Live Simple: Why less is the key to your well-being
The older I get, the more I believe in the philosophy of 'less'.
Minimalism is one of those things that is a lot easier to talk about than to actually do. But to me, minimalism is not about throwing everything away or having nothing on display, or never buying anything again. To me, such a restrictive approach isn’t particularly helpful and it doesn’t achieve the very thing that I believe our homes are for, which is to nurture our well-being, and to offer us peace and freedom.
The hardest part is the beginning, the getting started.
I feel I should mention at this point that I’m writing this to say to those who seek a simpler path: ‘I hear you.' This is not a judgement on what is right or wrong: some people like to live with a lot of stuff; others don't. It’s all good.
Consider this, though: a simple, intentional home has the potential to speak authentically of you. A home that is free of clutter, curated from a carefully chosen collection of pieces that work together has the potential to improve your health and well-being by removing stressful distractions so you can focus on the things that actually matter to you. Despite what modern life or social media would have us believe, you truly don’t need a lot of things or to buy into trends; you just need to tune in to your own needs.
For me, a minimal life is about balance; it’s about living beautifully and creating a sense of comfort and well-being. Yes, that means letting go of things – sometimes a lot of things depending on your starting point – but only so that we appreciate the things we choose to surround ourselves with.
People’s lives are busy and stressful and often profoundly overloaded, and life just seems to come with a lot of stuff, particularly if you have children, pets, hobbies, a love of reading or crafting, whatever it might be. And it just keeps building up and building up until, one day, you find that you no longer have a spare bedroom, you have a storage facility.
It’s overwhelming, yes? The sheer quantities of it, obviously, but also the guilt associated with acquiring it all in the first place and then getting rid of it. But know this: you're not the only one who has clutter; we all do, so there’s no point in feeling guilty about it. And, more importantly, how much time might you gain back if you made simplifying your home a lifestyle choice rather than just a phase? Step back from the emotion: the goal is to enjoy your home.
Here are my six tips if you've chosen to make the change; for when you just need to get started.
1. Get a system in place for your laundry.
Many articles on decluttering will advise you to start with your paperwork; I’m going to tell you to begin with the laundry.
Why? Because no matter how much they love you, nobody wants to see your damp washing hanging about the place and, truthfully, I don't think you do either. Aim to do no more than four loads of washing a week (I tend to think one wash per person in the household is a good rule of thumb so for us, as a family of four, it’s bedding & towels, darks, lights, plus one other): use the timer on your washing machine so that each load is done either when you wake up in the morning or when you get home from work, and get a decent drying rack instead of festooning the radiators and bannisters. And for the love of god, don’t let the ironing build up: either be at peace with looking a little rumpled, or – if you have the resources – outsource it to an ironing service. It’s fine. My mother is still vaguely horrified that I don’t iron my children’s clothes (or my husband’s shirts), but I’ve chosen to accept that and move on with my life.
2. Tackle cupboards, drawers and shelves, one room at a time
Electronics that don’t work, free stuff, duplicates of anything, books you didn’t really enjoy, music you no longer love or listen to, gifted ornaments or other objects that you feel obligated to keep, junk-modelling done by your five-year-old – just let it go and don’t feel bad about it. Remember, they are just objects; their purpose is not to make you feel bad about yourself.
And all that lovely artwork created by your children? Get a large-format kraft book (Paperchase do good ones) and stick it in there. I have one for each of my (two) children; I don’t keep everything by any means, but I make a stack of artwork in a cupboard throughout the year and spend a couple of hours during the summer holidays sticking everything in their respective books. They actually love looking back to see their creations (and they don’t miss what hasn’t made the cut) and it keeps everything manageable!
3. Get your wardrobe under control, once and for all
There are so many written, re-written and re-hashed articles on wardrobe decluttering (the brilliant Unfancy blog is my favourite, and this book is also good), but you don’t really need to follow any of them to the nth degree to get a lasting result. Personally, I think it’s less about the number of items you keep, and more about the quality of what you have. Broadly speaking, though, do this:
- Take everything out of your wardrobe and drawers – and yes, I mean everything!
- Divide everything into five piles (most articles seem to say three, so hear me out):
- Keep – these are the things you love, that fit as they should, that are comfortable and that you wear constantly
- Sell – anything that’s unworn or still in good condition can be sold on ebay (just be sure to photograph them properly so your listings stand out from the chaff)
- Donate – anything you no longer wear, that doesn’t suit you, that is uncomfortable, or that was a mistake in the first place
- Throw – anything that falls into any of the above categories but that isn’t in good enough condition to donate (stains, tears etc)
- Maybe (this is your fifth pile, and should be your smallest) – anything that doesn’t quite fit the ‘keep’ category, but that you can’t quite bring yourself to let go of yet. Maybe it’s an out-of-season piece that you might wear come winter, for example. Put these items away for, say, six months; if you haven’t worn them or missed them, take a deep breath and get rid of them.
4. Pair everything back, then do it again
The truth is, a simpler space is a calmer space (if you’re still reading, I’ll assume you’re not a maximalist) and to achieve that you need to pare back again and again and again, both in terms of the objects you choose to keep and the decorative choices you make going forward.
Decluttering isn’t a do-it-once activity because this is real life not social media. I would say that I declutter properly a couple of times a year, and then probably every couple of months in between I tackle specific things (my children’s clothes, toys or books that they’ve grown out of; old magazines; general cupboards, on rotation) Ask yourself: what can you remove? Anything that doesn’t really have a purpose and that you don’t love can go. Sell whatever you can (and yes, this takes time as well, but the financial reward is worth it), and what you can’t sell, donate to charity, the toys and books sale at your children’s school, or wherever else the need is greatest in your neighbourhood.
Assess each room in your home systematically and just keep going.
5. NOW tackle the paperwork.
Because – ugh – it’s ugly, messy and annoying. Get a desktop scanner and scan documents that you need to keep on a weekly basis, then get rid of the paper copies, shredding them first if you consider it necessary.
6. Look after what you have
This part is so important! Once you’ve been through the process of decluttering, you will begin to realise that the things you have chosen to keep are the things you truly love, so look after them! If your child’s favourite book is careworn, mend it with book tape; if your walls could do with a lift, re-frame and re-hang your pictures (sometimes just having new cardboard mounts cut for them is enough to bring them back to life); polish your shoes and mend items that need it; make the beds each morning; take time to display your things so that you can see and enjoy them. Invest in new hangers for your wardrobe (I use these); the relatively small, one-off investment is worth it to see your newly organised clothes hanging beautifully in your wardrobe), and donate the old ones to your local charity shop.
Tell me how you get on and feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Want to read more? This Remodelista book is sooo good – I highly recommend!
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