Monday, 30 August 2010

Hard Work

It's been hard work today doing the laundry.  I had lots of it to catch up with.  I looked at the old ironing pile and decided to just re-wash it and let the creases fall out on the line and I also worked my way through a mending pile (this included putting a zip in a skirt).  Now I am tired but I am ahead of the game, there is fresh laundry folded in the airing cupboard and the last couple of loads are drying on the line in the last of the afternoon sun.  I have watchers on some of my Ebay things and there's a charity bag coming in the morning so I'm going to have a look around and see what I can let go of next.  I have not been shopping although I normally "comfort shop" if I feel at all low - which I do today.  I think that although I'm grateful nobody got hurt in our car crash I'm sad about my car, it was the best I've ever owned.

Wash Day

Wash day - it feels really good to say that as it means if I do all my washing today then I don't have to worry about it the rest of the week and I'm in control.  I have a large pile of my teen daughter's clothes to be mended, some hand washing, 2 beds to change, various clothes to get washed and out on the line and it's a lovely sunny day.  There's also a living room chair covered in washing I did weeks ago, some of which is ironing which I hate.  If Monday is washing day, does that make Tuesday ironing day?  I hope to eliminate as much ironing as possible by dealing with the washing quickly, folding it up and putting it in the airing cupboard.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Decisions, Decisions

I'm feeling optimistic because I've seized this free time I didn't know I'd have and listed ten items on Ebay - that's a whole basket full of stuff I had in my space and hopefully most or all of it will go in a week's time.  If it doesn't sell I will put the items in a charity sack after that.  It seems that having stopped most of my pointless shopping and done an initial sweep around the house I am now doing another skimming out of superfluous objects and I am really seeing a difference.  I used to dream of a skip on the front lawn and a radical and ruthless tipping out of excess stuff but quite aside from the fact that we would be unlikely to spend £200 on a skip, it's a gradual process.  There are decisions to be made, lots and lots of small and sometimes large decisions that all add up to The Big Decision to live and function differently.  To do this requires swimming against the tide, being tempted daily by the glittering and shimmering of seductive objects and advertisements but even so standing by that big decision so that its results can be seen and enjoyed and the next stage - to maintain - can be reached. 

Old Fashioned Values and Routines

I've been putting a few things up on Ebay to sell and I've bought a good leather bag (also Ebay) in the spirit of having one good one meaning that I can let go of my cupboard shelf full of cheap ones. (Let's hope it's not in the spirit of clutter and chaos anyway).

I've been thinking a lot about our parents' generation and how they lived so differently from us.  Neil's mum made bread once a week on a Tuesday (monday was wash day) and the bread lasted all week although it was mainly toasted by Sunday.  The war generation seems to have kept their houses and lives in good order by having predictable, tried and tested routines for things which needed doing regularly.  I imagine a comforting life of regular habits, clear floors and never an overflowing heap of cluttery nonsense as in my house.  Although they seem to have had very little in the way of things, they appreciated what they did have and looked after it.  They were slim (selling my friend's mum's vintage clothes certainly backed this up) and wasted nothing.  If my mum hadn't played with something for a while, my gran would pass it on to somebody who would!

I ran the wash day routine thing past Neil who felt it was probably a good thing especially because the whole family would know that was when the washing would be done.  But what if it was raining on a Monday but warm and dry on a Wednesday?  Modern life enables us to wash any day of the week as often as we like but doesn't this make us slaves to laundry?  I know mine lies about on chairs all week causing me a lot of frustration.  Were the older generation slaves to housework or... had they in fact more freedom than us? As an experiment I'm going to have tomorrow as a laundry day and see how I get on.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

We Had a Crash

Myself, Neil and our two girls set off on holiday yesterday and ended up in a car crash on the M1.  We were all OK but the car is in a bad way with damage to both ends as we were shunted from behind into the car in front.  We had to abandon our trip and come home but I'm feeling lucky it wasn't worse. 

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Mental Clutter

I realised as I was waking up this morning that I've got to try to think and work more simply.  This means decluttering negative thoughts like "I'm not good enough" and "I can't do this because" and engaging with life in a more straight forward and direct way.  I go back to college in a couple of weeks (studying counselling) so I need to sort out my college things and stop the mental clutter about putting off the work and worrying about if it's right for me to apply for the next part of the training.  I am realising that some thoughts can be like mental junk mail piling up and getting in the way of what's really important. 

