Cluttered

I chose “cluttered” rather than “clutter” because it feels as if the objects are physically doing the cluttering, not just being inert clutter.  Clutter as a noun is inert, still, motionless, passive, benign (until stagnant).  Cluttered is an action word.  My objects have cluttered me.  The room feels cluttered.  The person’s life is cluttered with clutter that’s cluttering it up.

Have you ever noticed how the words “clutter” and “clatter” sound almost the same?  In some accents, they’re almost indistinguishable from one another.  I’m not an etymologist (someone who studies the origins of words; I’m also not an entymologist – they study bugs), so I don’t know whether the words ever began the same way.  I tried to find out, and discovered that the verb, “clutter” came from the word “clot” (like blood clot) in the 1400s.  And the noun “clutter” came from “litter” (like, trash) in the 1570s.  I enclose a screen shot because the definitions sound so perfectly descriptive.  We’ve become too desensitized to the word clutter, and accept it as part of our lives, but apparently we’ve been fighting it since the 1400s.  It’s particularly interesting that the verb developed before the noun, because I feel like the clutter is active, it is not passive, it is loud and noisy and it clatters along cluttering up the tiny amount of quiet space in my brain.  I feel verbally assaulted by clutter which is why I’m still on the journey towards a minimalist life.

The etymology of the word clutter.
The etymology of the word clutter.

My shower caught fire on Friday, it was the perfect end to a crap week, really.  I was just lathering up my violet toner to keep my hair shiny white, and I started smelling burning hair; I checked the box with all the wires, and it had started smoking.  It wasn’t a huge surprise since the shower unit melted in February, then when we gaffer taped it, it seemed to stabilize.  Apparently not.  To make matters worse, the DIY disaster idiots who put the thing in (before we bought the house) stupidly put the isolator switch directly behind the shower, on a wall in the bathroom, and since it wasn’t a pull switch, I was trying to get it to turn off with soapy wet hands for what seemed like ages before it finally went.  I can now say in all seriousness, with no sense of hyperbole, that having white hair has saved my life.  If I hadn’t had white hair, I would have just used normal shampoo, and I would have just splortched it onto my hair, back to the shower, and lathered it in, then stood under the water for several minutes while it came back out again.

An electrician friend of a friend came and made the unit safe.  When he opened it up, I was horrified by how close I’d come to serious harm.  The exposed electrical wires which had been on fire were less than a millimetre away from burning away the insulation that was touching the water outlet pipe that takes water out through the shower head.  If you know your basic electronics, you’ll know that water always takes the shortest path back to the Earth, so it would have come straight out of the shower head and down through me.  What’s more, the fuse was so high (45A, standard shower fuse) that it hadn’t shorted out throughout this ordeal.  The whole thing (as I’d been saying since February) was an accident waiting to happen, but it was only last week that we actually got together a few hundred quid to get the bathroom sorted out, because we can’t be without a shower, because my OH doesn’t fit in the tub.

We were already in the process of trying to get someone to come and plumb our bathroom, since the shower had started melting in February, but the first quote we had was £1800 (for labour only, and it wasn’t itemized so I couldn’t see how they’d arrived at that figure, I think they didn’t want to do the job so thought if they put it high enough they’d either make a lot of money from something they didn’t want to do, or get out of doing it.  That plumber seemed to lose interest when I said I was keeping our current bathroom suite) so, after I had finished laughing at the absurdity that anyone would pay £1800 to NOT get a new bathroom put in, I had phoned someone else to come and quote me, literally minutes before I went into the shower.  He will be round on Thursday.  So I had to clear the bathroom of all the functional bottles, sponges etc that we use.

That was how I found out how quiet our bathroom is when there’s no clattering clutter cluttering it up.  When there is not one single bottle of shampoo on the side of the bath or in the floor of the shower cubicle, it is so serene that I was disappointed at the idea of changing the room.  You see, we don’t want to waste money (to buy or to run) on a new electric shower when we have literally no water pressure issues in our bathroom and no hot water issues with our boiler, so the whole cubicle may as well come out, and have an over the bath shower.  When we were first thinking about this back in February, we wanted a new bath, and to move the bath, toilet and sink around to make better use of the space.

We actually bought the house because I loved the bathroom so much.  The idea of having to change it is heartbreaking.  But my husband doesn’t actually fit in the bath because it’s designed for men who are my height and women who are shorter, and children.  It’s not intended for six footers.  I wrestled with the wastefulness of discarding the bath compared to keeping it.  I watched him struggle in the bath last night and I finally understood that we weren’t being wasteful in getting rid of the bath, it sadly wasn’t fit for purpose.

We will have to get a new bath.  But it won’t be the same serenity when the bathroom has been changed, because the suite we have now is one of those coloured ones from the 1970s (not avocado, ours is sunshine yellow), and the happy warm friendly yellow will have to be replaced by a stark, clinical white bathtub, in full size rather than extra small, which will be all the more obvious since we’re keeping the yellow sink (basin) and toilet.  But at least my husband will finally fit into the tub.

For now, it is the one room that is completely without clutter.  Just having that one room in the house that has been silenced feels like a big minimalist victory over the advancing agents of clutter.  It has spurred me on to get rid of more things today, things that have been waiting for a week or two to be removed from the house, and I felt so much better when I came back from the tip and the charity shop (thrift store) with a lighter car.  It’s the one room where I can hear my own thoughts.

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Clean Your Bowl

Washing Your Bowl

A concept I have come across today is called washing your bowl. The inspiration for today’s concept came from this:

There’s a famous Zen story that goes:

A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?
The monk replied, “I have eaten.”
Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.”

The meaning that Leo Babauta at http://mnmlist.com/wash-your-bowl/ inferred from this story was both profound and completely different from what I realised whilst reading it. I hope you see something different too, this story is really simple and really big at the same time – which is what minimalism is all about.

