Welcome to Part 2 of our trip down memory lane – to our experiment in living small during 2013/14! As well as life in general, because its all intertwined of course….
Let me say, I am struggling with where exactly to start off here. Perhaps a good place would be with a realisation I was recently reminded of:
I’m not easy going.
Or, at least put it this way – it’s not my natural default setting. I remember becoming aware of the concept in the early days of my relationship with Michael (my now, husband). I said to him “I’m pretty easy going aren’t I?”. Well, the poor boy looked like a deer in the headlights! Stuck and unable to move, he didn’t know what to say to me – but his response told me all I needed to know. It was truly the first time I realised that I could be a pretty inflexible, tighly wound person. I wanted comfort and certainty – as well as the detailed report on how we were going to achieve it!
I’m happy to say I have come a long way (at least I think I have – maybe I need to ask Michael again….) – but I point this out because I think it’s relevant to the whole ‘living simply’ business (whatever that means for you). I imagine one reason people hold off might be that they are too uncomfortable, or worried they aren’t open enough to take it on. I want to say don’t let that stop you – really! The reason I have improved is not that I worked on it, then decided to take on this adventure – it was the other way around.
I took a leap of faith (for lack of a better phrase) and that made me squirm uncomfortably. I had a choice to either quit or deal with it. I deal with it because I know deep down this is the right thing to be doing, for us – even if it is scary and uncomfortable at times. The reward is immense – not only do you get to work towards your chosen goal, you get to grow in the process. That’s big. And the learning is constant – we are no where near perfect. I still get worried and anxious – then shop and eat too much as comfort (I know, I know – but awareness is the first step right?!). I’m constantly learning more about life, and me, and how to deal more healthily with my feelings. Ah, the school of life – I highly recommend it! (Incidentally, there now is an actual “school of life” – started in London by modern day philosopher Alain de Botton. There is an outreach campus in Melbourne – they run what look to be awesome classes and other cool stuff. Check them out here).
And so, back to living small – lets talk about what the biggest (ha ha – that pun was not intended!) changes have been:
Whatever you call it, you’ll likely need to shed some of your possessions. I think at the outset, this seems hard – and some of it definitely will be. However, it’s much more about shifting your thinking towards what you actually use and need, rather than learning to go without. In this way it becomes more therapeutic than painful, especially when realising the emotional attachment that we make with “things” may be better invested elsewhere. You also get better at knowing what you really use and so it becomes easier to let go of the excess.With every downsize or declutter we do, I feel lighter and more at peace. I don’t feel so overwhelmed by our stuff, nor have to spend so much frustrating time looking for items. And a surprisingly large amount of time is freed up from buying, organising, maintaing and cleaning what we have.
Be warned of two things though:
1. It may become addictive, the post-clear high can be a powerful one! Decluttering may just become your next vice (i’m not joking) – better than gambling though, don’t you think?!.
And 2. It’s not a one-time deal – I think it’s more like a habit that needs to be developed because stuff has a tendency to accumulate. Think birthdays, christmas, hand-me-downs, that recreational rummage through the op-shop or garage sale. Not to mention the ability of random junk to just mysteriously manifest without any input from us whatsoever – what is with that?. You will likely have to revisit your belongings and what is important to you periodically , followed by some more minor, (I imagine) clearing.
What about the how? Well, there are many approaches to decluttering (in fact there are hoards of blogs and books on the subject – enjoy your google discovering and keep in mind many also cross paths with related fields such as voluntary simplicity, minimalism, economics, energy, design and so on). You can tackle the whole shebang or just one room/shelf/box at a time. As someone who gets regularly overwhelmed, with an annoying side-serving of perfectionism (not meaning I am perfect but rather harbour the totally impractical attitude that I must do it, do it thoroughly and complete it…TODAY!), I definitely go for something small and doable in one sitting. Or schedule a whole day/weekend (without small people) to deal with something big and factor in as many pick-me-ups as necessary (think cuppa run, some good food pre-prepared or bought in) because doing this can be hard work – physically, mentally and emotionally. When I took on an area, I sorted things into piles: Keep, Sell, Donate, Bin and Maybe. The ‘maybe’ pile was critical. It took the pressure off getting the decision right – I could put the ‘maybe’ stuff away in a cupboard for a while. If I went looking for something I kept it. If not, it went.
And then, what to do with it? Well, there are several options I can think of (feel free to add more suggestions in the comments…):
- Sell it – think garage sale, ebay or maybe a notice at work or the local laundromat and spreading the word to friends who may be in the market for what you have.
- Donate it – there are lots of charities happy to accept items, you can drop them off to their op shop or even have your items picked up in some cases (give them a call to find out – the Salvos definitely do it here in Australia)
- Recycle it – e.g. stacks of old paperwork – if you shred them up they are great in the garden. You could also just put them in your council recycle bin.
- Re-purpose it – for instance, maybe those old clothes will be good rags (we are currently using old socks to wash dishes – sounds gross I know but they were well washed before we started!) or maybe that big drinks tub is your ticket to a new wicking bed (we actually picked one up from hard rubbish just for this purpose)
- Gift it – perhaps someone you know could use what you have. Ask around or make someone a pre-loved present.
- Bin it – I don’t really like sending things to landfill but sometimes the items aren’t good enough for donating or using again. And sometimes, I just need the sanity that comes from getting rid of that item now – I try and keep these to a minimum.
In our own case we downsized from a standard three bedroom house to a 50m2 shed. So we started with trying to sell some items on ebay, quickly followed by an ‘open house’ garage sale. We essentially moved the things we wanted to keep then opened our doors for people to come in and browse our entire house – if they could see it, they could buy it. It was pretty funny trying to encourage people to come in the front door – we had to say “it’s ok – really!” then explain why we were doing it. A wonderfully unexpected upside was the conversations it started with people – nearly every one we talked to had a ‘living in a shed or caravan’ story. It was heartening to hear them talk about it – all but one expressed them as dearly held memories. After a couple of big weekends doing that, we loaded up the rest into our little blue hatchback destined for the op-shop – about 3 times over. And believe me, the car was full! So much so that when I got to unloading, it reminded me of those skits with a little car and the never ending stream of clowns coming out of it.
All in all we have pretty good memories of downsizing and shedding possessions. I would describe the whole experience (so far – it’s ongoing remember?!) as cathartic and am still amazed at how I don’t regret it. Are there things I wish I didn’t get rid of? Well I think there were a few I mourned – but to be honest, as I sit here and write this, I can’t think of what they were. Ah – one just came to me – it was my childhood diary. I feel a pang of pain at not having the opportunity to look back on it. It’s not even that I want to look at it – it’s the opportunity I feel loss for, isn’t that funny?. In the end though, giving myself permission to let go of all that I went through then (in that diary) and be who I am today (because that’s what I am doing by no longer keeping it) is worth that ‘opportunity cost’ – it is such a release.
And also let me say that we are not ungrateful for all the gifts that we received over the years. Do not be sad that we decided to let some go – we have appreciated and derived great joy from them. We keep the memories and sentiment while moving them on, hopefully to a new home where they may give someone else joy for a time also.