The benefits of living with less, five years in

thai lanterns at night

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.

Putting the ‘Becker method’ to the test: A review of The Minimalist Home

The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

I’ve never understood those who pooh-pooh practical advice on decluttering your home.

It’s sometimes dismissed as unnecessary guidance through a monotonous and straightforward process.

I disagree. Sure, some of us may find reducing our possessions easy and may just be able to get on with it. But others – like me – find we’ve formed bonds with the most innocuous of belongings and need to summon up the strongest willpower to say goodbye to each and every item.

The decision fatigue that results from decluttering even the smallest of spaces can be exhausting. And if you are not ruthless enough you can find that you’ve worn yourself out for nothing, realising at the end that you have simply rearranged your possessions rather than reducing them.

For those who fall into the latter category, having a friendly but – let’s face it – pushy, guide can be a huge help.

Enter Joshua Becker’s latest book, The Minimalist Home.

It takes readers through a transformation of their home using the ‘Becker Method’, a five-step approach to decluttering room by room.

The process includes the instruction to handle each object and ask yourself: ‘Do I need this?’ The phrase is the practical cousin to Marie Kondo’s whimsical ‘Does this spark joy?’ and sets the tone for what is a no-nonsense book filled with good advice, hard truths and the occasional bit of snarky humour:

“If your yard displays a lot of decorations, especially kitschy stuff of the garden-gnome or plastic-flamingo sort, rethink the wisdom of that. Please.”

However, to suggest ‘Do I need this’ is the essence of this book would be to do it a disservice.

At the heart of this book is a metaphor: of home as a harbour, offering shelter from the high seas of life while also acting as a port to head back out from.

So, if anything, Becker wants us to stop focusing on the minutiae of our possessions and instead wants us to take a step back and reflect on our home as a whole to see if it serves us, our goals and our relationships.

The first goal is to picture your ideal version of each room and create an environment that serves that vision, whether it be a home office that is an inspiring, organised space or a kitchen that brings people together over food.

Is your bedroom restful and intimate?

Does your guest room have space for people to unpack their belongings?

Does your garage offer an inviting gateway when you drive home?

The second goal is to free up money and time to allow you to live a life with more fulfilling pursuits than the accumulation of stuff.

His advice on how to make changes, then, is both straightforward and surprisingly refreshing. Got too many knick-knacks? Ditch half of them. Can’t move in your bedroom? Cut the amount of furniture. Agonising over sentimental items? Pick the most precious to keep.

Finally, Becker encourages his readers to assess the home as a whole and even consider giving it up for a smaller property.

Sure, his approach may go too far for some and he has a fondness for empty surfaces that not everyone will share.

He recommends, for instance, that you remove all small kitchen appliances from counters and store them in cupboards. The clear worktops, he argues, will be worth the minor inconvenience of getting your toaster out each morning.

Well, ever keen to try new things, I gave it a go. My other half was so unimpressed by the idea that it lasted less than 24 hours.

But the fact I tried it is testament to Becker’s infectious enthusiasm and encouragement. While I had already minimised much of my home, I often found myself putting the book down and getting up to tackle one of the remaining clutter corners with a new vigour.

Do you need to read a book before you can declutter? Of course not. But if you think some step-by-step guidance might make you a little bolder in revolutionising your home, this might just be the help you need.

Developing ‘The Museum of Me’: a sentimental person’s 5-step guide to decluttering paper mementos

aerial view of a field

Sentimental items are often the hardest things to get rid of when you’re trying to pare down your possessions.

Once you have created your capsule wardrobe, sold your DVD boxsets and ditched those trinkets you never really liked anyway, often you are left with a pile of paper mementos to somehow sort through.

Photos, concert tickets, wedding invites, hand-written letters, sketches and doodles, newspaper cuttings and perhaps the odd autograph or two. Fragments of a life well-lived.

If you’re anything like me, they’ll be found in boxes, drawers and cupboards all over the house. Sometimes they will be in some semblance of order, like that year you methodically put all your photos into an album, but more often than not they’re a bit of a jumble.

They’re also not taking up too much space, so you end up torn about whether to let them go or let them be.

Yes, you hear the argument that your memories don’t lie in these objects, they lie in your mind, and that as a result they will always be with you.

