I remember my Dad saying when I was a child how we’d become a throwaway society. Somehow we'd adopted the attitude that if something broke, why bother fixing it, just buy a new one. 20 years later that culture has only become more and more prevalent. There’s so many aspects in our lives where we’ve unconsciously become total consumers. If a TV breaks, we buy a new one. If our phones start getting slow, we buy a newer model. If our socks get holes in them, we throw them out.
I was talking to a friend recently about this throwaway culture and how we need to change our mindset to be less wasteful and excessive. This mindset shift has me now considering alternative solutions to problems or needs I have. Instead of rushing out and buying the next new gadget that will help me, I am learning to think of alternative solutions and retrain myself from that throwaway culture I had unknowingly adopted. Example: I love steamed dumplings and have begun making them at home for dinners. I thought I needed a bamboo steamer like the pros to get tasty dumplings. Turns out I can steam them in the frying pan with a little boiling water and the pan lid. I figure why buy the bamboo steamer when I can make do? It would only potentially become another one of those kitchen gadgets I end up getting rid of in 5 years time because I no longer use it.
Our consumption today has us even throwing away so much stuff that isn’t even broken! We finish using an item for it's purpose and we don't take the time to consider how we could re-use or re-purpose it. Example: I love pickled vegetables so there’s always empty glass jars being washed and popped in my recycling bin. (By the way we put stuff in our recycling bins thinking we’re doing such a good thing, but it’s not as clean, green as we might hope when we look into how much of our recycling ever actually gets recycled! But I digress, that's a topic for another day). But with a small change in my mindset, I’ve started keeping my glass jars and re-purposing them. To store pantry ingredients in and be able to fill them at bulk stores & use them indefinitely instead of buying my ingredients in plastic containers! I’ve been making my own cleaning products and some basic skin care products, so these glass jars are perfect containers for that too! Obviously there’s no point hoarding glass jars and containers if I don’t have a use for them, but whenever I can re-use a container rather than throwing it in the recycling bin, I’m going to.
My friend was telling me how she had a pile of clothes that needed some repairs. She was determined to sit down in front of a sewing machine to stitch them up and get some more life from them. How often do you see that these days, really? And rather than go out and buy a sewing machine, my friend borrowed one to use. We so often just go out and buy low-use items, when we could just borrow one from a friend or family member to get the task done. Another example along the same lines; in our efforts to declutter (We are not what we own) I painfully let go of a huge amount of my book collection and have since started going to the local library for books, instead of buying books.
My Dad grew up during the depression and he told me that his socks would eventually have more darning in them than original sock, but times were tough and there wasn't the money to just buy new ones every time he wore a hole in them. We are lucky not to be living in such economically tough times, but we also live in an age where so many people are living outside their means, spending money faster than they make it. The booming world of credit cards alone is evidence of this.
Who else is over consumerism and the throwaway society we live in? Are there purchases on last month's credit card statement for 'things' you don't even want/need/love anymore? Have you started a journey of trying to re-use and re-purpose? When was the last time you repaired something instead of just buying a new one? Do you borrow low-use items instead of cluttering up your drawers with expensive gadgets/tools/stuff that you only use once in a while?
One of the very first things we recognised (and was a factor in kick-starting this journey for us) was the amount of material excess we had in our lives. We have a house with twice as many bedrooms are there are humans living in it. Those un-used rooms you think would be empty, but no they were filled with stuff; namely junk - half started hobbies, discarded ornaments & furnishings that were no longer 'on trend', all sorts of things that had been shoved in a spare room out of the way. A few months ago I cleaned out my bathroom cabinet and found two shopping bags full of hair products, skin care and makeup. Some empty or half empty and others almost full but unused & put to the side as I’d clearly moved on to the next new great product! And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has a cupboard overflowing with kitchen appliances that haven’t been used for years?! I mean why on earth did we have two George Foreman’s plus two other sandwich presses?! We realised so many areas of our life & home were in need of a serious declutter!
This brings me to the topic of “minimalism”. Most people have heard of the idea of being a minimalist but perhaps don't know quite what it really is. I know when I first heard about minimalism I thought it was some restrictive fad where you didn’t get to own anything fun in your life & you had to try to live with only the contents that could fit inside a suitcase. What I have learnt is that actually minimalism is what my life was screaming out in need of! The Minimalists describe it here: “Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom…Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around….That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with owning material possessions. Today’s problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff…Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfilment, and freedom.”
You can’t take any of your prized possessions with you when you die. So why do we as humans place such an importance on the things we own?? Our homes, our cars, our clothes, our bank balances, our accessories. For a false sense of status? Or do we actually kid ourselves that being worth X amount of $ is important? “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.” (The Minimalists). Material things do not make us more successful/happier/popular/important. It’s the people and the experiences in life we will treasure the most. And remember; we are not what we own.
Now I’m not labelling myself as a freshly converted minimalist (because my shoe collection is evidence that I am no true minimalist!), but I have applied some minimising principles to our life and already seen some incredible benefits!