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Something Warm

I finished a knitting project today.  I'd had it on the go for ages and now that summer's nearly over I decided to get it ready for the autumn.  I don't feel I've saved any money by knitting the jacket as the yarn cost me an arm and a leg (£40). The finished article won't be an item of clutter though, it will have to work very hard - I'm going to wear it a lot!  During the winter our thermostat is never above 18 degrees and the heating is only on for two bursts of time, morning and evening.  I do moan about this a lot as I don't like the cold but as we are a "living below your means" household there's not much I can do except wear an extra layer. 

My Knitting Project

Make Up Update

My minimal make up and antique hand mirror
Bare faced simplicity
My holiday from make up a couple of weeks ago has really had an effect on me.  It has broken the make up habit in that I have days now where I wear very little and I don't rush to put it on now in case somebody comes to the door and I'm not ready to face them.  This is a mini triumph for me as I have really felt enslaved by the stuff.  Now I feel i'm choosing to put some on but I don't always want to.  I grew up in the sixties watching my older sister plaster make up on her face.  The look was very much of the times and great fun.  These days I'm fascinated by the teens of the moment enslaved by that edgy punk meets gothic look which seems to take such a lot of time to put together.  I long for simpler, more straight forward times.  Bare faced women with natural colour hair and all the interest of freckles and uneven skin tone. The actress Karen Gillan (Dr Who) has such lovely freckles.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Some Thoughts and Feelings

I got up this morning and padded out to the front lawn in my dressing gown as usual - or so it seems these days - to deposit two half filled charity bags ready for collection.  The family wanted to know what was in them and I explained, "just a few old books I've read and finished with".  "It was just as well it was only books" they said later as the collector had slung them full force into the back of the van.  This made me think of my 3 Beswick china horses I donated recently and I had a big anxious pang of guilt/sadness/insecurity mixed with beads of sweat.  But to put things in perspective what were they but bits of clay fashioned into horse shapes and given two eyes, a nose and a mouth? It just seems to me that when I own something it can stick to me in a really toxic way if I'm not careful and hinder my wellbeing and personal growth.

On my mind at the moment are my stack of personal journals, medical papers about some miscarriages I had and a heavy leather jacket I got at a car boot sale but have only worn once.  Also, there's too much stuff in my kitchen cupboards and I have an under the stairs cupboard which has its floor covered with stuff.

Monday, 23 August 2010

A One Book Fantasy

I got rid of one more handbag but had more success with some books I keep in a box under my side of the bed: I put ten in the charity bag but there are still a lot more left in the box.  The box is meant to be a holding place for books I plan to read but because it contains so many I feel put off.  Some how reading becomes a chore, a bit like eating a fairy cake whilst sitting next to a whole mountain of fairy cakes.  Whilst thinking about my books (the rest of the house is full of them too) I imagined having just one book.  Maybe I wouldn't even own that book, it could be from the library or on loan from a friend.  I could have bought it and it could be mine for a while but there would only be one sitting on my bedside waiting to be read.  There would be no other pressure or distraction because that would be what I was reading.........Would I not enjoy that book far more than all the hundreds I currently own?

Charlie Brooker in The Guardian article about too much stuff.

Bags and Link to The Story of Stuff

I found myself clinging to my bags so the cupboard is still full, not minimalist at all.  I put one out but almost fished it in again.There's another charity collection coming tomorrow so I have another chance to let go.  Next to my bed I have a real leather vintage suitcase I paid £20 for at a car boot sale.  What was I thinking?  It's lovely but so impractical and heavy for me.  When I go away I always use a holdall Neil got free from work.  It would be brilliant to get this monster out of my space so that when I wake up I see - a floor!  I am using the suitcase as a holding area for things I need to sort out and at night I put my clothes and dressing gown on top of it, ugh.  This just shows me how things can stick to me and cause a chaos hot spot.  The link below will take you to a film which has helped me keep things in perspective recently.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Learning Through Experience

For me, putting my house in order isn't just about making sure I only have the things I want and need, it's also about clearing my mind and changing how I live.  Last year I helped a friend start to declutter his mother's bedroom as she had died in 2006 and he and his brother had put off the task because they were upset and overwhelmed.  She had never, apparently, decluttered in her life but being of the war generation had hung onto everything, every hair pin, receipt, bank statement, greetings card and exercise book as well as all her clothes and those of her relatives.  It was like an archaeological dig for me but the greatest thing I learned from the experience was something important about myself:  I discovered my love of simplicity and order and my ability to make it happen.  All I had to do was to trust myself to do the same thing in my own life.  So far I am finding it takes courage and hard work but also a lot of determination.

Although I planned to sort out my bags, pictures and items on my kitchen floor I have been stubborn and not done it.  This is interesting as I obviously hate to change these things but I'm going to go and do the bags as soon as I finish writing this so that I'll be ready for the collection tomorrow.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


Just recently I've been reading something each morning to give me inspiration, there are some good ideas at the link below.  I've got too many pictures on the wall in my living room and I'm storing some things on the floor in my kitchen.  Sorting those two things out should only take a few minutes later today but will make quite a difference.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Night Time Thoughts.

It's late at night and I'm sleepy.  I can hear the rain outside.  Autumn seems to be arriving early this year but that doesn't seem a bad thing.  When the apples are ready I'm going to make some chutneys.  Today I filed away my financial stuff, it's a task I usually put off until it's all in utter chaos but I'm on top of it at last.  Tomorrow I want to sort out my handbags as there's a cat and dog home charity collection coming on Monday and bags are something they will take.  I'm thinking about my books too.

How I Declutter + Advice

Experienced minimalists usually seem to advise starting in one particular room but that isn't how I've been doing it.  I am concentrating on our bedroom but the decluttering process often seems to require me to make decisions about other parts of the house so that I can find more logical places for what I will keep. I liken this to trying to do one of those little puzzles where the squares all have to be moved around to the right order to make the picture.  I also do what feels right on any particular day.  If I get stuck with the bedroom things and need time to make my decisions about what to get rid of I try to keep the momentum going by attempting something easier like excess flower pots in the garden.  When I come back to the bedroom at a later date often my mind has accepted that I need to lose a particular thing or else I find a decision I couldn't make has in fact been made at the back of my mind while I was working on other things.

I'm including a picture of my "glory hole" drawer where I used to stuff all sorts.  I used to have to squash everything down to close it, it was utter confusion inside.  It's very simple now with several very special items including a ball from my childhood.  I don't know if I will keep everything in there or not.  I view what I'm doing as a work in progress and I'm gaining confidence in working through stages of decluttering from initial skimming out of obviously superfluous stuff to the real nitty gritty sticky stuff!  From my experience so far this is the advice I would give to somebody starting out:

  •  Go with the flow and do what feels right at any given time.  If you have a rush of energy which enables you to get rid of ten bags of stuff then go with it and if it's only a few bits then that's still progress.
  • Try to keep the momentum going by doing a bit most days.
  • Always have a charity bag which you are filling and when there is a collection coming get psyched up to put it out.
  • If you can't let go of stuff then do some homework: look up some minimalist/simple living blogs and read them to get ideas.
  • Visualise your goal and see yourself working towards it.
  • Realise that the upset emotions are part of the process, don't let them stand in your way.
  • Really be careful about shopping, you don't want to bring in more stuff and ruin your dreams.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Letting go of Childhood

I'm trying to do a bit each day and let go of all things that don't feel good for me as I am now.  I feel my progress is slow compared to some days in the last few weeks when I was able to let go of sacks of stuff but at the moment my attachment to my childhood is slowing me up.  For instance, in the picture is a paperback book which survives from the 1960s and I drew in it as a little girl so many of the pages have interesting portraits of family members.  I don't really want yet another book taking up space but the pictures make it special.  What I'm finding is that with an object like that I need time so that I can be ready and reach a point where I feel safe in the knowledge that the world won't stop if I don't own the physical item.

What I'm learning is that I do own the memories and the experiences and that can be enough for my sense of identity and security.  If it has to be the physical objects too that I own then there are many things with my imprint on that I would have to house and look after and this isn't practical.

Some things I've been working through today

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

More Clearing Out

Today I brought some things in from our garage to sort out - a couple of boxes of items from my mother's loft which had to be cleared this summer as she was having some insulation put up there.  The boxes were tricky from a letting go point of view as they have a lot of emotional value attached to them.  The first contained a large slice of my estranged sister's life: exercise books, notes and letters, her straw boater hat from college, a baby hat knitted for her by mum and a 1970s dress.  The difficulty with these is how to give them to her under current circumstances as she distanced herself from the family some years ago.  I decided to package the items up neatly as I would do if I was selling them on Ebay.  I tied the exercise books up with string and found bags and wallets to protect the bundles.  Once they were assembled in one neat package I felt I had made progress and that it would be possible to take them to her house and perhaps leave them on the doorstep.