But it’s not the reality you experience when you stumble across that movie ticket from your first date with your high-school sweetheart and you are unexpectedly transported right back to the bench outside the cinema where you shared that awkward kiss.

You also hear the assertion that looking back on years gone by is unhealthy, that it stops you from looking forward.

But that’s not how you feel when you find a silly caricature drawn by one of your oldest friends and then realise you really should give them a call.

So how can you start to clear away these mementos when you still want to be able to use them to reminisce about the many twists and turns your life has taken to this point?

I’ve been trying to develop a solution.

But first, a confession: for a so-called minimalist, I’ve discovered I’m a deeply sentimental person.

I really wish I wasn’t. When I was a teenager I went as far as writing a punky fanzine called Anti-Sentimentality with a close friend. The irony isn’t lost on me that, 20 years on, I still have copies of each issue stashed in my spare room.

In fact, I’ve kept a hell of a lot from my teenage years onward. Programmes for plays I’ve seen, certificates from minor achievements in school – the kind of thing that might have been valuable had I somehow turned out to be the next John Lennon.

It’s almost as if I’ve been keeping items to display in some future Museum of Me.

So if it’s all so damn important to me, why on earth haven’t I been curating it, like a real museum would?

For the past few months I’ve been trying to set this right, and if you want to try it out for yourself, here are the steps:

  1. Find somewhere on your computer hard-drive, a cloud account or a pen drive where you have a spare few gigabytes of storage.
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  2. Create a folder for each year of your life (an optional step for the ultra-nerdy like me: create sub-folders within each year for each month, labelled 01_Jan, 02_Feb, and so on. Using numbers at the beginning of the file names means they will stay in date order).
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  3. Scan all your ticket stubs, party invites, letters and so on, and save each image into the relevant folder. Make sure to back up your files as you go. For safety, I have mine saved on my computer, with a back-up in the cloud and a back-up back-up on a pen drive.
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  4. Add to your collection with a selection of photos, videos, music files, screengrabs of social media posts, or anything else that helps piece together the story of your life. Once your library is assembled, you can use it as a permanent archive to trawl through when you want to reminisce.
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  5. Use web programs to bring the collection to life by creating digital yearbooks. Choose a few photos, images or other files from each year that really make you smile – that picture of you mid-skydive, that time you met the minor celebrity – then compile a slideshow, video or collage for each year (or each five years or decade if you prefer). A quick web search will bring up a host of free and easy-to-use programs that will take you through the process, but I personally like PhotoCollage for collages and Kizoa for slideshows.

Once your ‘Museum of Me’ is properly curated, and you have found a way of honouring all those paper keepsakes, it should be far easier to get rid of all but a select few.

The fantasy island of minimalists dreamt up by an advisor to Henry VIII

An island

There is very little that is new about minimalism.

Owning few possessions has been a tenet in many faiths for millennia.

And two thousand years ago, the Stoics were teaching that you only truly own one thing in life: yourself. Practising a healthy detachment from your belongings was a key part of the philosophy.

As someone trying to get better at owning fewer things, I take an interest when I find the idea of living with less cropping up in books, films or music from years gone by.

So reading Thomas More’s Utopia, a book now more than 500 years old, proved pretty interesting recently.

More was a public figure in 16th-century England, rising from humble roots to serve as a personal advisor for Henry VIII and Speaker of the House of Commons.

But he was charged with high treason and beheaded in 1535 after refusing to take an oath recognising the King as sole head of the church, instead of the Pope, and sanctioning his divorce from his first wife.

A grim story, no doubt, but a little book More wrote 20 years earlier while working on the continent shows his humorous side.

The comic tract imagines a fantasy island – albeit a ridiculous one at times – where human society is ordered in a near-perfect way.

Some of the workings of Utopian society haven’t dated well.

The use of slavery would sound pretty horrific to a modern reader, as would the subjugated role of women, who must kneel before their husbands once a month to confess their sins and beg forgiveness.

But other parts, which discuss the Utopians’ attitude towards wealth and possessions, are some of the same topics being discussed by minimalists today.

