but what about the apocalypse?

As I consider the task of decluttering and de-stuffing our home, there are two niggling words that seem to be stifling my best intentions. They are:

What if?..

 You see, despite my enthusiasm to declutter, and despite continually reconnecting with my why for this entire endeavour (a life rich with experience, not stuff), these words poke up and I hesitate.

What if I need this thing again? What if I donate this spare vegetable peeler and my other vegetable peeler stops peeling? What if sell this ball gown and I get invited to a ball? What if I start liking the colour pink? What if we move houses and the new house has no wardrobes? What if there is an emergency and I need old linen to make bandages?

Ah yes, bandages. I sometimes wonder what if there is some catastrophic event. A depression or recession? Something environmental? Perhaps a war? And if that catastrophe happens, will the hoarders of the world have the last laugh?

In the movie, The Day After Tomorrow, the earth is thrust unexpectedly and rapidly into a modern Ice Age. Those who survive only do so through donning ski gear or many layers of winter clothing and by barricading themselves inside, sitting by fires fuelled by papers and books. In this scenario, the minimalists would be the first to go. Picture it: Damn! I only have one winter jumper and in fact, only 33 other items of clothing in my wardrobe! And books? Shit! There’s only these two I borrowed from the local library.

I confess I thought about this movie when contemplating the two vac bags full of thermals and old ski gear I have in the shed just in case. They are still there. I am part laughing at myself here and part recalling the news article titled ‘New climate modelling shows the conditions portrayed in The Day After Tomorrow movie are not so far fetched’.

snow catastrophe
Mr A (husband) ‘skiing’

So one barrier to decluttering, for me anyway, appears to be this worry about the what ifs and a need to hold onto things, just in case.

Have you heard of Preppers? They are people who believe that a catastrophe is likely and imminent and thus they prepare by stockpiling food, ammunition and other supplies. You can read about them here or even here. (The clip on teaching kids to shoot is truly terrifying BTW.) Obviously preppers take their what ifs very seriously.

On the lighter side of doomsday preparation, this also reminds me of my absolute favourite episode of the This American Life podcast: Father’s Day 2011. This episode features the story of a dad who copes with his daughter’s move to New York to attend college by constructing her an Emergency Terrorist Attack Kit. If you feel like a laugh or a cry, then this is highly recommended listening.

Anyway as for the apocalypse, I suppose it comes back to how much you want to let the what ifs get in the way of the right nows. Example: Odds of me regretting lack of stockpiled supplies and old-linen-for-bandages because of unforeseen catastrophe?.. Who knows. Odds of unnecessary clutter intruding into my life right now as I waste hours maintaining, cleaning and reorganising it?… 100%!

Returning then to my spare vegetable peeler. The Minimalists (the trail blazers of living more life with less) offer a very helpful solution for getting rid of these little just in case items. It’s called the 20/20 rule.

Essentially, if you are holding onto something just in case, ask yourself:

Can this item be replaced for under $20 and without having to travel more than 20kms out of your way to get it?

If yes, then… Get rid of it! Free yourself from this what if clutter.

Perhaps this sounds wasteful, but as The Minimalists explain here, 99% of the time you’ll find you never need to spend that twenty bucks. Why? Because it turns out, the what if doesn’t happen and that just in case wasn’t so needed after all.

TTFN

Advertisements

basil

Basil is one of my favourite herbs. But, confession: I don’t grow my own basil. Not even a little spring on the windowsill. In fact, I don’t grow any herbs. I am painfully aware of the fact that even my fellow black thumbs are growing (or at least killing slowly) their own herbs. People with no yards even. In high-rise apartments. In caravans. Boats. And yet, here I am on a 900 m2 block and not.one.herb.

Every time I pay $37 for a plastic-sleeved bunch of basil from the supermarket, I feel guilty! (Ok so it’s not $37, but overpriced nonetheless.) I then wrap it up in paper towel (!!) to try and slow the quick wilt. More guilt. It’s wasteful and I know it.

Gretchen Ruben from The Happiness Project said that:

negative emotions like guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big flashing signs that something needs to change.

Thank you Gretchen! I have seen my big flashing sign and henceforth shall attempt to grow my own basil.

grow-own-herbs

So without further waffle… Meet Basil. Cute hey?

basil-plant

I used the term ‘black thumb’ before. According to the Urban Dictionary a black thumb is ‘a wannabe gardener who kills plants. Opposite of green thumb’. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure this term adequately articulates my gardening abilities. I don’t kill plants because I don’t plant. I’d rather scrub the toilet. Maybe, it would be more accurate to describe me as a beige thumb; too disengaged to be even black or green.

I suppose on deeper reflection this has a lot to with my aforementioned motoring down the highway of pace, consumerism and instant-gratification. Why plant when one can just paypass? And as for the environmental considerations… It’s pretty easy to place these at item #328 on the to-do list when you are sweating and puffing in the chaos of the rat race. Ugh. This makes me sound like a completely slack citizen of the planet. As The Off Grid Guy points out, about one-third of the average Aussie’s ecological footprint is based on the production and transportation of their food! But you know what – I can’t apologise for the past. I can’t apologise for the many previously purchased plastic-sleeved then paper toweled basils because they were all apart of the life that lead me to… now. The now, where I am motivated to stop stomping thoughtlessly through life, and to instead tread lightly, mindfully and intentionally. Perhaps in a few years time I’ll be able to sit amongst my thriving garden and remember this first little step of growing my own basil.

So anyway: Basil is a big deal and I felt it was important that she was more appropriately dressed for this momentous milestone.

basil-dressed-up

That’s better.

The next step is to make sure I don’t kill her! I googled ‘growing herbs for dummies’ and it started with:

‘Caring for herbs isn’t much different from watching out for your other annuals and perennials, but herbs have a few special requests.’

Oh.dear. Annuals? Perennials? Additional requests? I feel like there must be another step below dummies? I’m not exactly keen to google ‘herb growing for the especially dim-witted’. Surely I am not the only beige thumbed being on this planet?

I read on.

Apparently I need to consider soil quality, fertilisation, sunlight, drainage and… pot size. Size matters. It’s too much. I decide I am going to take a much more organic (see what I did there?) approach to this gardening caper. I’ll water Basil as I remember, take her for strolls in the sunshine and compliment her regularly on how pretty she is looking. In my experience, a good compliment cheers everything up. So, that’s it. My second step towards a happier, greener life with less.

TTFN

P.S. In case you haven’t picked up from my previous posts, I have a penchants for podcasts — Gretchen Ruben’s Happier podcast is one of these. She isn’t exactly a poster-girl for minimalism (cue natter and chatter about bed spreads, window treatments and handbags), but she does offer many helpful insights into clutter, habits and their link with happiness. And if nothing else, Gretchen’s enthusiastic natter stirred amongst the dry drawl of her sister and co-host, Elizabeth, is an entertaining brew.

P.P.S. I feel the need at this point to say a few words in defence of my parents. My utter disinterest and inability in anything garden-y up to this point in my life happens to be despite their very best efforts. They no doubt read my beige thumb confession whilst slinking deeper into their chairs… And by the time I floundered about perplexing on my perennials and annuals they perhaps had palms to faces, only peeking through their fingers uncomfortably at my green ignorance – Like watching a Bachelor cocktail party – too awkward to watch or look away. So, a shout to M & D, who have a fabulous veggie patch and orchard that provides a lot of their fruit and vegetable needs year-round. And, an acknowledgement that they really tried very, very hard to get me interested in things outdoorsy and greener. Hell, they even packed us up and moved us to Tasmania in my teenage years… yet still I resisted. I suppose this just exemplifies ye ole’ cliché: You can lead a horse to water etc. etc… or as is more apt here: You can lead a girl to Tasmania… but you can’t make her drink the green tea!

 P.P.P.S. Yes I’ve added something to the house – but I figure that a living, breathing, green thing doesn’t actually count as stuff!

