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My Year of Minimal Living (And what I learned from it)

Posted on 10 Comments 8 min read

I

t’s been just under a year now since I embarked upon the move towards minimalism I wrote about in this post, and even although absolutely no one has asked, I figured now was as good a time as any for a look back at how it’s all been going.

First things first: did the whole ‘minimal’ thing actually stick, or did it turn out to be just another one of those phases I go through where I’m ALL IN… right up until the moment I realise I’m going to have to actually keep on doing whatever it is I’ve started, and then it mysteriously loses its appeal (See also: every exercise regime I’ve ever started. Ahem.)?

Surprisingly, yes, it did: stick, I mean.

And, OK, I’m not claiming that it’s all been plain sailing, or that I’m now some kind of minimal lifestyle guru now: far from it, in fact. Here’s the first – and possibly most important thing – I’ve learned over the past few months, though: 

You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to make a start.

This year has been a start for me, but, over the past few months, I’ve come to accept that minimalism is always going to be something of a work in process for us. Back when we embarked on this project, I think I had this idea that, at some point, I’d stand there in my immaculate, clutter-free home, and think. “There! I am finally done!”, but the reality, of course, is that you are never really done. EVER. 

Just this week, in fact, Terry and I did YET ANOTHER clear-out of the kitchen cupboards, which YET AGAIN seemed to be crammed with stuff we didn’t need, despite the fact that we’ve done at least two similar clear-outs in the space of the last year. Here’s another thing I’ve learned about the so-called ‘minimal’ lifestyle, though:

However ‘ruthless‘ you think you’re being, it’s probably not ruthless enough

I mean, I thought we’d been pretty ruthless with those kitchen cupboards the first time we cleared them out: I really did. Actually, though, we were still hoarding stuff: just a bit less of it than usual – and the same could be said for most of the other cupboards and storage areas in the house, too. What we’ve found, though,  is that you can’t just clear them out once: you have to keep going back to it again and again, in order to be able to see clearly what you really can’t live without – and also, I guess, to give yourself time to adjust to the idea that, actually, YES YOU CAN get rid of things, even if you’ve been holding onto them for years.

As the year has progressed, I’ve found myself becoming much more genuinely ruthless, and much more honest about what I actually need vs what I’m just clinging onto, for whatever reason. I’ve reached a stage, in fact, where I’ve been feeling increasingly depressed by STUFF. Not ALL stuff, obviously: I mean, you might have noticed that I keep putting the word “minimal” in inverted commas in this post, and that’s 100% because I’m worried that someone who actually DOES have a truly minimal lifestyle would look at the likes of me and burst out laughing, but there are certain categories of STUFF that I just can’t get out of my house fast enough. I’m talking here about…

Stuff-for-the-sake-of-it-stuff

Stuff that doesn’t get used

Duplicate stuff

Stuff I don’t actually like any more, but am keeping hold of purely because it cost a lot of money/it’s still good quality/what if it comes back into fashion again? 

All that kind of stuff, basically. 

a year of minimal living: what happened when I decided to go minimal

Not only do I not want that stuff in my house any more, though (And, yes, I’ve used the word “stuff” waaaay too many times: I’ll stop now, I promise…), I actually feel kind of horrified by it, really. It’s bad for the planet, it’s bad for my wallet, it’s bad for my state of mind… the list goes on. I talked in this post about how I’d been using the StyleBook app to track the cost-per-wear of my clothes, for instance, and while I took a couple of months off from that during the summer, I’m back at it again, and getting a not insignificant degree of satisfaction out of seeing the cost go down with every wear.

The items that DON’T get worn, meanwhile… well, they kind of eat away at me, really. As I also mentioned in that previous post, the sheer waste involved in buying tons of clothes, and then not actually using them, makes me feel a bit sick, sometimes, so one of the big advantages of my new mindset is that it has seriously curtailed my clothes shopping habits, (For me, anyway: I still struggle not to keep buying stuff for Max, but, in my defence, he’s growing all the time, and I’m not, so…) I still love clothes, but I have to REALLY love them – AND be sure I’m actually going to wear them – before I’ll be willing to buy them, so my closet has been getting smaller, and no one is more surprised by that than me. 

.It’s bad for the planet, it’s bad for my wallet, it’s bad for my state of mind… the list goes on.

It’s not just clothes I’ve started to feel this way about either: it’s pretty much everything, really. Because we have too much of everything. For instance, for most of this year, I’ve been on a mission to use up all of the bottles of handwash we’ve been hoarding under our sink. (Not on purpose, just because Terry didn’t realise that’s where I was storing them, so he kept thinking, “Hmm, we’re running low on handwash – better pick some up next time I’m out,” then he’d just get two, because they were on special offer or something, and, I swear to God, at one point it was like those things were breeding or something.

