How would you define minimalism?

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A college student doing an ethnography project dropped me a line this week with some great questions. I enjoyed answering them, so thought you might be interested to see our Q&A. Here it is!

How would you define minimalism?

I define minimalism as the intentional removal of anything that no longer adds value to your life. It’s the modern day version of William Morris’ assertion, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

How long have you considered yourself a minimalist?

I’ve considered myself to be a minimalist since 2016, when I really started to unclutter my life in earnest (not only removing stuff, but also reducing obligations and commitments).

Why do you think minimalism has been picking up so much steam in the last decade?

Well, they say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. Prominent people in the minimalism movement, such as Joshua Becker, have been champions of simple living for many years. What may have given it more prominence is the advent of social media and podcasts, which have enabled the message to reach a wider audience. Joshua’s Uncluttered course, for example, has seen over 30,000 people take part.

Others including Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness, habit and human behaviour, have also legitimised decluttering, making it more mainstream by showing how it can impact positively on people’s lives. There’s also some crossover into other areas of wellbeing such as personal finance, where we have seen the boys from The Minimalists join Dave Ramsey for a segment on his popular podcast. David Sawyer, in his book Reset, also talks about the significant benefits of decluttering.

What are some advantages of living a minimalist lifestyle?

Oh, so many! One’s home is easier to maintain and keep clean; you’ll save money by not buying stuff you don’t need; you can improve your wellbeing by getting out into nature rather than spending your leisure time shopping  and you no longer feel weighted down by stuff you don’t need.

Would you say TV shows like tiny house living/hunters and popular minimalists like Marie Kondo have attracted more people to this lifestyle?

I haven’t seen the TV shows you mention, but I think that Marie Kondo’s quirky ‘spark joy’ mantra is memorable, fun and appealing. Her approach, along with that of The Minimalists, Courtney Carver, Joshua Becker and others, has definitely brought minimalism to the masses.

What are some of the most popular misconceptions about minimalism?
Minimalism isn’t necessarily about living in bare, white spaces. Equally, it’s not about living with ‘X’ number of items or being able to pack all of your stuff into a single holdall. At least, that’s true for most of us.

Living with less – or ‘right-sizing’ your belongings is more the way people I know enjoy minimalism; I call it ‘moderate minimalism’ (especially when you have a family and it’s neither fair nor proper to declutter other people’s stuff).

Why do you think the US has the highest standard of living yet people living here are still unhappy?

Governments – and public policy in general – have been slow to recognise the importance of wellbeing in people’s lives of which I believe minimalism plays a part.

You’ll be familiar with Robert Kennedy’s 1968 speech in which he addressed an election rally, commenting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of success: “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.”

I’m certainly not an expert on US culture, but a high standard of living has to be paid for and I’m aware through listening to American podcasts that there’s also a high prevalence of debt in society. That’s a negative when it comes to people’s subjective sense of life satisfaction and happiness.

Do you think Tiny Homes/minimalism in general is a solution to a problem America hasn’t figured out yet?

The Tiny House movement is so interesting, partly because it’s the polar opposite to the growth in the average size of homes seen over the last 4 decades. Tiny Houses may form part of the solution when it comes to providing more affordable housing. They may also help providing social housing, such as the Social Bite Village project in Scotland whose aim is to provide homes to residents who are currently living in temporary accommodation for long periods of time.

Minimalism can support this (and other societal objectives). By seeking to live with less, we naturally consume less (good for the environment), potentially enabling us to live happier, healthier and wealthier lives.

People are starting to rethink what it means to be happy and successful in life, it used to be having a big house and cars and a high paying job even if it wasn’t one you loved…So, how do you think the minimalist movement has changed or altered the idea of what it means to be successful?

Many modern-day movements, such as the FIRE movement, are redefining what success looks like. In some ways, minimalism has brought us back to what our grandparents knew: living simpler, valuing people over stuff, not worrying about what others thinking of us and being grateful for what we have. That said, I’m not sure the same message has reached the youth of today. It worries me that some of the idealised images promulgated on social media are influencing our teenagers and young adults in a negative way. The fast fashion, make-up and styling trends to which they aspire are costing more than just the pounds and pence they spend to keep up.

Do you think minimalism is a radical lifestyle?

Minimalism could be radical; it’s certainly a countercultural lifestyle. But I suggest it’s for everyone. Being more intentional about what we own and what we buy can bring positive benefits for anyone. It’s also a more sustainable way to live.

How can minimalism positively impact families?

Minimalism helps families in so many ways. Family life is simpler when everything has its place; it’s easier to locate the things you need; you have more space in your home and you may even experience what Gretchen Rubin calls ‘outer order, inner calm’. This is particularly true for kids with special needs for whom an uncluttered environment can be especially beneficial.

Discover more

If you’re curious about how living with less can make a difference to your life, the autumn session of the popular Uncluttered course ends this weekend, so don’t miss out! The course begins on Tuesday, so click here to find out more.


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Another mini-adventure, plus my only decluttering regret

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Last week, with my dearest friend of almost 30 years, I was privileged to enjoy a few days in South West France.

We flew down from London Stansted airport on Saturday, arriving in plenty of time to open up the house, do a mini supermarket shop, and enjoy a customary ‘apéro’ (the local aperitif of choice is ‘Pinot de Charente’). Situated in the country’s largest region – Nouvelle Aquitaine – this is rural France at its best; it’s great for walking, the locals are friendly (il faut parler Francais!) and the food is simple and good.

I’ve written about ‘la vie en rose‘ before, so take a look if you’re looking for inspiration.

