This time, I’m going to focus on the tools and techniques of minimalism. The ‘how’ of minimalism is important if you’re going to gain the full benefit of living an intentional life but with less stuff.
This post is long and contains lots of useful links that you may wish to refer to again. Join my community to get access to a free PDF containing a durable version of this post.
So, where to begin?
My ‘Unclutter 2017‘ series of posts back in the New Year are a good place to start.
Throughout this series, we looked at various approaches, as set out below. The links will take you through to previous posts I’ve written on these tactics if you want to find out more:
The ‘packing party’ – “Box it up” (anything you don’t retrieve from those boxes within the timescale of your choosing can be got rid of)
And the ever-useful approach of getting rid of one thing on Day 1, two things on Day 2 and so on, known as the Mins Game
These are all practical ideas and I’d encourage you to get stuck in, if you haven’t yet discovered the benefits of decluttering, which is a key tenet of minimalism.
Help! I feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering!
Start with your wardrobe
If you feel totally overwhelmed and really don’t know where to start, I always say to start with your closet. Follow my 4-Step Wardrobe Edit process and you’ll immediately appreciate the benefits of an uncluttered space.
Ask for help
It may be that you really need some support, so don’t rule out the idea of enlisting someone to help or even employing a professional declutterer/organiser.
The Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO) is a useful place to start if you decide to enlist the help of a professional. Some professional organisers will even do the hard of work of taking unwanted items to the charity shop, thus saving you time and effort.
What about asking a friend to help?
This summer, my daughter and I are offering a decluttering service for friends, as part of her fundraising efforts towards her 2018 expedition to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We enjoy working together and seeing the benefits of our labours and love helping others.
Get an accountability group or partner
Perhaps you need an accountability group or partner. Members of the Midlands Minimalist Community have access to my group in Better, an app developed as a way of harnessing Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework to create a better life.
Within Better, I’ve set up aMinimalism and Simple Living Group, as a way for us to interact, find mutual support, ask questions, get answers and (if we need it) get some accountability for our goals.
There’s more than the removal of practical clutter, however. There’s also ‘inner work’ to do.
Embracing a simpler, more meaningful way of life means not only an initial purge of stuff, but also a change of mindset.
This may seem like another hill to climb, but if you’ve already had a taste of the benefits, you may feel ready for some habit changing work!
Courtney Carver’s post But I Love Shopping epitomizes the kind of psychological struggle we go through when throwing off old habits. There’s little point in purging a high proportion of the items you own if you’re only going to re-fill the space within a matter of weeks or months.
Remember your ‘why’
Remind yourself of why you’re interested in minimalism and simple living in the first place. It might be that you’re committed to paying down your debt to get your finances in shape. Perhaps you just want to spend less time clearing up and more time having fun?
Living an intentional life requires a good understanding of oneself. For example, if you know that you spend more money on weekends, plan your time so that you’re not placed in a situation where this can happen.
Don’t be afraid to quit
I heard a quote from Oprah Winfrey recently. She said, “There comes a time in your life when you’re no longer where you’re meant to be.” I found this quite powerful.
Sometimes, saying no or intentionally moving on can reap benefits. I wrote about that here.
Where you are will mean different things to different people, but I do believe that it’s OK to change, to quit, to relinquish that which is no longer serving you. It can be hard to move on because that can mean saying goodbye or ‘au revoir’ to people you care about. But sometimes you have to do it.
Know that your life is the sum total of what you focus on
In her book, Rapt, Winifred Gallagher says, “…. the difference between ‘passing the time’ and ‘time well spent’ depends on making smart decisions about what to attend to in matters large and small.
Courtney Carver echoes this: “Usually time is not the problem, it’s priority.”
Consider these alternative realities
If you are prioritising shopping trips over a countryside walk, both your wallet and your Vitamin D levels will be depleted.
If you are continually moving piles of stuff from one place to the next, your life becomes one of clutter management. Get on top of it once and for all and you create space to do other things; things you’ll enjoy.
If you’re on your digital device 24/7, you’re with other people, but you’re not present.
