jot a note of the what/why of the situation. At the end of each day I’ll look through my list and identify which are my priorities.)
  3. I cannot use my mobile internet in bed or while feeding my daughter.

In order to help me to remember what I would prefer to be doing instead of mindlessly browsing the internet I’ve identified the following:

  • Talking to my wife/playing with my daughter
  • 10 minutes of Mindful breathing
  • 10 minutes of yoga
  • Reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (for my book group)
  • Ticking things off my to do list.

I’ll let you know how I get on next week.

Items de-cluttered this week – Silicone bakeware, birthday cake candles, bun cases (from the Royal wedding), crumpet rings, handmade paper, 2 t-shirts, 3 plastic storage boxes, a bag of out of date food, assorted stickers, and stationery.

A blog I’ve enjoyed – This week I’ve really enjoyed Chris Wray’s post The long short summary to leading a minimalist life over at Two Less Things. Chris is one of the few people in the UK writing on minimalism and his post this month summaries different aspects of minimalism (it’s not all about the physical possessions). It considers our priorities, building a not-do list, decluttering, digital declutter, consume less online, consume less TV, be in the moment (aka mindfulness) and then invest the gains you have made. I’m sure that given the post above it is understandable why his post speaks to my condition (as the Quakers would say).

Photo Zombie Response Team/Jamie McCaffrey/CC BY

Tommorrow is now – crafting the life you want.

craft room

Last week I wrote about the associations to the past that made it difficult for me to let go of the little black dress. This week I discovered when it comes to crafting, it’s the future that trips me up. Eleanor Roosevelt said “The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.” Mindfulness is all about being in the moment by moment experience of right now, yet our behaviour when it comes to possessions (and clutter) is driven by feelings about the future or the past rather than our present day experience. If you’ve ever kept something you didn’t like because it was a gift and you’d feel guilty disposing of it you know what I’m on about. Feelings about the future can be equally problematic when removing possessions. I no longer get tripped up by the anxiety of ‘just in case’, but the sneaky twins Someday and One day are liable to get me every time.

I’ve always loved using my hands as much as my brain but I’ve only this week accepted that there is a limit to how much I can do and want to do in the future. Letting go of some of my crafting materials has been hard. VERY hard. I’ve had to face the harsh reality that I’ve been fantasising about a future which seems to consist of 30 day weeks, and 60 hour days. This idealised future does not exist. I live in the reality of now (together with 7 day weeks and 24 hour days).

Minimalism is not about being static, it’s about having the freedom to choose where and when to invest our energy. If something no longer matches my passions and values then it can be disposed of leaving room for other things (not necessarily material possessions) to enter my life. Deciding to leave medical school after 4 years allowed me to discover occupational therapy. OT matches both my passions and values, and it brings me immense joy to see clients crafting a ‘Life worth Living’ that they never imagined possible. Saying no to prestige allowed me to discover passion.

I’m not going to feel guilty about making choices, letting go or changing my mind. I want to be able to be in the flow of whatever crafty occupation I choose. Lets face it, it’s not as though there is going to be a crafting supply shortage even if I do limit what is available in my immediate environment.

So I’ve chosen to keep 20% of my wool and half my knitting needles, my paints (acrylics and watercolours), three embroidery kits, 2 papercraft books & all of my fabric. What I chose not to keep was 4 bags of wool, the other half of my knitting needles, 200 skeins of embroidery silks, tester pots of paints, 10 paint brushes, scrapbook paper, 4 packs of beads and jewellery wire (the rest of the jewellery making stuff went a while ago), vintage knitting magazines, 3 cross stitch books, a knitted dinosaur book & a box of charcoal. I’ve not yet tackled paper-based crafts yet so there will be more but that feels like a good start.

I realised while I was sorting my ‘I could use this in the future’ thoughts were simply another brand of ‘just in case’ thinking. Since coming across The Minimalists post on ‘just in case’ items I have been liberated. Their hypothesis is anything we truly need and have disposed of, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes. It is such a simple idea. It is ok to replace things we truly need. Not rocket science but it feels like permission to make mistakes. I have no doubt at some point I will dispose of something I truly need but it hasn’t happened yet and when it does it’s not the end of the world.

Rather than living in the idealised future I choose to craft the life I want now. After all tomorrow is now!

Items de-cluttered this week – Craft items (see above), 2 duvets, 60l rucksack, 4 holdalls, 3 candle sticks, 3 boxes of candles, red sand, metal bowl, 2 shoe boxes of glass beads, 3 bags of rose petals, bag of pine cones, box of autumn leaves, 2 records, 18 spare lightbulbs (83% of the ones I had!), 1 bin liner of scarves, hats & gloves, hen party decorations, baby shower quizzes.

A blog I’ve enjoyed – Canadian Cait Flanders over at Blonde on a Budget has just completed a year long shopping ban after repaying $30,000 of debt in 2 years. The year I embraced Minimalism and completed a yearlong shopping ban offers her reflections and insights on the year and has made me feel that a shopping ban might actually be possible (I’ve always thought it would be useful). While I doubt I will go straight for a year (perhaps a month), I have begun to think about what my “rules” would be. If you were to have a month long shopping ban what would your rules be? What would be your potential downfalls?

Photo Craft Room/chrissy.farnan/CC BY