Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost

At the start of this month, I wrote about my decision to take on a game suggested by The Minimalists.  I would look for stuff to jettison from my life on the basis of one thing for day one, two for day two etc, for 31 days – a total of 496 items.

What started off as a hunting and gathering exercise morphed into a discovery of a new mindset.

Moving across to the road less travelled

Initially, I was rather tentative about the prospect of finding as many as 496 items, particularly as I already saw myself as a pretty regular life-launderer.

I can also see now that I was approaching this project only from the perspective of looking for things that I don’t need any more.

Looking back, I have come to understand that this perspective changed in a number of ways:

  • it became more about actively deciding what I wanted to keep and why, rather than just about what to get rid of;
  • I felt that I had given myself permission to view differently the things around me, moving away from the notion of unconsciously meeting other people’s expectations (whoever ‘they’ were), to a position of conscious assessment about what is right for me;
  • I could see that I had acquired many things simply out of sheer habit, rather than as a result of well thought through choices.

Making a difference

Through the month, a huge sense of momentum built up.  I enjoyed surveying my stuff anew.  I was delighted to tackle drawers, cupboards and boxes to which I had never given much thought.  And yes, for days 23-31 (my last post took me to day 22) I found more than 243 items to sprint past that sub-500 target for the whole month.

Hub and I went through the entire contents of our kitchen, completely emptying the equivalent of a side-board.  I had yet another look at my yarn stash, this time with a view to making sure it takes up only the amount of room that I am prepared to devote to it.  I found yet more CDs, DVDs, books, clothes, craft materials, jewellery, linens and papers.

In a modification of The Minimalists’ rules for this game, for practical reasons, I did not eject things day by day.  Instead, The British Heart Foundation came yesterday to collect a van-load of boxes and bags.  I will shortly be taking another trip to see the lovely ladies at Treasure Trove; packing up jewellery for The Alzheimer’s Society; and tripping to our recycling bins.

Leaving the usual path

The thing is, minimalism is not really about giving up stuff.  It’s about looking afresh at all the things around you: identifying which of them add value in your life, and making sure they are able to fulfill that purpose.

Here’s what I learned in the space of just four weeks.

1.  Own your stuff:  don’t let it own you

This is something which Hub has always said. I have always understood it logically.  Now I also understand it emotionally.  Belongings can sometimes exert a tyrannical power over us, be it a sentimental memory, a feeling of guilt and/or shame about a purchase, or a sense of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.  Step back, though, and it is easy to see that stuff is just stuff, to be kept or not.  Once I made this mental shift, it became very straightforward to make decisions about how to free myself from the clutches of my possessions.

2.  Memories, not things, have meaning and value

This was one of the most striking messages I took from reading Essentials by The Minimalists. I came to understand that, when looking fondly at an item, it was not the thing itself that generated warm and happy memories.  In some cases, I found items which had been given to me as gifts but I had put them away, not really knowing what to do with them.  Initially, I put them out as ornaments.  But I quickly realised that it was not the items to which I was attached, but the memory of the giving.  The solution?  I took photos of anything in this category and gladly passed on the physical items for someone else to enjoy.

3.  I don’t need what I don’t need

When we were clearing out the kitchen we found all sorts of gadgets that had seemed utterly essential when we bought them, but which were now at the back of a cupboard because they were not of practical day to day use.  I’m not sure when I thought I would need to use a special metal flour sifter when a sieve and a spoon does just fine.  It was obvious that we have our favourite, go-to utensils, crockery, pans etc.  All the rest was superfluous.

4.  It’s ok to love things, and to keep them…..

I have lots of lovely things that make me very happy.  I am a tea addict and love to drink interesting blends out of beautiful cups and mugs – for me, it enhances the experience.  I adore having gorgeous pens and pencils with which to be creative.  I love my beautiful powder-blue suede shoes that Hub bought for me in Paris about 15 years ago, and which are pristine because I only ever wear them when the weather is 100% guaranteed to be dry (a rarity in Scotland).  Some of these things I use every day.  Some only once in a while.  That’s fine.  These things enrich my life.

5.  ……but I could live without them

I have come to understand the bottom line:  Everything I own is replaceable in some way.  If we had the proverbial fire, I would be concerned only about making sure Hub was safe.  There is nothing I would worry about grabbing to save.  Initially, I was rather concerned about this: don’t I like my home?  Is my environment pointless and lacking in meaning?

No, of course not.  We live in a fabulous apartment where we have a lovely life.  But the fact is, our life is fundamentally happy because of the way we live and love together.  We can achieve that wherever we are and regardless of what we own.

Next steps: a path of choice not habit

Reaching the last day of this challenge is not about the 496 items.  It’s not even about newly-empty drawers, shelves and cupboards, nice though these are.  It is instead the beginning of a new commitment to live with intention.  Not simply treading the familiar and habitual path of amassing things in line with societal expections, but consciously choosing a different approach.  Appreciating rather than acquiring.  Space not stuff.

Let me give the last word to The Minimalists, since it is they who have helped me make these changes: