The evening is hot but the sky is already dark.
We’re having some beers in the outside terrace of a bar, where a reggae trio set up a few minutes ago and have now started their upbeat set. The bar owner sets down a huge steamed fish flavoured with lemon and chilli in front of us.
The atmosphere is distinctly more relaxed than in the adjoining street, where a night market has brought in the crowds. Vendors are selling tacky souvenirs, fried insects and sweet treats and fire performers are lighting up the night with blazing batons.
Later, we’ll meander back over the long beach, past night-fishermen, to our chalet which is no doubt already filling with mosquitoes.
This was the scene on our honeymoon in Thailand, exactly five years ago, just before my life was about to change. Of course, it was the start of a happy marriage (I don’t want to get in trouble for omitting to mention that) but it was also the beginning of something a little more unexpected.
My wife, Ruth, had brought along some holiday reading: a book called Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by two guys calling themselves – a little cheesily, I thought – The Minimalists.
I found myself picking it up and reading about how life could be simpler with fewer possessions.
Having lived out of a suitcase for over a week already, I was already enjoying how easy it was to choose what to wear or, indeed, what book to read. I began to wonder how I could replicate this feeling once I got home.
And on the idea of buying less, I was sold.
At home, I’d already been making some pretty big changes in an effort to make my life less stressful.
A couple of years before, I had somehow found myself in tens of thousands of pounds of debt, having sleepless nights worrying about work. So I had changed jobs and was slowly paying back all that money I’d spent living a life I couldn’t afford.
Simplifying my possessions seemed like the natural next step in my journey to a less anxious life.
Two months later, we met The Minimalists, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, when they visited our hometown on a book tour. They were charming and through their blog and books, I discovered a whole world of people choosing to live simpler lives.
All these years on, I’m really happy with where this all led me.
Sure, when you step into my home now, you won’t gasp and wonder who burgled me.
My wife also doesn’t quite share my enthusiasm for lifelong clear-outs, so what stays and goes is a subject of constant debate (and yes, the odd argument; we’re not perfect).
But here are the main benefits I’ve found from five years of decluttering:
1. Our home got its zen on
The house feels more airy, open and calm. All that distracting visual clutter is gone. We get compliments from guests and it’s a space I’m always happy to return to.
2. Life’s easier when it’s less messy
Tidying and cleaning takes less time, as does finding anything I’ve lost. (Apart from my bloody tweezers – like, seriously, where are they?)
3. Our unwanted possessions have helped others
I’m not naïve, a lot of the stuff I discarded was absolute crap and the best thing I could do was dispose of it responsibly. But we’ve given a lot to charity shops and have received regular updates telling us how much they have made from selling it – hundreds and hundreds of pounds. We’ve also donated to collections for refugees and sold or given away items to people in our area through online groups.
4. Shopping is no longer a hobby
Once you forget about the idea of owning the perfect set of crockery, and accept that your cheap Ikea plates are absolutely fine, you can get on with more exciting things each weekend.
5. I don’t worry about protecting my stuff
If I lost all my possessions tomorrow, I’d certainly be upset but I’d know that most of it can be replaced pretty easily and cheaply. A month or two ago, my car got written-off in an accident (American friends, read ‘totaled’). Yes, it was annoying, but in the end, who cares? It’s just a car, it was insured and now I have another one.
None of this is to say that a life with less stuff is a life free from worries. I worry about things ALL THE TIME.
But gradually they are becoming things that are actually worth worrying about.