Declutter each area of your home. This is still a work in progress but I’m slowly working my way through every section of the house removing the clutter. I think it's important to tackle it in sections, one room/drawer or shelf at a time. And you must remove everything from that section, because it makes you consider every single item. Go through each item and consider is it useful or does it joy to your life??? Imagine you have to justify the reason you wish to keep an item to a friend or spouse. If an item doesn't bring value or joy it needs to go in either a “throw”, “donate” or “sell” pile. If the item in question does bring value or joy to your life then it can go back in it’s place. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it in the last year or had forgotten you had it - get rid! It’s clearly not adding value to your life.
Using this technique I went from 6 overflowing drawers of clothes, to three easy-to-close drawers full. It’s amazing how many worn-out, ill-fitting or ‘just not me’ clothes I had lying uselessly in my drawers. And now I never have the issue of not knowing what to wear, because all the clothes I own now are clothes I love to wear! The same goes for our kitchen cupboards - it’s so much easier to find the bowl or utensil I need now because we got rid of all the excess. There were so many items we didn’t ever use, or no longer worked. All taking up space and cluttering up our cupboards.
This decluttering process is the time-consuming part; working your way around the house from room to room, sorting through all your stuff and then boxing up things to drop off for donation, or listing items for sale online. But I promise you it is SO worth it!
Organise as you put the things you're keeping back in their place. And assess whether that item was even in it's proper place. It’s funny how things seem to walkabout the house and find odd new homes! The things you use everyday should be organised into easy to reach spots, making life just that little bit easier. Organising also means organising to drop off the excess for donation, or taking the time to list items for sale online. Because if you don’t get around to doing this sometimes the items just end up cluttering up the floor in your garage, or worse; making their way back to the drawer they first came out of! If you’re worried that you might just need a questionable item, then make a ‘maybe’ pile and store any items in that pile away for 6 months - if you don’t miss them or even forget about them, then you know you can get rid of them.
The perk to organising after you declutter is how much easier it then becomes to tidy up an area or room because you have so much less stuff taking up room. I believe having everything put away in it’s place also adds an element of happiness to your life. Matt, a male who couldn’t care less about the ‘prettiness’ of a room or it’s feng shui, has on a number of occasions now commented on how much nicer our living room feels to live in without the unnecessary clutter.
Maintain the tidiness. This can take some re-training of our habits! Whenever you are finished using an item, put it back in it’s place. Don’t let it sit a while on the table where it can quickly become a dreaded pile of clutter again. Make tidying up a habit. Like always making the bed or clearing the kitchen bench-top before you go to bed. Even when I’m in a rush and think I don’t have the time to pop something away, it takes me seconds to do and it has eliminated the stress that clutter build-up used to cause me. No kidding - seeing a cluttered pile of papers or mail on the coffee table used to actually cause me to feel awful! And once a little bit of clutter is allowed, it seems to multiply overnight!!! An added bonus to keeping everything in it’s place means when it comes to cleaning, your time is halved! Surfaces are already free from clutter and just need a quick dust. Rooms look tidier simply by having less stuff crammed into them!
The other important part about maintaining an uncluttered home is applying the rule of ‘one-in, one-out’. If you don’t apply this rule you’ll quickly fill your house back up with new stuff. We are surrounded by marketing telling us to buy this and buy that. But this whole process has shown me just how much wasteful, excessive things I have bought over the years. Hard-earned money spent on crap. So now if I buy a new jacket, I will get rid of an old one. If I buy a skincare product it isn’t until I’ve used up my current one. One new ornament, means an old one is out. Obviously this isn’t a hard & fast rule you can apply to everything, but it certainly makes you more conscious of the things you bring into your home.
Exceptions, there’s always exceptions. Being left possessions by a loved one who has passed away is a hard one to manage. I guess it depends on what the item is and it’s significance to you. Here’s an interesting consideration: if you were gifted the Mona Lisa painting on the condition you had to hang it in your home and that you couldn’t ever sell it, would you want it?? The monetary value or iconic-ness of an item isn’t reason to keep it. The important question is whether it will be used or enjoyed.
Another exception is gifts - they get given to us and we obligingly find a place for them in our home. Sometimes they’re super useful or they bring us immense joy, but often they get forgotten about or go unused. I love the idea of aiming for for presence over presents and finding ways to spend more quality time with those we love, rather than rely on material gifts as a symbol of our love. Gifting experiences is another cool concept. Or just being super mindful in our gift-giving and finding useful presents for one another.
I can assure you that learning to live without the excess is still very much a work-in-progress for us. I still find things creeping back into drawers that I know do not belong there. But changing my mindset on material possessions has certainly helped eliminate a lot of stress, it has helped me to better appreciate & cherish the things I choose to own and it has simplified life just that little bit for us.
If you choose to embrace some changes around your material possessions, remember that as with most aspects of Simple Living, minimalism means different things to different people, so there’s no right or wrong, and no magic number you have to get down to. It’s simply about changing your mindset.
Here are some minimalism resources I found useful: