How do I get started?

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For the next two or three posts, I’m going to be doing a mini-series of quick-fire posts in response to questions I’ve had from readers and friends.

This week’s post is all about getting started.

The home office

Over Sunday morning coffee at The Almanack, my friend admitted that she needed a serious sort-out in her home office but really didn’t know where to start. Her daughter was using the space to do her morning make-up routine, plus the room was rammed full, but not necessarily with items that belonged there.

So, here are some handy tips if you’re keen to declutter a space like this; I’d be keen to know what works for you, too!

First, sweep the room

I don’t mean getting the sweeping brush out for this one! Simply, swoop in and remove anything from the room that shouldn’t be in there.

Take out the rubbish, the empty cups and the non-office items that have settled there. Immediately throw away, shred or donate things you don’t need. Do this as quickly as you can. Where possible, don’t relocate the items to another space unless you really have to. Let them go!

Second, re-home the misfits

Relocate things whose rightful home is elsewhere, including your daughter’s mirror, brushes, foundation, eyeshadow and so on. If they are going to share a corner of the office, make sure there’s somewhere for them to go when not being used.

If you’re finding it hard to be decisive about whether or not keep specific items, box them up. If you don’t retrieve them from the box within 21 days, let them go.

The key here is that you don’t want to be organising your belongings until you’ve done these first two stages.

Now organise

Once you have let go of the items that don’t live in the room, you can arrange your belongings. Try my solution for paperwork if you’re not sure what approach to take.

By all means, make use of fabulous storage systems that are readily available from places like IKEA. If the room is small, make sure you’re using the height in the space in the form of shelving.

Finally, make room for things that you’d enjoy having in the space. In my office at work, I have a bit of greenery (not all real!) and some artwork on the walls that makes the space a little more inviting. I have also softened my empty shelving with some bunting, attached to the front with drawing pins.

And if the view isn’t quite as dramatic as the one in the above picture, make sure your screensaver is the loveliest it can be.

Up next: How to get rid of things I don’t want to sell.


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The ‘bell curve’ of a minimalist’s home-buying journey

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This year, Mr G and have been married 21 years. Like many couples of our generation, we started small but then our home (and our belongings) grew, as we ‘upscaled’ through our first, second then third home.

I liken this to a classic bell curve. We started little and small, things got bigger, but now we are on our way back down the ‘bell curve hill’. Here’s our story.

A rented flat was home #1

Our first home was a modest rented flat in a purpose-built block that was equidistant from my work and my husband’s studies (he was doing his master’s at the time). I had started my first post-graduate job so was on a teacher’s starting salary. As a result, we didn’t have a lot of money so we managed accordingly.

For a wardrobe, we had a rail. For drawers, we used lidded blue and white striped cardboard boxes (all from Next). Our dining table and chairs were gifted to us, but we actually bought our own sofa (with cash!).

Our first ‘proper’ house came next

As soon as we had viewed our soon-to-be first ‘proper’ home, I remember exclaiming, “That’s my house!”

When I say ‘proper’ home, I mean one with a mortgage. Here in the UK, the obsession with home ownership has persisted over many decades. This has worked in our favour, as we have benefited from historically cheap mortgage rates, but it’s even harder for youngsters to get on the housing ladder these days.

On viewing this particular house, my other half sensibly urged me not to become too excited, but everything eventually worked out. We duly moved in during January 1999 and would own this home for the next 7 years.

This place was a modern two-up, two-down sweet little semi-detached house, set on the side of a hill, which included a large but steep back garden. In terms of living space, we had an entrance hall, kitchen and lounge/dining room downstairs. Upstairs, there were two bedrooms and a bathroom. That was it.

What we did have was a substantial loft space in the roof of this house, as well as a large adjoining garage with its own spacious loft….

The stork came calling

When our daughter, Amy, finally came along (a much longed-for baby), we continued to live in our tiny house until – eventually – we really did more space. We wanted to entertain. We wanted my parents to be able to come and stay over. We wanted a flat garden where our little girl could play. So, we decided to upscale.

Before moving to our next home, we sensibly uncluttered the garage loft of the baby items we no longer needed, but we nonetheless took a lot of stuff with us.

