Moderate Minimalism for People who Love Stuff

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This is a guest post by Lisa Cole of www.less-stuff.co.uk

I’m not a minimalist, I never was one and I’m unlikely to become one, so it may surprise you to know I run a website about decluttering.

Decluttering doesn’t have to mean paring down your belongings to fit into one small bag. It doesn’t even mean pulling everything you own out of your wardrobe and having stressful days dealing with it all. Decluttering to me is a way of pruning and editing your things so you end up with stuff that makes you feel great about yourself.

Why do we have too much stuff?

There is no doubt we are at peak stuff. Birthdays and Christmas bring new waves of more new things from friends and family. Shopping trips can be made from your sofa, at any time of day or night. You can buy from countries all over the world without even speaking to another human being. Supermarkets have aisles full of interior decorating treats for bored shoppers. Even a cultural day out to a museum ends up in the gift shop. Buying new things can make us happy in the moment at least.

Curating your home

Think of your home as a museum of yourself with you as the curator. Spend just 5 minutes a day picking out a few things you really do not need or want.  Pretty soon you will start to see open spaces that were previously filled with clutter. Start with the small, start with the obvious. Ask yourself:

  • Is it rubbish?
  • Does it work? If not, am I ever going to fix it?
  • Does it bring up any bad memories?
  • Do I actually like it?

Daily small decluttering

You can use 5 minute decluttering sessions anywhere in your home. I like to use the dead time when I’m waiting for something to happen. I might pick through a kitchen drawer and get rid of 5 things while the kettle is boiling, or the washing machine is finishing the spin cycle. If you get rid of 5 things a day for 5 days a week that will be over a thousand bits of clutter in a year. All removed without any fuss or hassle.

I love Catherine’s idea of daily pockets of freedom and I think it is very good to reward ourselves. You could plan a little pocket of freedom after you have done a 5 minute declutter as a great way to reinforce a good habit.

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Keeping things because we ought to like them

Gifts from loved ones are tricky to say goodbye to, even if we hate the present itself. It may have been given with love but there is no reason why you should have to live with it.  Larger charity shops will send donations out of the area, if you are worried about it being spotted for resale. Kids drawings hold a similar hold over us and I find it easier to get rid of potentially sentimental items sooner, rather than later. With children’s stuff I save the best from each term in a special folder. My son will thank me when he is older for not presenting him with evidence of learning from his entire school life.

Keeping things we love but others hate

Your space, your rules. If you love it, no matter how ugly, broken, smelly or useless it is, then keep it. Your home is your museum and you can put what you want in it. If this bothers other people, just keep it hidden 🙂 If you find it difficult to part with everything and you think you are hoarding, please see your doctor. Hoarding can be a sign of depression and there is lots of help out there.

Do you want to know more about moderate minimalism?

www.less-stuff.co.uk is all about gentle decluttering, simple living, frugal ideas and eco-friendly life.  If you have previously gone through radical declutters and need to keep on top of things, my decluttering prompts will help. If you are new to reducing your belongings, starting small is less scary than huge purges.

Sign up for Lisa’s newsletter (which is infrequent and will not clutter up your inbox) to get a free decluttering calendar, an A-Z of leftover food ideas and a money off voucher for the less-stuff bookshop.

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Simplify your…. paper mountain

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Last weekend, there were several ‘door droppers’ in our area, each with a fistful of leaflets or pamphlets for distribution.

To our bemusement, one of these included a Labour party flyer, which was 2 days late for local elections that had already taken place the previous Thursday. Whoops!

In one of the ‘drops’, I received a ‘Look Local’ magazine (advertorial and advertisements for local services), a leaflet from a local tree surgeon (who must be making lots of money to afford to do such a lot of direct marketing) and a flyer from Domino’s Pizza…

Junk mail

Some people avoid junk mail coming through the letterbox by placing a notice on their property. I haven’t done that, but I immediately place all incoming paper in the recycling bin.

However, how do you stop more junk mail coming through the post?

The Mailing preference service (MPS) is a good place to start. Did you know that if you’re still receiving unsolicited mail for a previous occupant of your home, you can also register his/her name with the MPS? Although the MPS website looks outdated (with a 2015 date on its site), I checked in with them and they are still operating.

Royal Mail’s opt-out scheme also stops all unaddressed mail being delivered by the postman.

So far, so good.

Genuine correspondence

What about incoming paper that you have to keep or want to retain? Well, you can recycle the envelopes as soon as they arrive (no need to remove the cellophane window).

Then, for me, I have a single place where incoming mail is collected. At the moment, this is a small drawer in my study, but I have used a wicker basket (currently full to the brim with our daughter’s revision papers!). The temptation is to leave things sitting on the island in our kitchen, but I do my best to whisk things away, leaving that surface clear.