See what I mean?
An intentional approach to life
Minimalism (in whatever form you choose) is a deliberate and intentional approach. The result creates a sense of lightness and freedom. What we do with that freedom is up to us.
That’s rather exciting, don’t you think?
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In July, I celebrated a year of blogging on Midlands Minimalist. With just over 100 blog posts on the site, I have covered a range of topics, answered a number of readers’ questions and connected with some awesome people (both in person and virtually)!
The ‘what of minimalism’
This post brings together a number of insights around the ‘what’ of minimalism for anyone seeking to find out more.
I explore some of the ingredients of a minimalist lifestyle and the ways in which it can be of benefit. I discuss what minimalism is (and highlight some different types) and talk about what it isn’t. I also explain that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’, inviting you to evaluate how minimalism could be of benefit in your own life.
I’ll also point to some great resources for further reading before my next post: Tools and Techniques of Minimalism.
This is a long post so if you would like to download it as a free PDF, join my Minimalist community where you’ll have access to my resources page on which a copy of this article can be found.
So, let’s get started!
Minimalism is the intentional removal of anything that no longer adds value to your life. This can mean the elimination of ‘stuff’ (which may be physical, digital and even personal) to allow in new experiences, people, opportunities and possibilities. Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists capture it well: “it’s about “living a meaningful life with less.”
The word ‘minimalism’ was initially associated with the visual arts; it was synonymous with an art movement that originated in the middle part of the 20th Century. Stripping away the embellishments seen in some earlier art forms, minimalism offered a more simple, literal form of artistic expression.
As art echoes life, when you embrace minimalism, what follows is a sense of lightness and freedom and the ability to focus on the things that truly matter.
Clutter is not just stuff on the floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living – Peter Walsh
Types of minimalism
Approaches to minimalism
Writing for No Sidebar, Melissa Carmara Wilkins writes beautifully about different types of minimalism. You can read the full article here, but she simply sets out some of the different approaches espoused by those who call themselves minimalists:
Experientialists – experiences over stuff (but have the stuff if you need it for the experiences)
Enoughists – have just what you need but no more
Eco-minimalists – less consumption means less impact on the environment
Soul-minimalists – simple-living advocates for whom mental and spiritual clutter are minimised
You may identify with one or a combination of these, but you can see that there are a number of approaches that might resonate with you.
Another take on minimalism is described by Juliet Schor in her book, The Overspent American: Why we Buy What we Dont’ Need. Voluntary simplicity (or simple living) is the idea of down-shifting to reduce pressure on budgets, live more clearly and straightforwardly and may involve spending time to ‘give back’ and make a contribution to the community.
Schor describes how there’s no ‘one size fits all’ with this approach. She notes that simple livers are rich in both “cultural capital” and “human capital”. That is, they are often well-educated and well-networked, which means they can tap into networks of like minded people and benefit from a strong sense of community. Perhaps you can relate to this?
In her own words, Cait Flanders paid off $30k of debt, tossed 75% of her belongings, and did a two-year shopping ban. Enter the frugal minimalist. Living a frugal life with less stuff and paying off her debt has led to a happier life for Cait, without the weight of personal debt or unnecessary clutter.
The problem of a full closet and overflowing fridge have the same core issue – too many options. Once you pare back to the essentials…it becomes easier to identify what you want to eat. – Brittany, Tiny Ambitions
Dana Schulz, of Minimalist Baker has the answer. With a website devoted to simple cooking, Dana’s delicious recipes require “10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl or 1 pot, or 30 minutes or less to prepare.”
Jennifer from Simply Fiercely takes a similar approach; her simple eating has brought her a number of benefits, not least reducing food waste, as well as time and effort spent on meal preparation.
Moderate Minimalism, the Midlands Minimalist way
For me, I take the middle ground. Of course I would! I’m a ‘middle Minimalist’!
Seriously, though, my approach one of moderation. Moderate minimalism, if you like.