We’ve been slowly working our way through them, though (Last week I got really excited when I took one of the bottles out to decant it into the dispenser in the bathroom, and thought there was just one to go… then Terry discovered yet another bottle during the most recent cupboard clear-out, and there we were, back to square one again…), and honestly, I will get so much satisfaction out of the moment we finally use all of those damn things up that I might even crack open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. (I feel like I should be embarrassed about this, but, well, you all know I have no life, right? Just checking…)

So far, then, so good: there’s one thing, however, standing in the way of true minimalism in our house, and that thing is currently fast asleep in the room next door, hugging no less than three soft toys to his chest. And here’s the thing about THAT:

Small children are the enemy of minimalism

It’s not their fault, obviously: I mean, it’s not like Max went out and bought himself  1,001 toys, books, and other random pieces of equipment, but, seriously, that boy is a STUFF magnet. Wherever he goes, STUFF follows. When he was a baby, it was mostly practical stuff: slings, and bouncers and all of the other pieces of baby equipment that you convince yourself you just can’t live without, when, actually, YES YOU FREAKING COULD. That was bad enough, but these days? These days, it’s toys. Lots and lots of toys. No matter how hard we try to resist, they just keep coming, and there seems to be no way to stop the tide. And, of course, it’s not that we don’t want him to have toys – we do, and that’s why we’re as much to blame as anyone else when it comes to buying even more of them.

We would, however, also like our hall cupboard back (It’s currently filled with boxes of LEGO, toy cars and more…), and to be able to stop worrying about where we’re going to store all of the things we know he’s going to get for Christmas – but that’s possibly another post for another day. For now, my final lesson from this year(ish) of trying to live minimally is this:

It’s a little bit addictive, really.

The more I declutter, the more I hate clutter, and the less inclined I am to go out and get more of it. That doesn’t mean I’ve turned into some kind of Shopping Saint, just because my kitchen cupboards are a bit more organised, obviously – I still have wish lists as long as both my arms, and if I were to win the lottery tomorrow, you better believe I’d be working my way through them. What I really DON’T want, however, is to fall back into my old habits of shopping for things I won’t actually use, purely because I saw someone on Instagram wearing it, and decided my life wouldn’t be complete until I had it, too.

The fact is, as I’ve gone through this process of decluttering and taking stock, I’ve been genuinely horrified by the sheer waste of it all: the clothes I didn’t wear. the products I didn’t use… all of it. I’ve spent SO much time and money over the years on things that have ended up just gathering dust, basically, and while I’m still perfectly capable of having my head turned by something pretty but impractical, these days I’m also much more capable of walking away from it – which isn’t something I ever thought I’d say.

To be totally honest, though, the thought of a bulging closet – which, at one time, would’ve filled me with glee – now just leaves me feeling pretty uncomfortable, really, whereas my newly decluttered bathroom cabinet gave me so much joy last week that I had to open the door and just look at it every time I was in there. And, just as ironing makes me feel a little bit less anxious, I find that decluttering has a similarly positive effect on my mental health, too: I literally sleep better when I’m not surrounded by piles of clutter: I feel like I can breathe easier, think more clearly, and just generally feel more like myself, really. It’s almost like all of the clutter is a physical weight that’s been holding me back: is it any wonder, then, that letting it go makes me feel so much better?

It’s almost like all of the clutter is a physical weight that’s been holding me back: is it any wonder, then, that letting it go makes me feel so much better?

So, here’s to another year of trying to go minimal – or as minimal as it gets with a toddler, a messy husband and a Yankee Candle addition, anyway. And maybe this year will be the year we finally get round to clearing out that hall cupboard…

RELATED:

A Move Towards Minimalism

Clothes, Consumerism & Cost-Per-Wear

The Life-Changing Magic of Ikea Storage Boxes

My New Approach to Shopping & Fashion

How ironing makes me less anxious

 

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10 Comments
  • Mary Katherine
    November 12, 2019

    Confession is good for the soul, eh? Much of what you expressed is true for all of us in modern society. It’s why the myth of the necessity of constant “economic growth” will kill the planet and all species. – wait, I digress…..

    I’m longing for a few days to go through all my cupboards, closets, etc. I’m never going to get those days, so I need to be content with a couple of hours stolen here and there. And, thanks to your blog, I realize even THAT must seem like impossible luxury to the mom of a toddler.

    Thanks for the point that this isn’t something you can do ONCE and be done – that it is a PROCESS you commit to. And “you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to START” is worth being painted on a wall (in adorable calligraphy, of course – oh stop it, Mary Katherine).