A sunshine house was house #2

Our next home was a 1960 design called a sunshine house. With enormous windows that were set into the corner of the building, it was a light and airy property. This house was a ‘project’, so we lived through the chaos of renovations whilst carrying on with daily life.

Since the man of the house now worked from home, our new third bedroom became his office. A ‘box room’ at the end of the landing was a fabulous space to store…. well… stuff. With shelves floor to ceiling, we could store toys, a filing cabinet, bags, old curtains (why??),  the vacuum cleaner.. and so much more. So, we did.

Our stuff, our little girl and our home was growing.

1800 square feet, anyone?

Whilst our sunshine house was lovely in so many ways, our tastes were changing. The trend to have an open kitchen/dining space was emerging and I certainly didn’t want to be hiding in the kitchen whilst family members were in the living room.

Our sunshine house was unsuitable for alteration or extension and we felt that we’d already improved the property as much as we could.

In addition, my parents – who live 90 miles away – were coming and staying with us fairly regularly. This involved the use of a sofa bed for Amy with us sleeping on her opened-out day bed. My parents occupied our room. But with only one bathroom, thing were pretty tight.

So, when a somewhat unloved, ex-rental property came up in a lovely cul-de-sac just a few minutes walk from our sunshine house, I could see its potential. I remember saying, “I could live here.”

And so, on the last day of Amy’s school summer term in 2012, we moved into our present home where we have lived for the last 6 years.

Enter decluttering

Here’s where my journey towards a minimalist lifestyle began.

When we moved to our current home, we had little need to take a long, hard look at our stuff. We were upscaling, so that meant that everything we brought with us had a home. What we found difficult to accommodate before had its own shelf, its own cupboard, its own drawer. Wonderful!

However, in 2014, I began to see that ‘tidy’ didn’t equal ‘minimal’. I wanted to clear the excess, dig into our carefully-stored belongings and see what we really owned.

I wanted to clear the excess, dig into our well-organised clutter and push the bell curve of our lives in the other direction.

Interestingly, when I drew an actual bell-curve in MS Excel to reflect on this journey, I noticed that that the top of the bell curve came around the 15 year point. That’s when my decluttering really began in earnest.

What did I unclutter?

Oh! The stuff you hold onto, just in case! The riding hat and accessories, Dorma quilt, cushion covers, electrical items, clothes, shoes, bags, sheet music, books, sentimental items…. Out it all went.

My ‘enough is enough’ moment

In 2016, my ‘enough is enough’ moment came when I made the intentional decision to change my life for good, following an intense period of stress and overwhelm. My decluttering efforts ramped up and I began blogging about what I was doing, as well as reading every source of useful information on minimalism and simple living.

Fast forward to 2018

Moderate minimalism is where we have settled. ‘Middle minimalism’ if you like.

Our shared living spaces are clutter-free, but our teen can be messy sometimes (although she loves a good declutter when the situation becomes critical).

As a moderate minimalist, I enjoy and appreciate the benefits of a simple living mindset, especially when it comes to domestic chores! But I don’t unclutter other family members’ stuff. Actually, by modelling decluttering myself, I seem to have taken my family members with me. Except the dog. He leaves his tennis balls all over the garden.

The family home-buying bell curve

The story of our home-buying journey has indeed ended up looking like a classic bell curve. We started with very little, then both our home and our stuff swelled, as our little family grew.

When I began to see that more and bigger was not necessarily better, the curve started dropping down on the other side, which is where we are now.

So, what next?

We are about to enter a new and interesting phase, as our daughter has just begun her first year of Sixth Form. When Amy goes off to university in 2 years’ time, maybe we can consider how we live all over again.

What I know is this: when we’re ready, the prospect of presenting our house for sale and actually making the move will be so much easier now. That wouldn’t have been the case if we’d held onto 21 years’ worth of stuff.

We won’t be burdened by needing to find somewhere to accommodate all our belongings. If we need to let stuff go, we will. We’ll be back at the baseline of our home-buying bell-curve and I’m happy that the prospect of that part of our journey is just in sight.


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