Maintaining minimalism

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Having recently bought some Christmas stocking fillers online for our teenager, I am now using the cardboard delivery box to do a sweep of our home prior to guests arriving over the festive season.

Simplest is best

It occurs to me that the ‘one in, one out’ rule is arguably one of the most powerful (but simple) tools in our minimalist toolkit. So, why am I finding things to place in that box, if this is something I believe in? It’s because I didn’t stick to the rule! That summer hat I found in Corsica two years ago was to replace the floppy one I wasn’t wearing, but I just found the original in my chest of drawers,….

Keeping on top of your stuff

As I mentioned in my last post in which I reviewed Joshua’s Becker’s The Minimalist Home, achieving a minimalist environment is one thing; maintaining it is another (especially during life’s key transitions, which seem to be associated with moving stuff around!).

As I wrote previously, it’s a bit like deciding to lose weight by going on a low carb diet (for example). All diets work if you stick to them; you’ll benefit from letting go of the excess pounds and will feel physically and mentally lighter. Decluttering is similar. Let go and you’ll enjoy the benefits but unless you have a strategy for maintaining your new-found lifestyle, the chances are you won’t embed it and be able to stick with it.

Going back to ‘one in, one out’

This is where the ‘one in, one out’ rule comes into its own. When we decluttered my late mother-in-law’s house during the summer and early autumn, I brought home a white vase that had belonged to her. When I subsequently chose an even prettier one that no-one else wanted, I actually let the white vase go (and got rid of another one at the same time). So, that was one in, two out!

The hardest part of being a minimalist

Next week, I’m being interviewed by a media student who is making a documentary on minimalism. In our pre-interview correspondence, he has asked me a number of questions, one of which is, “What is the hardest part of being a minimalist?”

My response will be that anyone can live a minimalist life; it’s not hard. However, there was a moment when I realised that because I use and enjoy all of my things, some of them will actually will wear out! The one in, one out rule very much applies then.

The easiest part of espousing minimalism

The easiest part of adopting a minimalist lifestyle is when you receive something you both wanted and needed. Here’s where the ‘one in, one out’ rule really comes into its own.

With Christmas just around the corner, chances are you’ll receive something during the holidays that will replace something you already own. We are so fortunate to live in an age where we can (and do) ask for a ‘new X’ (insert watch, coat, pair of gloves, scarf, laptop… the list goes on). So, consider the ‘one in, one out rule.’ If, like me, you don’t own many items in a particular category, a replacement item of great quality can enable you to let go of the existing item you already own that may be past its best.

A great way to maintain minimalism

So, intentionally review your existing items when you receive something new and stick to the ‘one in, one out’ rule. This way, when you reach for something you need, you’ll find your best and the loveliest things just waiting to be enjoyed. A very Happy Christmas to you.


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The Minimalist Home

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When I was invited recently to preview Joshua Becker’s latest book, The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Focused Life, I was keen to oblige.

Now seems a very good to time to consider how the items we bring in to our home have an impact on our lives, especially as the ‘season of excess’ is truly upon us. Only on Saturday morning, the speaker on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day quoted, “We are all choking on the fumes of excess.”

I was particularly curious to see what Joshua Becker had to say in The Minimalist Home, especially since he has already written a number of books on the subject. This work is a distillation of Becker’s knowledge and expertise gained over the last 10 years. So, if you’re keen to read (or gift) a book on minimalism during the holidays, this is an excellent place to start.

Case studies

Becker describes not only the benefits of minimalism experienced in his own life (and in the lives of those closest to him), but he also shares real case studies (some of them gleaned from members of his Uncluttered online course community).

Imagine if you could find a more fulfilling purpose in life, simply by letting go of what no longer serves you. In the book, we read of the nurse who, freed of the burden of ‘stuff,’ is able to use her skills to help others in Honduras. There’s the couple who discover unexpectedly the benefits of living in a smaller space when the husband is deployed to an air base in California. And there’s the woman who simply states, “I cannot work or be creative in a cluttered environment.” This one really very much resonates with me.

Home is where the heart is

Starting with that evocative line from The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home,” Becker reminds us of the importance that ‘home’ plays in our lives. He suggests that if you make-over your home, you ‘make-over’ yourself, all of which is without the help of a Sarah Beeny or a Kirstie Allsopp.

As a minimalist myself, I don’t disagree; I have experienced what Becker calls ‘the minimalist dividend’. This is the unexpected bonus you’ll enjoy through adopting a minimalist home. For me, I’ve freed up time and have more capacity to enjoy a variety of activities, rather than spending time chasing after stuff or (worse) managing the stuff I already own.

I’ve also found, like others quoted in The Minimalist Home, that minimalism and money go together in a positive way (I’m in the process of editing my own little e-book on this very subject, so watch this space!).

Step by step

Rather than declutter by item type (e.g. the KonMari Method™), Becker’s method takes us room by room. I particularly like this approach, as there are some quick wins to be achieved by decluttering shared family spaces first.

Becker’s checklists also help the reader know when they’ve achieved all of the potential benefits of decluttering each room or space.

Experimentation

Experimenting is a very good way to evaluate how living with less can add value to your life; Becker suggests doing some mini-experiments to gauge the extent to which you might actually have a real need for something.

The temporary removal of things you may no longer need (a classic minimalism tip) is a terrific way to deal with something over which you’ve been procrastinating. Not sure if you want to keep it or if you truly need it? Box it up, wait for 29 days, then let it go if you haven’t retrieved it.

Reflecting on my own approach

Becker’s easy-going prose is not at all directive in style, but some of his suggestions caused me to reflect and question my own approach. Too much screen time a concern? Becker suggests removing a TV or games console. I would argue that it’s the truly personal devices (that controversial smart phone, especially) that consumes our attention and impacts negatively on our real-life relationships.

Becker also asserts that keeping items visible – and conveniently close to where they will be used – creates a visual distraction. He calls this ‘The Convenience Fallacy’. I would submit that not keeping things in a convenient location is what Gretchen Rubin calls a ‘happiness stumbling block’. So, whilst I concur with the idea that unnecessary clutter is counter to the minimalist ethos, I do advocate keeping items where they will be used.

I also found puzzling the inclusion of two recipes for natural cleaning products. Whilst they might be a complementary idea to reduce the variety of items you might use for cleaning or laundry, I felt this small addition was a little incongruous.

As with any book on minimalism and simple living, it’s useful to consider to what extent ‘The Becker Method’ chimes with your own thinking. Indeed, as any minimalist would advocate, I’d evaluate then adopt the things that resonate with you, but let go of anything that doesn’t.

Maintain

For me, where the book really comes into its own is the section that considers how we maintain a minimalist home. Including this aspect is important; it’s a bit like a maintenance plan for the successful dieter: how to lose the weight and keep it off. In this case, the ‘weight’ is excess stuff without which you will feel lighter.

Becker also encourages the reader to consider how we live throughout our changing lives, especially during life’s important transitions. Here, he also includes some thoughts on how we can ‘right size’ our homes and gain in the process, perhaps experiencing the joy of less work; fewer financial commitments; and more time.

Rest

I particularly love Becker’s idea that a minimalist home supports our well-being and helps us get a good night’s sleep. A home that, “… promotes peace, serenity, relaxation, calmness and sleep…,” has got to be worth pursuing.

So, as you look forward to some down time over the festive period, consider putting your feet up with Joshua Becker’s new book. By reading it and in adopting its core principles, I’m sure you’ll also nurture gratitude whilst being more generous with your time, your money and your attention. Your presence, not presents, may be just what’s needed this Christmas.


About Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker is the founder of Becoming Minimalist, a community of 1 million + monthly readers and Simplify Magazine (100,000 subscribers). He’s a national bestselling author and his new book The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Focused Life releases December 18 and is available to pre-order now. Joshua is a contributor to FORBES and has been featured in Real Simple, Wall Street Journal, CBS Evening News and more.


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10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

It’s time to remind ourselves what a clutter-free Christmas might look like….

Catherine Elizabeth Gordon

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I have previously written about gifting with grace and love, but I’ve been thinking lately about ways to achieve a clutter-less Christmas.

If you’re a minimalist yourself, you may want to be intentional in your gift giving and emphasize ‘experiences over stuff’. Perhaps you’re hoping that any gift you might receive would support your clutter-free goals. Or maybe you’re just looking for some ideas that won’t involve going to ‘shiny spending places’, which would almost certainly result in both you and your wallet feeling depleted.

Here are my 10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

1. Try home-made

I’m baking iced Christmas tree decorations this year. Made with love, these little tokens are inexpensive to make, are low-impact when it comes to packaging, and I can be generous in gifting as many as I like. If you don’t want to hang yours on the tree, that’s fine. You can simply…

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How do I look?

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Quiz question of the day:

What’s something we all have, which can inspire both joy and loathing in all of us, but which we can’t live without?

Of course, no prizes for guessing: clothes.

A hotch-potch wardrobe

I’ve been mithering a bit about clothes lately.

In the past year, I’ve bought relatively few things to wear. But, if I’m honest, I feel like I’ve ended up with a ‘hotch potch’ of items. Most I have bought second-hand (and very good purchases they were too). Others were bought in a sale or via a clothing discount store such as HighStreetOutlet. As a result, I’ve maintained my frugal ways, but I never feel particularly stylish. Plus, I’d love to be a little more consistent about what I choose to wear and how I look.

How do I look?

It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. So, I was grateful to have been given a copy of Inger D Kenobi’s How Do I Look: The Year I Stopped Shopping.

This entertaining book is a curious mix of memoir and commentary on fast-fashion,  consumerism and the ridiculous stories we tell ourselves about the clothes we wear (or which call to us from the shop window).

Challenged by a friend to join her in a “shop-stop” year, Kenobi resolved to avoid buying any new clothes for a whole 12 months. The book charts her journey from unintentional clothes buyer to chastened, mindful consumer. Along the way, she provides a number of “Emergency Shopping Guidelines.” These provide a ‘set of rules that will prevent us from making the same stupid shopping mistakes again, and again, and again.’

Emergency Shopping Guidelines

I thought it would be interesting to bring Kenobi’s rules together and to consider them in the light of my not-particularly-well-curated but minimal ‘capsule wardrobe’.

Don’t buy anything you can’t wear tomorrow

Well, I’ve failed at the first hurdle here. We all buy stuff to wear for a special occasion, although I try and avoid this.

In my experience, clothes bought for a particular event don’t always translate into ‘real life’. For my friend, Zoe’s, 50th birthday party in September, I bought a lovely pair of black trousers and floaty shirt to wear over a black camisole. To go with said outfit (which cost all of £11 from the charity shop), I purchased some suedette kitten heels from John Lewis. I wore them for 2.5 hours.

I haven’t worn the clothes since and have already sold the shoes….

Don’t buy anything you don’t need

How often have you gone out to buy a particular item, only to come back with something entirely different?

Here’s where ‘heart’ purchases often trump ‘head’ purchases. I do have the loveliest, seldom-worn but beautifully soft faux-fur jacket. It is absolutely gorgeous. I acquired it a long time ago when looking for something else in my local (now defunct) dress agency. I rarely wear it, but I keep it as something really special, knowing that I won’t wear it tomorrow (see above!) but will enjoy it during the holiday season.

These days, I’m much more inclined to think really hard about anything I buy. I keep a ‘wish list’ in Evernote, which helps me consider – slowly – if a want is also a need.

I also do a lot of research online. It’s easy to forget that there are so many (too many) places where you can buy what you need. A clever search can help you find what you need at the best price, so shop around.

You have to be you. Figure out who you are and dress accordingly

Oh, gosh. Who am I when it comes to what I wear?

Style consultants categorise women into a number of ‘boxes’. Are you an Audrey Hepburn ‘ingénue’ or more ‘sporty’ or ‘natural’ when it comes to your signature style?

Well, I’d love to fall into the ‘glamorous’ category – and really admire others who pull of this look – but that’s really not me.

Over the years, I have – with some considerable enthusiasm – declared myself to be an advocate of a particular brand, in an attempt to simplify and narrow down the available choices.

There was my short-lived (but fun while it lasted) Gudren Sjoden phase. My family pointed out that if you’re going to make this work (it’s quite ‘out there’ when it comes to style and colour), you have to go the whole hog.

There has also been my ‘Duchess of Cambridge’ phase. I am, after all, another Catherine Elizabeth. This clothing personality has been, arguably, my most enduring. I once spent the most I have ever spent on clothes (even more than my wedding dress) when I purchased an LK Bennett suit for an interview. I didn’t get the job, but (at least) I got the suit. Many years later, it’s still my ‘high days and holidays’ outfit when I need something super smart. And I wore it for my current job whose interview took place around a year ago.

My latest obsession is Cos. I love the Scandinavian simplicity and clean lines. I have yet to purchase anything.

If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

Oh, this is so true. You already know that I previously performed ‘plastic surgery’ on my credit card, so there is no risk that I will ever splurge on something I can’t afford. Indeed, I have spent so little on clothes in the last year that this has not been an issue. But I know it is for some of you.

Recently, a work colleague was describing to my husband that she had lots of clothes on which she had spent so much money, she was embarrassed to admit that she cut off the labels of the unworn items before giving them away. Let’s not be like this.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I’m all for this and it works really well. Project 333 makes sense on so many levels, especially if you mostly shop at thrift stores (another of Kenobi’s Emergency Shopping Guidelines).

Here’s something I have noticed, however (and Kenobi observed this, too). Clothes worn often do actually wear out. This is where it helps to buy quality over quantity. Less but better is the way forward.

Invest in experiences, not possessions

Yes, yes and yes!

This is where we have to put clothes in their rightful place. Clothes can play a part in our experiences. Love to ski? You’ll need some kit. But they shouldn’t be an end in their own right. Clothes as ‘stuff’ have a negative impact, both on the environment and on our finances. So, let’s see them as a part of our overall day-to-day lives but not to the detriment of other things, which are way more important.

Change your hair, not your clothes

For someone who has limited options when it comes to hair (short, blow-dryed, that’s it), I can’t espouse this guideline. However, lots of women (especially) enjoy experimenting with different hair colours or styles (in her book, Kenobi reveals her expertise in plaiting, braiding and in ‘up-dos’). A colleague of mine rocks a wonderful short wig and looks amazing in it. But that’s not for me.

One of my own

Beware the Diderot effect

Remember those black trousers I bought for Zoe’s party? To wear them again, I would need more tops. This is an example of a phenomenon known as the Diderot Effect. This is where the purchase of one beautiful item leads to dissatisfaction with the other things you already own. In my case, I don’t own anything suitable to go with the trousers, so do I invest or let them go? This is something that Juliet Schor mentions in her book, The Overspent American, about which I wrote a post here.

Stop mithering

Since reading Kenobi’s little book, I’m glad to say that I’ve stopped mithering about clothes. But I think I need to be a bit more intentional – as in other areas of my life – when it comes to what I buy to wear.

And whilst Shakespeare wrote that ‘clothes maketh the man (woman)’, there is another truth that’s worth remembering. There are only some occasions in life when this really matters. How do I look? No-one really cares.


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No learning is wasted

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Just over a week ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend a talk given by Emma Kennedy. An all-round high-achiever, Kennedy is arguably best known for her work as a writer, actor and author, but she is also the winner of both Celebrity Masterchef and Mastermind. She is also a self-confessed conkers expert!

Inspiring women

The talk was part of an ‘Inspiring Women’ series, arranged by the Careers & Skills team at the university where I work. Although aimed at female students, Kennedy’s message applies to anyone who has tried, failed and tried again: follow your instinct; explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.

Starting out…

In a number of ways, Kennedy’s journey resonated with me a great deal. Like me, Kennedy left school at 16. Her first job was a washer-upper in a local hotel (later, she was promoted to vegetable peeler). Mine was for a well-known high street Bank where I ultimately worked for 4 years.

…At the bottom

My very first task in the Bank involved sorting what my supervisor called ‘rems’ and ‘giros’ into specific pigeonholes. I didn’t have a clue what a ‘rem’ was. It turns out, a ‘rem’ was a ‘remittance’ – a cheque/check to you and me. A ‘giro’ was a paying in slip. So, I was effectively handling ‘money out’ and ‘money in’ for customers, albeit in proxy (paper) form. These slips of paper, once sorted, would be collected for onward distribution to their respective banks. Exciting, huh?

London life

By the age of 20, I had moved to London where I worked for 8 months prior to embarking on my next life adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and honestly remember London as a city of blue skies and sunshine. My experience was a bit like being at university, but with the bonus of a monthly salary.

In those 8 months, I did a lot of growing up. I learned about cultural differences and customer service, improved my mental arithmetic, got a bit drunk at the Long Island Ice Tea Bar in Covent Garden, and developed an idea that meant I might actually resume my academic studies and eventually go to a real Higher Education Institution (as opposed to the university of life).

Moving forward

After a gap year in Switzerland, I returned home where I became the oldest 6th former in town. My pals at college had come straight from GCSEs. I arrived with 5 years’ experience, 7 O Levels (ranging from the very good to the mediocre) and an exceedingly good Swiss-French accent. Most importantly, I was ready to learn.

Loving learning

Like me, Emma Kennedy took a little longer to achieve her ultimate goal of going to university. She had been unwell during her A Level studies and it was through the encouragement and tutoring of her former English teacher that she managed to secure a place at Oxford. In my case, it was through the inspirational teaching of my own wonderful English tutors, which meant that I was finally able to get myself a place at university.

Like Kennedy, along with own sister, I was ‘first in family’ to go to university. Although my parents (and grandparents) had been teachers, their route into this profession had not been via Higher Education. My own parents had gone to teacher training college before embarking upon their careers.

What next?

On completing my degree, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do next. So, I decided to follow in family members’ footsteps and train to be a teacher. For me, teaching wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it wasn’t going be my life’s work either. Like Kennedy who decided to leave her post-university profession as a lawyer, I worked out quite soon that there were other things I wanted to do.

Listen to your gut

This time, I started to truly follow my instinct and that’s when my career trajectory changed. I was suddenly able to flourish, to develop and to try new things. I wasn’t on an obvious career path, but I started to enjoy myself.

Each job I’ve had post-teaching has enabled me to develop and grow. Like Kennedy, I may not have ‘failed’ at what I tried, but I developed a self-awareness that meant I knew when I was a square peg in a round hole.

Along the way, I have learned an incredible amount from my experience and from the terrific people I have met along the way (many of whom are still good friends). I always say this – especially to those I mentor professionally – no learning is ever wasted.

Living minimally

Now, minimalism is an integral part of my life and I wouldn’t go back to living in a way that was unintentional. That said, my career trajectory could not really be described as ‘intentional’. It was more a series of experiments. Try something? Not sure it works for you? Then, try something else. In some ways, it takes courage and resilience to make these changes, but nothing worth doing was ever easy.

With minimalism and simple living, there are many different ways you can adopt a more intentional approach to life. Take a look at my previous post on the types of minimalism you might consider. The point is that you can take some time to experiment; to learn; to follow your instinct; to explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.


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Looking after yourself, simple-living style

Mental Health infographic

This month’s World Mental Health Day shone a spotlight on an important issue that, happily, is talked about much more frequently these days.

I received the infographic for this post via a network I belong to. It caused me to reflect not only on these top tips, but on how adopting a minimalist lifestyle can also be a great benefit to our overall wellbeing.

10 practical ways

Eating well, not drinking too much and keeping active seem like a no-brainer. “Everything in moderation,” sounds like something your Grandma would say.

When it comes to diet, there’s been a lot of news in the media about cutting down on meat as a way to benefit both your health and the environment. Some analyses have gone as far as asserting that avoiding both meat and dairy is the single most significant thing you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. Back in the spring, a piece in The Guardian argued that 80% of the world’s grassland was used for livestock, which produced less than 20% of food calories. Now, that just doesn’t make sense.