On this particular trip, we shared and enjoyed some delicious recipes, also taking the time to mix drinks and create combinations that are easily replicated now that we’re back here in the UK.

Take this one, named after another pal:

The Linda

1 measure white rum
1 measure spiced rum
1/2 measure grenadine
3 measures pineapple juice
3 measures orange juice
A dusting of nutmeg and ice, to taste

Recipes we have loved and lost

Over these few days together, my friend and I reminisced over lots of things, including recipes we’ve shared and loved over the years.

Having decluttered many of my recipe books, I will admit that I have since acquired a few more (although some of them are better than others).

One that I’m particularly enjoying is Catherine Hill’s The Weekend Cookbook, which was given to me as a gift. Designed for the foodie looking to cook ‘proper’ (but not complicated) meals at home or away, the recipes really work and I’m very much enjoying them. The bircher muesli with hazelnuts is absolutely delicious.

Now, confession time. Although I have always asserted that I’ve never missed a thing I’ve decluttered, I do occasionally wish I’d taken a little more time before letting go of some of my recipes.

When you cull a recipe you liked

Some of my cookbooks were certainly past their best, with broken spines and splattered pages. If I were to replace them, I might certainly keep an eye out when next browsing in my local secondhand book shop.

In reality, I now need to do another cull of cookery books, but this time I’ll pay more attention to the contents before I let them go.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often found I’ve loved just one or two recipes in a book, but didn’t use much of the rest of it. As a result, when I do my next decluter, I’m going to make sure I’ve done a colour photocopy of a recipe I might otherwise regret getting rid of.

Happily, providing you can remember what you’re looking for, many cookery writers now have their recipes online. Down memory lane we went this weekend, when I looked up Nigella’s yoghurt pot cake recipe and whizzed up this simple but comforting cake.

Getting started on decluttering

If your books or other personal belongings are beginning to feel like they own you, then now’s a good time to embrace a renewed sense of focus. Joshua Becker’s ever-popular Uncluttered course that’s benefited over 30,000 people is about to welcome new participants for its autumn series. Click on the link here to find out more. I’ve done the course myself and can really recommend it.

Meeting up

If you feel you’d benefit from being a part of a more local network, our next Midlands meet-up takes place on Saturday, 12 October. Get in touch with more details!

In the meantime, whip up a simple dish, take a long stroll or enjoy your own version of The Linda ‘comme les français’. And have a super week ahead.


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Overbuyer or underbuyer? Either way, you might be cluttered

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I’ve just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s latest book: Outer Order, Inner Calm.

As I mentioned in my April Community Newsletter, there aren’t many books I’ve not read on decluttering (see my Resources page if you’ve signed up to join the community for a list of some of them). Rubin’s twist on the topic is that she links the idea of clutter, wellbeing and happiness. That builds on the enduring theme of happiness about which she has written plenty.

Hands up, all you ‘under-buyers’? You may hold onto stuff because you seldom purchase something new. Perhaps you’re an ‘over-buyer’? If so, then you’re likely to stockpile things you don’t need.

I thought it would be interesting to explore this idea a bit further.

Overbuyer?

Courtney Carver is a self-confessed classic overbuyer; she would shop for fun, to fill an emotional void or as a way of treating herself. Did Carver need even more clothes? Of course not. But, as she wrote in her book, Soulful Simplicity, her un-intentional spending habits resulted in piles of debt, piles of clothes (still with labels on) never worn, and piles of stress.

Stockpiling

Of course, not all overbuying is about clothes. As Rubin writes, you’re likely to be an overbuyer if you stockpile stuff like toiletries; if you buy gifts for others without an intended recipient; or if you end up throwing away food or medicines because they’ve passed their use-by date.

Food waste

Food waste – an unintended consequence of overbuying – is a massive global problem. According to Friends of the Earth, the average UK family spends £470 annually on food that is binned. Even more shocking is that one third of all food produced around the globe is lost or wasted.

Inadequate storage

In terms of clutter, according to Rubin, overbuyers feel stressed because they end up being surrounded by things for which they have inadequate storage and feel hemmed in by all the stuff they’re holding onto.

Whilst I would probably class myself as a natural ‘spender’ as opposed to being a ‘saver’, I would not put myself in this category.

Underbuyer

Underbuyers may buy too little, so they’re unlikely to be prepared for bad weather or end up shopping for summer holiday clothes when the autumn/winter season stock has already hit the shelves.

Oh, that’s me!

Resisting replacements

Whilst I don’t resist buying the essentials, I do resist replacing worn out items such as household linens. Since we’ve been on a journey to improve our finances since January 2018, this has been largely cost driven, but I recognise the feeling of being stressed because I don’t have something suitable to wear for a special event.

Last minute shopping panics

There have also been times when I’ve had to rush out to get something for a holiday because I didn’t have the basics. This trait has clearly been recognised by others; my mother included a pack of tea-towels in my holiday gifts at Christmas!

Underbuying and clutter

If you’re an underbuyer, Rubin suggests that your distaste for shopping could actually contribute to clutter. This sounds counter-intuitive but it might be possible that you dread the idea of needing an item (thus being forced to go out and buy it) that you hold onto things, no matter how useless. That has certainly contributed to my clutter in the past.

Get Uncluttered

So, do you fall into either of these categories? And, if so, have they caused you to become more cluttered than you would like to be? If so, do take a look at my previous posts on how to tackle clutter. For some accountability and regular input, check out Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered Course, which is now open to new enrolments. Readers of my blog can now get 25% off the $89 dollar registration fee, so drop me a line via email if you’d like to benefit from this.


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