Meet a minimalist (4 minute read)

spoon

 

 

In my quest for a simpler life I’m always fascinated by people who’ve not just talked about living with less but actually followed it through.

I’ve recently been introduced to Holly Mitchell, a 24 year-old buyer (ironically) and writer, who lives in Leeds. She and her fiancé Ben are proud minimalists. 

 

 

Here’s a little chat I had with Holly:

So tell me about your minimalist journey?

Minimalism has completely changed our lives over the past two years. When Ben and I first moved in together we lived in a three bedroom house – purely to accommodate the sheer volume of stuff I’d accumulated over a lifetime!

In truth, I was a hoarder. I had wardrobes filled with clothes all over the house, walls lined with bookcases and every visible shelf was packed with trinkets. Fast forward to now – we’ve got rid of around 90-95% of our possessions (either sold, donated or given away) and live in a zero-bedroom flat.

holly's home

It hasn’t been an easy road… The process was long, gruelling and, at times, seemed never-ending. But I wouldn’t change a thing – we’re happier, living more consciously and free from the trap of consumerism.

What inspired you?

A random article on the internet about people living out of backpacks first peaked my interest and then it just all went from there. One day, we had an ‘aha!’ moment. From there, we knew we couldn’t continue how we were.

What difference has it made?

Minimalism has allowed me to strip back to the basics, reassess my life and focus my energy on what really makes me happy. It was eye-opening to re-examine my relationship with my material possessions. I found out that I kept and hung onto things ‘just in case’ I may need them later.

Now, I make active choices about what I bring into my home. I also don’t really have the urge to buy anything anymore. Everything I own serves a specific purpose and that’s brought a sense of calmness to my life. Until we started getting rid of our things, I didn’t realise the impact being surrounded by clutter had taken on my mental health.

As we minimalised and cleared our space, I felt like a weight was being lifted. I’m less anxious, have more time to focus on hobbies and, with less choice, it’s a lot quicker to get ready in the mornings too!

It is possible to do an inventory of your house?

100%! At the height of our decluttering, I felt overwhelmed and like I was drowning in stuff – I would never want to get into that position again.

I’ll use my kitchen as an example – we basically have two of everything – one for each of us. For example, we have: 2x small plates, 2x cereal bowls, 2x pasta bowls, 2x tumblers, 2x wine glasses and 2x mugs. We have 3 large plates – just in case we break or need an extra one.

We don’t really have the space to entertain guests and we socialise outside the house so our minimal tableware has never been an issue. If we were to ever host a big Christmas dinner, we’re not opposed to asking people to bring their own.

If we move into somewhere bigger, we may look at upgrading to 4 of each but we’re happy as we are for the time being.

What did you let go of first?

Clothes. In total, I donated or sold around 40 bin bags of clothing, shoes and bags.

his & her wardrobeI hate seeing waste and it upsets me how fast fashion is making the clothes we wear almost disposable. When I do buy clothes I opt for second-hand and support ethical and sustainable brands where possible. While I don’t own many items of clothing anymore (around 20 garments) I try to buy versatile pieces and have created a capsule wardrobe around them.

Did you find anything hard to let go of?

I was absolutely adamant about keeping every one of my books when we started. As a real bibliophile I got great satisfaction from seeing a stacked bookcase in a room. However, as we got rid of more things, my mindset began to shift. I realised that I rarely re-read anything and the books were taking unnecessary space.

I ended up reducing my collection from 250 books to only 15 of my favourites. As more months passed I got rid of all of them entirely; I invested in a Kindle and support our local libraries instead.

Do you now miss anything?

Weirdly, no!

What lessons have your learnt?

‘Things’ are not responsible for your happiness (sorry, advertising companies,,,) – you are.

I think there’s also real truth to the old saying about the ‘tidy house, tidy mind.’

Do you live by any rules in terms of how to live?

We live simply and look for the value in non-material things. It’s always good to take time out to be grateful for what you do have instead of focusing on what you don’t and comparing yourself to others.

Since downsizing and no longer spending money on things we don’t need, we’ve adopted a much more frugal lifestyle. This has helped us to save for a house deposit and a wedding – both will be minimalistic, of course!

What is your goal?

We don’t have any plans to change our lifestyle.

holly & fianceWe’re getting married in a few months. It’ll be a small casual do – nothing fancy and definitely no white dress. All we care about is having the people we love there to celebrate and good food. Over the next year, I’d like to get more involved in the zero-waste movement too.

How do others react to your lifestyle choice?

