Make your stuff work for you

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I’ve just finished reading Jojo Moyes’ novel, Still Me. I was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, putting aside the other two books I am also reading to immerse myself in this wonderfully-crafted story.

The third in the Me Before You trilogy, this novel takes Moyes’ heroine, Louisa Clark, on a New York adventure (I can see another movie emanating from this one!).

As both minimalist and avid reader, I’m always on the alert for references to clutter in fiction. How do people handle it? What does it symbolise to them? Can they let go of stuff to live a life of more but with less? Is the stuff they’re holding onto serving a particular purpose?

Margot De Witt

One of Moyes’ fabulous American characters, introduced to the reader in this book, is Margot De Witt. The former editor of a fashion magazine, De Witt’s Manhattan apartment is a veritable treasure trove of immaculately preserved and cared-for clothing.

With an incredible, vast collection of vintage fashion including haute couture items, this “style queen, fashion editor extraordinaire” has held onto everything she has ever owned. As a result, her home has become a rainbow-filled walk-in wardrobe, housing a collection including even the smallest of items such as elaborate brooches, pill-box hats and boxes of buttons and braids (in case anything needs repairing).

For vintage-loving Louisa Clark – the novel’s main character – the Fifth Avenue apartment is a little bit of retro-fashion heaven.

Holding on

But why do we hold onto things that no longer fit or which seemingly have no practical purpose?

In her case, De Witt’s quasi-hoarding of decades’ worth of clothes is a way of blocking out the pain of having been separated from her son – her only child – over many years. Moyes addresses this very directly as she reveals that the character “…had built a wall, a lovely, gaudy, multi-coloured wall, to tell herself that it had all been for something.”

Making sure your stuff works for you

Your stuff really needs to work for you. That is, it needs to work on a number of levels: aesthetically, practically or even monetarily.

Remember, everything you see around you right now used to be money. When you look at it that way, you’re going to want to get the most bang for your buck. So, if your belongings are literally stuffed into a drawer and not serving any useful purpose, why hold onto them?

Letting go

In spite of having decluttered so much of my own stuff, there are still some items in my house for me to let go. My ice-cream maker, seldom used, even in summer, now needs to find a new home.

Of course, a kitchen gadget is a small item, but if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I decided to let go of my car back in the winter. Going without a car has been incredibly liberating, has saved me money each month and has set me free from the burden of vehicle ownership. This reminds me of the adage that is well-rehearsed in minimalist circles: “What you own owns you.”

Investment items

Of course, there are some items you’ll keep because you may genuinely only use them once in a while. They might be investment items, such as a lovely winter coat that you’d wear over many years. Still, much of what we retain in our homes may be stuff for which we no longer have any useful purpose.

Putting your stuff to work

In Louisa Clark’s case, she is able to make Margot De Witt’s collection work for her in a professional sense. At the suggestion of the old lady, Clark is encouraged to start an enterprise hiring out her amazing outfits.

What’s interesting is that, as soon as her son reappears, De Witt walks away from her collection without so much as a backward glance. When it no longer serves a meaningful purpose, it’s so much easier to walk away.

Ask the right questions

So, take a long hard look at your stuff and ask, “Does this work for me? Could I let go of it or even monetise what I currently own?”

These questions are especially useful if you’re working to get out of debt and building your emergency fund.

You may love what you own, in which case simply enjoy it. Even minimalists have to have some belongings. So, take the advice of Margot De Witt and see your stuff for what it is: “Do with [them] what you want – keep some, sell some, whatever. But….. take pleasure in them.”

Note

Still Me is Jojo Moyes’ latest novel, published in 2018 by Penguin Random House UK. Find out more here.


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How to Declutter and Detoxify Your Cleaning Routine

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This is a guest post by Emily Folk

Decluttering your space makes life feel like a new start, whether you’ve moved into a new home or have lived at your current residence for years. A blank slate frees up the rest of your time and attention to focus on what matters to you  that’s the heart of leading a minimalist lifestyle.

Cultivate healthy habits that enrich your life and make it feel less complicated. The perfect place to start is with decluttering and detoxifying your cleaning routine in a way that works with and for your life — not against it.