The concept of cleaning your bowl once you are done eating is probably obvious – you just bung it in the dishwasher or dump it on the side then wait until you have enough dishes to wash to necessitate the cost of a sink full of water, right? Leo Babauta took different wisdom from this – that there is a sense of immediacy in the words that causes you to feel like you need to wash your bowl this very minute. So he does. He hand washes his clothes once they’re dirty then hangs them up to dry. I thought it could also have a wider meaning – that applies to the work that I need to do to clear my house – a lot of the things I’m keeping hold of are things that I’m done eating with. They’ve had their day. By holding on to all this crap in my house, I’m not washing my bowl. And all the dishes are piling up and festering in my soul and suddenly I don’t have enough spoons.

One of my favourite sayings has always been “expand and simplify.”

Basically, it started from Year 9 maths (don’t worry if you can’t follow this paragraph), with the quadratic equations, where you had to expand the equation then simplify it, and suddenly this horrible mess of brackets and letters became an even more horrible mess of x- to the two and minus y and numbers. It looked like a child had sneezed on an alphanumeric scrabble board. This is especially true at A-level when you get more than two sets of brackets, such as (x + 3) (x+2) (6x + x). That expands out to: (x squared + 3x plus 2x + 6) (6x + x) then becomes 6x cubed + 18x squared + 12x squared + 36x + x cubed + 3x squared + 2x squared plus 6x. What a mess! But once you start grouping items together and combining signs and working with what you’ve got, you suddenly get something really simple; in the case of the example above, 7x cubed + 35x squared + 42x.

When I started to tackle the mess it seemed like it had gotten worse – I am about one third of the way through my book clearance plan, which has so far unearthed about 250 books that are all unwanted.

230 books decluttering minimalism

That’s about 50% of the 500 books I’ve assessed so far. One in two of the books I’ve checked weren’t worth keeping. What it meant, though, is that I had displaced books all over my living room that needed to be removed from the house. They are mostly gone now, but a few stragglers are left over (my OH insists that he knows people who want them). My car was full of DVDs to sell at CEX for the same reason. Now it’s empty again. This is what I mean by expanding and simplifying. You get the stuff out to assess it, and it expands. Then you pare out what you don’t want, separating it from the things you are keeping, then you return the things you are keeping to their permanent home. Then you remove the other stuff from your house.

However, in order to simplify, you need to be able to decide what is important to you right now – not what was important ten or twenty years ago. Except for anything tax related (keep that). The bowl was important whilst you were hungry – perhaps you imagined it filled with tasty food. The bowl was important whilst you prepared the food, as well, and it had a significant role to play in the eating. But it is not a living thing. You are not doing it a disservice by cleaning it. You don’t need to keep all those bits of stuck-on food to remind you of the meal you had.

I found this train of thought very helpful while I was trying to clear out my sentimental pieces – those things you keep because they are “keepsakes” or they “were your grandmother’s” (who you never met) or because they mark what society tells us is a significant turning point in life, such as the 21st birthday. I got rid of things in all of those categories, so that my keepsakes were things I genuinely wanted to keep, because I was happy to see them and they reminded me of things I had done that I’d forgotten about and liked remembering. The only exception to this was my grandmother’s funeral card, because it’s the only photo of her that I have.

Speaking of photos, I also got rid of photos and cut down old calendars.

Photos had to go.

This was a lot easier than I expected. For a lot of them, if the quality was ok, I saved time and snapped them with my phone (I took a photo of a photo), because scanning is a bit of a faff and takes longer than phone photography for a fairly similar result. A lot of photos didn’t even get immortalised with a phone photo, I just chucked them out, because they were unimportant. They were the dried-on porridge that was caked around my bowl, and it was difficult to see where the porridge ended and the bowl began.

I still have some way to go, but a good example of how this helped me is that I had a giant pink plastic box with all my best stuff in it. I was originally clearing the rest of the house to make room for its contents to finally come out. Imagine my surprise when I started clearing it, only to discover that my 70 litre box of what I thought was my most important possessions turned out to be full of mouldy porridge, with a decent spoon inside (the three things from the box that I ended up keeping). I’m glad I started questioning everything. I’m glad I stopped assuming that mouldy porridge was part of the bowl. Because, even though our house got quite messy this week, we got it clean and tidy in under 2 hours yesterday ready for a house party, because we’re no longer trying to polish bits of old porridge (or deluding ourselves into thinking the porridge is the bowl).

On an even deeper level, I want to travel and experience new things.  How can I experience anything new if my bowl is already so full that I can’t fit any new experiences into it, even just to eat them?

Have you cleaned your bowl recently? If it’s looking tatty, start digging at it. There might be a bright shiny bowl under all that old porridge!

Gold, Books and Panties

Gold, Books and Panties

This afternoon, I was going through a box of accessories that I found in the bottom of my wardrobe.
The majority of it was shoeboxes that either did or did not contain the correct style and quantity of shoes. That has now been sorted, and the bottom of my wardrobe is eagerly awaiting all the right boxes of shoes going back into it later today.

In one shoebox, I found loads of costume jewellery and pieces of jewellery that I’d made (I make jewellery) along with one or two “real” pieces that were made of gold. In amongst it all was a box from F Hinds that I bought in late 2012. It was supposed to contain a 9 carat gold bangle that I only ever wore the once. I always kept it very carefully put away ready for special occasions. I took it out to have a look at it. It’s been stored in its original box all this time.

The big blob of corrosion is center top.
The big blob of corrosion is center top.

As you can see from this photo, it’s got a huge green glob of corrosion on it. What you can’t see are the additional splodges that almost look like grease spots on the surface of the gold, which are all over the bangle.

Second photo, so you can see it's not a trick of the light.
Second photo, so you can see it’s not a trick of the light.

Let’s just think about this for a minute. If treated correctly, hollow gold, solid gold, even gold plate and rolled gold (and gold fill) should all be able to last a lifetime.

I bought a couple of Gold Fill bracelets from China at the same time as this bangle, and I also bought a gold plated watch. Guess what? The Gold Fill and the gold plate are both still in perfect condition. All I can see from the evidence in front of me is that F Hinds must be making inferior jewellery. To the mass produced Chinese stuff. Whuuut??