Here are a few passages from the book, translated from the original Latin by Paul Turner:

“In Utopia they have a six-hour working day – three hours in the morning then lunch – then a two hour break – then three more hours in the afternoon, followed by supper. They go to bed at 8pm and sleep for eight hours.

“All the rest of the twenty-four they’re free to do what they like – not to waste their time in idleness or self-indulgence, but to make good use of it in some congenial activity.

“Most people spend these free periods on further education, for there are public lectures first thing every morning. Attendance is quite voluntary, except for those picked out for academic training, but men and women of all classes go crowding in to hear them.”

“They have no tailors or dressmakers, since everyone on the island wears the same sort of clothes – except that they vary slightly according to sex and marital status – and the fashion never changes.

“These clothes are quite pleasant to look at, they allow free movement of the limbs, they’re equally suitable for hot and cold weather – and the great thing is, they’re all home-made.”

“Since they only work a six-hour day, you may think there must be a shortage of essential goods. On the contrary, those six hours are enough, and more than enough to produce plenty of everything that’s needed for a comfortable life.

“And you’ll understand why it is, if you reckon up how large a proportion of the population in other countries is totally unemployed. First you have practically all the women – that gives you nearly fifty percent for a start. Then there are all the priests, and members of so-called religious orders – how much work do they do? Add all the rich, especially the landowners, popularly known as nobles and gentlemen. Include their domestic staffs – I mean those gangs of armed ruffians that I mentioned before. Finally, throw in all the beggars who are perfectly hale and hearty, but pretend to be ill as an excuse for being lazy. When you’ve counted them up, you’ll be surprised to find how few people actually produce what the human race consumes.”

“Then think how much labour they save on clothes. Their working clothes are just loose-fitting leather overalls, which last for at least seven years.

“When they go about in public, they cover these rough garments with a sort of cloak, which is always the same colour – the natural colour of wool. Thus not only is their consumption of woollen fabric the lowest in the world, but so are their production costs for this material. Linen is even easier to produce, and therefore more often used – but, as long as the linen is white and the wool is clean, they don’t care how fine or coarse the thread is.

“So whereas in other countries you won’t find anyone satisfied with less than five or six suits and as many silk shirts, while dressy types want over ten of each, your Utopian is content with a single piece of clothing every two years. For why should he want more? They wouldn’t make him any warmer – or any better looking.”

“When the head of a household needs anything for himself or his family, he just goes to [the] shops and asks for it. And whatever he asks for, he’s allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind.

“After all, why shouldn’t he? There’s more than enough of everything to go round, so there’s no risk of his asking for anything more than he needs – for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he’ll never have to go short of anything.

“No living creature is naturally greedy, except from fear of want – or in the case of human beings, from vanity, the notion that you’re better than people if you can display more superfluous property than they can. But there’s no scope for that sort of thing in Utopia.”

“They’ve devised a system which, while perfectly consistent with their other conventions, is diametrically opposed to ours – especially to the way we treasure up gold. So you’ll probably think it incredible, until you’ve actually seen it for yourselves.

“According to this system, plates and drinking-vessels, though beautifully designed, are made of quite cheap stuff like glass or earthenware. But silver and gold are the normal materials, in private houses as well as communal dining halls, for the humblest items of domestic equipment, such as chamber-pots. […] In fact they do everything they can to bring these metals into contempt. This means that if they suddenly had to part with all the gold and silver they possess – a fate which in any other country would be thought equivalent to having one’s guts torn out – nobody in Utopia would care two hoots.

“It’s much the same with jewels […] If they happen to come across one, they pick it up and polish it for some toddler to wear […] This curious convention is liable to cause some equally curious reactions, as I realised most vividly in the case of the Flatulentine diplomats. […]

“Oh, but you should have seen the faces of the older children, who’d grown out of things like pearls and jewels, when they saw the ones on the envoys’ hats. They kept nudging their mothers and whispering: ‘I say, mother, just look at that great baby! Fancy wearing jewellery at his age!’”

“In Utopia, where everything’s under public ownership, no-one has any fear of going short, as long as the public storehouses are full. Everyone gets a fair share, so there are never any poor men or beggars. Nobody owns anything, but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”

It makes interesting reading, even though I remain very sceptical of the idea of an ideal society.

