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 If you asked me now what I removed….erm out of date medicine and my emails.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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Stepping into the unknown: Reflections & Discoveries

Steps descending into mist

Blogging can, at times, feel like stepping into the unknown. You put words on paper (or technically a screen) and then send them off into the unknown. Some blogs evolve over time whereas others seem polished and ‘corporate’ from the start.

Since beginning my mindful minimalism journey, I’ve read dozens and receive encouragement and inspiration from both types. I like the sharing of current de-cluttering efforts AND the essays on particular aspects of minimalism. However I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the structure of the posts at Mindful Minimalism.  Enter stage left Katie M Anderson. Her recent post about How to come up with ideas for your blog provided the hammer to hit the nail on the head.

While I’m not short on ideas, the structure of my recent posts have included three aspects (usually) – a reflection/essay on some aspect of minimalism, what I’ve got rid of and a blog post I’ve enjoyed reading. I like all these aspects but feel I never get chance to fully explain the insights and reflections I’ve gained from the possessions I’m currently decluttering. The blog post descriptions are also not what I would like them to be. Therefore Mindful Minimalism is about to evolve.

I have decided to separate the ‘essay’ type reflections and the second part of the posts (items removed & blogs I’ve enjoyed). I’ll now be posting a weekly “Reflections and Discoveries” post containing reflections (surprise, surprise) on the items I’ve removed and the blog I’ve enjoyed. Less frequently I’ll be posting a longer essay on some aspect of mindful minimalism. The reasons are two fold. It will hopefully allow me the space to reflect more fully without a blog post changing pace half way through on to a different topic. Secondly I have a looming deadline of a book chapter that I need to write and something has got to give! For now it will be the essays.

As for the new format, here it goes…

R&D1


Reflections

This week I’ve been having a staycation (with access to a car and nursery for my daughter). The result has been three glorious days with my wife as a couple (one of which was spent de-cluttering the attic store), visiting the Rob Ryan: Listen to the world exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (and getting a sneak preview of Bob and Roberta Smith’s exhibition – I can’t wait to see it) and exploring toddler friendly places nearby that are inaccessible without a car. My reflections…

  • It was difficult to decide which part to of the attic to sort out as we’ve broken it down into several areas and our natural inclination was to put off the store as it contained papers and items that have strong associations to the past. However ‘eating that frog’ has been fantastic and it was definitely in the camp of seeming impossible until it was done. It also lead to a number of other revelations.
    •  I was holding on to past relations by keeping mementos, despite having a continuing friendship with one ex and having been happily hitched for several years. My advice – let go of past relationships to leave room for the present ones!
    • It is easier to de-clutter Christmas decorations in August.
    • One thing can trigger a memory as much as 10 things can.
    • When you realise that the ‘thing’ doesn’t contain the experience or memory it is easier to let it go. This applied to three rocks (stored in a box, in a box), a single juggling ball, a piece of gnawed beaver wood and numerous bits of paper in French.
    • Old letters can say more about the person who wrote them and what was going on for them at the time, than they do about you. I’ve decided to return some of my letters to their authors as they describe the mundane, every day occurrences of their university years. I imagine they would be valued by them more, even if they decide to recycle them after reading them.
    • Items de-cluttered from the attic store: 2 archive boxes of ‘trinkets’, 4 archive boxes of paper, 1 bin liner of rubbish, 2 bin liners textiles/shoes (that weren’t even being stored in our wardrobes), 1 box of toys & 1 tent to go back to my parents, 1 small box of broken wooden dolls furniture, 1 small box of jewellery & 1 bin liner of Christmas decorations.
  • The M1 roadworks need a serious de-cluttering of the signs. Many appear smaller than usual as they are further away and when they are mixed in with signs that are related to site traffic, and reminders to be vigilant to safety (how ironic) the result is a confusing mess that, in my opinion, creates more of risk.
  • Sometimes we have clutter occupying real estate simply because it is hard to get rid of. As I don’t own a car it can be more challenging, but it also means that when I do have the opportunity to do a ‘tip run’ I cease it with both hands. This week we’ve de-owned (to the local household waste and recycling centre & charity):
    • Everything we removed from the attic store (de-cluttered this week!)
    • The bathroom door we replaced when we moved in (occupying real estate since 2012).
    • Light bulbs & keys (de-cluttered July 2015)
    • Door and kick board from replacing the inbuilt dishwasher (de-cluttered November 2014).
    • Garden waste (lots of it – de-cluttered March 2015).
    • Random electrics (de-cluttered August 2015)
    • Washing line prop (de-cluttered 2012)

Discoveries

This week I’ve really enjoyed the exercise of writing a someday list and a today list as suggested by The Minimalists in their Someday essay. I’ve written about de-cluttering my future ‘fantasy’ self who has grand plans to fill the 60 hours in each day with crafting and who knows what else. This exercise takes the next step and while I’ve taken steps to become a present dweller, not paying attention to what I’m doing in the present is never going to get me the future I desire. Tomorrow is made in our actions of today. I recommend you try out the exercise in The Minimalists’ post to reflect on where your today is leading.

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