This is the gold plated watch.  As you can see there's no corrosion here.
This is the gold plated watch. As you can see there’s no corrosion here.

I feel very shocked and let down that a reputable high street jeweller is making and selling jewellery of such poor quality (and let’s face it, they don’t sell it at Argos prices). You think you’re going to get something of higher quality from them because of the price of their items and the fact they have a fancy high street storefront. Sadly, because they only have a 12 month guarantee on their items, and I’ve only just discovered the problem, they won’t refund, exchange or even give me store credit.

Just to make absolutely certain that this wasn’t a gold chloride compound (God only knows where the chlorine would have come from when it’s been in a box in a box unless there’s chlorine emissions from the packaging they sell it in), I decided to heat the bracelet gently on the stove. This should decompose gold chloride back to solid gold and chlorine gas (making it look as good as new). I heated it for about three minutes then allowed it to cool. I took photos during and after the process.

Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.
Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.

It didn’t change, and there was definitely no chlorine smell, which would have been a key sign that any reaction was taking place.

I have a silver ring which I bought from H Samuel in 2007 that hasn’t got one single speck of corrosion on it, and silver is supposed to tarnish more quickly than gold. If you remember anything from school chemistry, you should know that gold is less reactive than silver, because gold is almost completely unreactive. If you buried a lump of gold in the ground, it should look the exact damn same in 1000 years’ time. There is a litany of evidence of this actually happening. The gold in the pyramids of Egypt are about 4,000 years old and they have plenty of gold in them, in perfect condition. It’s not a fluke, either. As an archaeology graduate and a chemistry-specialist science teacher, I actually cannot believe that anyone has managed to make a gold that corrodes. This gold was hallmarked and therefore should not have corroded like this.

I can’t say all their jewellery will be the same. Perhaps my bracelet just had a manufacturing defect, but if this is the case it should have a guarantee period that allows time for the defect to become apparent, because corrosion to a metal doesn’t happen overnight (unless you dunk it in aqua regia). Even though it’s an alloy (because it’s 9 carat not 24 carat) it should not corrode like this. I feel like I’ve lost something that was special to me. What I will say, however, is that I’m really REALLY glad I didn’t buy my wedding ring from them – their diamonds are only guaranteed for 2 years and their other jewellery is only guaranteed for 12 months. So I’m going to take my custom elsewhere in the future because I am totally unwilling to pay over the odds for jewellery that’s designed to fail after 12 months, and I don’t feel I can trust them now. That bracelet cost a lot of money.

I never in a million years thought that jewellery could be part of the Planned Obsolescence manufacturing movement.

On a brighter note, I have managed to downsize my jewellery (mostly costume anyway) to only contain the things that fit into my jewellery box, with everything else separated into “throw or donate” piles, and the things that I no longer want will be donated to charity shops. As for the rolled gold bracelet, I will give it to the PDSA charity shop (they help pets who need vets), in the hope that someone will see its condition and pay a reasonable price for it, and it will probably make them very happy to own, whilst also giving valuable funds to a charity that helps animals.

We also got rid of 180 books yesterday along with four bags of clothing that were the culmination of my book downsizing project over the last few weeks – I’ve been reading the first 10 pages of every book in the house to decide whether to keep it or not, after I’d taken as many as I could be sure of to the charity shop (about 100 that I knew I didn’t need to check, they just left the house). This generated about 230 books to get rid of. We had a book sale last Saturday to get rid of any to people who might want them, and have gotten rid of the remainder yesterday, leaving us with a few that people are going to pick up at some point in the near future. If they aren’t collected within 7 days, we are donating them as well (but there’s only about 50 waiting now).

We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown).  We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.
We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown). We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.

230 books decluttering minimalism

The difference on the bookshelves is profound. There’s now room for all of our books on the ceiling bookshelves, so we can either get rid of the rest of our bookcases or put different things on them, such as any number of displaced objects that don’t have a home because they never got given a place when we moved in. *saddest face*

Another thing I did this week was to finally go through the socks and panties and downsize from the big tub to these two small baskets, one for socks, one for panties. I know my previous post on this topic was from a travel angle, but when I think that nomads manage to live with their travel packing 365 days of the year, I think I can probably cross apply the panty-sock thoughts to my actual daily life. If I’ve made a terrible mistake I’ll be streaking starkers to Marks and Sparks for a new set of undies any day now…

The answer to the eternal question of underwear.
The answer to the eternal question of underwear.

 

It turns out you need far less than I had (who didn’t see that coming), and I’ve now got about two weeks’ supply of both, while still keeping variety (e.g. tights, stockings, socks) because I don’t want to wear everything that I have in a precise rotation of clothing (that’s way too prescriptive for me), I simply wanted a functional set of objects that had me covered for every type of clothing that I own. Now I just need to get into the habit of doing the laundry more regularly. Having said that, a lot of the stuff I threw out was things I haven’t worn in a long time, or I balk at the idea of wearing if I ever pull it out, so I think I’ve probably been wearing exactly what I’ve kept anyway, so it might not affect my laundry-doing habits.

And here are the losers.  They all went to the bin because I can't stand the idea of second hand underwear.
And here are the losers. They all went to the bin because I can’t stand the idea of second hand underwear.

I’m going to go and put the washing machine on now.

Is Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed Making You Shop?

Fear of Leaving Empty-Handed

Have you ever gone into a shop and browsed, only to feel like the woman behing the counter is watching you, and like you can’t leave empty handed? That compulsion to buy something?

It can get a bit ridiculous. When I first left home, I had to know what was inside every shop, I think it was just curiosity and an enjoyment of the time I could spend doing it. However, I seemed to keep leaving the shops with an item or two. Sometimes three. Sometimes these items were fairly expensive. Always I didn’t want or need them. I couldn’t understand why I kept doing it until I got stuck in a particularly cloying boutique.

It was the kind of shop that calls itself a boutique, that sells things which are labelled in squiggly handwriting with the name of some unreadable (and unremarkable) “designer.” The window display had been some pretty hats, and for some reason it lured me in. I wondered what else they sold.