While I would probably be content wearing only clothes that are “the natural colour of wool”, I recognise that it would be other people’s idea of hell. I also dislike his puritanical streak and scorn for “idleness or self-indulgence”.

But just as it was designed to make 16th-century Europeans reflect on their own society and its shortcomings, I think it can still have the power to do the same for us now.

A wuss in the snow: The unexpected highs and lows of a 30-day shopping ban

Well, I’m glad that’s over.

My first ‘shopping ban’ was only a mere 30 days long, but I’m embarrassed by how hard I found it.

I’ve written in the past about how years of paring down my belongings and adopting a more minimalist lifestyle has helped me develop a healthy scepticism towards shopping.

It’s not as if wandering through shopping centres angered or upset me, I just felt like I had some kind of superpower which made me immune to all the tricks marketers play to part people from their money. (Even in homewares shops. Lovely, lovely homewares shops…)

So at the beginning of this month I had thought a shopping ban, especially one for as short a spell as 30 days, would be a walk in the park.

As a result, I’d made the rules of the game pretty tough.

Back in December, I had originally considered granting myself permission to buy one specific item of clothing during January.

I have a teeny-tiny capsule wardrobe at the moment so when my work boots gave out in the snow around Christmas time, I was pretty sure I’d need to replace them pretty damn quick. Snowy toes suck!

But then I decided to get a grip and wait the month out without new boots. It was only a 30-day challenge, for God’s sake. What’s the point of a month-long shopping ban if you’re still buying stuff??

Instead, I began wearing ballet pumps or court shoes into work each day and thought no more about boots. What a trooper. WINTER BOOTS ARE FOR WUSSES!

So…

The shopping ban went well for the first two weeks or so.

Knowing that I was immune to the usual shopping frenzy, I even joined my wife Ruth on a trip around the January sales.

We visited three of my favourite stores (all homewares, of course). I knew I was testing my resolve to the max – being cocky, if you like – but resisting felt easy. I just had to remind myself that I could admire a beautiful object without having to possess it and I would be able to walk out empty-handed.

Then in mid-January, my brain just flipped. I think it was starting to rebel against the notion that I was banned from doing something. Suddenly, I was fantasising about buying a new phone one day, a fancy new camera the next.

I found myself researching camera phones online and knew I might be in trouble.

Then I found myself in a claustrophobic, thronging clothes shop within one of the UK’s biggest shopping centres as the January sales drew to a close and the heavy discounts began.

There was a blizzard outside and I wasn’t looking forward to wearing ballet pumps through the snow come Monday morning.

In front of me, there appeared some boots! £70, reduced to £20! None in my size….until I checked the very last pair at the back of the pile.

Reader, I cracked.

I’m not proud. It was only the first of 12 30-day challenges I’m planning to set myself in 2018 and I’ve already tripped up.

But I guess the exercise has taught me a few things:

  • I’m not the sort of person who deals well with bans
  • I am not immune to the lure of a bargain
  • I shouldn’t be cocky
  • I am a wuss in the snow

Anyway, at least my first 30-day challenge is over. Details about the second will be coming shortly.

I know some of you guys were joining me by setting yourselves a 30-day challenge this month, either a shopping ban or something else entirely. How did you get on? Better than me?

Decluttering for stress-relief

Hi everyone!

Sorry I went off the radar for a bit there, my wife wasn’t well and had to undergo surgery, so I was a bit tied up playing nurse.

All’s well now, you’ll be pleased to hear, and I’m ready to get stuck back into some blog posts.

But there were points over the last month or two when my life was looking pretty hectic and unpredictable. Not just because of my wife’s illness, but for various other reasons too.

One thing I noticed during the most stressful points was how often I reacted by going and doing a spot of decluttering. It was as if paring down my possessions had become a method of self-soothing, like having a glass of wine or vegetating in front of some trash-TV.

I can’t really explain why this was. Perhaps it’s a habit I’m into now, and old habits felt like a stabilising force when things were in flux. Perhaps keeping busy felt comforting. Perhaps it felt like I couldn’t control much in my life, but here was something I could control: the objects I owned.

And certainly, the end product – simplicity at home – seemed so much more important to me when other aspects of my life were complicated. I craved clear workspaces, pared-down wardrobes and simple meals because it was one less thing to worry about.