More recently, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme featured the uncompromising message that no amount of alcohol was beneficial when it came to drinking; a sobering reality? At least, no-one has said that about coffee. There might be a revolt!

On the upside, social prescribing is a more recent phenomenon where healthcare professionals encourage their patients to make connections through activities such as attending clubs or special interest groups. Since loneliness affects people of all ages, this has to be a good thing. The connections we make through social interactions mean that we will be more likely to care for others (which does us good), ask for help and even talk about our feelings.

Finally, 10 minute bursts of intensive exercise – frequently – are said to be really beneficial. Having just been out on my bicycle in the October sunshine, I would readily agree with this.

A minimalist’s ways

I would like add a few more ideas to the above list. If we concentrate and focus intentionally on the things that add value to our lives, we have less room for the things that don’t. Here’s my list:

Become and stay clutter-free

It’s impossible to thrive when you’re weighed down with stuff.

In a recent blog post, Joshua Becker wrote, “It is difficult to fully appreciate how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them.”

I’d say that’s true, having spent several weeks decluttering the home of my late mother-in-law.

Our house certainly isn’t all bare surfaces and devoid of ‘stuff’ (remember, you can’t unclutter someone else’s belongings). But it’s certainly a place where anyone can walk through the door at any time and find it to be a welcoming and relatively clutter-free space.

Inject humour into your day

Every Monday, I pin a small humorous cartoon or aphorism to my office door. It started after the August Bank Holiday with a fun little poem called the Plodders Prayer (I just needed to plod quietly through the week).

After that, the humour became more focussed on the context (academia). Colleagues who pass by will often stop and chat about whatever I have pinned up.

Say no

Saying no is a huge way to maintain your equilibrium. Courtney Carver has a saying, “I will not say yes when my heart says no.” Wise words indeed.

If, like me, your tendency is that of an ‘Obliger’, learning to say no is a very important thing to do.

Last Saturday night, Mr G and I went to see comedian Sarah Millican. Smutty but very funny indeed, one of Millican’s sketches entailed her deploying an uncharacteristically deep, resonant and definitive sounding, “No!”.

“Would you like to perform at the Queen’s Golden Jubiliee?” Millican was asked.
“No!” she replied (she already had a prior ‘booking’ in the form of the arrival of a kitten).

“Would you like to open our new facility?”
Again came the resounding,”No!”

As I listened (and laughed), I resolved to put this into practice. I didn’t have long to wait.

On Tuesday, it was my WI group’s AGM. At the end of the evening, a member of the Committee approached me to ask if I would consider joining the team. Without a moment’s hesitation, out of my mouth erupted a clear and straightforward, “No!”

The lady looked a me a little quizzically, so I rewarded her with an explanation. But I didn’t change my mind.

Be your authentic self

As a natural morning person, I rarely stay up late and it’s usually me who is the first to leave an evening event. Just when everyone is revving up to ‘party on’ into the wee small hours, I usually announce that my batteries are flat and I need to go home (often immediately). No wonder – we are an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ family. In any case, it is said that it’s best to leave a party while you’re still having a good time.

A useful phrase that we enjoy repeating at home is, “Ce n’est pas mon truc!” (That’s not my thing). Practise using it, as often as you like. This builds on the ‘Accept Who You Are’ idea, but makes that self-acceptance real.

Choose simplicity over complexity

If you’ve got a demanding schedule, don’t make life any more complicated than it already is. A good friend of mine has recently started a new job, based in London. She commutes daily, so has very sensibly decided to get ahead with meal prep at the weekends. This will make weekdays a lot more manageable when it comes to getting home and putting a meal on the table (she’s a single mum of 3).

The concept of tilting – intentionally allowing life to lean in to whatever are the current priorities – enables us to acknowledge the other things that may demand our attention but to find the simplest way to meet those needs.

What about you?

So, what would your ’10 Practical Ways’ look like? Let me know by replying to this post, below.

And if you’re keen to discuss your ideas, why not come along our next minimalist Meet Up? Drop me a line if you’d like to get together with like-minded folk – we have a meet-up coming up soon.


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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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