Going to extremes… or not

I keep coming across articles on the internet about people who have pared their life down to the bare essentials… like Rob Greenfield who only has 111 possessions (you can check them out here). Now I’m all for cutting down on waste and not buying unnecessary ‘stuff’, but I simply wouldn’t be happy with so little. What about creativity? What about owning equipment to make things or repair things? What about tools for cultivating the land? Living a nomadic life with no roots (metaphorically and literally … I love my plants), no money and no ‘safe’ place is just not something that I would want to contemplate seriously. I suspect it isn’t something that would work for many people and, indeed, the earth could support a much smaller population if we all foraged for all our food. I’m not saying that any of those things are ‘bad’, but just unrealistic given our starting point.

So, where do we find a balance? How much stuff should we have? Should we all follow the advice of Marie Kondo and only have possessions that ‘spark joy in our life’? I have to confess that I worry about decluttering simply for the sake of it… particularly where in a fit of enthusiasm for a tidy house, all the unwanted items end up in landfill. My desire for fewer possessions is balanced by my desire to be kind to the planet. An item may not spark joy in me, but if I know that it will be useful in the future, then I’m not going to throw it out.

So, my approach to reducing clutter in out home is currently based around the following:

Not adding to what we already have. This means being a member of the library rather than buying paperback books; not buying more craft supplies when I have plenty to keep me amused; making use of existing electronics (mobile phone, e-reader, pc etc) rather than being seduced into buying the latest model.

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it looked like this in 2012…it’s still working but more repaired!

Repairing. Making use of the materials/equipment that we have to repair things that wear out or break. Mr Snail’s collection of electronic components comes in very handy for repairing… this doesn’t reduce what we have much, but it justifies keeping some ‘stuff’ around. I refer you to the much repaired radio.

 

Being generous. When a friend mentions that they need something that I own but don’t really have a use for or a particular reason to keep, I give it to them. I’ve even started giving away things simply because a friend likes them.

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refreshed and ready to be sold

Finding new homes. This is slightly different to the last one because the driving force is that I no longer want an item rather than someone else expressing a desire for it. I feel guilty about sending anything to landfill, but selling something on, donating something to charity or offering an item for free (e.g. via Freecycle) feels like a positive action.

 

Composting. I have discovered the joys of converting unwanted paper into compost. This means that piles of old lecture notes, financial statements, old magazines and official letters are now part of the foundation for our vegetable crops! Composting also extends to natural fabrics that have reached the end of the useful/repairable life, along with worn out wooden items (bamboo toothbrushes, wood and bristle scrubbing brushes, broken wooden skewers etc), although sometimes we burn wooden items (for fuel, not simply to dispose of them).

and as a last resort…

Recycling. But it’s much better to find ways to repair/reuse/repurpose/rehome before you get to this stage.

And more than anything else, not to be seduced into thinking that buying new ‘stuff’ will make me happy.

So I’m slowly clearing and sorting and selling and sharing… I’m never going to be down to 111 possessions, but I am going to have found new homes or new uses for lots of the ‘stuff’ in my house, and I’m going to love making and repairing and creating with what I do have.

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23 Comments

  1. Ann Pole

     /  November 19, 2017

    At one point I had about 111 dragons, and the hedgehog collection must be getting on that way, as is my collection of books. Yes, I do confess I buy them, but then again I am one of those peeps who can read a book several times and enjoy it. Many come from charity shops, second hand book stalls etc, and of course there are the special ones, signed by the author. 🙂

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  2. I could never do what he did… I haven more books than I can count, and have read all of them multiple times. The library’s an excellent resource, but if late at night I fancy dipping into a particular book or look something up, I can’t do that unless it’s to hand. I don’t throw things out much, so a sort-out and trip to the charity shop is well overdue, and there are definitely some much loved garments which are now so worn they can’t be repaired any longer, so I should think about dismantling them to make patches or small bits of usable fabric. But divest myself of the fabric of my life? I don’t think so. We’re not wasteful or overly consumeristic, but we do like the possessions we have. We worked for them, they make us happy and we’ll be keeping them, thanks 🙂

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    • That seems to me a very healthy attitude… I too love my books… much loved fiction and reference books. I like your term ‘the fabric of my life’ – I think that’s something I’m going to remember when I’m deciding what I want to have around me.

