Where growing, making & good living come together

An example of extreme minimalism?

Posted by on Thursday 26 January 2012 in anti-consumerism, decluttering | 12 comments

Last week, my t’other half John sent me a link to a quite old article by a guy who has pared down his possessions to just “15 things”.

(John came across the article on a geeky news-sharing site and the discussion on there is more interesting than the comments on the blog itself – albeit a lot more longwinded/bitchy now than when I first looked at it last week.)

There are a few people pointing out that he’s not got 15 things – one thing is a “toiletry kit” and he also says he has “couple things not on the list – like socks and underwear – that [he] can easily replace and could not resell for any value” but the exact number is unimportant really because the main point is that, as he says, he’s gone from an overconsumer to a extreme minimalist, who spends his days “traveling, living a pretty simple life”.

What stood out from his list of things (as it stood in May last year) is how nearly everything is listed by brand: from his “Arc’teryx Miura 30 backpack” and “NAU shirt” to his “iPhone 3GS” and “Macbook Air”. Perhaps he’s making a point about having few good quality items (I don’t know if that backpack and shirt are good quality but the backpack costs £120 and the cotton shirts £75+) and just because you’re minimalist doesn’t mean you have to be frugal, but it smacks to me of brand fetishism. (He posted an update last week after the new round of attention and now has 39 things – his phone has been upgraded, we know the make of his new laptop bag and the £75+ shirt is no more.)

Other people on geeky discussion board point out that by while he doesn’t own as much stuff – like pans & cutlery, furniture or bedsheets – as most of us do, he’s using his money and/or goodwill to temporarily rent those things (at restaurants or hotels) – or outsourcing the renting/ownership of those things to friends he’s staying with. A few years ago, a friend of ours was living in a fully furnished rented flat – which included everything from his bed to the cutlery in the kitchen drawers: he didn’t technically own that stuff but he was able to make full use of it, much like this guy making full use of his friends’ sofas and household appliances. I’m also reminded about our friend of a friend who throws his change in the bin — he also used to buy CDs, rip them to his laptop then throw them in the bin too: he still “owned” the music just not the physical medium.

There are obviously lots of definition arguments too about what is minimalism & what is a simple life and I guess I do have to give the guy some props for actually changing his life around, but it seems to me that his life still seems as defined by “stuff” as it was back in the day. It also reminds me of what I’ve said before about people going extreme to compensate for previous behaviour – the hair shirt to atone for your sins – which I personally don’t think is a good idea.

Oh I didn’t mean to spend so much time waffling and being negative! I just wanted to introduce the article to you guys, to see what you thought about it. I know a lot of people who read this blog are frugal, just-in-case hoarders but also have a lot of stuff to allow off-grid/”self-sufficient” activities (even just less extreme stuff like making our own food from scratch), so in many ways, we’re the opposite of Mr 15 Things while still living “pretty simple lives” — and that’s why I’m especially interested in what you have to say!

Have you heard about this guy or anyone else living an “extreme minimalist” lifestyle? What do you think about it? Do you think they serve as inspiring examples for the rest of us clutterers?

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Declutter November – final things and thoughts

Posted by on Thursday 1 December 2011 in decluttering | 2 comments

After personally getting rid of bags full of clothes, craft supplies, a broken bucket and many books in the last four weeks, our little Declutter November challenge has come to an end.

My last three items for this last half week have been: a time-sensitive book from 2000 (so well out of date now), three VHS videos (saved from our main video clearouts because they’re a bit obscure from my film-student days, but we haven’t had a VHS player for years and years, so it doesn’t matter how obscure they are, I can’t play them) and a cardigan that I thought had gone in a much earlier clothes clearout.

My plan with the challenge was to get into the habit of seeing things and asking myself “do we still need, or even just want, that?” – and while I haven’t quite done it every day as intended (NaNoWriMo distracted me), I think I have done it enough to start looking at things in a new light. Some things were obvious contenders but some days I had to seek out something that needed to go – but as I said at the end of week 3, as soon as I picked something, I didn’t wobbly about it – I think I’d been blind to them then as soon as I saw them in a “I could get rid of that” light, it made perfect sense.

In some ways, it doesn’t feel like I’ve got rid of that much stuff – lots of little things. A few small bags of beads here, a handful of books there – but it does add up. We’ve got eight bin-bags and two carrier bags of clothes to go to the charity shop, plus two cardboard (banana) boxes of books and misc. We’ve got rid of three old computers (for their collectable-ness rather than their function) and a small bookshelf will go to the furniture charity shop next time we’re out that way. A few things have gone to/gone back to my mum and John’s dad, and a big box of misc has gone in the bin (thankfully it was mostly papers/card so it could be recycling/composting, very little has gone to landfill). Looking at it like that, that’s quite a lot of stuff out of the house! And it sounds like many of you have had similarly cleansing experiences — I’ve read all the comments, blog posts and tweets, and it sounds like an awful lot of packed charity/thrift/op shops have been getting stock boosts over the last few weeks!

I’ve also found stuff I’d forgotten about/lost and shifted lots of stuff from high concentration area to more out of the way locations (for example, our spare crockery and preserving jars now live in the porch/garage) so I’ve gained even more space.

All in all, I’ve very glad I did the challenge and am tempted to have another focused month next spring.

How has your decluttering gone? Any particularly noteworthy items that have gone bye-bye? Anything you found hard to let go – but you were glad about once it was gone?

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Declutter November – end of week 4

Posted by on Monday 28 November 2011 in decluttering | 3 comments

No pictures this week because first my camera battery died mid-photo session and now my computer isn’t recognising the memory card. Sigh. Just imagine pics of assorted junk ;)

This week, I got rid of:

  • Big Blue Dog – one of those “oh so soft!” impulse buys at Ikea nearly a decade ago. Deserves a more loving home (and a wash first).
  • A freebie baseball cap from a geek conference
  • A mirror I (charity shop-)bought just before we moved here but never even took out the bag
  • Another old work diary, really no idea why I keep these
  • Two books – one from my women’s studies book stash and one on artists using recycling materials that was given to me but I never looked in because that’s what I use the internet for
  • A stack of papers, which became kindling for last night’s stove
  • A box of misc rubbish – really random stuff from a card from colleagues I barely knew when I left my job five years ago to old mobile phone packaging and lots of tiny bits and bobs including a bottle of artificial vanilla-scented oil burner oil which had leaked everywhere and gave me a headache for the rest of my tidying mission.

It was all from our spare room, which has just been a dumping ground for miscellanea since we moved in. This sorting got rid of two cardboard boxes from up there too.

Declutter November mini-challenge week 4: your hobby/craft stash

And then there was the painful craft stash reduction. I cleared out:

  • Three pairs of knitting needles – a 10mm set, a 5mm and an about 6mm set which has lost their ends. Oh and one half of a broken needle. (…?) (Mum: I’ll put these in my box of stuff for you in case you want these. The pairs, not the broken bit.)
  • Two balls of turquoise acrylic yarn. I’m gradually getting rid of all my 100% acrylic yarn – I bought a lot of it when I first started knitting again but don’t like using it now.
  • Some candle sand – I wasn’t sure whether this was really a craft stash item but I found it in one of my craft stash boxes so I’m including it ;)
  • Four vintage pillow case – bought for the fabric but I have nicer ones I’m not doing anything with so chances are these won’t get used any time soon.
  • A couple of metres of blue polyester. Left over from an old project. A project from 1999.

In my sorting, I also found some things I forgotten/didn’t know I had:

  • A ten pack of wool-heavy green yarn, which I think was 100g a ball, away from the rest of my wool in a drawer.
  • Two BNWT bras and a hoodie
  • Two cute little fabric handbags
  • A script for a play I performed once – and one that just this week I looked into buying again so see if it would be suitable for using with my drama group. Answer: no. Finding that script saved me £8!

So my decluttering this week has actually saved me money and provided me with “new” things to enjoy!

Just a couple of days left now – I’m hoping to get rid of a couple of big things since most of the other stuff has been quite small…

What have you got rid of this week? How did the hobby stash declutter go?

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Declutter November mini-challenge week 4: your hobby/craft stash

Posted by on Monday 21 November 2011 in decluttering | 7 comments

Ah, you knew this one was coming, didn’t you? ;)

I’ve also deliberately left it ’til last as I imagine most people will have dipped into their hobby stashes already – hopefully though having a focused look at it will help everyone (and me especially!) prune further: get rid of extra five things (or sets of things), in addition to your normal one a day.

The original idea for this was “declutter your craft stash” but I know that not everyone is crafty so I’ve expanded it to being whatever you hoard for your hobby. I’m assuming everyone taking part in the challenge hoards some stuff – if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be needing to declutter ;)

For me, I’m going to look at my yarn stash and my fabric stash, and at my books yet again because I always can prune them further. My t’other half John doesn’t craft but he hoards (or certainly did in the past) computer related stuff so I’d imagine he could find five things to get rid of there, and he’s a reader too so I’m sure he could find a few books he wouldn’t read again.

So whatever your poison – be it cooking, a craft, a sport, a game, a performance art or collecting something – have a look through your tools/equipment, your materials stash, your collection or whatever, and see what can go.

Think about what no longer any use to you – clear some space and maybe even pass it on to someone just starting out in your favourite pursuit!

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Declutter November – end of week 3

Posted by on Monday 21 November 2011 in decluttering | 1 comment

We’ve finished another week of Declutter November – and I’m beginning to struggle a bit!