I went inside. A particularly sour-faced older lady in the over sixty category, wearing a very unattractive floral print dress (prints had been out for about 10 years by this point, and wouldn’t ever make a comeback in the garish incarnation she was sporting) and a necklace that seemed to be garotting her neck fat. She glared down her nose at me and didn’t say a word. I looked around to see what the shop sold. There was a lot of things that the older lady might wear to watch a regatta or go to a wedding. I could see the Queen shopping somewhere similar. Nothing had any price tags on. I started to panic because there was nothing in the whole shop that I could buy. Not a single thing. Everything was repulsive in some way or another. I felt too hot, the temperature was stuffy and the artificial floral air freshener was catching in my throat. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t buy anything, so I looked obsessively at every single item, pretending to be interested, and I had an epiphany – I didn’t have to buy something in order to leave. The exit was right there, all I had to do was be brave and walk out. I suddenly realised that when I came into shops like this I tended to worry that sour older women like that would just see my school uniform and assume I was shoplifting when I wasn’t, causing unpleasantness. She couldn’t stop me for shoplifting – because I hadn’t shoplifted anything. It didn’t seem like such a silly worry at the time, so I had to take a very deep breath, close my eyes, pull the door open… and I was back on the street, walking away, never to see the inside of that awful place again.

I felt like I’d escaped from a spider web.

For years, I felt very uncomfortable when trying to leave a shop without buying anything, although it wasn’t unmanageable. I did still find it quite difficult, however, and there were a few times I ended up leaving with something I thought I wanted to buy, but if I’d really thought about it, I wouldn’t have bought it. It all came to a head in my first year of university. I’d just got my student overdraft, and I saw a dress in the window. It was sparkly and pale pink. I went inside to try it on. It didn’t fit particularly well and it had a huge design flaw that made my legs look terrible. Additionally, it was actually a very unflattering pale peach, and made my skin tone look dead. Oh, and it was also £250. But do you know what I did? I bought it anyway. I didn’t find out about the colour until I got back to my room; they must have had some very odd lighting on it in the shop.

I got it home still feeling really pleased with myself about buying the dress, pleased that I was now the sort of person who could spend £250 on a dress without thinking about where that money would come from. Pleased, in short, that I was able to participate in consumerism at a higher level than when I lived at home. I equated spending power with success.

It was about seven or eight years later that I finally realized that I had made a poor choice. The years came and went, I never actually wore that dress to any of the variety of functions I attended, at all of which it would have been appropriate, because I was afraid of someone spilling something on it, or standing on the hem. Every time I tried it on I would look in the mirror and feel very pleased with myself for having such a nice dress. Through the bad times, the times when I was working at McDonalds and when I was unemployable because I couldn’t walk, I would try the dress on and feel the same way I had when I bought it – like I was going places. I felt like anyone with a dress like this must be on their way up in life. I loved it. And underneath that thought process, I also hated it. I felt like it was a tangible reminder of my own weakness, my inability to not buy things, something I knew was a personal failing even as it made me feel happy. The feeling grew on me that I had never worn it, and time was always moving forward, and it was just taking up space in my life. I didn’t need it, and I didn’t want it. Every time I altered the hemline or changed the drop of the skirt, it still didn’t look right and I couldn’t put my finger on the reason.

The bottom line was, it was an expensive waste of money and it was also an overpriced and poor fitting monstrosity that I would never have occasion to wear.

When my wedding day came, I pulled it out. The most expensive dress you ever wear, we are told by the Wedding Industrial Complex, is supposed to be your wedding dress. Well I wasn’t going to spend £250 on a wedding dress, but I also didn’t actually like that dress and didn’t want to wear it in public. I think the peach colour had progressively faded from the moment I bought it and when it came to my wedding year it was a really yellowish peach that made me look positively anaemic (which I was, but I didn’t need to look like I was). My actual wedding dress was £10. When I first started minimalizing the house, six months after the wedding (we haven’t been married anywhere near a year yet), that £250 dress was one of the first things I got rid of.

Do you know how good that felt? It felt better than when I bought it. I felt like I’d unhitched a cart that I’d been dragging behind me for years. I felt lighter and more moveable. It’s several weeks later and I’m still glad I got rid of it.

The fact that I was able to get rid of it means that I am putting that part of my life – the naive thoughts that being able to consume more expensive items equates to success and happiness – behind me, I’m committed to minimalizing my life and letting go of the things that are weighing me down.

All my sandbags will be cut loose, so I can soar amongst the stars.

No longer am I afraid of leaving empty handed. I don’t need to buy things to prove to shop assistants that I have spending power. I know that I can buy anything I want to, but that doesn’t mean I have to use that power. In Kung-Fu, it is taught that true wisdom is knowing when not to fight. So in minimalism, we learn that true wisdom is also knowing when not to purchase things.

I think this is probably linked to FOMO – or fear of missing out.  Sometimes I worry that if I don’t buy something when I see it I’ll never get back to buy it when I really need it.  This is an obstacle I’m still trying to overcome.  But that’s okay, because minimalism is a journey, and it starts with choosing which pair of shoes to wear to take that single step.  Unless you’re a centipede.  In which case you can wear all of them.

[minimalism] How I Chose Which Books To Get Rid Of, And Holding a Book Sale

How I chose which books to get rid of and holding a book sale.

So I worked out (between starting a new full time job and running a house and falling asleep in Italian class) how to assess the books.