Get to Know Your Inner Cleaner

Guilty of procrastination over picking up, or do you obsess over every nook and cranny when scrubbing away? Found a happy balance yet? Most people tackle cleaning in bite-sized sections while others make it a marathon.

Sometimes the best bet is the middle road. Give yourself small maintenance tasks to tackle during the week, such as washing the dishes or taking out the trash. Save the weekend or a weekend day to tackle the whole house or a particular floor.

What does your inner cleaner say is best, and how can you negotiate to cultivate better habits? The job will get done when you do it in a way that works best for you.

Start High, End Low

It feels easier to pick a random surface and scrub it, but you end up creating more work for yourself. Don’t do that.

Start higher up and work your way down. For example, dust out the cabinets and scrub the grime off all the counters in the kitchen, knocking the pieces of food on the floor. You’ll sweep and mop it up. You’ve saved time and can redirect your energy into waging war on the nooks and crannies, instead of tracking a stray crumb like an assassin on assignment.

Natural Cleaning

Get rid of the bleach and blue dye glass cleaner. Your pantry holds natural cleaning products that won’t leave the toxic chemical smells and potential burns that can result from cleaning. Expose your family to safer cleaning methods:

  • Use a salt and baking soda paste to clean out the grime between tiles.
  • Leave the same paste in your oven overnight and give it a grub scrub the next day with hot water. Vinegar adds that middle school volcano science action into the mix for super greasy, grimy scrubbing efforts.
  • Use diluted vinegar and newspaper for streak-free window and mirror cleaning. Just use the newspaper like you would normal paper towels, minus the annoyance.
  • Some people add a drop of dish soap to clear waxy build up.
  • A little dish soap and vinegar go a long way to a sanitized floor, while baking soda will get the floor grime free.
  • Include a squeeze of lemon for antibacterial properties into most of these mixes and get a fresh scent without the chemicals.
  • Use natural cleaning products from your pantry to save you time, money and space. It’ll also improve your health since you’re not exposed to toxic chemicals for prolonged periods.

Waste vs. Needs and Keepsakes

Get real with your clutter and yourself. You don’t need most of this junk. Choose your weapons of dispense such as plastic containers, cardboard boxes, trash bags or a mix.

Go drawer to drawer, room by room. Hold the object in hand and decide if it’s waste or fulfills a need. In the last two years, honestly, how often have you used it? Is it an heirloom?

Can it be repurposed and will you make an effort? With enough effort, some families move toward zero-waste by following five rules — refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot, in that particular order. Can you start small? Answer wisely, or you’ll keep enabling yourself as a waste hoarder.

Recycle and donate what you can. Get a friend to help haul things off if you’re too attached. If you need more time, stow a few items away, and if you don’t miss them after three months — let them go. Don’t forget to return borrowed items to friends and family, and refuse to store items that belong to others, within reason.

Move Toward a Minimalist Lifestyle

Decluttering and detoxifying your cleaning routine frees up time and space to focus on what holds meaning in your life. When you move toward a minimalist lifestyle, you’re not as dependent on the whims of wants and understand more about your true needs.

Work with your cleaning style, and go minimalist to motivate growth and healthy habits in your life.

About Emily:

Emily is a sustainability blogger who has been in the process of decluttering in order to live a simpler and eco-friendly lifestyle. You can read more of her work on her blog Conservation Folks.


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Why I’m supporting Uncluttered 2018

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Over 16,000 people have taken Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered Course and I’m one of them.

Already well on my way to becoming a fully-fledged minimalist (and having already started my own blog), I had the chance to join the course back in 2016.

Taking the Uncluttered programme incentivised me to go to the next level when it came to removing the excess from my own life.

Getting started

If you’re still looking to get started on your journey to leading a life of more with less, the Uncluttered course could be for you.

Feel like you’re buried under a mountain of things that need to be organised and maintained? Want to downsize, but live with a ‘maximalist’ and/or kids, or just can’t seem to get there on your own?

You may have embraced the idea of minimalism and read a great deal about it, but still felt unable to take the next step. The Uncluttered course may just be what you need.

Practical, useful and inspirational

A 12-week online programme, the course includes videos, articles, weekly challenges and an online Facebook community.

Before you can declutter, you have to believe it’s possible. Created by my friends over at Becoming Minimalist, Uncluttered helps you visualise the home you want, then takes you step by step towards achieving that goal. 

Every Monday, participants receive fresh content straight into their inboxes, providing a fresh impetus week-by-week for the decluttering journey.

Accountability with community

Once you’ve registered for the course, you’ll benefit from being a part of the Uncluttered online community. People sometimes struggle with letting go but the online Facebook community offers a non-judgemental, supportive and friendly environment where you can share both your successes, as well as your challenges.

In particular, if you’ve taken Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz and you know you’re an Obliger (like me!), taking a course like Uncluttered provides the external accountability you need to achieve your goals.

A worldwide phenomenon

I love the fact that, by taking this course, you’ll also get to interact with people all over the world. The team at Becoming Minimalist have created a map of the world, so you can add yourself and view where other Uncluttered participants are based (locally, nationally and internationally).

A quick look at the map today showed that there are Uncluttered folks in the UK as far north as the Shetland Isles and as far south as Plymouth!

It’s not about tidying up

If the idea of tidying up puts you off, then good. Because this programme isn’t about tidying up; it’s so much more than that.

Owning less is definitely better than organising more. The freedom and lightness you feel when you let go of the excess in your life brings so many rewards. It could even boost your bank balance, as you lose the urge to keep on buying more and more stuff you don’t actually need.

Giving back in ways both small and big

I’ve previously written about ways in which embracing minimalism can help you help others. Remember my post on The love that flourishes when you let go of stuff?

I am especially pleased to support Uncluttered since I know that embracing minimalism has given Joshua Becker a platform to make a huge difference to people’s lives – and not just in the minimalism space.

As founder of The Hope Effect, Becker, along with his team, is working to establish a new model of orphan care, which emphasises family-based solutions for children in care. This means that children will be raised in a family-style unit, which research shows can influence positively a range of developmental milestones.

Want to know what others think?

Here’s what others have said about Uncluttered:

“The term life-changing gets thrown around a lot, but this course really is. I went into it with a lot of shame and anxiety. Joshua gently guided us in a way that made lasting change seem possible. My home is much improved, but my mindset is also clearer.”

—Kathryn W., Los Angeles, CA

“The power of this shared experience is hard to explain to people, it is so overwhelmingly positive. It not only provides the incentive to keep going, but reminds you there are good people out there. You find yourself rooting for complete strangers. Together, there is a momentum that drives you through the course. It was completely unexpected and so overwhelmingly helpful.”

—Tanya S., Webster, NY

“I am a better mother, a better wife, a better housekeeper, a better budgeter, a better teacher, a better neighbor and a better friend. I’m still a work in progress, but it feels good to be where I am at.”

—Pam L.

“My credit card statement came today. $1,000.00 under my typical monthly balance! Thank you Uncluttered community. I’ve been at this for years; however, it’s clear I truly needed this group to get to that next level.”

—Cheyanne M., St. Paul, MN

Check it out

So, head on over to the Uncluttered website itself or discover more via Becoming Minimalist. And let me know if you decide to join!

A quick, final tip for you: If you buy Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, you’ll find a 25% discount for Uncluttered in the back of the book, saving you money off the usual $89 course fee. And it’s cheaper to buy the book and use the discount code than it is to pay full price—the option is yours.

Happy uncluttering!


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How to avoid decluttering going too far

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In my most recent Community newsletter, I described an interesting article in the New Zealand Herald which had recently caught my eye.

In anticipation of The Minimalists‘ ‘Less is Now’ tour dates, journalist Chris Schulz had decided to explore if espousing a minimalist lifestyle might make a difference in his life. Did he need stuff that had been lying around in cupboards untouched for years? Of course not. But Schulz’ article does sound a cautionary tale: it is possible to go too far.

