First Steps into Minimalism

Hi, my name’s Carl and I am a hoarder. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step, right?

Ok, maybe I’m being overly dramatic; it isn’t really a problem, just a personal trait that’s annoyed me for years. I’ve always had this urge to keep things in case they come in useful. I’ve kept single spare shoelaces in case I need to tie something up in the garden, an old beer keg because I wanted to turn it into a stylish looking pot to keep tools in, and even the racks from inside of our old oven that we threw out, in case… Actually, I don’t even know why, but I kept them anyway. The worst thing is, these aren’t particularly bad examples from bygone years that I’ve picked to drive my point home, these are just the first three that popped into my head whilst typing, and have all occurred within the last twelve months.

My man cave, I mean, the spare bedroom with no use that now holds my iMac and other hobby related things, is the worst room in the house (Actually, the outbuilding is the worst, as I can’t even get in through the door, but that’s not technically in the house). When we moved into our home, every miscellaneous box or item that didn’t have an obvious home, ended up stacked in this room. Eventually I put some shelves up on the wall to keep all the things on, but after a while they became full and the floor became the default storage location for new junk. Part of the problem is because I have too many hobbies and interests, but I tend to get bored of them after a few months and the things I’ve bought sit there and gather dust. I have a ukulele on the wall, a box containing hundreds of electronic components to use with an Arduino, and even a beginner set of lock picks.

I recently came across Matt D’Avella on YouTube. He’s a film maker and minimalist who makes incredibly well made and thought provoking videos, and I’ve especially enjoyed watching his work on minimalism and the effects it’s has on his life. The more I watched Matt’s videos, the more interested I became; Essentially living more by having less. Over the last 12-18 months I’ve been trying to make my life more simple, by using a dumb phone, ditching social media, and spending more time in the garden and doing the things that I actually enjoy. Without realising it at the time, I’d actually been embracing one of the core principals of minimalism, which full time traveller Colin Wright so perfectly describes as- “Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps us focus on the important things in life by shedding the excess junk that gets in the way”. Simplifying my life a little bit had quite an impact on me, so I decided to take things to the next level and declutter.

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At the risk of sounding like I’ve swallowed a Chinese proverb book, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Chinese philosopher Laozi’s saying taught that every difficult or long journey has a beginning or starting point. I assume that Laozi faced much tougher challenges than I’ll ever see, but he will probably be glad to know that his words are being used two and a half thousand years later by a slightly chubby millennial throwing shit out.

I have never been particularly into fashion. Ask anyone I know if they think I am fashionable and watch them roll around on the floor laughing. Even so, I have more items of clothes than even three of me could use, so I started with my wardrobe. Everything came out and became a huge pile of clothes on the floor. I took each item one at a time, and tried to remember the last time I’d worn it. If I couldn’t remember, or if I knew I didn’t want it, then it went into the pile to donate or recycle. To begin with I didn’t really like selecting items to throw out, feeling more like a Roman spectator giving a thumbs down to a doomed Gladiator, but after a short while I got into the swing of it. I almost began enjoying the process, and eventually was throwing out everything except the things that I definitely wanted. I would say about 60% of my clothes didn’t make it back into the wardrobe, which was a better outcome than I’d expected. I’d rid myself of 71 items of clothes, including 22 t-shirts, nine jumpers, 12 shirts, 18 and a half pairs of socks, and an adult sized dinosaur onesie. I felt a strange feeling of calm and relief after I bagged them all up reorganised my wardrobe. Everything had so much more space and wasn’t crammed in, which made the process of grabbing a t-shirt a lot less stressful. I know, it sounds crazy to say that your wardrobe is stressful, but it’s a common comment from people who have decluttered, so I urge you to try it for yourself and see.

Right, first step done, and I’m now one step better off than I was before I started. Now for step two, the dreaded man cave. I began by going through the drawers under the desk and getting rid of things that are clearly rubbish. Then I moved on to the boxes, and made a donation pile of everything that I didn’t want. It was a difficult process and I paused dozens of times to consider individual items when nostalgia reared it’s ugly head, but I pushed on and threw out everything that I didn’t want.

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Unfortunately, things don’t fit neatly into boxes labelled “want” and “don’t want”, because your desire for something isn’t split neatly into two absolute states. It’s a long scale with those states at each end, but the middle area is very grey and confusing. You can have an item that doesn’t fit into either category, so whilst you don’t actually want it, you don’t want to throw it out either. I think when decluttering, it’s important to understand that you can’t just throw out the things you definitely 100% do not want, you need to clear out everything except the things you do want. This helps to rid yourself of the middle ground items that are hard to dispose of, but don’t actually bring any benefit to your life.

After realising this, I went back through the man cave and reevaluated all of the items that had survived round one. I felt it was easier to throw out “maybe” items that had only been kept because I felt guilty throwing them out, or because I thought that I might be able to use them in the future. After round two was complete, I went back round again for round three, clearing as much as I possibly could without getting rid of the things that were really valuable to me. In the end, I would say somewhere between 80 and 90% of the items in the room ended up leaving our house, whether in bin bags or charity labelled boxes.

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When the man cave was complete, we turned our attention to the living room and kitchen. Our living room bookcase is solid oak and is about 6.5 feet tall, and 3 feet wide. It was full of books that we’d collected over the years. I’d never thrown books away because I liked the look of a full bookcase and it was always handy to have a book to hand in case you ever needed to know anything (even though, in that case, I just Googled it!). We boxed up 110 books (yes, one hundred and ten!) and put them next to the nine bin bags of clothes, 82 CDs, four boxes of kitchen and glass ware, and a million and a half or so random items that we no longer wanted. We loaded them into the van and took them to the local St Margarets Hospice. It was an easy process because the shop used to be an old cinema so has a side loading door for donations, and you can park your van right next to it and someone comes out to help unload.

After a bit of a tidy up when we got back, I sat back and felt so much more relaxed about our home. It’s incredible how much of a difference it can make to how you feel walking around your house, and the whole place feels lighter, airier and a more all round pleasant place to spend time. I might only be a couple short steps along the minimalism road, and I don’t even know how far along this road I’m going to travel before I find a comfortable place to stop, but I’m excited by the journey that’s in front of me.

-Carl-