I took a set of about five books (I started with one bookshelf and just picked up 5 books which were side-by-side). I took them downstairs and poured a cup of tea. I opened one and started reading. If the book was a real page turner, right from the beginning, it was in with a good chance of staying. However, it also had to not be cliched. For example, there was one whose opening chapters appeared reasonably written but it was chucked out because the author was up his own arse about how he’d had the idea to write about a major outbreak of a deadly disease BEFORE IT HAPPENED!!! Only, he was published in 1996, which was clearly slap bang in the middle of the BSE outbreak when everyone in the UK was terrified to eat beef because there had already been cases of CJD, which was the human form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (literally translates to cow sponge brain, which was what it did to them, became known in the common press as Mad Cow Disease). People’s brains were turning to sponge and farmers had to kill entire herds of cows and British Beef was banned around the world for years (even decades, e.g. in the USA). I was in Year 4 in primary school and it was the first time it occurred to me that being vegetarian was a great idea. Of course, there was also the first Ebola outbreak in 1972 (ish) and the first AIDS outbreak in 1980 (ish). Verdict: His book wasn’t original. Had the film Outbreak come out by then? Either way it annoyed me that he was all like “I’m so amazing and original” when he was nothing of the sort. Also his treatment of the subject matter was poor and his characters sucked.  I kept books that I lost track of time whilst reading, suddenly realised I’d done more than 10 pages, flowed well or made me feel happy to read.  I didn’t keep books that didn’t make sense or used stock turns of phrase, of the sort often used in “Ye Olde Fantassy Bookes (published 1994)” for example.  They always turn out to be rubbish.  Am I being judgemental?  Yes!  Otherwise we would end up, say, with 1500 books, some of which are damned awful, many won’t ever get read by us, because otherwise we’re being judgemental and critical of other people’s contributions to the arts!

As I worked through the piles, after thirty or forty books, all of which I’d never read before (but which included some which my husband had read, to check I was working accurately enough), I started to get an instinct within the first paragraph or so as to whether a book was worth keeping, or whether it was making me want to scream “who in their right mind published this?!” There were quite a few, since our library is significantly stacked with sci-fi and fantasy.

I have so far got rid of about five shopping bags full of books which have left the house and are in charity shops waiting for some other poor sucker to purchase them. Additionally, I have four stacking crates of books sitting in the living room waiting to be ejected from the premises, some with less force than others. My husband had the idea of doing a book sale.

I have so far earmarked 240 books for removal, some of which have already left the house, others are waiting in those boxes.  Out of over 1500 books, it’s a drop in the ocean but the shelves are looking VISIBLY emptier and since we had boxes of books on the floor that are now on the shelves, this is a pretty big difference.

The cons of a book sale are that we have to put up with huge boxes of displaced books between now and the day we sell them. Since we are waiting until half term (a small school holiday in the UK that lasts one week), I have to wait 12 days to shift these bad boys. Even this isn’t as much of a con as it could be. The obvious advantage of this is that it gives me 12 days to assess more books so there might be a fifth and sixth (and ideally a seventh) box of books to be relocated. That would mean so much more house space!! My books might actually make it onto the ceiling shelves (although they’re looking pretty tidy right now since I downsized them a lot). Then we could get rid of another bookcase and our boxroom’s door might actually be able to close (there’s currently a bookcase in the way).

The pros are that we a) get some money for our books and b) get to rehome our best unwanted books (especially duplicates, of which he had an entire box full and I had one book duplicate that turned out to be a false alarm because the compendium that should have contained it actually did not). This is good because we have a lot of first editions and out of print books ready to go to new homes and it would certainly be nice to get some financial return for having hefted them all the way to Bradford and back again. Also the money we have spent on bookshelves, a larger house to fit them in, extra petrol when transporting them (due to weight) etc.

I am still working on minimalising other areas of our life. This week I also downsized the cleaning products by removing one full carrier bag of unwanted cleaning products, many of which came with the house – the previous owners dealt with all their unwanted stuff by leaving it behind, which left us with loads of crap in the garden too. This is very illegal but we couldn’t be bothered with it at the time of purchase so we left it. Now that they’re using our address to sign up for junk mail (with their names on) I really wish we’d fought the junk at the time. I also took a load of that garden junk to my friend’s house, because she’s just had a new kitchen put in and had hired a giant skip to get rid of her old kitchen, then it turned out there was loads of room in it for other things, and she only lives on the next street to me.  I also took the defunct electricals to the tip (ours is a recycling centre) along with a car load of other stuff:

Defunct electricals and other things get taken to the tip to be recycled.  At the front of the car (back of pic) are books for the charity shop.  Multitasking!
Defunct electricals and other things get taken to the tip to be recycled. At the front of the car (back of pic) are books for the charity shop. Multitasking!

On Saturday, I plan to downsize my stuff some more by taking on my underwear bucket (I keep all my socks and smalls in one of those floppy plastic buckets that are for storage and archaeological trench bail-outs). In Saturday’s article, I will be attempting to address the question: “How much/many underwear and socks do you need, anyway?”

How much are those first editions REALLY worth??

How much are those first editions REALLY worth??
Or, how I decluttered some of my bookcases (because it’s DEFINITELY not been minimalised yet).

I wanted to leave this until last because it’s going to be the hardest part of the whole minimalism thing, but I have briefly forayed into it today. We have both brought books into this relationship (I came with two entire boxes – and now I have an actual bookcase of books, although it’s also filled with comics and so many sideways stacks wherever there is space. My husband had over 2000 books when I met him and has also acquired more over the course of our relationship). The mere mention of getting rid of the books is enough to put strain on our relationship. But over the last five years I have realised that most of these books don’t get read, and we will probably never read them.

A couple of years ago, we were living in a Gothic Mansion in Bradford. We moved into it from a 2-up-2-down (a Victorian terrace with 2 small downstairs rooms and 2 small upstairs rooms – when I parked my small hatchback out front, the car was longer than the house was wide), and moved out of the Mansion into our current, significantly smaller 3 bedroom house, so, I think the only name for the place in Bradford was Gothic Mansion. It had a sweeping staircase and everything, and cost the same in rent as the 2-up-2-down in York had done.

When we moved out of the Gothic Mansion, we realised just how many belongings we had accumulated over the previous 2 years of living in so much space. When it came time to pack the books, we got rid of about 100 of them – my future husband gave his to other people and I gave mine to charity shops. It was a drop in the ocean. Somehow, when we unpacked at our new house, we still had far too many books. It was shocking. I got my Significant Other to put ceiling shelves up around the top of the two largest bedrooms (we sleep in the smallest because it helps my night terrors significantly), and we filled them with books. We had two full bookcases of books left over, and that was after I got rid of an entire box of books. We gave our other bookcases away to someone who was setting up home and to a community furniture initiative.