Some people are intrigued but most struggle to accept it (I mean, who doesn’t want to buy stuff?!) or they find it very extreme. At the start, I think both our families thought we were depriving ourselves or just super skint but they’ve got used to it now. Christmas and birthdays can be awkward times of the year, but friends and family now accept and respect our choices such as our ‘edible-only’ gift policy last year.

What advice would you give to other aspiring minimalists?

Minimalism means different things to different people so don’t compare yourself to others. I know that our approach and that (basically) living in one room will not be for everyone, but I do think that most people could benefit in a small way from decluttering – even if it’s just organising that kitchen drawer filled with random junk!

I’d also advise people to really question whether they need something before buying it. By doing this you’ll end up saving money and it’ll stop you from bringing useless stuff into your home.

When decluttering things will probably get worse before they get better but DON’T GIVE UP. It’s a tough road and definitely isn’t a quick fix but the effort will be worth it in the end.

Trust me, you won’t regret it.

If you’re interested in frugal living and want more info on Holly & Ben’s minimalist journey visit frugalfoxes.home.blog

 

The joy of purging (2 minute read)

Once I’d started on my personal decluttering journey one of my new found pleasures in life was purging.

Yes, using up that last little bit of something, before I replaced it.

I remember how my mum would pour vinegar into the ketchup bottle to help swill out those bits stuck to the side.

There’s a whole movement called Project Panning who rejoice in using up their make-up and sharing pictures of when they ‘hit pan’ – which basically means the bottom of the case, of say a blusher, starts to show through.

panning photos

Followers will only ‘Buy’ when they’ve finally said a proper ‘Bye’ by using up the product. A stricter version is Project 10 Pan Challenge for which you have use up ten products before you buy a new one.

Panners often focus on one product, such as a body butter, and use it up rather than having half a dozen on the go.

I think the same thinking can be applied to everything we consume.

It’s weird but when I’ve found I’ve given my children too much choice they demand more choice. Take breakfast cereals – half eaten packets of Shreddies, Weetabix, Rice Crispies, Multigrain Shapes, and Strawberry Crunch would take up loads of room   on the shelves feeling insulted when my girls said they didn’t like any of them. Now I give my daughters the choice of two. And I refuse to replace either until one is finished. The girls have quit whinging.

It’s so tempting to stock pile these days, with 2 for 1 offers, which can be great money savers but do ask yourself if you really need it or if you’re buying it as someone is giving you a gentle push. And actually have room to store it?

I believe bulk buying can be a great way to save money (and the environment if it means less packaging) but it has to be planned and not done on a whim otherwise you’ll find yourself buried in loo roll and choking on Cheerios.

So take stock of what you have, by gathering duplicates into one place (from jam to sun tan lotion) and promise to only BUY until you’ve said BYE. It’s satisfying and your bank balance will be happy too.

 

Taking stock (2 minute read)

We’ve all done it as we’ve followed the floor arrows round Ikea. We’re thinking about Swedish Meatballs and mindlessly grab a bag of Bevara clips (the name is Swedish for ‘preserve’), convinced we only have a few left.

kitchen decluttering

But the niggling thought that they’re made of plastic so will take billions of years to degrade so can’t just disintegrate, stopped me buying more on my last visit.

So when I returned home I did a quick 5-minute declutter of THAT  kitchen drawer which holds all the storage stuff like foil, clingfilm, bags and elastic bands. And yes – there they all were – snuffling around at the bottom with the thousands of white wire ties which we never ever use but my husband insists on keeping.

Yes – one of the many pleasures I get from decluttering is it encourages you to take stock.

If you gather all things of a the same category into one place it’s often surprising what you find. Who knew you actually had:

  • 27 rolls of half used sellotape
  • 8 opened but unfinished bottles of suntan lotion which will be out of date next time the sun reappears
  • A gallon of free shampoo and shower gel in 47 little plastic bottles
  • Enough plasters to cover every inch of skin of my 9 year old daughter

Well, it was almost this bad…

These are often items you buy or squirrel away ‘just in case’ you might run out of – as you’ve lost track of what you actually have.

And once you’ve understood you never need to buy another plastic polly pocket again, and you’ve given all the wandering items a designated place TOGETHER,  the purging can begin…

This is another immensely satisfying path to follow on a decluttering journey which I plan to blog about soon.

What have you found you’ve an abundance of in your home?