The second box was the remains of my old toy box from when I was a young child.  This had survived like a time capsule having apparently been lifted from behind the sofa one day 40 years ago and dumped out of sight and out of mind in the loft.  It contained fragments of other toys - some doll clothes I had made, some Monopoly cards, a dice cup, a French knitting dolly, a box of Fuzzy Felt, a vintage games board, colouring pencils, a treasure map I drew, 3 books a toy watch, a ball, a toy chocolate dispenser, part of my push chair harness and a baby cardigan.  Also some sweet wrappers and a lot of dust.  I lay these things out on the end of our bed - for some reason I often sort on the end of the bed, it seems a good place - and I began to tinker about with them and experience the memories.  Although it felt amazing to be transported back by the objects and even the box itself, a farm eggs box, I had no intention of allowing the objects to stick to me and weigh me down.  I gathered the colouring pencils and found a small box for them (there weren't many) as I felt they would be a lovely consumable treasure and it seemed a poetic end for them to be used by me 40 years on.  I looked at the fuzzy felt which I had spent so many happy hours making story pictures with but the felt had disintegrated so I recycled the packaging and threw the rest away.  It was fascinating to see the harness from the pram as I had such vivid memories of touching it when I was small but that went in the bin too.  I added the books to our collection of children's books, put the toy watch with the pencils and discarded as much of the rest as I could.  The only problem item was the baby cardigan which I've put in a pile of other difficult to let go of things for another day.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Me With Very Little Make Up

Me wearing only mascara
This is me wearing only moisturiser and some mascara on top and bottom lashes.  Life would be really good if I could get used to wearing this little as it would save me time and it would be an important step towards a more simple and straightforward life.  Looking at the picture and comparing it to the one in the last entry I don't seem look that different and I don't see that I am ugly.  If anything my face is just more characterful.

My Struggle With Make Up

This is me wearing make up.

Whilst I was away on holiday I decided to really unwind and one of the things I wanted to do was free myself from having to put make up on and off day after day.  I've been wearing make up for about 30 plus years and feel very tied to it.  I feel afraid to let anyone outside my family see me without it and it's annoying and a bit of a trial to have to sit there and put it on every morning.  I decided that being on holiday was a great opportunity to try going without it as I didn't know anyone where we were staying.

The first morning I felt quite liberated.  I usually wear moisturiser, foundation, powder, eyebrow pencil, eye pencil, eye liner, mascara, eye shadow, blusher and maybe lipstick.  Out of this list I am most addicted to the eye pencil which I use to draw lines under my lower lashes and a close second is the mascara.  I wanted the sun on my skin and to bring out my natural freckles.  It was a lovely feeling to go bare faced and not to have to try and get it off again before I went to bed.  This freedom slotted in with having less things around me and doing less.

However, the next day I tried to repeat this but for some reason doubts had started to creep in.  I felt ugly and distressed and didn't like looking in the mirror.  I put a bit of eyeliner on and survived the day like that but it shook me up.  The thought that keeps circling in my mind is that most other women look alright without make up but I am one of the unfortunate ones who look bad naturally.  The make up I use transforms me and turns me from ugly into attractive.  I've always hated this thought and wished I had natural beauty so that I could be free.

During the rest of the holiday I continued to have days with little or no make up and my feelings fluctuated.  I realised I have an addiction and it's not just a simple question of deciding not to wear it - there are psychological consequences and I either need to go cold turkey or withdraw it gradually.  I would be happy wearing some moisturiser and a little mascara if I want but not because I feel I have to.  There is very little bare faced beauty in this world, we are indoctrinated with the need for flawless perfection and fed images of made up women. I'll try and find the courage to take a picture of myself wearing no make up for a future blog.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

A Holiday

I've just got back from a week away on holiday where I was able to put myself to the test by trying to live more simply and take as little as possible with me.  This was a challenge as Cornwall can be hot but then again. . . it can be very cold so I took a holdall full of clothes to suit either extreme and various options in between.

I did a lot of thinking whilst away and found myself really tested when it came to trying not to shop for the usual sort of things I want on holiday: jewellery, books, soap, clothes.  Without shopping I found I was able to relax more as there was more time to just be. I took in much more of the world too: I became one of those people who sit and watch other people, it was fascinating.  I slept, took baths, did some watercolour painting and walked.  On Friday I was severely tested as it was the last opportunity to buy holiday crap until next year but I thought about all the hard work I'd been doing at home to clear up my life and feel better and I said no to myself. 

The time away has taught me that becoming minimalist involves a period of withdrawal and it takes effort to change long established habits.  I grew up in a "let's buy stuff" atmosphere and I will have to stay focused in order to teach myself how to be free.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Beware Car Boot Sales

Car boot sales are both brilliant and depressing to me.  I went to my first one last summer and was amazed at the acres and acres of stuff and tired, stressed people trying to get rid of it.  I found I could think of things I wanted and would often find them for pence even though it meant looking for a needle in a haystack.  I was usually tempted to buy things I didn't need just because they were interesting/vintage/cheap.  The result was a growing mess throughout the house and the initial symptoms of Boot Sale Disease (house with walk ways scraped between the stuff).  When I looked at all the sellers roasting under the sun, miserable and desperate to be rid of their things and some of them returning week after week, I felt it was a kind of hell.  People get seduced by material goods and eventually suffocated by them and the low end of the market - second hand sellers - is the most dangerous of all.