Of course, none of this works if the decluttering process itself is stressful. So I was careful to resist my natural tendency to add in levels of complexity.

Usually, I love a challenge, so the ‘gamification’ of decluttering really works for me. Whether it’s playing the month-long MinsGame or the three-month capsule wardrobe challenge Project 333, I usually respond well to deadlines, timescales, public accountability and, of course, a little healthy competition.

But over these past few weeks, I let all that go. I let the decluttering happen at its own natural pace. No pressure, no expectations, no rules.

And you know what? I still found myself getting rid of plenty of things, all the same.

Sometimes the necessity to keep things simple actually helped me to let go. For example, I didn’t have the time or energy to sell old books, CDs or DVDs online, so I bundled them all off to charity shops, and they were out of my life far quicker than they otherwise might have been.

Here are just a few of the items I’ve let go of. (Except the dog. Still got him!)

A collage of items I have recently decluttered

 

Do you have any tips for decluttering at times of high stress?

10 lessons from Project 333: the ups and downs of my capsule wardrobe experience

Could you get by wearing the same handful of outfits for the next few months?

Courtney Carver’s wildly popular capsule wardrobe challenge Project 333 asks people to do just that: wearing only 33 items, including clothes, coats, shoes and accessories, for a three-month period.

I’ve reached the end of my Project 333 challenge and if you’re thinking about giving it a try yourself, here’s a warts-and-all account of how I’ve found the past three months:

1. Project 333 is harder than it sounds

I thought I had a pretty small wardrobe as it was, but limiting myself to 33 items was tough. I went on holiday and couldn’t wear flip-flops because they weren’t among my 33 pieces of clothing. I have to admit to questioning my commitment to the cause when I found myself barefoot on a beach, standing repeatedly on broken glass. (Note: broken-glass barefoot torture is not a compulsory part of minimalism)

2. Your clothing choices have to be pretty strategic

Project 333 doesn’t stop you from wearing bright or patterned clothing. But it’s easier if you can mix-and-match your items to create a variety of outfits, and I found myself coming back time and time again to my staples of plain greys, blacks and blues.

3. Limiting your choices can make life simpler

Most of the time, heading straight to a select few hangers each morning to pick out an outfit for the day was a pretty simple undertaking. Similarly, it didn’t take me long at all to choose what to wear on a night out with friends. And as for fancy occasions, my choice of dress, shoes, bag and necklace were pretty much made for me already.

4. You have to be on top of your laundry game

Do I wear the slightly-damp-from-the-washing-machine top, or the dirty top with yesterday’s cooking stain on it, into the office today? These were the glamorous choices I ended up making when I neglected to do the laundry for more than a few days at a time. (I went with damp, by the way)

5. The project will make you realise the value you get (or don’t get) from what you buy

This applies to people, like me, who rarely buy clothes as well as those who hit the shops all the time. In the three-month period, I bought one item of clothing – a good-quality new raincoat – which had left me with feelings of guilt and buyer’s remorse. I had still been battling debt at the time, and felt I’d succumbed to an unnecessary impulse purchase. The day after, I very nearly returned it. But it turned out to be one of my most frequently worn items. In hindsight, it was a good buy and I should have chilled the heck out about it.

Just as it will help shopaholics question excessive spending habits, it will help frugal types loosen up about buying higher-quality items, if they know they’re going to get a lot of value from them.

6. Build in some ‘wildcard’ choices to give yourself extra flexibility

When I first began Project 333, I chose 30 items and kept open three empty slots, which I called my ‘wildcards’. Boy, this came in handy. The slots were filled within a few weeks, because I’d been fairly bad at predicting everything I’d need for three months, hence the later barefoot-on-glass scenario. The three items I ended up selecting were:white scarf

A white scarf (which doubled up as a kind of shawl over sleeveless dresses)

pink and silver necklace

A necklace (I’d forgotten to add any jewellery to my list)

turquoise raincoat

My new raincoat

7. Take it all with a dash of humour if you don’t want it to add to your stress levels

Picture the scene a few weeks ago: A heavy shower had abated, leaving the late evening sunshine glistening over the newly cleansed streets. I’ve taken the opportunity to go on a quiet stroll around the neighbourhood with my wife and dog. I feel…content. Even my wellies feel comfortable, and I can splash through the puddles without a care in the… Hang on, wellies aren’t on my list!! Goddamn!!!!!!!!!

I spent the rest of the walk in a sulk, so mad at myself for having broken the rules. But if you read Courtney Carver’s great website, you’ll fairly soon realise that this is not the point of the experiment at all. She’s pretty clear that while there are rules, you’re then free to make them work for you. For me, the challenge was about trying to remove an element of stress from my life. So beating myself up over one mistake was hardly in the spirit of the endeavour.

8. People probably won’t notice

I had no comments from workmates about why I was wearing the same outfits to work day in, day out. I can only assume they hadn’t realised. People are usually taking less notice of you than you think they are.

9. When you reach the end, your original wardrobe will feel ridiculously extravangant

I have to admit, I really loved creaking open the drawer where I’d stashed all my other clothes. So much choice! I thoroughly enjoyed putting on long-lost favourites that I had taken for granted beforehand. I also – straight off the bat – got rid of nine or ten items I knew I didn’t need any more, either because I hadn’t missed them or they had been a staple during Project 333 and so I’d worn them to death.

10. One round of Project 333 is enough to give you a serious insight into simplifying your wardrobe for good

Many people go straight from one round of Project 333 into the next, choosing another 33 items which will see them through the next season, and repeating season after season. I guess living within those boundaries permanently helps them to simplify their lives, and that’s great.

But others – like me – work best by thinking of a strict challenge as an experiment of sorts, to see which elements to keep and which to leave behind.

Project 333 has helped me in many ways: I have a new appreciation for the things I own, I’ve found it easier to say goodbye to clothes I didn’t miss, it’s helped me pack light on a holiday and it’s also helped me get a greater sense of my personal style.

I’m now ready to take what I’ve learnt and apply it to my full wardrobe, building a smaller, permanent collection of the things I love but without feeling hemmed in by any self-imposed rules.

Do temporary challenges help you simplify? Have you tried Project 333? Share your experiences below.


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Taking on the original capsule wardrobe challenge

What is it about completing a challenge that feels so damn good?

Is it the illusory sense that an uncaring universe is giving you a pat on the head?

Is it the feeling that you’ve somehow got one over on your usually lazy, fickle or easily distracted nature by dazzling it with arbitrary goals?

I’m not sure. All I know is, I seem to love gauntlets being thrown down on me so much, that I’ve taken to chucking them on myself.

The MinsGame challenge? Mastered.
Eat my five-a-day for a straight month? Gobbled.
Go to a meditation class once a month for a straight year? Tackled.

But this month, I realised there was one canonical simplicity challenge I’d overlooked. Goddamn.

Project 333 is so mainstream now, you find it getting a mention in all sorts of places, from documentaries to magazines.

If you don’t know, it’s a challenge invented by Courtney Carver of Be More with Less, which involves wearing just 33 items of clothing for three months.

This includes shoes, accessories and jewellery, but excludes a wedding ring, undercrackers, nightwear and exercise clothing. And no, you’re not allowed to cheat and just wear pyjamas or gym clothes around the house, sadly, which means I will seriously have to rethink my weekend wardrobe.

Perhaps I hadn’t ever bothered with Project 333 before, because I had a sneaking suspicion that it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. I don’t have a huge wardrobe and tend to wear the same outfits over and over again already.

At least that’s what I thought. I got out all my clothes and counted up the items I’d have to whittle down to 33. I got to nearly 80 items before I even started on my jewellery collection.

All my clothes
All my clothes…
All my shoes
…and all my shoes. Now for some difficult choices. Heels or wellies?

Then came the tougher-than-expected job of selecting my capsule wardrobe. I had to plan ahead for what I’d need to wear in the next three months.

This will include a foreign holiday somewhere very hot, requiring shorts and sandals I’d be unlikely to wear much at home.

It will also cover a family celebration involving not one but two fairly dressy parties on back-to-back nights. Two dresses, two pairs of fancy shoes, two sets of jewellery…my allocation was going to get eaten up pretty fast at this rate. And I definitely can’t wear pyjamas to work, you say?

