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‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ William Morris.

I have always been a bit of a pack rat.  I like my ‘stuff’.  I like my books and my clothes and my shoes and my ornaments (‘dust-gatherers’ my mother calls them, but I like ’em) and I like my art materials and my pretty bottles and jars and . . . well . . . stuff.

I doubt that will ever really change but a couple of years ago I decided enough was enough and I was going to at least try to become a little more discriminating about the kind of stuff I keep.  And I think I have.  My stacks (and stacks) of books are mostly gone (although, admittedly, most of my favourites have managed to slowly reappear on my kindle), clothes and shoes (and scarves and handbags and earrings . . . ) have been drastically reduced and I have even managed to downsize many of the ticky-tacky ornaments I had managed to accumulate over the years.

So, why, after all the clearing out and culling I have already done, do I still have so much stuff?  If I sat down and counted every single item in my house, how many ‘things’ would I have?  5,000 . . .  10,000 . . . 15,000?  More?  That’s a lot of stuff for just one person (and three small dogs).  And why, after decades of accumulating, do I now feel the urge to get rid of so much of it?

I don’t really know, I just do.

Well someone out there must have been listening in on my musings and decided to give me a little shove.  I was browsing one of my favourite blogs (The Minimalists) and came across what they call the ‘Minimalism Game’.  It’s simple enough.  You play the game for thirty days.  On Day One you get rid of one thing.  On the second day, two things go out the door.  On the third day, three.  And so on.  It doesn’t matter what you get rid of (books, clothes, ornaments, furniture) and it doesn’t matter what you do with it (donate, sell it, re-gift it, throw it away)—it just has to be gone.  By the end of 30 days you should have 465 less things in your house.

Okay.  So, instead of sitting muttering to myself about being weighed down my belongings I decided to take up the challenge.  I was going to follow William Morris’s example and only keep anything I thought to be useful or beautiful.

However, having made the decision to go ahead with the challenge I had to also admit that there was absolutely no way (no how) I was going to be able to keep the momentum up on a day-to-day basis.  Things would happen (work would be frantic, one of the dogs would go wackadoodle, the phone would ring, someone would turn up at the door) and by the time I settled into bed I would realise I had completely forgotten to toss something out that day.

So I decided I would tackle the challenge week by week for a month.  I would gather up my sacrificial items over the week and each weekend I would count them all up, add to them if I had to, and out they would go.  (Feeling quite smug and pleased with myself about getting rid of a whole lot of stuff all at once would be an added bonus . . . )

I also made up a few rules of my own.  Ordinary trash or recyclables do not count.  One piece of paper does not count as one thing—a sheaf of papers can be one thing.  One pencil, no.  A fistful of old scraggy worn out pencils—okay. (Although you never know when you might need a pencil . . . Sigh.  See what I did there?  I have to watch myself all the time.  I seem almost pathologically unable, or at least unwilling, to get rid of those just-in-case items.  I’ll keep that ratty old bag with the handles that look just about to drop off—just-in-case.  I won’t toss any of those (dozens and dozens) of old gift bags—just-in-case.  And those beaten and battered folders—well, you never know when you might actually need a beat-up, battered old folder . . . )

Week 1—Days 1-7.  That means 28 things have to go. Easy-peasy.  I was on a mission.  I went through my closet and the linen cupboard and had selected 28 things before I knew where I was.  This was going to be a breeze . . .

Week 2—Days 8-14.  77 things.  This time I moved into the living room and started ransacking drawers.  Old cassette tapes (yikes!) and video tapes (Why did I still have these? I haven’t had a tape or video player in years), old remotes, electrical bits at pieces left over from god-knows-what, doggies toys (ssssh don’t tell the girls.  They were all fast asleep and I don’t think they’ve noticed yet), and a couple of totally unidentifiable items which I had obviously once thought should be saved but now had no idea what they even were.   Out they went.

Week 3—Days 15-21.  126 things.  Laundry, pantry, kitchen.  Done, done, and done.  (Who knew I had so many mismatched cutlery, plates, bowls, dishes and wine glasses in my house?)  I even managed to put a couple of extra thing aside to count towards . . .

Week 4—Days 22-30.  234 things.  Phew.  That’s a lot of things.  Time to dig deep . . .

To be honest I am not sure whether I finally made that final magic 465 number, but I made a bloody good stab at it.  When I stand back and look at my house now, it actually doesn’t look much different.  There are still pictures on the wall, books and knick-knacks on the shelves, doggie toys still littering the floor.  But it feels different.  It feels somehow . . . lighter.

So I am happy I took up the challenge.  There is more to be done but this was a great start and (for now at least) I am happy to wallow in smug self-satisfaction of a job well done.

I am also going to try really hard to keep my promise to myself to not replace all the stuff I just got rid of.

Unless, of course, it is with something very useful . . .  or very beautiful . . .

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘When I look down I miss all the good stuff. When I look up I just trip over things.’ Ani Difranco

Once upon a time long ago (mostly in the 1980s) big was beautiful (remember all that hair—and the shoulder pads), more was always better, and, according to Gordon Gekko and Wall Street, greed was good.

It was all very simple we were told.  If we wanted to have more, we had to spend more.  Saving wouldn’t get us the things we wanted.  We were openly encouraged by the government, the manufacturers and retailers (and the Joneses next door) to spend, spend, spend.  And it worked.  We got all the stuff we wanted: a better standard of living, flash new appliances, bigger and better cars, rooms full of possessions, and wardrobes full of clothes … and shoes … and handbags … and scarves … and ….