I think I have used things to fill up holes.  Emotional holes, spiritual holes; the emptiness left behind when my dad died.  Stuff can never fill up these holes though and sooner or later the emptiness has to be faced.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

No More Chaos

Oh my goodness it's been an emotional week but I have really made headway.  There have been two charity collections over the past two days and I have hyperventillated with panic each time because I've put out lots of my emotional stuff for them.  Each collection contains more and more difficult things to let go of because of course I had put the easy items out first.  Today I let go of a large teddy my mother and sister brought back from their holiday one year.  It was hand made in Cornwall but so big and I always seemed to have it floating about taking up surface, chair or bed space.  Next to go were several Beswick horses I collected as a child.  I'm just not a horsey person but I used to love books about them when I was 10.  They became dust traps and, again, there was nowhere really for them.  I have also cut my jewellery right back.  I own some very nice silver which I have collected over the years, a little gold, but I also had quite a lot of cheap boutique type bangles and necklaces.  I have vowed to wear my proper jewellery and have only kept one or two sets of beads.  I ditched a job lot of pomanders I'd got from the household recycling centre - about 50 of them.

The house is taking on an air of organisation and well, a kind of peace.  When I open my drawers they are clear with only my current things in them.  It's starting to feel the way it does when I'm on holiday with just a few things with me.  I have no intention of making the house completely bare, I will keep some nice things but NO MORE CHAOS AND STRESS.  I told my daughter the other day "when your things get on top of you that's the time to get on top of your things" and that made her smile.

The interesting thing is, although my emotionally charged items have gone, I'm fine.  In fact I feel a sense of real triumph because I'm going to live in a simple home and I'm going to live mindfully.

Monday, 2 August 2010


This is how I have lived until now.  This particular corner of my bedroom has always been the worstand it will be wonderful to set myself free of this chaos.


Last night I had some unpleasant dreams as a result of letting go of some of my stuff. In the dreams I spent the night in my childhood bedroom but the windows were wide open and the rain had come in during the night and spoiled my precious things. It felt worrying and bad and as if the walls had become baggy and no longer protective.

I can't say exactly why I have such strong emotional attachments to things. I think it's more that I fear how I will feel if I regret letting go. Whilst I'm clearing I have such thoughts as "what if I can never afford another of these again?; this item is a one off and this is my only chance to have it; this signature on this card is all I have left of my Dad" etc. It's as if my things or what they represent are my protective walls and closed windows.

Letting go is a difficult process and the above feelings seem to be a normal part of it. After a while they go and there is a feeling of calm.

My minimalist starting point.
Today I put 10 books in a charity bag. I emptied out my underwear drawer and admitted to myself I only wear plain, comfortable knickers most of the time. I kept a few frilly ones but disposed of several carrier bags of knickers, tights and uncomfortable bras. In reality I don't need much underwear at any one time as it constantly gets recycled round and round in the wash. I skimmed out a few bits of "cack" from our shower room which is my minimalist starting point. I'm pretty pleased with it!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

My First Simple Living Blog

My dream is to own much less and lead a more fulfilled life.  I've spent years decluttering but only to build up my possessions again, particularly through the seductive nature of cheap goods at car boot sales, charity shops and household recycling centres.  Now I've faced the fact that if I want to recognise my dream I will have to stop sabbotaging my own efforts.  What I really want to do is aim at minimalism which is more of a lifestyle change than decluttering so here is my blog to document that change.

This week I put out 5 bags for charity filled with clothes, jewellery, books and ornaments.  I tore up letters and greetings cards and put them out for recycling.  I tackled a drawer I called my "glory hole" which contained anything which I just did not know where to put but I was unable to let go of due to emotional attachments.  Here are some examples:
  • Greetings cards which say "from mum and dad" - dad being deceased.
  • A letter to my ex husband from his father saying he didn't want to see his son again (I don't know how I ended up with this but I didn't have the heart to upset my ex by sending it to him).
  • My children's milk teeth.
  • My gallstones from an operation I had in the 1980s.
  • A blue light bulb which was my childhood night light in the 1960s.
  • Lots of art done by my children and given to me.
I was only able to let go of the greetings cards and unpleasant letter.  I made a small memory box for the art and I'll probably put the teeth in there too (what do parents do with children's teeth?).  The glory hole is Emotion Central but I found better places for some of the other things.  I think the gallstones will go in the bin shortly.