Because I am married and a mum, I have my non-minimalist family members to consider. Decluttering our home has taken a few years, but we’re pretty much there. Our shared living areas are clutter free, easy to clean and have a light and airy feel. For certain, there are some areas on which I’d like to spend more time, but there comes a point when you’ve done enough. After all, we do this to maximise the time we have.
On a day-to-day basis, I make a point of cooking from scratch; we shop only when we need something (not for recreation) and we keep a close eye on our family budget. With a teenager in the house, there’s the inevitable deluge of school books, paperwork, sports kit and uniform. But this phase will pass all too soon, when we will be empty-nesters, so I can take a pragmatic view now.
Is decluttering minimalism?
Decluttering is often associated with minimalism and rightly so; it’s an essential ingredient of a transition towards a minimalist lifestyle. By intentionally removing the excess items that have accumulated in our lives, it’s possible to cast off the clutter of the past to embrace newer and richer experiences.
I’ll touch on the ‘how’ of decluttering in my next article (Tools and Techniques of Minimalism), but (as I wrote in one of my earliest posts here), it’s only when you take a step back that you can truly see what adds value, what’s worth holding onto and what’s important.
‘Vestis virum facit‘ or ‘Clothes makes the man‘ said Erasmus (later echoed by eminent writers such as Shakespeare, Homer and Twain.
It’s true that dressing for the job you want, not the job you have, can make all the difference to our confidence. Psychologically, our performance may be enhanced when we’re dressing right for the occasion (see the first Reference, below).
Indeed, international charity, Dress for Success, understands that looking the part is a vital ingredient in building women’s confidence to help them secure a new job.
However, it is said that the opposite of every profound truth is also true. In this case, clothes ‘maketh the [wo]man’, but they matter less than you think.
Courtney Carver’s phenomenal success with Project 333 is proof that you need fewer clothes than you think you need. Project 333 invites you to dress with 33 items (or less) over a period of 3 months. Underwear and workout gear doesn’t count, but everything else does. If you haven’t yet tried it, I urge you to take part. It’s a wonderful way to help identify your absolute favourites and wear them every day.
If you want to slim down your closet, then you might appreciate some help. Join my community and you’ll get access to my wardrobe edit checklist that will help provide a structured way to start your journey into minimalism. Since your wardrobe is like a ‘room within a room’, you can gain a confidence boost by starting there.
Marie Kondo put the magic into tidying up, but is tidying minimalism?
Well, not entirely. Tidying isn’t really minimalism unless you truly adopt the KonMari method as your preferred approach to decluttering.
I am well-known amongst friends for being tidy, but it was only when I began to unclutter with true intention that I was able to let go of clutter that I’d been holding onto for over 20 years.
Here’s the thing about tidying. Tidying is a daily activity but it’s deliberately a ‘light touch, non intrusive’ kind of domestic intervention. Tidying is putting away the items you have (and which you need, because they are beautiful or have a purpose). Tidying is about ensuring that you can go about your business with grace and ease. By keeping things tidy, you can clean your home quickly, find what you need and get on with your day-to-day life.
Decluttering is more in-depth. It’s like peeling the stubborn layers of an onion; as you remove one layer, you go deeper. You unearth artefacts from your personal history that remind you of places, people or past phases in your life. Letting go is part of the process, but, as I wrote here, we shouldn’t confuse yesterday’s relics with treasured memories.
And decluttering is just one of the ingredients in the ‘minimalism mix’ that supports the idea of ‘less being more’. Decluttering is a process, which may take many months if not years. Tidying up is what you do regularly to keep on top of daily life.
If you don’t have time to do what matters, stop doing things that don’t. – Courtney Carver
Often, the trigger that causes us to adopt a ‘more meaningful life with less’ is that moment where ‘enough is enough’. Overwhelm is a key facet here. Sometimes, you just wish you could make everything and everyone go away. This is where you know that you need to make some significant changes in your life.
Intentionality is key to this. If you align your everyday actions to your long-term goals, things are going to change for the positive.
Want to get out of debt? Don’t go shopping. Take steps to pay down your debt. Ask if what you bought was worth the ‘life energy’ (work effort) devoted to get it.