Me in action working on a wardrobe… (not much reading, lots of pictures)

Today I had the pleasure of working with the photographer Matt Radcliffe, and his lovely wife Janine, to declutter and sort their wardrobes.

mattholding

Whilst I was there Matt took these great shots of me in action which show some of the process. (As it’s my blog I’ve edited out all the shots where I look like my mum and my hands are super wrinkled…)

So first we got all the clothes out.

mattmeandclothes

Then we discussed what to keep and what to donate to charity

mattfingerpointing

Then we grouped all the clothes in like piles – so t-shirts, jumpers, trousers (or pants as they’re called up here)…

Then we did a second edit. Most people get tired at this point and want to give up!

mattshirt

We then put back the clothes in a logical order which meant hanging skirts, dresses, shirts and blouses (together in sections) in the wardrobe and then folding t-shirts, jumpers, sportswear and jeans and putting them in the drawers.

I taught them the Marie Kondo folding method…

mattkfold

Which meant Matt and Janine could easily see what clothes they had and fit more into the drawers – which didn’t matter too much as they actually had far less to fit back into them.

We bagged up all the clothes and all the excess coat hangers which were no longer needed.

mattbag

matthangers

Then we loaded all the bags into the back of my car to deliver to a local Oxfam Shop. Janine said this was the best bit.

When we arrived and opened the car boot for the big reveal the man working there said we’d made his day ….

mattbags

Matt was so relaxed and chatty throughout the whole process I forgot he was taking pictures – which is what you want if you hate having your photo taken like me.

Check out Matt’s great work at: mattradcliffephoto.co.uk

 

 

 

How to have a less materialistic Christmas with kids (3 minute read)

Christmas can be a stressful time and being surrounded by piles of new stuff adds to the mayhem. Research by anthropologists reveals clutter makes people feel anxious, helpless and overwhelmed so it’s a good idea to anticipate and avoid gift saturation point.

In our house children are banned from mentioning Christmas until after Bonfire night so when they were little on 6th November when they brought up the C word, I’d remind them of The Santa Bag. He brings it a week before Christmas to fill up with toys to deliver to children all round the world. Now the kids are older we ask them to fill a bag for the charity shop before they can expect to get anything new.

In previous years I’ve made the mistake of quantity over quality feeling the pressure to supply a big pile of gifts, a large component of which were panic waste of money nonsense. Then I’d witness present fatigue as the kids stormed through the pile of wrapped presents flinging each to one side to reach for the next. It was clear there was too much.

I’ve now learnt to manage my kid’s expectations in terms of the actual gifts they are going receive. We tell them they can have something to read, something they need, something to wear, something they want and something to share.

Something they need could be a new duvet cover or an alarm clock, so they don’t need to have their mobile phones in their bedrooms to wake them up. The wear part can be a pair of trainers they’ve been coveting or an impractical party dress. Sharing presents are family games or activities which bring us all together rather than isolating the children in their bedrooms. If the something they want is just too expensive don’t be afraid to tell them so. They’re children – they’ll get over it.

As it’s often the anticipation that’s more exciting that the actual gift, instead of the children just coming down to a pile of presents we try to prolong the whole rigmarole by hiding gifts around the house. To get extra excitement to young ones call this a Treasure Hunt.

We also hide Christmas Promises. These hand-written age-appropriate ‘coupons’ are placed in little envelopes (think the sort florists use) and are to be redeemed when the children want. These are all about spending time rather than money on them so maybe a movie night at home (they get to choose the film and snack), after school deluxe hot chocolate, stay up an hour later than usual, a pamper night, a friend for a sleepover, ice-cream for breakfast or an after dark supermarket trip in their pyjamas. Top hits have included a bag full of two pence coins to spend at an arcade and a recipe with money attached so they shopped and paid for the ingredients themselves.

Invest money in memories not stuff. These experiences can be anything from tickets to shows or events, trips to a splash park, going bowling or iceskating to rock climbing or go-carting. You can even work sheep with a Border Collie.

Give your kids a journal to record it all in. Or next Christmas you could compile a photo book, easily made online using the memories captured on your phone.

Gifts that keep on giving are also rewarding so think magazine or comic subscription; a cinema pass; or sport or art classes. Monthly subscription boxes themed round science, art or baking are another way to spread the love. If you adopt or sponsor an animal such as a guide dog you’ll receive regular updates in the post.

Consumable gifts like chocolate or a personalised can of squirty cream are good because they get used up.  We’re a big fan of mug cake mixes as it least they require some effort to make rather than just being available to stuff into eager mouths.

Children love the traditions of Christmas so introduce some family ones. Our children always get a new pair of PJs or onesie on Christmas Eve. I’d have to buy them new ones anyway so I may as well make it special. We’ve also introduced a shopping trip to buy for gifts for those less privileged processed through schemes run by charities such as The Salvation Army and Family Action.

Children can then feel the pleasure of giving but also appreciate how lucky they actually are.