Monthly Archives: April 2013

Decluttering is Not Your Final Answer

Not Your Final Answer
{ via Trash & Treasure }

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

“I really need to declutter. Everything’s weighing me down, I feel frustrated and on-edge. I just need a good clean-out.”

I know for certain that I have said those exact words more than once. In fact, I used to utter them approximately every six months.

Every six months I would reach breaking point, feeling overwhelmed by clutter. So I would have a “good clean-out” – toss old papers, clothes I never wore, all the crap that collects in the junk drawer and random toys the kids had accumulated. They all went.

Then they all came back. And I found myself repeating the process again. And again. And again.

Do you feel like you get on top of the clutter, only to have it reappear over the following weeks and months?

Why Does Clutter Keep Coming Back?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do think I know why this happens to us.

When we talk about simplifying our lives, we often don’t get any further than decluttering. I’m as guilty as anyone of this, because decluttering is easier (and therefore preferable) to soul-searching.

But decluttering only deals with the surface issues – too many toys, the lack of space, too many clothes – it doesn’t look at why we have this recurring problem in the first place. It deals with the symptoms, which is fine, but not the underlying problems.

In searching for a simpler life, decluttering is a step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t be the final answer.

Decluttering Doesn’t Really Change Anything.

Well, it doesn’t change anything on a deeper level, anyway.

On its own, decluttering will not make you happier, healthier, more satisfied or content with your life. I believe you will feel less anxious and less weighed down, but unless more permanent changes take place the clutter will keep reappearing.

To be fair, part of this recurring clutter is simply life. Clothes, toys, sporting gear – they are so often part of our consumer-driven world. It’s almost inevitable that we will accumulate some of this stuff over time – via hand-me-downs and gifts if nothing else.

Part of it is also the result of redefining our needs. Things we kept six months ago are now given away or sold without a second thought. That’s simply about shifting our boundaries.

But if we don’t make real changes to how we value and deal with stuff, then nothing will change. And in order to make a real change, I think we need to work out why we keep acquiring in the first place.

Where Did All This Stuff Come From?

There might be very practical reasons for the stuff you own, and continue to accumulate:

  • you come from a large family who gives boxes of hand-me-down toys and clothes regularly
  • your partner is a pack-rat and has a reason to keep everything
  • you are a crafter/artist/quilter and see artistic potential in everything
  • you’ve just had a new baby and have been inundated with gifts
  • you don’t have a system in place for papers, bills, filing and admin
  • you shop for sport or because you’re bored
  • you have kids – they attract stuff like magnets

Or there might be more emotional reasons:

  • you’ve inherited the belongings of a deceased parent or relative and don’t know what to do with it
  • you suffer from a hoarding mentality or live with someone who does
  • you feel obligated to keep gifts, artworks, school work, old clothes and birthday cards
  • your upbringing was one of scarcity and you hold on to things to feel safe
  • you use shopping as an emotional crutch, gaining personal value and worth from the things you own
  • you are holding on to things for a future that may never happen (another child, a goal weight, a new job)

If you’re like me, you will see a mix of both practical and emotional reasons behind your recurring clutter.  One thing is certain though – everyone’s reasons are different. So I can’t provide a one-size-fits-all approach.

Look a Little Deeper.

I think we each need to ask ourselves questions that help define the reasons behind our stuff:

  • What makes up the majority of this recurring clutter?
  • Where is it coming from? (Artwork and projects from school? Toys from parties or fast food restaurants? Junk mail, catalogues, bills and paperwork from the mailbox? Study materials from university?)
  • Is any of it useful, beautiful or meaningful?
  • Is there anything we can do to stop the clutter coming inside in the first place?

And once we understand these reasons, it will be easier to deal with the clutter as it appears (or better yet, before it appears) rather than wait for breaking point to roll back around twice a year.

I’m currently writing a list of tips and techniques to keep your home clutter-free and will be posting it later in the week. If you have anything that works particularly well in your home, please leave a comment and I’ll add your suggestions to the post.

In the meantime, tell us, what are the main reasons behind your recurring clutter? For us it’s artwork (the kids), procrastination (mine) and just-in-case-itis (Sparky’s).

The Simple Year – A Quick Announcement

Have you heard of The Simple Year?

It’s a blog written by a woman named Kerry who, along with her family, spent an entire year buying nothing new. It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend you take a look through her archives.

Kerry is nearly finished her year-long project and has put the call out for a blog handoff. Basically, she is looking for a replacement blogger to take over The Simple Year, documenting their own year-long experiment. The hope is that the blog will be passed on yearly, as the message spreads and others are inspired to live their own simple year.