In the end, I selected 30 items, and left three slots empty, which I’m calling my ‘wildcard’ slots. It means if my initial choices turn out to be terribly misjudged, I can choose another three items I might find I desperately need as the months go by.

The shoes I opted to include
The shoes I opted to include
The rest of the clothes I chose
The rest of the clothes I chose. As an aside, can you guess which side of the bed the minimalist sleeps on?

That was ten days ago and I seem to have been doing okay (although I’m regretting not including a scruffy pair of shoes to walk the dog in). I’ve also told a couple of non-minimalist friends and family members about the challenge I’d taken on, and they all replied with the same baffled question.

‘Why?’

I guess the honest answer is, I like arbitrary challenges and completing them gives me a sense of control over my life in what appears to be an increasingly chaotic and dangerous world. I can’t intervene in international diplomacy, so instead I can wear the same clothes for quarter of a year and pretend it’s an achievement.

But I thought that answer might be a bit too heavy for a brunch.

‘Just to see if I can,’ I replied.

The rest of my clothes packed away until July
The rest of my clothes packed away until July

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Numbers and the lies we tell ourselves


This is a guest post by LM Radja.


I’ve been drifting along this minimalism path for quite some time now.

I’ve seen, read and listened to some extremists, some middle-of-the-road folks and some folks who just struggle with the process.

As I watch the movement become more mainstream, I wonder where it will take the basic notion of minimalism. Heck, even the advertisers are jumping on the band wagon – whether it’s that bank that wants to help you enjoy your experiences and not just more ‘stuff’ or the retailer closing for the holidays because they know how important personal relationships are.

To me, the underlying message is simple: don’t have more than you need or find real value in.

I think Buddha sums it up best.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

We are at a fork in the road – minimalism can become an all-inclusive concept that celebrates those who have very little to those who have what, to them, is enough or it can become just another marketing tool and means of comparison to show how much better we are than others.

I have concerns about which path we will go down. Here’s why.

I, like some, can be a minimalist ‘junkie’ reading every post, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching videos and just generally absorbing as much as I can.

My personal journey started slowly back in 2009 when I began reading a book by Elaine St. James, called Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down.

It was serendipitous that I came across it; a friend had given me a bag of books to donate to a nursing home and I looked through them to check for anything I might want to read first.

From there I discovered some of the pioneers of the movement – from Jay Shafer to Courtney Carver to Rowdy Kittens to to Miss Minimalist to The Minimalists.

Soon I was scouring YouTube and the internet for other sources on minimalism. When I began, the concept was still not anywhere near mainstream and information was hard to find. I knew it had hit the general population when multiple hits came up for my searches.

With all the increase in attention came diversity but also came competition.

Who has the least number of things? And how do we count those things? Is the family living off-grid in a tiny house more minimalist than, say, a millennial who is living with less by using the gym’s shower and ‘storing’ clothes at a dry cleaners’? Who’s to say?

There are really no rules. That’s a good AND bad thing. The good is there is no one way to be a minimalist. The bad thing is that the landscape is constantly changing and our human desire to be ‘in’ can have us fruitlessly pursuing whatever is the current minimalist trend.

Here’s what I think: minimalism is a fluid concept and there are thousands of different combinations and angles through which we can reach our personal ‘minimalist’.

If you can live with only 35 actual pieces of clothing but want to equip your kitchen like an Iron Chef because you love to cook, then that is your definition.

I think the real catalyst behind minimalism is knowing when to let go. When whatever it is that is your passion currently no longer inspires you, be willing to move on figuratively AND literally.

Donate, sell, throw it out. Just be sure you are listening to your inner voice and not some YouTuber or advertiser who is telling you what your minimalism should look like.


LM Radja started looking at life differently when she hit 50. She describes the biggest benefit of minimalism as gaining ‘the capacity to stop and appreciate the small joys’. She can be found at Facebook.com/Minimleeblog.

Low-maintenance versus high-maintenance beauty regimes: round two results

Round two productsBeauty products: are they magic potions or huge great cons? My intrepid experiment to find out continues.

As a bit of a recap, I’m a low-maintenance person who prefers a night out in the pub to a day in a spa. But in an effort to declutter my bedside cabinet of all its abandoned products, I’m running a bit of a test.

