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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