    Thanks for a lovely, thought-provoking post, friend.

    • Amber
      November 12, 2019

      I think it’s a probably a life’s work, to be honest – and even a couple of hours here and there can make a HUGE amount of difference 🙂

  • Louise
    November 12, 2019

    Great post Amber. Sometimes bloggers make it all look so easy, and I think if you like pretty things, it’s never going to be easy. I’ve accepted that I will never be minimalist and, I don’t think I want to be, but at the same time I definitely don’t want a home full of things I will never use either. I’ve cleared out so much this year, and as you say, I could keep going. For me, it’s making sure I use everything that I keep. If I have 1 item or 101 items, that doesn’t matter, as long as it’s used. Xx

    • Amber
      November 12, 2019

      If I have 1 item or 101 items, that doesn’t matter, as long as it’s used.

      THIS. I think a lot of people assume ‘minimalism’ has to mean living this really spartan existence, where you hardly have any possessions, and live in an empty box, but I feel the same as you – if it gets used, I don’t feel bad about using it, it’s the things festering at the backs of cupboards that really bother me! I really like the William Morris quote about only owning what you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful – that still allows for some essentially ‘useless’ items, but if you genuinely love them, they’re not being wasted. (Very similar to the Marie Kondo ‘Spark joy’ philosophy too, obviously: I don’t follow that one religiously, but I do find it quite useful when I’m working out what to keep and what to chuck!)

  • Dee Cooke
    November 12, 2019

    I’m a lifelong hoarder and currently trying to de-hoard my house due to all the stuff contributing horribly to my depression and anxiety. It’s a really long and difficult process because I can’t just throw stuff away – it needs to be done in a certain way and under a certain system, and that takes a lot of time, and I don’t really have that time.

    However, I am making small bits of progress, and a couple of months ago I decided that I honestly don’t need to buy fancy shoes again for as long as I live – I have several pairs of very good quality, timeless ones that I wear very occasionally for fancy events, and they will do me for the rest of my life. My mum only has one pair of high heels, which she bought for her wedding to my dad in 1982 and has worn to every fancy event since, so it obviously can be done! It’s just not something I ever thought I’d decide back in 2012 when I religiously read Shoeperwoman every day and spent all my money on skyscraper heels that hardly ever got worn…

    • Amber
      November 12, 2019

      Oh, same here! I still have a huge amount of shoes, and I still love looking at them, but I’m working on paring down my collection (I find them harder to get rid of than clothes, probably because they normally cost more!), and I also reckon I could easily manage to not buy another pair of dress shoes ever again. The thing is, even when I had an even larger collection, I still always found myself only really *wanting* to wear the same few pairs: I’d force myself to wear the rest from time to time, purely to justify their existence, really, but the ones I love most and feel best in are those timeless classics that will probably last forever!

  • Georgia
    November 13, 2019

    The “new” direction of your newsletter is sooo meaningfull.

    And it is such a relief to find out that other, nice, interesting, successful and fun people feel they do not fit-in…,

  • Jess
    November 14, 2019

    Lovely post 🙂 It’s okay to have less stuff without actually being ‘minimalist’ (like a beautifully perfect Marie Kondo minimalist), and as for babies (and the stuff that other loving people buy for them, never mind us)… I just think it’s okay for it to not be so minimalist. 🙂 Plus, throwing stuff out is bad in so many ways too – I’ve tried to stop thinking of just being able to get clutter out of my life, because it just becomes clutter at the charity shop (trust me, I volunteered at one and it was a clutter-fest) or clutter in landfill :/ Stopping the buying habits, as you’ve been doing, is so much more powerful than clearing out in the long run (you go girl!), and then trying to pass things on meaningfully (if at all possible) is the next good step. But it sounds like you’re having a great journey with it, it’s not all about having less, it’s kind of all about the mindset. x enjoyed reading, thanks!

  • dubliner in deutschland
    November 14, 2019

    “Small children are the enemy of minimalism” – yes this is so true! Feel like I’m drowning in all the stuff sometimes.

  • Amy
    November 14, 2019

    Our journeys have been remarkably similar. I have long loved cleaning and organising and I dislike clutter. My partner isn’t really on the same page, but we just made it work. The problems started when I’d try to tidy and I didn’t have anywhere to tidy the thing to! Enter KonMari. We have been working our way through the categories and we only have Sentimental items to go. I’ll be very glad when that is done and we can store everything.

    It has transformed the way I use my kitchen and bathroom. I’m 100x more comfortable in our home and we definitely have changed the way we shop and how we decide what ‘needs’ are.

    Well done with all your efforts and I appreciate the update!

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