Each month, I’ll take four products, all meant to be used on different areas of the body, and give them a trial on one side of my body only.

I’ll them monitor the effects, and, crucially, get my other half Ruth to try to guess which side has been getting the treatment.

Any lotions that magically make me a stunningly attractive individual get to stay, while any that do nothing get the boot.

I’ve now finished round two and the results are in.

Clinique cleanserProduct: Clinique Rinse-off Foaming Cleanser
First impressions: All I usually use on my face is water (more through laziness than anything) so this made me feel like I was a more sophisticated person than I actually am. Each day, I cleaned my face with a sort of smug sense that I had my shit together.
Results: Straight afterwards, my skin felt a little tight. I also started noticing dry patches on my face for the first time in a while. To be honest, I couldn’t see any real difference in cleanliness.
Did Ruth guess right?: Yes. She pointed to the right side of my face and said, ‘That one. Because you had a spot on the other side.’ How lovely.
The winner: A draw. It’s a small bottle so I’ll soon use it up and while I might not buy a direct replacement, I might consider another cleanser. Or I could go back to being a mildly self-loathing slob.

Veet creamProduct: Veet In-shower Hair Removal Cream
First impressions: Do you like the smell of burnt hair? Do you enjoy reading faintly alarming WARNINGS about side-effects in random CAPITAL LETTERS on your products? Are you a man, woman or non-binary person who needs to get rid of a lot of hair very fast, for some reason? Are you unable to use sharp objects because you’re, say, in prison? Then this may be for you!
Results: It was pretty quick and fairly effective, but had the down-sides you’d also experience with shaving: stubble, dry skin, and so on. It says I can’t use it on moles, which is, like, half my skin.
Did Ruth guess right?: Well, yes. She said, ‘Is it the leg which looks really red and irritated?’ Although, to be fair, you have to exfoliate the cream off after you use it, so the exfoliation might have contributed to the ‘red and angry’ look (a much sought-after skin shade, I’m sure you’ll agree).
The winner: A draw. I’ll likely stick with shaving and waxing most of the time.

Frizz-EaseProduct: Frizz-Ease Straight Fixation Smoothing Crème
First impressions: So, for background, my hair can be a little frizzy sometimes. I’ve had this bottle for a while after trying it briefly and giving up on it. It’s a runny, white substance you rub on your hair while it’s still damp, and says it protects against the heat of straighteners, which I fry my hair with religiously. It’s easy to use and you don’t need much of it.
Results: I found it made my hair feel less flyaway than usual, but also less soft. It needed washing sooner.
Did Ruth guess right?: Just as I did last month, I drew the line at using a hair product on one side only. Sorry, science!
The winner: Low-maintenance. I can see it could come in handy sometimes, but I won’t be using it often.

Clarins eye gelProduct: Clarins Eye Contour Gel
First impressions: This was a very refreshing gel to use round my eyes, especially when I woke up hungover or tired (i.e. pretty much all the time). It absorbed quickly and didn’t sting. The bottle was teeny tiny.
Results: Although it felt nice to use, I could see no real difference to my eye area at all.
Did Ruth guess right?: She said both eyes looked identical.
The winner: Low-maintenance. In fact, the bottle was so small, I promptly lost it. Decluttering result!

Overall winner: By a whisker, Veet In-shower Hair Removal Cream (although I’m still not overly keen)

I do still have enough lotions and potions to do a few more rounds of this experiment, but I’ve decided to give it a rest for a bit, mainly because this isn’t the bloomin’ Avon blog, and I want this to be more than a product review site. I could always revisit the testing later in the year.

I’d also like to stress that while I may remain a low-maintenance person, I’m not saying this is a superior way to live.

Everyone will be different. If beauty products are your thing, then go crazy with them. Who am I to judge if a face-pack helps you unwind after a long day?

But it might be worth checking you’re using them because you get something out of the process, and they’re not just another chore you’ve taken on because of other people’s beauty standards or gender expectations.

If money is an issue, you might want to question whether expensive cosmetics are really giving you results, or whether you could you experiment with a cheaper alternative.

And if you’re worried about your impact on the planet, could you research greener alternatives or use up the products you already own before going out and buying new ones?


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