Want to spend more time with your family? Resolve to eliminate the commitments, obligations and non-essential activities that are preventing you from achieving your goal.
Slow living is – in many ways – very similar to simple living. Slow living emphasizes mindfulness and the notion of ‘being present’ in whatever we’re doing. Its connection to minimalism is that it emphasizes intentionality.
The slow movement has a number of strands, one of which is slow food. If you’re in touch with the origins of your food, the seasonality of ingredients and the pleasure of cooking from scratch, then this idea will chime with you. Other strands are slow travel, slow books and even slow cities.
Slow living is about purpose, intention and focus. It’s about awareness and being present, rather than dashing from one thing to the next at 90 miles per hour. One of its more well-known advocates is Brooke McAlary who, along with husband Ben, is host of The Slow Home Podcast and author of Destination Simple.
As you can see, minimalism comes in many forms and it’s a flexible concept. Advocates adopt those aspects of minimalism and simple living that appeal to them. A mix and match approach works well, depending on what adds value to your life now.
What’s meaningful when you’re a 20-something single will undoubtedly differ from that of a couple in their 30s, or a mid-life mom with family and work commitments in her 40s.
The point is that minimalism is really – actually – about maximalism: optimising the time we have on this earth to live the best life we can, sharing that with the best people we love.
Since adopting a minimalist lifestyle, I have become increasingly aware of the things that we are bringing into the home.
Extra ‘goods in’
For example, our daughter’s fundraising efforts, mentioned previously here, meant that we were recently given donations of items to sell. Happily, some have sold. Others have since been donated. It’s a little like the ‘one in, one out‘ approach, so nothing has been hanging around for too long.
Goods categories you can’t ignore
But what about the items we have to bring into the home? In a recent post, I talked about the way in which we shop online for food and groceries. We love this efficient method of doing our weekly shop, but when our order arrived yesterday, I decided to take a closer look.
Food packaging was my focus, as I reviewed the items that I had ordered the night before.
Food packaging and the scourge of cellophane
First of all, there was a lot of cellophane wrapping. Worse, the cherry tomatoes arrived in a black plastic tray (also wrapped in cellophane) that we are unable to recycle where we live. In addition, our bell peppers were not only wrapped in cellophane, they also had a polystyrene mesh ‘blanket’ to protect them from bruising. Is this really necessary?
I set about removing as much packaging as I could from the items we had ordered to consider it carefully.
Ironically, the dishwasher tablets from Ecover came in a cardboard box that could immediately be recycled but the tablets themselves were individually wrapped… in plastic.
Hmm. There’s a bit of a theme here.
Is there another way?
So, today, I decided to find an alternative way to buy the same sorts of food items but without any of the associated waste.
Enter the high street greengrocer
We needed to top up my fruit and vegetables. So, today we went to the greengrocer in town. As we had to go into town anyway, it was a chance to complete the shopping and see if I could find the things I needed.
I took my own large bag and placed the items directly into it. Although there were plastic food bags available, I ignored those. I managed to find everything I needed and (even better) chanced upon some raw beetroot that my online retailer did not offer. The only things I wanted, which did come in a plastic container, were some blueberries. I bought these, but as I can recycle the box and lid, I didn’t feel too bad about that.
Although this way of shopping presents a small inconvenience, I should see fewer items in the recycling bin at the end of the fortnight and a lot less cellophane in the grey bin (which goes to landfill).
So, what next?
We buy a lot of nut butter, so I’m going to buy this in bulk to avoid using multiple jars. The frozen fruits that my husband, Andrew, uses to make his ‘berry breakfast’ normally come in a plastic carton, with a cardboard surround and a cellophane lid. Instead, our local frozen food store sells frozen berries in plastic bags. I’ll buy these, then send the plastic bags back with our grocery retailer’s carrier bags for recycling that I can return via my delivery driver.
Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Rot
I’ve started reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life. So, I look forward to more inspiration.
Have you become more conscious of what you bring into your home?Have you been inspired to reduce food waste? What successes have you achieved? Where have the stumbling blocks been for you? Let me know!
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