This Time Last Year………….

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……….well almost.  It was actually 15th October 2013 that I published  this post which was the beginning of a series based on Francine Jay’s book, “The Joy of Less”.

I re-discovered it recently when I was working on adding back the photos to my earlier blog posts.  The series is now complete with photos and I would encourage you to take the time to read all of the posts.  I think there are about a dozen of them.  Even though I wrote them, there were some revelations which have inspired me to keep going on my journey to let go of more ‘stuff’.

The original catalyst for the series was the purchase of a new refrigerator and the fact that it required me to open the door of the overhead cupboard every time I needed to access the refrigerator.  We did have the doors re-modelled and this is what it looks like now.

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STREAMLINE – Everyday Maintenance

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After you have worked through all of the other steps in the ‘STREAMLINE’ process, it is important not to lapse back into old ways.  Just like changing eating (or any other) habits, if your version of minimalism is to be successful it needs to be an ongoing process.  You will have to work at it constantly and be vigilant at every turn.  Clutter in all its forms is insidious and will soon overwhelm you if you do not have strategies in place to stop it at the door, the mailbox and even your email inbox.

Well-meaning friends and relatives may feel sorry for you when they see your empty spaces and want to give you stuff to fill the gaps.

You did not set out to create a cluttered, over-burdened life – it just happened.  So, it could easily happen again.

“No, thank you” is one of the most powerful things you can say in your quest to keep your stuff at the level which suits you best.  Whether it is a freebie bag at a conference, a loyalty card from a store, a copy of recipe or your great aunt’s tea-set – if it does not fit your goals you can politely refuse the offer.

Dining table

I have refused, decluttered and minimised for several years and still know that there is more to go.  I keep a bag/box in the spare room and as I find things to go they are moved to the box which then goes to the op shop when it is full.  Sometimes it takes ages to gather enough to send off and other times there is a flurry of activity and I take several bags in one weekend.  Having a dedicated receptacle for things that are to be re-homed helps me to keep focused.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and would strongly recommend reading “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay for more inspiration.  Please share your thoughts on decluttering and minimalism in general and as well as your personal achievements.

STREAMLINE – Narrow it Down

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This is where it starts to get really challenging.  Now we need to ask ourselves the question, “What is the minimum that I need to live?”  Francine notes that you do not need to worry that you will be expected to sleep on the floor or live in a tent but you do need to challenge yourself.  It is not enough to wave your magic wand and say that you need everything that you have.

There is no magic number of items or even a formula that you can apply.  Everyone’s ‘enough’ is different.  It can depend on your location, family, children, hobbies, upbringing and experiences.

Embracing minimalism is a personal choice.  It is not about depriving yourself but giving yourself the freedom to live and enjoy the moment.  There is a liberating lightness which comes from letting go of possessions so take the time to look around you and decide what you can live without.

Contents of cupboard

Some of things you could consider when attempting to narrow down your possessions:

  • Duplicates – these are easy – you don’t really need 2 (or more) do you?
  • Sentimental stuff – Francine suggests ‘minituarising’ as a way of dealing with these – an example could be a place card, photo, swatch of dress fabric and a dried flower from the bouquet all in a simple frame as a wedding memento rather than keeping a wedding dress and all the trimmings.
  • Digitising – scanned photos in files on the computer rather than shelves full of albums that gather dust.  If the digitised files are well catalogued they are actually more accessible than hard copies.  You can also keep back-ups in different locations in case of disaster.

I do not purport to be perfect in any of these ways but am certainly working on it.  What about you?

STREAMLINE – Limits

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In years gone by our stuff was limited to a large degree by the availability and cost of most items.  Goods were generally produced locally and in a relatively labour-intensive manner.  Disposable incomes were less and stuff cost more when compared to incomes.  Global manufacturing and transport, cheap labour and distribution have meant that there is a seemingly endless supply of stuff for you to purchase at your local shopping mall.

Since the natural limits of accessibility and affordability have been removed, it is up to us to take control or we will end up drowning in our stuff.  The ultimate limit is the size of your home; you can fit a lot more in a 2 storey, 4 bedroom family home than a studio apartment.  However, even this does not deter some people as evidenced by the burgeoning industry of off-site storage facilities.

You can easily apply limits to things like your books by simply choosing not to have the shelves overflowing.  As you buy or acquire new books, make space for them by moving others along.  We all have books that we are not sure why we are keeping them.  Will you read them again?  No?  Time to go.  This way you will eventually end up with a selection of books that you really love and are proud to have on your shelves.

Bookshelves
Perhaps you can choose an arbitrary number such as 20 DVDs, 10 t-shirts or 6 champagne flutes.  Make sure that you don’t simply choose a number that allows you to maintain the status quo.  It needs to be challenging yet achievable as well as pertinent to your unique situation.

No matter what the item, you need to ask yourself the question, “Do I really need x of this item?”  Nothing needs to be immune from this process – lipsticks, plates, socks, CDs, towels, candles and cookbooks are all fair game.

Linen cupboard
Once you set limits on your stuff and force yourself to choose, you will naturally choose ‘the best’.  How you make that choice is a personal decision but making the choice means that you consider the merit of each piece carefully and you will appreciate its worth to you and your life.  The stuff that makes the cut will have an opportunity to shine in the decluttered environment.

It is not only physical stuff that you can set limits on.  You can set limits on your participation in events.  For example, you may decide that you will only spend one night a week playing sport, therefore you will choose the one you enjoy most.  This may give you a chance to excel rather than putting in a mediocre performance in 3 different sports on 3 different nights of the week.  You may choose to limit your association with people who do not enhance your life.

Limits can be seen as restrictive but the limits you set on your stuff will actually be liberating as you are the one making the choices.  Don’t let your stuff rule you and your life.

STREAMLINE – Modules

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Today I want to share the next step in the ‘Streamline’ process that is outlined the book, “The Joy of Less”.

Make-up module

The concept of modules is that like things are kept together but more than that, it is about creating a group of items required for a particular task or activity.  It could be keeping your knitting needles, wool and pattern all together in one basket so that you can pick up your knitting at any time and know that it is all there.  Perhaps, creating a bill-paying station where you have all of the items required such as pens, stapler, filing box etc.

By keeping like items together this method helps you to identify where you have an unnecessary duplication of items.  An example is pens:  If you have them lying around on various desks, drawers, kitchen bench, side tables etc it is difficult to understand just how many there are.  Gather them up, check to see which ones don’t work (there will be some),and place them all together.  So, do you really need 57 pens?  They last for ages and you probably have more than a lifetime’s supply!  Choose the best 10, keep them together in a convenient and confined spot.  47 pens that have been lying around the house as clutter are gone!!

Once you start thinking in terms of modules you can apply the principle to almost anything in and around your home.

On the weekend, The Duke and I spent quite a bit of time decluttering, sorting and organising the workshop.  It is definitely a work in progress but now we can actually see some of the half-finished projects that had been buried under other things, completely forgotten or simply unable to be worked on due to the clutter on the workbench.  Much of what we did was putting like with like.  There were pieces of baling twine which we keep for various odd jobs.  It seemed like everywhere I turned there was another bit of baling twine but they are now all together in one plastic bag and easy to find when we need a piece.

We have almost finished demolishing the old chicken run and this has entailed removing the side of the woodshed which was adjacent to the run.  The woodshed will remain and a new side panel built to keep the weather out and the wood dry.  This has prompted us to look critically at all of the various piles of wood – everything from tree branches to leftover material from previous building projects.  We are attempting to get all of the suitable firewood in one place in the woodshed so that we can easily access it when needed in the winter months.  One day the firewood ‘module’ will be complete!

The wood is currently in piles to be cut for firewood, stored for future projects or simply of no use and needs to be re-homed or dumped.

Modules create efficiency and also limits.  Whilst the STREAMLINE process is most definitely NOT about rushing out and buying a whole lot of pretty boxes to stash your stuff in, it does help to be able to physically contain your identified ‘modules’.

Stationery module

You probably have ‘modules’ that work for you but that you have not even described as such.  Please share your idea and what works for you.

LIMITS is the next in the series and follows on very neatly from today’s topic.

STREAMLINE – All Surfaces Clear

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Today’s gem from Francine is pretty simple to say but not quite so easy to achieve.  Keep all surfaces clear.  Clear surfaces provide us with possibilities.  Somewhere to eat your dinner, prepare a meal, pay bills or simply to sleep.

She also reminds us that surfaces are not for storage.  If you have too much stuff for your available storage spaces perhaps it is time to let some it go.

This is one area with which I have had partial success.  For instance, my dining table always is clear apart from a doyley and vase which provide a decorative element.  I am also pretty good at keeping the vanity bench in the bathroom as well as the laundry bench clear.

Dining table

The study desk is generally a failure and the kitchen benches range from good to bad depending on the day of the week and work in progress.

Kitchen bench

It takes time and effort to achieve the state of a completely clear surface.  Like all changes you need to start small.  Don’t expect to turn the study desk which is overflowing with stuff into a minimalist’s paradise overnight.  If you have sufficient storage in the bathroom, I think the vanity bench is a great place to start.

The dining table is also a good one to tackle because anything that is on here is definitely in the wrong place – a dining table is to sit at to eat a meal.  Since most of us eat 3 meals a day there are plenty of opportunities to make sure that it is clean, clear and ready for use.  Since it is also a public part of your home everyone will benefit from it being clear and ready to use for its designated purpose.

Please let me know – do you have any constantly clear surfaces of which you are particularly proud?  What are the areas that seem to defeat you?

Tomorrow we will move on to something a bit more interesting than my kitchen bench.  Modules – containing what you have.  It is definitely a new twist on rushing out and buying containers to store your stuff.

STREAMLINE – Starting Over

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As promised, here is the first in my decluttering series based on “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay.

Whether it is a whole room or a single drawer, the principle of this step is to start from scratch.  That is, you need to get the space back to how it was when you moved into the house.

If you leave things in place this activity becomes one of cleaning around items rather than seriously questioning the value of every single piece.  As Francine says, “Nothing gets a free ride”.

Are you about to give up before you even get started?  Does the prospect of removing everything fill you with terror?  Or are you thinking that you have nowhere to put the stuff until the next step of “Trash, treasure or transfer”?  You have made it this far so I expect that you have some very good reasons for wanting to declutter.

Perhaps you could start small and tackle one drawer.  Empty the entire contents onto the kitchen bench.  Don’t focus on what is on the bench.  Give the drawer your entire attention.  Clean it inside and out.  Replace it and feast your eyes on the space.  Space to hold the things you really need and love.  Now, close the drawer and turn your attention to the pile on the bench.  Would you simply toss all of this back in the clean drawer?  Now it is time for “T” – “Trash, treasure or transfer” but more of that tomorrow.

There is no specific order in which to tackle the decluttering.  You could try the most-used room, or the least.  Perhaps the worst area or one that causes you the most personal angst.  It could be you bedroom so that you have a calm and peaceful retreat from the chaos around you or the entry area so that you are thrilled to greet visitors.  Whatever you decide, it is your choice.

I have chosen a small space – the cupboard above the refrigerator.  This sees very little activity usually but it has been opened several times a day over the past week.  You see, we have a new refrigerator which fits easily in the available space, however, the doors on the overhead cupboard were custom-made to suit the old refrigerator so they need to be opened every time we go to the refrigerator at the moment.  The cabinetmaker is coming on Friday to remove and modify the doors.  Having this cupboard opened regularly has reminded me of what I have stashed in there and how infrequently it is used so I have decided it is time to take everything out and have a serious look at why it is there.

Overhead cupboard

What are you going to tackle first?  I am looking forward to hearing of your choices, successes and challenges.

Tomorrow,  we will get right into it.

STREAMLINE – A Master Plan

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The first and most important thing I need to do with this post is to acknowledge that it is not my own idea.  This is the basis of the book, “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay.

I have mentioned the book previously in a couple of posts here and here.  “The Joy of Less” is a book that I keep going back to and it continues to inspire me.  That is no small feat as it seems that everyone is writing a book on organisation, minimalism and/or decluttering.  Many of them do not offer anything new but “The Joy of Less” really hit a chord with me.  In particular, I liked the philosophy in the early chapters.  This helps you to understand what clutter is, how it affects us and our relationships with it.

However, today I am going to focus more on the actual process of creating a minimalist home which works for you.

S – Start over

T – Trash, treasure or transfer

R -Reason for each item

E – Everything in its place

A – All surfaces clear

M – Modules

L- Limits

I – If one comes in, one goes out

N Narrow it down

E – Everyday maintenance

This is the step-by-step process that Francine uses and to do justice to the information, I plan to discuss each point in depth in separate blog posts.  There will be one every day or so, depending on my workload so keep watching to get the full story.  Some are reasonably clear but other concepts need more explanation.

The important thing to remember about minimalism and decluttering is that it can fit any situation and be as much or as little as you want it to be.  However, if you are reading about decluttering, there is a very good chance that you are feeling the need to unburden yourself for some of your stuff.  Don’t hijack your goals by thinking that you will declutter your house on the weekend.  You can certainly make a start but don’t ever imagine that it is a one-off weekend job!

Tomorrow we will “Start Over”.  I look forward to hearing about your goals and achievements with respect to decluttering and minimalism.

Clean & Clear

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Last week we had the carpets cleaned and since we only have carpet in the bedrooms we were able to move almost everything out of the rooms into spaces with hard floors.

This is our bedroom.  The only thing left in it was the bed.

2011-12-13 01This was a really good time to apply the principles that are discussed in the book, ‘The Joy of Less’.  Removing everything from its normal location and only putting back what you really want to keep is the method which Francine recommends.  I had not tried it but can certainly agree, now.  Seeing the room both clear and clean made me determined to keep it that way by only putting back what was important.  I have made some more progress with the decluttering thanks to having to move stuff out for the carpets to be cleaned.