Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been paying close attention to the purpose of the things I keep in my home. Many people think that when you become a minimalist, you have the mother of all clean ups and then you never have to de-clutter another thing from your home as long as you live. But that’s simply not true.
Simplifying is often a case of reviewing and re-checking, keeping cluttered objects and cluttered schedules at bay through intention and action. In the last fortnight alone I’ve de-cluttered two big bags of things we no longer need or use – remembering that while we try to limit waste, we also acknowledge that as seasons of life shift, so does the functionality of the things that you carry with you.
You all know I have written about my bowerbird days, back when I accumulated things for their visual or aesthetic value. I still love gorgeous looking things and think that surrounding yourself with things that are visually appealing is a wonderful way to make a house feel like a home, and to give it that individual touch. I have however done a complete revolution when it comes to the question of utilitarian value. For so long, I would buy things because I was immediately captivated by the way they looked – clothes, cushions, home décor, kitchen ‘stuff’ and the list goes on. Never mind thinking about whether I really needed them, or how they could be used. They were pretty! I know this paints me as somewhat superficial so don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t a completely mindless shopper, but I did not have two feet firmly planted in the world of ‘practical use’ as I do now.
Take the cushions, for example. I have two sofas. And there are two people living in my house. So why did I think it was a necessary or viable option to acquire upwards of 20 cushions? Simple put – it was completely excessive. But when I saw a cushion with a sweet design, or tassels, or fur, or both, I would haveto sweep it up and add it to my collection. I did not place value on the functionality of what I was acquiring. I placed value on the aesthetic. This was one of the key traps that led me to a critical point of having too much stuff that did not serve me. It was the same way with clothes – I did not think about my lifestyle, or body shape, or comfort preferences – I bought new clothes at breakneck speed because they looked nice.
It has only been in the last few years that my focus has started shifting away from the way something looks to the way it is intended to be used. I personally think that modern society completely overlooks this most fundamental concept and that is why we end up overwhelmed by our possessions.
A quote by Dr. Juliet Schor within The Minimalists documentary Minimalism says it well – “Almost anything in the home now has become an object of fashionability … If you think about the concept of fashion, it embodies in it the idea that you can throw things away not when they’re no longer useable but when they no longer have that social value”. As a society at large, we tend to focus on the visual, the aesthetic, and are quick to discard or upgrade when an object loses it’s fashionability.
Deeply rooted within the paradigms of frugality and minimalism is the concept of using objects for what they are intended to be used for, for as long as they serve that purpose. While this sounds like a deeply obvious thing to do, I was certainly surprised at how quickly I yearned to upgrade things that still worked just fine, but didn’t look the way I wanted them to look. I had engaged in a futile tug of war with the objects in my life – buying things that looked pretty but served no real purpose to me; and then yearning to replace objects that lost their aesthetic appeal although still served a functional purpose.
What I propose is that we all start to think about the function and purpose of everything we bring in to our lives; and then use things to within an inch of life. Let’s start thinking of every single object we bring into our home as something we are responsible for and that must serve a purpose. In this way, we can reduce the stream of clutter that walks in the door, and reduce the amount of de-cluttering we need to continue to do, as well as reducing waste.
The following are some ideas of where I have started and continue to look at within my own life, and where you may like to start too.
- Decorative objects – undoubtedly the category of objects that often serve the least practical value and contribute to clutter the quickest. It may be pretty, but what will it do? Does it serve you? Do you need it?
- Duplicates – I try to walk a fine line between being prepared for a rainy day and reality when it comes to ‘how many’ of any given thing I have. I will stockpile items that I know I will use. But 20 cushions? I do not have nor can I foresee any need to be the owner of 20+ cushions.
- Gadgets (namely kitchen and bathroom). Just because I can buy an object that will grate my zucchini into fancy shapes does not mean I have a need for fancy shaped zucchini. It is not adding value. Critically examine the gadgets that you have and you will more than likely find that you regularly use a handful of items to cook and groom yourself daily. Would you miss the rest?
- Clothing – I have explored this before, but do not buy clothing that doesn’t fit your life. It won’t get worn, and you will need to wade through it every day to get to the clothes you do need. The same goes for bags and shoes – you only have two arms and two feet to wear things on at any one time. I understand needing a slight variation of accessories for different occasions, but let’s be real. Bags carry things we need to take with us; shoes protect our feet. Sorry fashionistas, but it’s my belief that everything serves a purpose and should be treated as such.
If we start to apply consciousness to everything we buy – every toy, every piece of clothing, every home ware, then I believe that not only can we reduce waste, we can reduce the cycle of false hype that is sold to us every day about why we need things. If you ask yourself what the practical value is of everything before you buy, and when you are de-cluttering, you will transform the way you live and consume.
Until next time – simplify, focus, pursue and count your blessings.