Kerry has asked if I could put the call out to my lovely readers, to see if anyone would be interested in taking over The Simple Year and continuing the legacy.

So, what say you? Any one of you fabulous folk ready to challenge yourself to live a simple year?

If you’re interested, please head over the The Simple Year and get in touch with Kerry.

 

 

You Gotta Have Rhythm, Baby.

Rhythm Over Routine
{ via Erkka P on Flickr }

 

Routine. It’s the domain of the successful, the organised, the on-time. It’s what You Should Be Doing. Right?

But do you know what else routine is? It’s restrictive, it’s unfriendly, it’s regimented.

Rhythm, on the other hand, speaks to you. It moves you, it moves with you, it feels good.

And on the face of it, there isn’t much difference between the two. Both help you get things done, both deliver guidelines on what needs to happen and when.

The differences though, while small, are really important. And if you’re looking to create a simpler life with less stress, then…  you gotta have rhythm, baby.

Rhythm Over Routine.

After the arrival of Isla a few years ago, Sparky and I were determined to establish a routine, get her sleeping pattern regulated and create comfort and predictability for everyone involved.

As it turns out, newborn babies don’t really work like that.

In fact, life doesn’t really work like that.

It took us well over 12 months to learn that routine – a strict, sequential approach to our days – was less than helpful. It made us feel we were failing if we missed a step or fell behind.

Rhythm, however, was a much friendlier notion. It spoke of order, but also flexibility and movement and fluidity. It even sounded friendlier.

Rhythm.

Rhythm moves you. You dance to it, find your groove, let go a little, enjoy the moment and see where it takes you.

Routine? Not so much.

You march to routine. It’s a steady metronome keeping time. And if you sway, if you linger, if you move out of order or fail to complete a step, then you fail. You’re out of time. You’re lagging behind.

Rhythm allows change and flexibility for different seasons in life. Which is why rhythm wins out over routine every day.

Embracing Rhythm

To embrace this idea, you need to ask yourself some questions about the rhythm you’re creating. You could create a rhythm for your mornings, evenings, weeks, seasons or even holidays.

Choose a rhythm and ask yourself:

What are your priorities? Perhaps it’s exercising before breakfast, or taking the time to eat dinner as a family every night?

What do other people in your home need? Does your husband need time to study? Or perhaps your school-age kids need to pack their bags the night before?

What feels positive to you? What makes you feel vital and happy and energetic? Make this a priority.

What can change from the current situation? You can always get up earlier or go to bed later if needed. Similarly, if you spend a lot of time on the computer at night you can reduce that time and spend it on something else.

What can’t change – no matter how much you’d like it to? School times, bus and train timetables, meetings and appointments can’t change. Make sure you work these into your rhythm and allow some wiggle-room for the inevitable delay.

Once you’ve answered these questions, take some time to work out your best rhythm. Literally write it down on a piece of paper, establish a sequence and then bring it in to your day.

Once it’s there, you simply let your day unfold around it.

And the best thing? There’s no need to keep up a rapid tempo if it’s the season for a slower tune. Similarly, if you feel the urge for dancing, for growth, for expansion, then up the tempo and dance for your life. Always know that it’s your rhythm and you choose the pace. You choose the moves.

5 Reasons We Have Clutter

5 Reasons We Have Clutter
{via Dimitri on Flickr}

Ask 5 people about their clutter problems and you will get 5 different answers. 5 different sets of circumstances, 5 different reasons it’s too difficult to begin.

The common theme you would find is that the clutter is there and they want it not to be.

Despite this, it’s not as simple as defining all clutter as junk and telling people to toss it. There are many, many reasons we hold on to things well beyond their usefulness, and understanding some of those reasons might just be the beginning of your journey towards a simpler life.

5 Reasons We Have Clutter

Reason: We are Still Keeping Up With the Joneses

We buy stuff to fit in. To be comparable. To appear worthy.

We still care what the neighbours think, what the next trend is, what must-have item we need for the wardrobe. We want our kids to lack for nothing, to appear like we have it all together. We still need to compete – even though there is actually no competition. This is not a race you can win because there is no finish-line. There will always be more, better, bigger, faster, flashier, and there will always be the Joneses.

Anti-Reason: Take yourself out of the competition. The fact is, the Joneses don’t care about your TV. They’re probably too stressed about their own mounting debt to notice. And if they do pay attention – who cares? We need to be able to say ‘enough’. To find contentment with what we have and step off the merry-go-round of mindlessly and endlessly acquiring ‘better’ stuff.