The house is so cluttered that you can't actually see the ceiling bookshelves behind all these boxes on top of the storage unit.
The house is so cluttered that you can’t actually see the ceiling bookshelves behind all these boxes on top of the storage unit.

I was just about coping with the book situation because we had worked so hard designing and making the ceiling shelves (they look like a book border around each room, it’s awesome). Then my mum died, and I brought another box of books back, which were books I’d grown up with. I actually brought two boxes back but decided to let the second one go before it crossed the threshold of my house – it was all my Award Reprint Famous Five books, which I’ve by and large replaced with a beautiful collection of First Edition Famous Five books. I decided the Awards would be better served living with someone else where they would actually get read.

Suddenly, though, we are drowning under items, books especially, and I have to make some very hard decisions about books. The thing is, and the big reason that I haven’t addressed it, is because I feel it’s very unfair for me to have to get rid of some of my one bookcase of books when my OH has about five times that many books. Inherently, I am biased towards thinking that my books are better, because I chose quality over quantity. I’ve fallen into the trap of that excuse my pupils come out with sometimes: “Ben is setting his EYEBROWS on fire, why am I getting a detention for SMOKING??” Obviously, just because someone nearby is doing something worse than me, that doesn’t make my behaviour okay. Another problem is that I am keeping more than half of my books for children. If I have any, or if any close friends do, I’m going to be ready to give them books to read. Unfortunately, that time hasn’t come yet. The third problem is that I have a lot of first editions – I very carefully collected them all, and they’re all great books. Because it all seems so complicated, I am trying to be very deliberate and careful in my decisions.

So I decided to throw caution to the wind and do the following:
1. Fill a box with the books I’m keeping for kids.
2. Fill a box with the books I’m keeping for myself.
3. Fill a box with all the duplicates we’ve got that belong to me (then hash it out with my OH about whose copy of each duplicate we are keeping/getting rid of. This will be hard because we both have an entire collection of Terry Pratchetts each, and I think we’re both very reluctant to downsize because they mean so much to each of us and what if we both wanted to read them at the same time????). I can’t decide whether duplicates in a foreign language count, since they clearly serve a purpose beyond the story content of the original (I have a few duplicates in French and English because I find it a great way to help immersively learn a language).

One idea I particularly liked was “if I keep it, is it worth the two (or more) books that I must get rid of when I put this one on the shelf?” (https://unclutterer.com/2007/06/25/read-a-book-and-pass-it-on/). It inspired me to take this further and order my books in a sort of preference. Kind of like book trumps. Which books would I never get rid of another book to keep? Which books would I get rid of any other book to keep? I think this could become a game. Once I’ve boxed all the books up, I am going to do this when I put them back on the shelves – starting with ten of the ones I know are least important, and every time I add a book to the shelf, taking another one off (if there comes a point where I can’t take any more books off the shelf, that’s ten books worth keeping, so I will start again with another set of ten books and do the same). To avoid sample bias, I will need to re-check the shelf afterwards.

90 Minutes Later
That was hard. There was a huge and ginormous problem with my method outlined above – it assumed I had some boxes to put books in. I didn’t. All our packing boxes left over from when we moved house? They’re all full of books from various times when we’ve had to move a set of books to do something or get at something else. All I could find was a shoebox and a box of crisps (now empty). I filled the shoebox with cast offs, until it got full, then I filled the crisp box, until it got full, then I filled the shoebox with the 10 books I would keep if the house was on fire or I was a refugee or something. The books I’d put in a campervan if I took one to places.

There was also a set of books I’d been keeping for their value. I decided to challenge myself on this in case I was holding them for flawed reasons. I looked them up on AbeBooks today to find out how much they’d grown in value:
Jo’s Boys (Louisa May Alcott) – 1886 edition. Worth about £5. Plenty of copies about. Passed down in my family for generations, just inherited from my mother, so not getting rid of it that easily!
School Friend Annual 1955 and Pets Annual 1959 – Worth £5 and 0.66p respectively. Still keeping because they were my grandmas (on my dads side) and again I inherited.
I think the School Friends and Jo’s Boys are my sentimental books. There were other books in both my mother’s and grandmother’s houses that I got, but these are the ones I would have great difficulty getting rid of. The School Friend annuals really sum up the culture and world my grandma lived in and grew up in, and Jo’s Boys is very reminiscent as a glossing-over of my own childhood, which could generously be described as “Old Fashioned” (and un-generously as Draconian).
Artemis Fowl – the Opal Deception. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl – the Arctic Incident. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl and The Time Paradox. Worth £3.
Terry Pratchetts – worth £2 (very fine condition hardcover series books) to £8 (Hogfather Screenplay) to £10 (The Last Hero Hardcover) to £25-35 (The Art Of Discworld) to £35 (A Blink Of the Screen).
Anthony Horowitz: Necropolis. Worth 0.66p.
Anthony Horowitz: Snakehead. Worth £4.26.
Diana Wynne Jones: The Game. Worth about £10.
Diana Wynne Jones: Reflections. Worth about £10.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Worth £5 (children) to £6 (adult), I have one copy of each.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Worth £1. LOLOLOLOL. Seriously £1.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Worth £5 (children or adult). I have one copy of the children’s edition.
Agatha Christie: Around £2.50 each. As paperbacks that take up 1/3 of the space of the hardback first edition books, I am more willing to keep these on the shelves. Also I inherited them off my recently-deceased mum who inherited them from my grandma. That shizzle needs time to settle.
I valued my Famous Five red hardbacks at about 66p each. That is fine though – I am keeping my Enid Blytons for sentimental value.
**UPDATE (9pm same day): Tales of Beedle The Bard by JK Rowling?  Worth 0.66p.  It’s so getting ditched (the story wasn’t that great anyway).**

I should probably ditch the Artemis Fowl novels and the Harry Potter, since the Order Of The Phoenix was my second least favourite book and film and I think the Artemis Fowls have sadly had their day, been and gone. I guess they got over printed. The only Artemis Fowl worth over £3 is the only one I don’t have, because I couldn’t obtain a copy at the time and decided it would probably never be worth anything. Oh the irony. I guess this is the false economy of buying books – I always think getting the hardback first edition is better but I guess it really isn’t because they don’t hold their value as well as you would expect. HOWEVER, the value of the book cannot be judged by price alone, as I have demonstrated with the number of books I am keeping for sentimental reasons. Having said that, the prices are what they’re being sold at and I always think with anything under £3 that you have to work out how rapidly they’re actually selling at that price point, because that could just be what people hope to get for them, and there’s not a lot of price-slash wriggle room to get them shifted and it’s no indication about whether they would sell if I listed them on Amazon for that amount, taking up space in my house while I waited for them to be bought.

