At the risk of sounding first-world problem-y, having too much stuff around annoys me. I have too many belongings taking up space but not giving me much in return and I need that space for thinking and moving around. Useless stuff steals my time and energy when I have to clean or move house. I feel responsible for them – they are my quiet dusty children. Given this melodramatic attitude and the title of this post, it will be no surprise to you that the minimalist philosophy has really appealed to me.
Minimalism, to me, means carefully considering what to buy and keep so that everything in your home serves a purpose. That purpose can be functional (e.g. a microwave) or emotional in that it brings you joy.
I had the perfect motivation to practice some minimalism two months ago before moving into a new flat because less stuff is easier. I started with my problematic pile of clothes, driven by the prospect of having less wardrobe space in the new place, a desire to simplify daily outfit choices and the strangely seductive YouTube videos about 40-item wardrobes. I gave away over a third of my wardrobe and now I’m finding it easier to choose what to wear and realising that the clothes I wear most often are the well-made ones so I’ll be going for quality over quantity in future. Although I’ll need to be careful not to turn this into an excuse for spending too much money on clothes. I’m hoping to go at least another five years before I get to the level of unbearable human who refers to all of their clothes as ‘pieces’.
Around the move date, I went back home to clear out everything that remained in my childhood room. Lots of books, toys and even more clothes went to charity shops. It was quite easy to throw a lot of it away because I had had already lived without it for eight years. I recycled old school books, art work and birthday cards after taking photos of the pages and messages I wanted to be able to look at again. Taking photos is a good minimalist trick for sentimentality because you don’t need to keep the physical object if its’ important properties can be captured in a photograph.
Minimalism isn’t just about decluttering the stuff you already own. It’s also about how you approach buying new things. In the documentary about minimalism titled ‘Minimalism’ (brilliant) a person explains that one of the downsides of living a minimalist life is the time it can take you to buy something new. You need to do the research to make sure you are buying something well-made and that will last a long time. I’ve had mix success with applying this since moving.
I moved from a shared house with two people I barely knew to moving in with my boyfriend of five years to our own (rented) flat. So this is the first time I’ve had a say in where everything in my home goes and what those things are. I tried to be minimalist in all of the decisions we had to make but a lot of time it was just too practical not to. We were lucky we didn’t have to buy too many new things because we got sofas and a coffee table for free from my old place and our kitchen table from my Dad’s shed. We bought four kitchen chairs and a TV stand from IKEA, which definitely violated the minimalist principle that says your things should be well-made because we constructed them late in the evening with Budweiser as a fellow handywoman/man. We’re not allowed to hang pictures on walls because of our renter status so I also bought a £5 floor lamp solely to hang a line of photos between our bookcase and the lamp. There are some things we are being more careful about though, like our grater for instance.
Our need for a grater was threefold. 1) Sam and I had worn out our lemon zester making our favourite lemon spaghetti recipe twice a week for the previous two months. 2) We planned to make a curry requiring us to grate squash. 3) I had volunteered to make a chocolate cake for work which requires grated courgette*. I just wanted a plain stainless steel grater but Sainsburys, John Lewis, TK Maxx and a dedicated cookshop could only offer me graters with plastic parts that looked like they could easily break. I could have just bought one of these anyway but every time I used it I would have thought about the grater of my dreams and felt a shred of regret. Instead, I turned to the internet and within 20 seconds found that my nearby Nisbets had the exact grater I wanted so I cycled there after work the next day to buy it. I never thought a grater could bring me such a sense of satisfaction.
I finish with the idea from ‘Minimalism’ which surprised me the most. Sociology professor, Juliet Schor, said that the problem is not that we are too materialistic nowadays, it is that we are not materialistic enough. We don’t value the things we already have highly enough. If we put more time and effort into making our purchases, maybe we would value them more and find them less annoying. That’s what I’m hoping anyway.
*Chocolate courgette cake update: This went horribly. Lesson learned to clean out the oven of any oil spilt from previous dinners lest it affect the flavour of your baking.
- Blog by ‘The Minimalists’
- Lessism – I don’t know whether this blog is supposed to be comedy or not but I love it.
- The Repair Shop on BBC Two is a lovely show to remind us how lovely taking care of our things can be.