I think I snagged a lot of the low hanging fruit earlier in the month and during the garden & wardrobe, and this week’s kitchen, mini-challenges so now I feel like I’m picking things just to meet the target rather than because I actually want to get rid of them. That said, I don’t have any wobbles about the things I’ve selected so perhaps it’s good that I’m being forced into it – I’m looking for stuff to declutter rather than it jumping out at me.

This week’s selection then:

  • three books (3 items)
  • a pair of candlestick holders that we got as a gift nearly ten years ago and have never used (1 item)
  • a cute … thing (pencil case? make up bag) that I bough on eBay thinking it was purse size (it’s not) (1 item)
  • two necklaces I took to my mum on Saturday so they’re not pictured (she gave me some of her clutter in return – clutter swap! – but I’m still counting them ;) ) (1 item)
  • and another not pictured – a cute little cotton hoodie I bought for one of our nephews when he was born but forgot to pass on until it was too late. He’s two in a couple of months so it’s sat on my desk for quite a while now! (1 item)

Declutter November mini-challenge week 3: the kitchen

While I’m starting to struggle in the rest of the house, the kitchen mini-challenge was easy peasy! I got rid of:

  • six big egg boxes – lots of people save egg boxes for us but we don’t have much use for these big 12/15 egg ones. They’ll go in the compost as it could use some bulk at the moment.
  • an old bamboo steamer – since we have since inherited both a better bamboo steamer set and a metal one from friends.
  • a cute little tea bag dish which is too small for our teabag mountain
  • the chicken-shaped egg holder I mentioned in the mini-challenge launch – he’s nice but not for us right now
  • the blue thing on the top of the pile, which is a thermos flask for soup/leftovers. I bought it when I temporarily didn’t have access to a microwave at work in … 2002? I then got access to a microwave and it was easier to take things cold then reheat them than carry the bulky flask. I have never used it!

I also moved a lot of things out of the kitchen: six plates, two bowls and four cups into cupboard space elsewhere along with our plastic picnic cups/cutlery; a carrier bag full of old teatowels to use as dirty rags elsewhere; two little shelves of misc; and all the medicines in the box below, which had been stuffed on a toddler-height shelf instead of being properly put back in the medicine box in the bathroom:

We now have some paracetamol, a pack of ibuprofen and a pack of plasters in a little drawer in the kitchen – that’s more than enough on hand. And now we’ve moved everything that nearly two year old nephew who never got his hoodie is far less likely to accidentally overdose on Strepsils and sticky plasters too…!

Between getting rid and clearing out, we now have a lot more cupboard space, an almost completely empty drawer, and three small shelves that are clear. Woo!

How has your week of decluttering gone? Are you still making progress?

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Stuff hangovers and aspirational buying

Posted by on Thursday 17 November 2011 in bad buys, decluttering, personal finance | 5 comments

In this, the Decluttering season, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff and about how it comes into our lives. My intention was to write this post about the idea of a “stuff hangover” but after reading an article on Get Rich Slowly, I think it’s about more than that.

I suffer from a stuff hangover in several different areas – I’ve changed who I am and what I do but I’ve got stuff hanging over from previous versions of myself. For example, when I moved into our last house in 2000, I was straight out of university and I brought over all my uni notes, books and accoutrement. We brought a large proportion of those books and notes over here when we moved too even though I have long ago abandoned my post-grad plans in that area of study. Another thing: about five years ago, John wrote a comic strip that was quite popular in its incredibly nerdy niche and we sold t-shirts, stickers and badges based on the “characters” and in-jokes. The comic eventually wound up and when shirts sales reduced to a tickle, we took the shop offline too – but we still have a couple of boxes of stock leftover. Together the books/notes and t-shirts take up a fair amount of our storage space and because I see it regularly, I know I need to be brutal and get rid of it.

But there are smaller things that I’m blind to – the twenty pairs of trainer socks I cleared out from my sock drawer the other week were a smaller example, as are the various bits of jewellery I decluttered during last week’s mini-challenge. The jewellery hardly took up any space at all but it was there – in a jewellery box I didn’t use except to keep that unused jewellery in. It all adds up.

So that’s stuff from past-louisa still cluttering up life for present-louisa – the Get Rich Slowly article I mentioned at the start is, in part, about accumulating clutter/wasting money on things present-louisa wants to buy in order to be the perfect possible version of future-louisa: aspirational buying. The article (and comments) talk about things like when people buying exercise equipment because it’ll “force” them to keep fit, or buying the perfect dress or winter coat just because you like them, even though you never go anywhere nice or cold. The main focus of the article is about “buy for every day not special occasions“, which is something I’ve thought about before in terms of not getting use out of things because they’re saved “for best” but in this circumstance, it’s also about choosing a home or car that suits your every day needs not the once a year family get together, or camping trip (in both cases, it’s usually cheaper to pick something smaller and rent a hall/camper van when you need it, rather than having to pay for the extra cost, insurance etc).

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