That’s my first round of book culling pretty much finished, just a few stragglers to round up from other parts of the house because they don’t fit in my bookcase. I will, of course, have more to do but not right now because I found it very difficult to get rid of a lot of books that I probably don’t need. Also I was very hindered by the rabbits, in whose room my books live, as the books must stay out of their reach otherwise the bunnies will nibble the books, which would be sad. I was comforted by the number of minimalists and de-clutterers who had encountered the same emotional difficulty when parting with their books. I know I can read them online, I know I can go to the library, but it’s not the same as seeing them on the shelf.

Before I try and cull them again I think I need to change strategy. Perhaps putting my “safe” books in a separate room, then sorting the remainder in order of… something. I don’t know. Some of them are useful but not essential. Some of them could be useful in the future. Some of them were 10p and the text might not be available at the same price again.

My OH’s books, by contrast, include a great deal of impersonal and generic sci-fi and fantasy (I love love LOVE sci fi and fantasy when it’s good – but you wouldn’t actually believe how much dross there is. Time Snake and Superclown? There’s a reason you haven’t heard of it), and I’ve got a plan to get rid of some of these – I’m going to read them. Yep. I’m going to open each book and try to read it. If it’s boring, unreadable, overly-pretentious or full of “Said He”-isms, it’s getting queued for removal from the house. No second chances. My OH has given me permission to do this as long as he gets veto power over the books I’ve discarded before they get chucked. I think of it as a secretarial service – I’m filtering the junk mail so the Boss can spend more time on the important letters.  I don’t think any of those are worth anything because they’re all a bit crap – he was given about 700 books about 15 years ago by a “friend” who was moving away and needed to get rid of his books.

Resources that I found helpful for book downsizing:
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/breaking-the-sentimental-attachment-to-books/
http://thejunkpyramid.blogspot.co.uk/2008/08/how-to-decide-what-books-to-junk.html
https://unclutterer.com/2008/04/15/bringing-your-bookshelves-back-to-order/
https://unclutterer.com/2007/06/25/read-a-book-and-pass-it-on/
http://www.quirkybookworm.com/2012/01/bookworms-debate-when-to-get-rid-of.html

[wellness] LET IT GO! Minimalism explained (with pictures)

Why not have a Spring clean of your life and habitat, and make space so you can practise those Blogilates moves you’ve been learning? Do you have no freakin’ clue what this minimalist thing is? Let me show you!  Read on to find out what it is, how to declutter your house, find some resources, then read my journey of discovery and see how bad my house was last week!!

When you Google “minimalism,” you get pictures like this:

Source: www.urbanhello.com
Source: http://www.urbanhello.com

This isn’t minimalism. It’s consumerism. That’s the opposite of minimalism. The purpose of images such as this one is to get you to buy more stuff. Basically, the consumerists want you to buy their furniture, items, paint etc and get rid of all your old comfortable stuff, and they’re calling it minimalism but they’ve missed the point. Why? Because otherwise, how could they sell you more comfy squishy stuff in 2 years’ time?

Minimalism is not about straight lines or monochrome colours. It’s not about “feature walls” or getting rid of floral prints, or any other type of consumerist style crap. It’s a philosophy.

Minimalism is often presented as something you can buy from a Scandinavian furniture store. The truth is, all you’re buying is what has been termed “minimalist style” by fashion magazines. Comparing minimalism (the lifestyle) with minimalism (the photos of monochrome lounges) is like getting your bedroom designed to look like a pirate ship, then calling it a pirate ship. It’s still a bedroom, and if you put your pirate themed bedroom in the ocean, it would probably sink (unless you live on an actual boat). It’s a theme, and it’s different to the thing itself. That’s the same with minimalism.

This is minimalism:

Source: http://performdestiny.com/how-i-got-rid-of-all-my-possessions-a-step-by-step-guide/
Source: http://performdestiny.com/how-i-got-rid-of-all-my-possessions-a-step-by-step-guide/

Note how there is still squishy comfy stuff and old well-loved stuff in the picture?  Notice the lack of clean lines and monochrome media centre matching sofas?

Minimalism is the act of getting rid of everything you don’t need in your life. When you think about it, this is diametrically opposed to going on a monochrome furniture shopping spree. You can’t buy minimalism because minimalism is the complete opposite to consumerism. Are you following?

Here are ten ways you can make your life more minimal:

1. Digitize: Scan your photos, digitize your music and video (there are plenty of online services such as Netflix that make the DVD redundant) and get a Kindle (or better still, get the FREE Kindle For PC app and download books from amazon.com). Then get rid of the physical copies.

2. Get rid of anything you haven’t used for over a year, unless its purpose is very specific (e.g. scuba gear, ice skates), in which case give it three years (if you haven’t used it after 3 years, it’s probably not your hobby any more). Recently I got rid of my flute because I hadn’t used it for about 4 years.

3. Getting rid of batteries and envelopes is silly. You’re buying into consumerism because you will have to buy them again at some point. Getting rid of broken torches and that “solar battery charger” from 1998 that never worked in the first place, on the other hand, is sensible.

4. Detach the concept of “value” from how much you paid for it or how much it is worth now or how much it will be worth in the future. Value is a construct that is human-made and self-perpetuated.

5. When you buy something new, ask yourself if you really need it. If you answered yes, remove one item from your house. This is the one in – one out rule.