Schulz realises that you might get so carried away with decluttering that you potentially let go of items that might be of value in future years. So, here are a few ideas on how to avoid taking your enthusiasm for decluttering going a step too far.

Take it slowly

You’re less likely to relinquish a valued treasure if you take things slowly. Always start with the non-contentious, non-emotive stuff: the easy to declutter. As you peel away the layers, you’ll become increasingly intentional and deliberate about what you keep and what you get rid of. Take your time to decide on the things that may have sentimental value.

Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff. You can model decluttering behaviours and will – undoubtedly – inspire those around you. But don’t make decisions about belongings that aren’t yours. For shared items, you can certainly moot the idea of letting go, but this has to be a joint decision.

Create a treasures box

For years, I dragged around a plastic trunk with my so-called treasures inside. Shaped like a treasure chest and in bright primary colours, this storage container was so heavy that we had to heave it into our loft when we move into our current home. I seldom looked inside it.

As part of my final decluttering, I got to grips with exactly what was in that container. What remains is a very small (shoe-box sized) collection of some lovely sentimental items that I will never part with. Our daughter keeps a similar box; again, this is very small.

Become your own curator

Adopt the mindset of a curator. Your home isn’t a museum, but imagine you have the role of the creative lead on a fabulous project. What selected items would mean the most to you? Which items would form a part of an artistic or historical collection were you to create a display about your own life? What has meaning and adds value in your home? What is frankly just a collection of miscellaneous tat? Keep and enjoy the former; declutter the latter.

Consider your loved ones

We all know that grown-up children don’t want their baby boomer parents’ stuff. But is there a particular item you’d like to keep to pass onto your daughter or granddaughter in future years? On my mother’s side of the family, we love a pretty ring. Keeping a ring (or another small piece of jewellery) may be a lovely thing to do; it might give someone pleasure in the future.

Store and save virtually

An image of something will spark a conversation or trigger a memory that you may enjoy in the future. As I’ve said previously, your treasured possessions aren’t memories. But images of items you once owned may suffice if you want to recall a piece of art you created as a teenager or remember something crafted by a loved one.

Bring some of your personality into the workplace

I’ve recently joined a new department to take up a new post within the organisation where I work. I am privileged to have my own office, so this provides an opportunity to display one or two decorative items that wouldn’t otherwise have a place at home.

My maternal grandmother was a prolific craftswoman. Among her creations are a number of small pictures, intricate and beautifully crafted with embroidery. I have had 3 of these little pictures hung on my office wall; they are a talking point for people who come to see me and they provide a little visual reminder of family, as I work at my desk.

Another friend uses her grandmother’s favourite china cup and saucer as a scented candle, which she keeps on her kitchen table.

Stop when you’re not sure what to unclutter next

Unless you are staging your home for sale (when home life takes on an artificial impression of familial perfection), it’s fine to take some time out or to stop altogether. You might take a pause or cease decluttering completely. Good for you. After all, it’s worth harking back to the reasons we started this in the first place – our ‘why’ or purpose. Living with less allows us to be so much more. So, get out there and enjoy! That’s why we do it in the first place.


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10 ways to avoid re-cluttering our lives

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I’m nearing the end of what has been over 2 years’ decluttering. It started in a low-key way at first. I’d empty a cupboard and maybe sell some stuff on eBay. Next, I’d have a jolly good sort out, followed by a trip to the charity shop. I’d then pass on some unworn or unwanted clothes to my best friend or do a trip to the tip. I had always relished a good sort-out.

That was just the start.

Lightening the load

Since the early days of lightening my material load, I’ve also been reducing my metaphorical load, re-evaluating commitments and obligations to re-emphasise what’s important in my life. You can read about some of this here.

Now, this previously ‘tidy’ person has become much less cluttered in both a physical and mental way.

So, as I am now refining and reducing the final few items that no longer add value to my life, I have experienced the dawning realisation that the root cause of the excess was down to me. That clutter, in fact, was probably 80% mine. I’d like to blame the dog, but he only likes shopping for treats. My husband is a bibliophile, but the books he acquires are usually related to his business. My daughter has (mercifully) gone beyond the trinkets and toiletries stage and any excess resides only in her room.

So, that clutter… well, it was virtually all mine.

Avoid re-cluttering

What this shows me is just how much we bring into our homes or workplaces that we really don’t need. So, let’s consider ways to put a stop to the clutter once and for all.

Here are 10 ways to avoid ‘re-cluttering’ our lives:

1. When you get the urge to splurge, write down what you were thinking of buying. Review your list in a month’s time. Do you still crave that item? Chances are you don’t.
2. Spend your leisure time in places where you don’t need your wallet. The mall (be it actual or virtual) isn’t one of those places.
3. Let loved ones know your gifting preferences. Would you rather have an experience than a material gift? Let them know. Remember, flowers, food or fun can be your mantra.
4. Say no to opportunities if they’re not going to add value to your life. Thanks, but no thanks.
5. Switch off, delete, unplug, swipe away, breathe….
6. Treat yourself kindly, but not with something that comes in a pretty gift bag with toning ribbon.
7. Get outside. Move your body. Smile.
8. Re-gift, donate, pass it on, let it go.
9. Unclutter it if you haven’t used it within 12 months.
10. Relish the space and sense of freedom your uncluttered life brings. Now, you wouldn’t want to go back on that, would you?


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When the next level up might be a double-edged sword

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Last week, I overheard two colleagues talking, as I passed them on my way to another building. One had shared some information, perhaps about a new job or house. The response from the person receiving the news was, “Oh, that’s good. Is it a level up?”

This struck me. If a new job or a new house is ‘up a level’, what are the benefits? What are the implications?

Stepping up

In respect of the former, a ‘step up’ in career-terms might bring more money, status and recognition. It might be the culmination of years of hard work and study to achieve a long-held goal. Great! Yet, what else might be in store at the next level up? More responsibility? Longer hours? More stress?

If the latter, a new house can mean more space, a new environment, a place to welcome friends and the sense of being ‘a level up’ on the housing ladder in investment terms. The converse is that a new house might bring more debt, more house maintenance and the need to do more paid work, as we service the needs (and costs) of a bigger, more expensive place to live.

Pros and cons

So, if you are thinking about going up a level, take a long, hard look at why. Do the pros really outweigh the cons?

If you consider that your job is fundamentally an exchange of your ‘life energy’ for pay, you might see the prospect of the next grade differently when you reflect that you have the chance to gain a sense of personal satisfaction from the other things you do outside of work. You are not your job. Your job is just one of the things you do. Yes, by all means maximise your earning potential but not at the expense of the things that matter to you (e.g. time with loved ones or a home-cooked meal).

The alternative

You might want more space, but do you really want more debt, higher bills and a commitment that can’t easily be aside. Instead, consider if the process of decluttering might just help you see your existing home through fresh eyes. Do you really need more room or just less stuff?

So, the next level up may be a double-edged sword. Be clear about what you’re getting into. Maybe being where you are right now isn’t such a bad thing after all.


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Clear the clutter with 10 top tips

Need some ideas to get started?

1. Sweep through your main living space, gathering up the clutter that doesn’t belong there. Result? Instant ‘clear-of-clutter’ boost!

2. Box up things you’re wavering over. Close and label the box. Let its contents go if you haven’t touched the box in 6 months.

3. Create a “swishing” bag of clothes that you can pass onto others who’ll benefit from them.

4. Fill the plastic charity bag that drops through your letterbox – it’s a time-limited opportunity to clear out that clutter!

5. Choose one category e.g. Everyday kitchen items. Pack away everything then bring out only the things you use in the next month.

6. Sort items into perfect piles e.g. Hand towels, bath sheets, bath mats. Prune worn-out and un-needed items.

7. Create drawer dividers with shoe boxes or gift boxes. Use one box per set of small items e.g. socks.

8. Remove duplicates, especially those items that you’d already upgraded but where you were keeping the original ‘just in case’ or ‘as a spare’.

9. Use up what you have before buying more. Don’t stockpile.

10. Declutter something, however small, every day until it’s done.


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