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  3. It’s all relative, and it’s about circumstances. The 111-item-Rob is clearly very happy with his achievement in this grossly consumerist world of ours, because he had the choice to do so. Many people do not have the luxury of being able to make their own choices like that. (I’m not trying to get on a box at Hyde Park, by the way, so sorry if it comes across that way).
    I see people every day who carry everything they own in a bag or an old supermarket trolley, and are reliant on hand-outs and charity food. Some of those people were born on the street, and the chances of getting up and away from that level are zero. Some of those people were more fortunate and once had their own homes, families, and decent jobs. That lifestyle is lost when accidents happen, bad choices are made, addictions develop, and/or there is no-one left to help with financial and psychological support.
    I have far far more stuff than I need and am definitely getting the ratio of needs vs extravagance down to a more realistic level, and regularly fill my boot and drive to the charity shop.
    Repairs? Yes and no, depends on the item. Some things cost more to repair than they are worth (if you can’t do it yourself), but I’ve found that having certain things serviced regularly extends their life so I try to be practical in that way.
    Six days ago I was the mediator between the attorneys of my mother’s ex-partner and her own advocate. This dispute has been dragging on for 2.5 years, and we finally reached a settlement that everyone could live with. Until it came to the list of items that had been my mom’s own possessions before she met Mr Greedy-and-Deceitful (you can tell I’m not biased, right?). I’ll just give you one example, your imagination can fill in the rest! He did not want to relinquish the dining room table and chairs that my parents had bought over with them from the UK in 1969, because then he would have had to open his wallet and replace them with another table and chairs. Mom still sees these items as being part of her life with my dad before he died (when he was 46 and I was 17), and I had to try and get it across to her that the best perspective to take was that they are just bits of wood. She has other “things” that were my dad’s, and so do I (mine are mostly memories and lessons learned, but no-one can ever take those away from me).
    Anyway, I apologise for this rambling on – when I started my comment, Mr G-and-D hadn’t been in my mind at all. I suppose what I’m really trying to say is that things are just “stuff'” if you choose to see them that way. We are incredibly fortunate to have more than we will ever need. And if one of those dining chairs happens to collapse under his gross weight, causing him to damage his freshly-replaced hip and cracking his skull open on the wooden floor at the same time…would that be karma? Karma certainly loves irony…

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    • I’ve had the link to the 111 possessions piece for a little while and the story has been niggling at me. I think that you have identified one thing that was bothering me but that I hadn’t entirely formulated as an idea – that choosing to live a minimalist lifestyle is a great privilege. Being able to select exactly what you own – down to the brand of clothing – is indicative of starting from a particular point and taking a very particular journey. For those who have no choice about the number of items they own (11 or 111) nor their precise nature and origin, the world must be a very bleak place. Thank you for pointing out this aspect of the story.
      As for the horrible situation you have been faced with, I can only send my sympathies. I hope that your mum can focus on the lovely things that came from her relationship with your dad – you for example! Much love x

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  4. I’m well known within my family and friends for being a keen recycler and I loathe waste, but it’s tempered with a love for acquiring ‘things’ that aren’t necessarily needed, but desired. I prefer to ‘make do and mend’, but in this throw away society it is often far cheaper to replace rather than repair, as was borne out recently when our printer’s nozzles needed unclogging – the chap in the shop actually said it would be twice the price of buying a new one!

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  5. The better mantra would be keep nothing that you don’t believe is either useful or beautiful. I think that was William Morris. Our house is bursting at the seams, thanks in part to my allowing my sons ( especially number three) to keep their child hood things here. Recently added to by treasures from my Dad, and FIL and Mums houses. I think I am going to have be ruthless and realistic and do some serious culling. For example I have sewing box, I have my Mum’s sewing box and becaue no-one else would take it I have my MILs sewing box. I use mine and my Mum’s but my MILs is just taking up space. 111 things, no chance!

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  6. Laurie Graves

     /  November 20, 2017

    Your middle way sounds exactly right.

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  7. Your comment about not just chucking things away in order to own less resonated with me. We declutter by taking to the charity shop, advertising on Freegle etc but then there are all the things that you really can’t do anything with. For example, at my daughter’s playscheme they do a lot of hanna beads and at the last half term she came home with lots of pompon pumpkins. I’ve got shoeboxes for storage but then no space to store these and my daughter would in any case be heartbroken if I found a way of sending them to clutter heaven.

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    • It’s tough when things arrive in the house without you making a conscious decision to acquire them… we don’t have kids, so are able to avoid this source, but people still give us things that we wouldn’t necessarily choose to have and we are squirrels, so have a habit of accumulating stuff when it looks like someone else will simply throw it away (this is why I have a roll of cling film in my kitchen at the moment!) I’m sure that your daughter will eventually be happy to let go of some of the ‘stuff’ and until then, you have my sympathy!!