6. Start small – get rid of one item a day until you have less things.

7. Queue items to use – many people actually have loads of items in their home that they bought ages ago – and have never used! Make a note – a mental note or a paper note – of which items you’ve never used. If it’s a set of books, they are your next things to read (you might have to make an effort to read more); if it’s a saucepan, make your lunch or dinner in it today; if it’s a cosmetic, either try it out (and either keep or bin it) or intentionally leave it sealed and put it in the give-it-away pile.

8. Duplicates – where you’ve got two items that either are the same or do the same job, get rid of the second one.

9. Find things to do outside your house – don’t be constrained by things like opening hours. One of my favourite things to do is to go for a walk when all the shops, attractions and pubs are shut and there’s nobody about, just to appreciate the silence and emptiness and tranquility. Everything looks different at that time of day.

10. Use your free time (that was previously used to acquire more items) to strengthen your relationships with friends, family and other loved ones.

Resources for minimalism:

Our 21-Day Journey into Minimalism

http://performdestiny.com/how-i-got-rid-of-all-my-possessions-a-step-by-step-guide/

FLYing Lesson: How to Declutter

How to Declutter an Entire Room in One Go

15 Great Decluttering Tips

I love the ideal behind the concept of minimalism, I thought it meant buying plastic angular tables etc. Now I know I can keep my stuffies, because at the end of the day, this is another one of those journeys you can embark on, and it starts with a single step (but has to be followed by a bunch of other steps, otherwise you’ve just stepped around in your own comfort zone).

Minimalism for one person might be a toothbrush and a pair of jeans, whereas for another person it could be a wardrobe full of designer dresses. As long as the items are getting used, fulfilling you and not getting in your way when you want to do things or experience life, your minimalism can be as… minimal as you like. Personally, I’m trying to clear the house out. I want to know how few items I can live with. I will keep you posted as I go. It’s definitely helping that I’m now 40% fruitarian, because that simplifies cooking and eating by a long amount. I’m not getting rid of any cosmetics because I clear out the unwanted ones regularly and they are very important to me because cosmetics. Since they’re only taking up two drawers, and throwing out a couple of eyeliners won’t bring cosmic harmony to my life, I’m keeping the lot. It’s the bigger, more insidious clutter – the stuff I don’t see every day but have to wade around whenever I want something from a certain room. There are two rooms in our house where you have to rearrange stacks of clutter to get to the windows. That’s the sort of clutter I’m talking about.

The main challenge I’m facing is that I’m married, and while my partner agrees that we need to declutter, I don’t think he is as willing as I am to let go of large items of furniture or larger quantities of books (we have over 1000 books), a lot of which he brought into the house. For the longest time I thought this was acceptable (because changing other people is bad, right?) but recently I reached critical mass. There was a bunny emergency, and I had to wait ten minutes to get to the source of the problem because of clutter. I lost my temper. The next day, I realised that actually, I was to blame for all this clutter.

Sure, my partner brought it into the house, but I was the one letting this cycle perpetuate by saying nothing and acting like this situation was okay when it really wasn’t. Then I had a huge wake up call – I’m the hoarder! I’m the one who can’t get rid of things! And at the same time (like many children of hoarders) I am a clutterphobe. I simultaneously hate clutter and have difficulty getting rid of things. I force myself to make decisions and get rid of large quantities of things, out of a fear of people finding out that I hoard things, but then I bring more crap into the house because I’ve never fessed up to my problem and haven’t admitted to myself that I need to address the root cause.

My childhood was hard. Whose is easy? In a world where everything kept changing, where we frequently would lose everything we had (we were homeless a lot), I associated security with “somewhere where I can keep everything.” I guess Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s sums it up: “I’m waiting for a place where me and things go together. That’s when I’ll name the cat.”

Only, I’ve found the place where me and things go together. Oh, so many things. Too many things. Unnecessary things. And now I need to ask myself what will happen if I get rid of all these things.

Nothing.

Do I need coloured candles, a relic of the 15 years I was a Pagan? No! I’ve moved on.

Do I need the archaeology books I bought during undergrad? I was keeping them in case I did a Master’s. Will I ever refer to them again, even if I do a Master’s? Probably not, I graduated six years ago. I’ve moved on.

Every item I was scared of letting go of related to a time in the past that I’ve now moved on from. It was as if I thought having the possessions would bring back the time. As an archaeologist, it’s what underpins our entire discipline – artefacts from the past = our concept of the past. And books, for those written histories.

That was when I realised it was time to let go of it all. I’d already moved on – I was trying to, anyway – and needed my physical plane of existence to catch up with where my head was at, so I didn’t get lost in the past. It felt like such a big revelation.

I never liked museums anyway – why would I want to live in one? It’s why I didn’t have a career in anything archaeological, because it all seemed to start with museums. I feel like I’ve been living in an alternate reality for a long time, that I need to wake up from now. I need to let go. There’s nothing to be afraid of in the empty space.

This is a few pics showing my starting point.  I can only go up from here:

Yup that goes to the ceiling.
Yup that goes to the ceiling.

Hoarder clutter house before minimalism declutter

That's all gone already in week one!
That’s all gone already in week one!
Yep, that's a rocking horse.
Yep, that’s a rocking horse.
You can't sit on this chair because of all those cushions - which came from a chair we no longer have!!
You can’t sit on this chair because of all those cushions – which came from a chair we no longer have!!
That is another upstairs window we couldn't get to if there was a fire.  How did you guess??
That is another upstairs window we couldn’t get to if there was a fire. How did you guess??

On the first day, I got rid of the stuff on the floor in this photo (the background is also hoardings that will be addressed in due course):

I still have those hangers to deal with (and more) because I have to finish all the laundry to make sure every item has a hanger before I donate the others.
I still have those hangers to deal with (and more) because I have to finish all the laundry to make sure every item has a hanger before I donate the others.

This is my power ballad that really sums up this exciting transition period in my life:

Let It Go

Have you made the transition to becoming a minimalist? Do you find it has helped you achieve your goals? Are you scared of making such a big change to your life? Let me know in the comments.