 

Reason: Just In Case

We keep the jeans that no longer fit – just in case they fit again one day and are still fashionable.

We keep the toilet roll tubes/used wrapping paper/ribbons – just in case the kids need it for a craft project.

We keep the kitchen appliances we’ve never used – just in case we need to cook rice and don’t have any saucepans.

We keep the paperwork from 10 years ago – just in case we’re audited and the internet is broken.

Anti-Reason: We hold on to things ‘just in case’ a need arises. But honestly, how often does that happen? We are far better off ridding ourselves of the things we don’t need now, and very occasionally have to go and buy the thing we do need.

 

Reason: We Feel Obligated to Keep Things

Gifts, heirlooms and hand-me-downs are hard to let go of – we feel obligated to keep them simply because someone cared enough to give them to us. We feel this way even if we don’t like the item, it’s impractical or a duplicate.

We feel a duty to care for this item until there is a time where we can use it or pass it on to another.

Anti-Reason: This is one of the most difficult clutter issues to work through. And while it’s true that sometimes we are made to feel obligated by family or friends, you do need to work out if that is a real obligation, or if you’re simply imagining it. Often we are given items by well-meaning family because they no longer want them but can’t bear to completely get rid of them – and passing them to you softens the blow.  Understanding their motives can make it much easier to let go.

 

Reason: The Items Evoke Strong Memories

Souvenirs, photos, old school uniforms, baby clothes, toys – we often feel these items contain our memories. That if we no longer have the item, the memory disappears too.

Anti-Reason: The memory is held in our hearts and minds – not a dust-covered tchotchke or baby clothes in the garage. Decide what really is valuable and display it. If you won’t display it, then ask yourself why you’re really keeping it – maybe it’s time to let it go.

 

Reason: We Feel We’re Wasting Money

We spend money on clothes that don’t get worn, movies that are never watched, kitchenware that stays in its box – and even though these things languish, unused, stressing us out by simply being there and cluttering up our space, we feel that to give them away is a waste of money.

Anti-Reason: Unfortunately, that money is already wasted. It was wasted when you bought the thing you never used. If it’s sellable, sell it and recoup some of the losses, otherwise let it go.

 

It’s true, creating a simple life is complex. Working out the reasons behind your clutter and complications isn’t easy. But once you can identify the reasons for holding on, for being weighed down, for feeling stuck, you can start to move ahead.

Do you have any reasons behind your clutter that I haven’t listed here? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget – creating a simpler life is not a race or a competition. Just go at your own pace and you will start reaping the benefits.

 

Simple Living in Real Life: The Creative

Simple Living in Real Life - Alicia Parsons of Akimbo

 

Simple Living in Real Life is a new series where we take a closer look at how different people approach simple living. The theory of “living with less” is straightforward enough, but how does that actually look in real life? Each interview in the series will delve into how different folks apply the ideas of simple living to their every day. Enjoy!

Simple Living in Real Life: The Creative

On average I receive one email a week from an avid crafter who desperately wants to simplify, but is struggling with their sizeable stash.

Considering I get my creative juices flowing with words on a screen these days, and that I’ve given away almost all my craft supplies, I am definitely not an expert on this.

But what better way to begin the new Simple Living in Real Life series than asking a talented, creative business-owner and crafter to share her simplicity tips.

Alicia Parsons is the boss lady behind Akimbo – an Australian stationery label. She is a graphic designer who creates ‘clever hellos’ and very beautiful, timeless art prints.

Simple Living in Real Life - Alicia Parsons of Akimbo

1. You’re a creative business-owner. Tell us about your work and the raw materials you need to create. 

On a daily basis I need my computer, printer, product inventory and shipping supplies. I also need regular access to things like my photography gear, invitation samples, marketing materials, stock envelopes and of course my art and craft supplies. Finally, there’s the periodically used items such as my expo/market stall setup, spare supplies, packaging materials and photo shoot props/backdrops. Oh, and of course the usual stuff like books, paperwork… the list goes on!

2. With physical supplies necessary for your business, how do you keep clutter minimal in your workspace?

I work in a very small space (our tiny second bedroom) and have a product-based business as well as a blog involving craft so it’s a constant battle to keep things under control. Here are some strategies that help me:

  • Going paperless wherever possible (is this ironic for a stationery business?!)
  • Not over-ordering supplies (sure, that bulk order of 5000 envelopes may be cheaper but where am I going to put them?)
  • Regularly decluttering (let’s be honest: I’m probably never going to use those fabric scraps)
  • Borrowing or hiring infrequently needed items (for example, photo shoot props, specialist craft tools, expo displays)

I’m actually considering outsourcing my warehousing and shipping to a fulfillment house which would dramatically decrease the amount of inventory I need to store.

