Minimalism, my way

Minimalism Detail

Well, I’ve been struggling to let go of some of my possessions in recent years. I can get very attached to ‘things’, even when they’re way past their point of usefulness. Couple that with a desire to keep everything out of landfill / incineration and you’ll find the problem just builds and builds. Clearing out rooms in preparation for having carpet fitted turned the problem on its head. Now instead of choosing what to take out of my rooms, I now had to choose what to put in to my freshly painted, newly carpeted zen dens. Surprisingly this made the whole decision process of what to say goodbye to amazingly easy.

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I suffer from a condition called ‘imaginary lifestyle’ syndrome. It causes its sufferers to believe that they will one day have a life with lots of time that affords them the luxury of coordinating their accessories, trying out new hair upstyles and indulging in all manner of fantastically creative pursuits. So of course over the years I’ve accumulated all of the accoutrements required to support such a lifestyle.  This has been to the determent of my another of my aspirations; owning only what I love and what I need, i.e. getting rid of crap.  If you’re at all interested in decluttering and minimalism you may have heard of New York based decluttering consultant Marie Kondo. According to Ms Kondo ‘Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left only with the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own.’ Inspired by her wise words I drafted criteria for objects seeking residency in my new spaces of serenity;

  • Do I love it? Or is it useful?
  • If I love it is it more attractive than the empty space it’s replacing?
  • If it’s useful, is it working? (you wouldn’t believe the amount of broken items in my house)
  • If it’s useful and working, is it the only thing that can do this job?
  • If it’s useful, working and the one of a kind then does it do it’s job well?
  • If it’s useful, working, one of a kind, does it’s job well, am I realistically going to or want to use it?

If I answer yes to these questions it stays if the answer is no then I seek to rehome. As I cleared I sorted all the stuff to be rehomed into 8 piles, including stuff;

  • to be repaired
  • to be donated to charity shop
  • to be offered to friends / family
  • to be offered to local organisations – colleges, libraries, animal shelter, etc
  • to be rehomed online
  • to be recycled (only for broken or out of date items)
  • to be composted
  • to be sent to landfill / incineration (reserved only for broken non-recyclables/ compostable)

Currently I’m in the process of rehoming;
handmade paper, books, a ribbon collection, my wedding dress, wedding shoes, wedding handbag, perfume, extra party decorations, watercolour paints, toys, kids easel, bedsheets, clothes, vintage posters, babies bottles, accessories, clothes

Passing on these items in a sustainable manner is far from easy. Anything that I felt was of value got given to the charity shop. Having volunteered in one previously, I am very aware at how much unsalable stuff people offload on charity shops just to avoid paying the disposal charge – shocking.

Once that was done I was left with stuff that might not be sellable but could still be useful to the right person, like old CDs that might work as bird scarers for a community garden or old babies bottles that might work for feeding lambs. So now I have to get creative. I consulted my list of What to recycle / donate where and considered who in my local area might get use of out items I was finished with. I decided that the local design college might like some of my design books and equipment, the local computer repair shop might like some of my cables / equipment and that the local Montessori might like some of the kids crafts equipment we’d outgrown.

Anything that was left, and still in working order, was fodder for the free section of Honestly this process took way longer than expected. It took hours to photograph everything, create the ads and then deal with the timewasters who promised to call and never did. That’s not to say that I didn’t pass on some stuff to some lovely people who will genuinely use the items they collected but it’s far from a quick process. I think it’s going to take me weeks or months to get through it all.

At the end of this journey my home is not a pristine white box; it still has lots in it but, for now, it only contains the stuff we love and need. So, not wanting to go through this decluttering process EVER AGAIN, I’ve drafted a check list to avoid ‘stuff’ infiltrating our house. When offered something we always refuse, unless we really want / need it, e.g. this week my kids handed back the t-shirts given to them at an activity camp – I was so proud – and before I buy something I ask the following questions;

  • If this is a replacement, can I repair the original? If no, see next question.
  • Do I already have something that I can repurpose to do the same job? If no, see next question.
  • Can a friend or family member loan me one?

If I answer no to all the questions above then I feel I’m fully justified in buying something, as long as what I buy is either second-hand or is, as far as possible, locally made, long-lasting, repairable and compostable / biodegradable / recyclable (in that order) at the end of its lifespan. I find personal recommendations from friends very helpful in finding long-lasting items, as is the website BuyMeOnce

This was a very good Zero Waste week for me. I managed to find

  • a very well priced second-hand race car bed for my 7 year old on,
  • a second-hand task light on and
  • a load of second-hand boy clothes from a friend but I’m particularly proud of
  • my new homemade plant fertiliser container. I make the fertiliser by steeping comfrey leaves for a few weeks and then diluting it with water. The plastic bucket I used to use split and in the past I would have headed straight out to buy another one. But instead, armed with my new Zero Waste knowledge, I enquired about unwanted plastic containers in my local deli and got a lovely blue plastic container that originally contained pie-filling. So I’ve saved my self money, kept some oil in the ground and interrupted a container’s journey to landfill.

Since I wrote this article I came across an excellent article about decluttering on Quiet Habits. It’s full of helpful tips and links to other inspiring articles.

Another resource is the book by Irish declutterer, Emma Gleeson, Stuff Happens!, which is available to pre-order now. Her Facebook feed and Instagram accounts are also work a follow too.


Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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