But can we have too much of a good thing?  Come on—admit it—how many others of you out there (yes—I am counting myself in here) have cupboards full of kitchen gadgets you’ve never used, books you haven’t got around to reading yet, drawers full of ‘things that might come in useful’, closets stuffed with clothes and garages full floor-to-ceiling with barely room for the car?  If having all these possessions makes you happy—great—but if look around and wish most of it would just hurry up and tidy itself up, or even better, go away, you could be at extreme risk of ‘Stuffocation’.

Stuffocation is, James Wallman (journalist, author and trend forecaster) says, “that feeling you get when you look in your bulging wardrobe and can’t find a thing to wear; when you have to fight through piles of stuff you don’t use to find the thing you need, and when someone gives you a present and your gut reaction isn’t “thank you”, but “what on earth makes you think I could possibly want or need that pointless piece of stuff?”  Sound familiar?  Well it seems that you are not alone.

In our busy cluttered lives it seems more is no longer better and research suggests that ever increasing numbers of people are now focusing their energies, time and money on experiences, rather than possessions.  Reasons given for this change in thinking include everything from carbon footprints, landfill, climate change, ‘affluenza’ and status anxiety.  The ‘material’ mindset is so last century darling!  Whatever the reasons, people are getting rid of their physical stuff and going travelling or hot air ballooning, or spending their money on festivals, concerts, theatre, eating out, or buying services that make their life easier or more enjoyable. So if having too much stuff has become a problem for you, why not take yourself in hand and ‘de-stuffocate’!

I have recently started to practice what I preach and am slowly clearing my clutter one box of books, one black bin-liner of clothes, and one wheelie-bin full of unwanted stuff at a time, and, once over the initial shock of getting rid of things that took me years to accumulate, I am now enjoying the process and feeling ‘lighter’ for it.

suitcases(A quick hint though: box, bag and bin what you have decided to get rid of and get it out of the house as quickly as you can so you don’t give yourself enough time to second guess yourself, change your mind, and re-open a bag thinking ‘I might just keep this … you never know if might come in handy’.  Re-gift, give it to charity or sell it on ebay—just get it out of the house!)  And, and this is important, once you have successfully de-stuffocated, DO NOT start to re-stuffocate all over again!  That, for me anyway, could take some practice.

One final point—although James Wallman may have coined the absolutely apt word ‘de-stuffocation’, it is not an entirely new concept as it seems one of my favourite quotees, Albert Einstein, already had his own take on the issue when he said, ‘Long hair minimizes the need for barbers; socks can be done without; one leather jacket solves the coat problem for many years, and suspenders are superfluous . . .’.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.’ (Groucho Marx)

I have always loved books.  As a child I don’t remember spending a lot of time playing with dolls or toys (or other kids for that matter) but I do remember always being able to put my hands on a book.  Mum and Dad weren’t great readers themselves but once they realized they had bred a brood of readers they always made sure there were books available to us.  Books were standard fare for birthdays and Christmas and ‘just because’ presents.

I loved the feel of books and the smell of books, as well as the words they carried. So much so that I didn’t just borrow books, read them and pass them on—oh no—I bought my own, treasured copies of them.  Hundreds of them.  Over the years I stacked them on shelves, on tables, behind doors and under beds.  I built towers of them leaning up against walls (my dogs soon learned to give these leaning towers a wide berth!).  When I was younger and constantly travelling my suitcases were most likely to be carrying more books than were necessary and less clothes than I actually needed.  When I moved house crates and crates of books went with me.  I admit it—I was personally responsible for the doom of thousands and thousands of trees.  And then a couple of years ago I decided enough was enough—I was drowning in books.

I am not quite sure what brought it on (possibly one of those mad ideas we get occasionally about downsizing or simplifying our lives) but I psyched myself up, clenched my teeth and set to culling, and, after a week or so of feverish packing in boxes, I eventually gave away the vast bulk of my beloved books to the local Rotary sale.

As the poor man who had come to collect them staggered out of the door with the last load I remember feeling very relieved and really proud of myself—for about an hour.  Then I went into what can only be called ‘withdrawal’.  I was in a cold sweat for days wondering whether I should have given away this book or that book and constantly asking myself ‘What on earth was I thinking?’  I even had to take an alternative route to work so I wouldn’t see the sign for the book sale and break down and go in and buy more books—probably even buy back some of the books I had just given away!

But I held fast.  It took a while but gradually I started to enjoy the extra space I had in the house.  I had room to rearrange my other things, move furniture around—and, an unforeseen perk—there was suddenly much less dusting to do!

But it wasn’t all that easy.  I swear my palms would actually itch as I put my head down and forced myself to walk past bookshops because I knew I just couldn’t go in and browse—I would have to buy something.  Just one small book couldn’t hurt—oh, this one looks really good—heard this one is great.  Nope.  Just couldn’t risk it.

And I managed to keep that up for a long, long time. And then one day my friend showed me her ‘Kindle’.

Being a rabid book lover, I do get it when people say reading from an e-reader is ‘just not the same’.  They don’t have that special unique physicality of a book; the dog-eared pages and scribbles in the margins, the booky smell, the creaky spines and loose raggedy pages of a much loved favorite read, but (and here is me finally stepping into the 21st century) honestly—what’s not to like about a small, lightweight device that will fit in my handbag; that I can shop for directly online (while sitting at home in a favourite chair with a nice glass of red beside me) and have my choice of books (or samples of them) downloaded directly to me within minutes of buying.

AND—this was the clincher for me—my kindle (yes, of course I bought one!) can hold up to 3,000 books!  If they were real books I would have to move to a larger house.  Oh oh—I can feel my palms starting to itch again . . .

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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