 

Simple Living in Real Life - Alicia Parsons of Akimbo

 

3. Aside from your creative work, how do you embrace simplicity in everyday life?

I’m an organising machine from way back! I find great satisfaction in decluttering our home and making intentional choices about what belongs here. Like my parents, I would rather buy one thing I love rather than ten cheap, trendy things (hard when you have a decorating blog though!). Either when tempted in a shop or looking at my own home, I ask myself ‘Do I love or need this?’.

So that’s the physical stuff, I am good on that front. Simplicity in other ways – such as my time and commitments – is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m always trying to pile ‘one more thing’ onto my plate so it is a conscious effort to add more breathing space to my life. I’m getting better at saying ‘no’ and accepting my limitations. This is hard for me, but I try to remember that my friends come over to see me not a perfect house and the only person who cares whether that cake is homemade is me.

We also live in a small and modest home (2-bedroom unit) and started out with hand-me-down furniture until we saved for what we wanted. So many people our age were buying the three bedroom, two bathroom plus backyard combo. Which is great if that’s what they want and can afford, but I know some of them feel burdened by the cleaning, maintenance and big mortgage. We are happy with our choice and it works for us but we still occasionally get asked when we are buying a ‘real house’.

4. Do you have any storage/organisational tips to share?

Decluttering should always be the first step of any organising project: the less you have, the less there is to keep tidy. Choose versatile items that can be repurposed when your needs evolve and don’t just look in the storage aisle – you’ll find much more attractive storage elsewhere.

I could go into all the nitty-gritty, but the most important thing is to work with your own tendencies and lifestyle. Otherwise you’re fighting a losing battle. For example, if you prefer to work on your laptop from the comfort of your couch, stop worrying about putting your supplies back in the office every day, simply pop your charger, pens and notebook in an attractive lidded box on your coffee table where you actually use them.

Simple Living in Real Life - Alicia Parsons of Akimbo

 

Notice how – even though our work, living situation and circumstances differ – so many of the core ideas of simplicity can be found in Alicia’s space?  I love seeing these ideas applied!

It’s proof that simplicity doesn’t need to cramp your style.

 

Tell me, do you have any tips on how you embrace simplicity in your daily life?

 

If you would like to submit your home (part or all of it) or your workspace to Simple Living in Real Life, please click here and send me an email with some details. I’m really looking forward to featuring more simple living homes and workspaces soon.

April is the Month of Wardrobes

April is the Month of Wardrobes - 2013 in 2013 Declutter Challenge

It’s April 1, and it’s time to unveil the next clutter area in the 2013 Declutter Challenge.

This one may well be a goldmine of items to add to your yearly total.

In April we’re focusing on the Wardrobes, Accessories and Shoes of the entire family. To jump straight into it, you can download April’s checklist here or find the full list, as well as added tips and suggestions below.

(If you haven’t started the challenge yet, it’s never too late to join. Head over here to find the first four checklists, as well as the Slow Your Home forums, where many of us are keeping track of the clutter leaving our homes.)

2013 in 2013 Declutter Challenge - March Summary

March, the month of bedrooms, was a tricky one in our house.

Our bedrooms have already been stripped back to clean and simple – this being my second year of the challenge – and there wasn’t a lot of clutter to be found.

I did, however, manage to find a whole heap of other stuff. I am astounded at how much we can still rid ourselves of, even after more than two years of simplifying.

It’s not that we are acquiring more – we’ve become quite good at not bringing things in that we don’t need – but our boundaries for what we need are shifting. Things we ‘needed’ six months ago are being donated or sold without second thought now.

This month I…

Donated:

  • serving bowl 
  • breadmaker
  • baby bath
  • kids clothes x 3
  • my clothes x 4
  • linen x 9
  • table linen x 8
  • books x 2
  • shoes x 1
  • accessories x 4

Gave Away (to friends and family):

  • my clothes x 3
  • linen x 7

Threw Away:

  • handmade artwork
  • out of date perfume x 2

TOTAL:  45 items

Progress to Date:  492 unwanted items are gone!

(And it still feels good.)

 

Now April is the Month of…

Wardrobes, shoes and accessories.

For many, wardrobes are inextricably tied with emotion.