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  8. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  November 20, 2017

    I would never manage on 111 items either, but at same time would love to declutter a bit! Interested that you compost national fibers. Do you cut up into smaller places and just place in compost heap?

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    • Yes – I shred them and put them in the bottom of new raised beds if I’m creating them or in the bottom of the compost bin… moving them into a new bin when I empty the first if they are still in tact.

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    • I put natural fibres in the compost as well. Whether or not I cut them up depends on my inclination, though I would say smaller is better. It’s amazing how quickly they fit down but then cotton (for example) is a green ingredient, I guess, coming from a herbaceous plant.

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  9. I was so happy to find this today; I’ve been catching up a bit with other bloggers for a couple of days. You make me want to cry! When Gandhi was assassinated, he had less than ten possessions (so there, Mr. 111!) He has been a spiritual beacon for me all my life. Still, I don’t feel called to live that sort of life myself. For one thing, I’d freeze to death during the first winter. I do like simplicity and that for me is part of what Kate calls ‘the fabric of m life’ above.

    Like you, I thought of tools, books, craft supplies and the things I need to create (and I love a huge variety of crafts and have no plans to give up any of them; in fact, I’m still eager to learn new things). I don’t like kitchen gadgets much, except perhaps for a cherry pitter, but maybe that’s just a tool, right?

    One thing that is hugely important to me, but not to many others these days is the ‘meaning’ to be found in items once used by others. I love to sit at an old table and think about those who once sat there and imagine their lives, even if I have no idea who they might have been. I have kept things to honour those I care about, like a lovely old leather suitcase tha belonged to a friend in her late 80s. It’s full of her family photos and no one in her family (two nieces and a brother and his family) were interested in them. They were terribly important to my friend and so I shall keep them safe for as long as I’m alive. I simply can’t see them as craft supplies or the like.

    Many things I own were rescued from dumps, garbage piles, etc. One of my sisters has all of Mum’s cast iron frying pans. I have my own collection,, but never had a tiny one, the size you use for just one or two eggs. A friend from work had offered me a ride home one day, back when I was in Edmonton; as we walked down an alley to where her car was parked, I spotted two cast iron frying pans on the ground beside a garbage bin. They were small ones and now I have my own tiny frying pans! I know the stories of most of my things and I love that, but it drives others a bit crazy. To me, every atom in this universe is fraught with meaning and import, but most of all those items that have been used and especially loved by others.

    It isn’t about numbers to me; it’s about meaning first of all, also beauty and usefulness. Once I am settled (I’m aiming for mid-2019), I shall be going through my things and I will be parting from some of them. Other things, like my fabrics, yarns, art supplies, etc., I expect to be putting to good use. Ad that’s another thing: I have collected things for years toward my eventual retirement years. I was fairly sure I wouldn’t have much income and it would be a fte worse than death to me if I were to end up with years and nothing to do in them. I do know I can volunteer, and the like, but what makes my heart sing is being creative. I have not had enough of that so far and I plan to make up for it soon.

    As to the library, it depends on what one likes to read. Here they seem to be leaning toward going digital, which doesn’t appeal to me as does holding an old, beloved book and having the smell and touch of it add to the content. Much, if not most, of what I read has been jettisoned by our libraries, so re-reading is usually not an option any more. I’m a pretty eclectic reader in some ways, but I particularly love the writers from the late 1800s and earlier 1900s. The books I grew up on and which opened my mind to worlds undreamed of, ideas unthought, dreams of possible futures . . . I used to re-read them from the library every two or three years. Now I can’t. They aren’t wasting time digitizing books like the ones I love most. I still yearn after them and hope to acquire copies one day.

    Well, this is much longer than I intended. And if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then, judging by my comments have and elsewhere lately, I must be well on the way!

    You sparked my mind again, Jan, and honestly, I have not said even a small portion of the thoughts I’ve had on reading your post. Thanks so much and do forgive the length.

    Hugs and blessings to you. ~ Linne

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  10. Oh, goodness. I have more than 111 books. Yipes. I keep possessions down because I like space, or the feeling of it. And it’s such a relief to hear someone admit that something may not cause joy, but is useful…I’ve thought that a LOT when people bring up Marie Kondo. Though I suppose people who have way too much stuff have to start somewhere…

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  11. Well, I hadn’t heard of Marie Kondo, so have borrowed the e-book from my library and made it about 25% through. I guess it would work for people like her. She seems to have made a lifetime hobby of decluttering, tidying, etc. But throwing dozens of bags of items into the garbage I find appalling. I also popped over to your shop and drooled over the lovely eyelet edgings and the handkerchiefs. So pretty! ~ Linne

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