For bank statements, bills and other correspondence that I may decide to keep for a number of months, I do have a filing system. It’s a series of A-Z box files that span the top shelf of a single wardrobe. I keep on top of its contents using my 3 S’s of paperwork.

Greetings cards

Recycle or make gift tags out of them. Create new cards by re-using a cut-out portion of an original card.

Newspapers and Magazines

I don’t know anyone who still buys a daily newspaper; so much of our news is consumed in ways other than print media.

For magazines, online services such as Texture offer a one-stop shop, with the opportunity to share the subscription across as many as 5 devices, plus a number of features (including a search function) that you simply don’t get by having a physical magazine. Newspapers, of course, offer similar subscription schemes.

Notwithstanding the amount of advertising contained in magazines, when it comes to it, if you want some lightweight reading matter, there’s nothing quite like having an actual magazine to browse through. After all, you can’t take the iPad in the bath with you (well, you could, but understand the risks!)

Years ago, I used to have a subscription to Real Simple, a magazine that wasn’t available in the UK. I had picked up a copy at an airport whilst flying from the US back to the UK and really enjoyed it. The UK equivalent is The Simple Things magazine. Now, I don’t buy any publication regularly but it is a treat to receive a magazine as a very occasional gift.

The sharing economy in action

My late grandmother regularly received magazines from her next door neighbour. The latest issue would be left on the wall adjoining their gardens, kept secure under a small brick to keep it from blowing about.

At Warwick Parkway station, I noticed recently another lovely way of sharing reading material. A book share box at the ticket office exists where you can leave a book you’ve read and pick up another – for free. At work, we have a basket in the kitchen for the same purpose.

What else comes through your door?

Pieces of paper, envelopes, flyers, letters, leaflets, booklets and other forms of paper aren’t the only things that come through our door.

Bags

Consider the bags that are posted through your door for charity collections (these typically come in plastic packets – arrgghh!). Where we live, they come from local charities such as the Air Ambulance Service. I say use them! Go to your ‘goods out’ drawer, fill the bag and remember to put it outside on collection day. Note to self!

Carrier bags from online supermarket shopping deliveries can be returned (and you might get money back for them). We do hand back these carrier bags when we have excess, but we also use them to line the small kitchen bin whose contents go to landfill.

Gift bags, luxury paper shopping bags or simple brown paper bags should always be re-used. I keep mine folded flat in a large gift-bag whose sturdy structure is great for keeping all the smaller bags in good order. That’s a trick I learned from Marie Kondo: the best way to store a bag is inside another!

Too many ‘bags for life’? Again, use them or pass them on.

If you ever order clothes online, these will inevitably come in a lightweight plastic bag. These are more difficult to re-use but I have done so whenever I’ve gone through a phase of eBay-ing unwanted items. Do you have any useful ways to re-use such bags?

And simply don’t buy food bags such as sandwich or freezer bags.

Maintain the habit

By implementing some of these ideas, you’ll certainly help keep the clutter – and the associated stress – down. Maintaining the habit of putting things away certainly helps when you need to retrieve something in the future and setting aside time to do your ‘family admin’ supports this goal.

How do you keep on top of your paper mountain and keep the clutter at bay? Reply to this post, below, or join our lovely Community!

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How post-bereavement decluttering offers tips for living in the present

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When my dear father-in-law passed away recently, we began the process of decluttering and tidying the home in which he and my mother-in-law have lived for over forty years. Whenever someone dies, it’s inevitable that there’ll be some personal belongings to sort through (be they numerous or few in quantity).

Access all areas

My mother-in-law is a wheelchair user, so she has not enjoyed an ‘access all areas’ experience to the family home in recent times. As a result, whatever needed sorting out was down to the man of the house. We photographed the rooms upstairs so that my husband, Andrew, could ask his mum to decide what she wanted to do with the items we uncovered.

As we went about our task, I had a number of realisations, which prompted me to think about how we can all live more minimally in the here and now.

Man drawer mayhem

Comedian Michael McIntyre wasn’t kidding when he described the many and varied contents of ‘the man drawer‘. In our own home, we have a kitchen drawer that serves the purpose of a multi-use drawer for every day bits and bobs.

In my parents-in-law’s house, the man drawer housed nails, a hammer, masking tape and similar DIY-type stuff. Yet, this drawer was seldom used and in a central location within the home.

Keep useful things close by

My sense was that this useful storage space could be better served keeping every-day items that needed to be accessed regularly.

So, think carefully about what you use daily (or weekly) and store those items in an accessible location. Place seldom used equipment elsewhere.

Things that no longer work or which are no longer needed

If you are unable to get to the local recycling centre, the likelihood of holding onto things that no longer work (or which you no longer need) increases.

If you’re in this situation, ask a visitor to ‘disappear’ such items, find out if your local authority can offer a collection service or see if any local charities can help. This helps avoid stuff building up, which takes up valuable space in your home (and makes cleaning more difficult).

Have a place for ‘goods out’ 

At home, I have a dedicated drawer for ‘goods out’. When it’s full, I take the items to my local recycling centre or charity shop. We’ll do that for my mother-in-law.

Out-of-date foodstuffs

When we were students, my sister and I worked for our local supermarket. A mantra we learned whilst there was:

If it’s got a date, you must rotate!”

When you buy items with a long date (such as cans or jars), the ‘rotate’ rule still applies to these types of items just as it does to perishable goods.

In the case of my father-in-law, he wasn’t able to get into the back of his cupboards so we found some items that were up to 4 years out of date. I’m sure this is not unusual in this situation, but if you are able to do so, get into the back of those shelves from time-to-time and bring forward items you need to use imminently.

Check anything with a use-by date regularly

Pantry items such as flour and other baking products often need checking.  It’s a good idea to narrow down your list of store-cupboard staples so that you regularly use what’s there. Only invest in more unusual things if you know you’ll use them. And local friends, if you need a particular herb or spice for a special recipe, I probably have it (my weakness) so please ask before you buy!

Multiple items, dispersed throughout various locations

One of the things I noticed when decluttering was that there were various little storage boxes (plastic or cardboard) containing small items of a similar nature. We discovered duplicate (and even triplicate) versions of tiny things like paracetamol, matches and so on. Keeping such bits and pieces in one place will enable you to use up what you have before buying more and save you time and money.

Everything in its place

Whether you live alone, with a partner or in a family situation, an ‘everything in its place’ rule will help you consolidate, as you:
– see what you have in a particular category
– avoid losing things of value
– avoid waste (and save money)
– save time (as you know where to find what you need)
– maintain a sense of order and make cleaning so much easier

So, our decluttering continues and I know it won’t take long to get things sorted out. I know my mother-in-law will appreciate knowing that her home is a little less cluttered, which will help her keep it clean and tidy.

To live minimally in the here and now

So, to live minimally in the here and now:

  • Keep genuinely useful things close by (all in one place)
  • Have a place for ‘goods out’ (and let them go)
  • Check anything with a use-by date regularly
  • Adopt the ‘everything in its place’ rule

What can you do today to help you on your journey towards a clutter-less life?

In memory of Kenneth Gordon 1928 – 2017

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#Unclutter 2017 – The 3 S’s of paperwork

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In my last post of this #Unclutter2017 series, I tackle an area of our lives that we all have to deal with: paperwork.

Tackle your family filing

When I finally addressed the issue of our family’s paperwork, I was well into my minimalism journey. However, I can’t begin to tell you how shocked I was to find old utility bills from several years earlier – and from a house in which we no longer lived. I also had items relating to my daughter’s childcare when she was a pre-schooler. She is now almost 15…
I had ‘archives’ in the loft (or so I thought), plus ‘current’ items in my admin cupboard.

Evaluate and sort

I brought everything together and had a long, hard look. First of all, some of the items I had archived were actually current (house documentation) so should have been stored more carefully. Other items, like a water utility bill from 2008, should have been shredded a looonnnggg time ago.
So, I was ruthless. I immediately placed in the recycling anything that didn’t need to be shredded.

Follow the 3 S’s of paperwork

For the rest,  I followed the 3 S’s of paperwork:
Scan
Shred
Store

Scan

Scan information you need to keep whose paperwork you don’t need to retain. Evernote or Dropbox are great places to keep your scanned paperwork.

Shred

Shred papers containing confidential information. The shredding may feel like a nuisance; I don’t own an industrial sized shredder so this job took me a long time. If you are planning to buy one, get the best shredder you can afford.

Store

Store what you need in a logical way. The storage system is your choice, but having tried filing cabinets (graveyards for paperwork you’ll seldom look at again) and hanging files, I opted for simple office-type box files. Easy to order in alphabetical order by organisation, they are the minimalist’s best friend. Once they start getting full, you can’t keep adding to them otherwise they refuse to close. So, then you go back to the 3 S’s….

#Unclutter 2017

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on decluttering throughout January. If living a clutter-less life is one of your goals for 2017, then I hope that these posts will have helped you on your journey.

Coming up in February

February heralds the start of a new series entitled #FrugalFebruary. We’ll start with money-saving tips on food and groceries, but also explore aspects of eco-minimalism. If there’s anything you’d particularly like to focus on, just drop me a line.

#Unclutter2017 – Overcome inertia through a new impetus

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If you’re well into your journey into minimalism, it’s still possible that you may be holding onto at least one or two items about which you have felt unsure. As the following quotation points out, it may simply be that you have held onto stuff because you haven’t decided what to do with it.
“Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions, fuelled by procrastination.”
– Christina Scalise

Finding a new cause will reinvigorate your verve for decluttering

A new fundraising venture encouraged me to strengthen my resolve, enabling me to tackle my final uncluttering tasks. Before Christmas, my daughter signed up for a school’s expedition with Camps International. In July 2018, she will participate in a 4-week expedition to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. As a part of the challenge, she is expected to undertake a variety of fundraising activities to support the costs associated with the trip. Her fundraising will also contribute to the development activities of the organisation itself.

Camps International suggests the idea of car boot sales or eBay sales to help boost funds. Ironically, this also meant bringing new things into the house as my mum started uncluttering to help provide things we could sell! You can imagine how this made me feel – I wanted it gone as soon as possible!

Over the holidays, we began listing these items and also benefited from using our local “Things for Sale” Facebook group.

Get behind a new cause

Getting behind this new cause was the catalyst for us to look around to actively find more things we could relinquish. We did identify some things and – you know what – we haven’t missed them one bit.

Is there a cause that you could get behind, which might help you part with those final items you’ve been holding onto? The ’cause’ might simply be to boost your own savings (or to help others). You might want to save for a long-term goal such as a trip or special project.

Alternatively, you might decide to support a local, national or international charity, thus ensuring the proceeds from the sale of your unwanted stuff have gone to a good cause. Even better, your stuff has gone for good (both literally and metaphorically).

Overcome inertia

So, choose a cause that might reignite the spark and one the key tenets of minimalism: decluttering. Doing good will make you feel good. Feeling good will help you do good! *

Let me know what your ‘good cause’ might be!

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*This is based on Gretchen Rubin’s ‘do good, feel good’ approach (The Happiness Project)

#Unclutter2017 – Tidy up

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Today’s tip is super simple and quick: Put stuff away.

Everything in its place

Every day, sweep up things that have accumulated in your living space. Don’t leave incoming mail sitting on your counter. Place it where you will deal with it. I use a wicker basket in my study as “goods in”. You might use a box or plastic tray.

The same applies to things like shoes. We have a flip-top bench in our hallway. I’m always bemused to see shoes and boots sitting where their owners left them (on the mat) rather than having been put away. The same applies to coats (on their hooks, not over the end of the bannister!) and school bags.

Tidy up

Take a look around? What can you tidy up now?

#Unclutter2017 – Moving On

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Having recently finished Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I was on the lookout for something new to read. I was thrilled to discover a Nora Ephron book in Warwickshire libraries’ e-Book collection: I Feel Be About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman.

A wide-ranging collection of essays

Essentially a collection of essays, the book offers an amusing and witty perspective on various aspects of life from the point of view of a woman of a certain age.

Ephron’s topics are wide-ranging: from ‘maintenance’ to the nostalgic quest for the perfect cabbage strudel, I recommend the book to you wholeheartedly (whether or not you are, like me, a woman and most definitely on the ‘wrong’ side of 40).

A surprise in the narrative

A chapter entitled Moving On included the following fulsome surprise. As a minimalist, my virtual antennae is perpetually attuned to concepts like decluttering and its resultant benefits. So, I relished the following paragraph, which I reproduce in full, below. In this piece, Ephron and family are preparing to leave their Manhattan apartment after many years living there:

“So we prepared to move. We threw away whole pieces of our lives: the Care Bears, the wire shelving in the basement storage room, the boxes full of bank statements, the posters we hung on the walls when we were young, the stereo speakers that no longer worked, the first computer we ever bought, the snowboard, the surfboard, the Portafiles full of documents relating to movies never made. Boxes of clothing went to charity. Boxes of books went to libraries in homeless shelters. We felt cleansed. We’d gotten back to basics. We’d been forced to confront what we had outgrown, what we’d no longer need, who we were. We’d Taken Stock. It was as if we’d died but got to sort through our things; it was as if we’d been reborn and were now able to start accumulating all over again.”

Extract from Nora Ephron: I Feel Be About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman

Just look at that:

“We felt cleansed. We’d gotten back to basics. We’d been forced to confront what we had outgrown, what we’d no longer need, who we were.”

Letting go

This piece captures so eloquently but wistfully the process of letting go whilst revealing so clearly the resultant benefits.

Aspiring minimalists already know the joy of living with less. What Ephron captures is the sense of moving on, not only physically but emotionally, from the life she once had.

Where our perspectives diverge is in the very last part where Ephron suggests the idea of starting to ‘accumulate all over again’. We know that re-filling our lives with stuff will not add value or provide the sustained benefits of a clutter-less existence.

Over to you

So, if you are cracking on with #Unclutter2017 this weekend, remember that the process may cause you to confront who you once were. You’ll feel lighter as a result, however, and I promise you it’ll help you get back to basics and focus on what really matters.

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Further reading

5 top tips for moving house

Don’t confuse your possessions for treasured memories 

10 ways to avoid re-cluttering our lives