The passage of time, the changes we move through as we grow older and perhaps have kids, fluctuating waistlines, failures and wins, periods of happiness or sadness, health or illness. The clothes we wear can conjure up all sorts of emotions.

If you’re keen to get right into your wardrobe, you can jump over to the April checklist right here. (Just click the link and the list will start downloading automatically.) Otherwise, read on for a more in-depth look at tackling the wardrobes in your home.

The amount of time you need to set aside for this month’s challenge depends on:

  • your current wardrobe situation – is it stuffed to the brim with clothes, or is it manageable?
  • your current circumstances – do you have lots of different clothing needs (officewear, exercise gear, weekend wear) or do you wear similar clothes most days?
  • the number of kids you have, if any.
  • whether you will be tackling your partner’s wardrobe too (hint: let them see your efforts pay off first, then they may be inspired into action themselves.)
  • your goals – do you want a minimalist capsule wardrobe, or are you simply looking to clear out the items that are no longer worn?

As a ballpark figure though, I suggest you put aside 2-3 hours for your wardrobe (easily broken up into smaller chunks), plus an extra 1-2 hours for your kids. That may vary enormously for you, and if it does, I’d love you to let me know via the comments.

 

How to Declutter a Wardrobe

There are two ways to go about decluttering your wardrobe, depending on the time you have on hand and the space within which you can work.

Before you do anything though, grab yourself three plastic bags or boxes. One is for donations, another for throwing away (items that aren’t redeemable or cannot be repaired) and the third is for storage (items you aren’t sure about yet).

Once you’ve got those in place, you can either:

1. Work your way through each section of the wardrobe one by one – not moving on until the current section is complete and any items you are keeping are put back in place – OR

2. Clear your bed and dump the entire contents of your wardrobe there, working through the pile piece by piece.

Either way, commit to not putting anything back into your wardrobe until you have asked yourself the following questions:

  • Have I worn this in the last year? No? Then let it go.
  • Is it in good condition? If not, do I love it enough to have it repaired? No? Let it go.
  • Do I feel good wearing this? This is a big one – it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is, unless you feel good wearing it, it will languish in the back of your wardrobe, taunting you. Let it go.
  • Does it fit me well? Again, it doesn’t matter how gorgeous it is or how much it cost, if it doesn’t fit well, then you won’t wear it. Let it go.
  • Is there a good reason to keep it? If it is in incredibly good condition, is very well made, and is a classic style (think black blazer, little black dress, black pumps) then you may want to keep it. But unless it is all of those things, then let it go.

3. Don’t put the item down until you have decided where it goes. If you decide to keep it, then return it to the correct spot in your wardrobe, otherwise put it in your donate or throw away bag.

4. If you’re really torn, you can add things to the third box. Put the box away for six months (put a reminder on your phone or in your diary) and if there’s nothing you need/want in it over that time, you can safely donate everything in there, without opening it.

5. Once you’ve finished going through your clothes, accessories and shoes, you can quickly look over your “keep it…for now” pile and weed out anything you’ve kept in a weak moment. I find that once I’m in the zone, decisions come much more easily.

 

The April Declutter Checklist

Click here for a printable version of the checklist.

These are the areas of your wardrobes that you will need to work through.

Your Wardrobe/Partner’s Wardrobe:

  • folded items
    • underwear
    • sleepwear
    • exercise gear
    • tshirts
    • jeans
    • knitwear
  • hanging items
    • dresses
    • skirts
    • pants
    • jackets
    • shirts/tops
    • suits
    • occasional items – gowns, formal wear

Accessories:

  • belts
  • scarves
  • jewellery
  • miscellaneous

Shoes

Items in Storage:

  • seasonal clothes
  • seasonal accessories
  • limited use clothes – maternity wear, snow gear
  • too-small or too-large clothing
  • sentimental clothing – band tshirts, school uniforms

Kids Wardrobes:

  • underwear
  • sleepwear
  • gardening/craft clothes
  • tshirts
  • jeans/pants
  • dresses
  • jackets
  • skirts
  • hoodies
  • too-large items – store quality items for when they will fit
  • too-small items – keep quality items for younger siblings or donate

Seasonal Items:

  • wet weather gear
  • snow gear
  • beach wear

 

Again, the April Checklist can be found here.

If you’re working through the checklists and want some added accountability or inspiration, you can keep count of the items you recycle, donate, sell or throw away and share your progress with us in the 2013 Declutter Challenge forums.

 

I’d love to hear how you go this month – leave a note in the comments with your tally, or let me know where you struggled.