 

termites and clutterbugs

The first house my husband and I owned was a little fibro place in QLD. It had character. There was a fireplace and many of the rooms had old horsehair plasterboard with original picture rails. Beautiful. Timeless. In other rooms, this beauty was hidden under hideous, brown, embossed, floral, wallpaper—Yep, it had a lot going on. In fact, it turned out that this wallpaper was even more hideous than we initially believed… There was a mirror screwed into one wall and when we removed it, there was a perfect white rectangle left in its place. So, you see, the wallpaper was not a deep brown print at all, it was just stained this colour from years of chuffing and smoking and general inhabitation from the previous owners and tenants. Blerk.  Even now, over a decade later, recalling the Great Wallpaper Discovery of 2005 makes my nose scrunch, and shoulders rise up to my ear lobes to give a little wiggle, like I need to shake off the grimy thought of it all.

Anyway, character as they say.

The house also came with well-worn greenish carpet throughout. As soon as I saw it, I turned to Mr Amazing Race (my husband, then boyfriend, and yes, there’s a story in that name for another day) and said:

There’s floorboards underneath. If we get this place, we could tear that up before we move in.

He nodded slowly, thoughtfully, and then said:

No.

You see, I’d grown up in a world where tearing up carpet was like mowing the lawn. My parents had renovated, built, extended, hatched grand plans, renovated, built again and hatched some more. They’re still at it. Mr A. hadn’t. He was more cautious:

We don’t know the condition of the floorboards underneath Em. We’d want to save up until we could afford to have the boards finished off properly. We don’t want to go diving into doing things without thinking it through. The carpet’s fine for now.

Me, nose scrunched and shoulders near earlobes:

But the stains?

It’s fine. They’ll have it cleaned. We can have it cleaned again if you want.

Fine.

Fine.

We agreed.

Despite the carpet, we did buy the house. Unfortunately or fortunately, the day we got the keys Mr A. had to work the close shift at his pizza shop job. By the time he came home every scrappy filthy inch of the green carpet was on the front lawn.

Initially, I’d told myself I’d just have a tiny peek, just one little lift of the carpet in a corner where it was coming up anyway.  Who was I kidding? I was armed with a crowbar and I was my mother’s daughter.

I was like a hyped-up renovation junkie. After getting my first sniff of floorboards, I lost all control… only coming around again hours later, sweating and heaving, with the realisation that every thread of green was gone.

Woopsy.

Mr A. wasn’t impressed. Not.one.bit.

Would I do it again? Hell-yeah! 1. I didn’t have to spend one night with that carpet crawling beneath me, and 2. Mr A. eventually married me anyway.

But, I’ve become side tracked… My point about the house was this: Termites.

My love of this house did not last forever. I painted her. We did the floorboards and put a heavenly gas log fire in the old fireplace. We settled and nestled. But then… I was vacuuming a dusty windowsill one day and an entire chunk of the timber framing spat off, up the shoot of the vacuum cleaner, and termites proceeded to spew forth from the remaining hole.

Yep, the house was infested.

It was horrific. I couldn’t believe that as we had been lovingly making this house our home, these lowlife bugs had been simultaneously eating—nay, silently stealing—our four-walled suburban dream from around us.

As it turns out (thanks Google) termites aren’t actually that silent at all. Mr A. was studying nursing at this time and so I had access to a stethoscope. I would place the stethoscope against the timber windows, skirts and supports and I could here the creeunch, creeunch, creeunch of the little beastlys eating our house. I became obsessed.

Even after the pest man had come and gone, and come and gone again, I would still listen nervously, thinking I could hear the creeunch, creeunch, creeunch.

Mr A. and I would argue. Me with my stetheoscope against the wall like a crazy woman swearing I could hear the munching bugs: Shhh! Listen! Wait, it’s gone now. No. Shzzpt. There it is again, come back! And him declaring me a crazy woman and reminding me for the umpteenth time that the pest man had given the house the all clear.

Even now, in our new place, I have a little habit of reaching out and tapping the timber just to make sure it is all solid… particularly before vacuuming.

(Ok. So on a reread I’m recognising that this is making me sound a little crazy. But hey, if you’d had termites SPEW FORTH at you, you’d be a little crazier for the experience too!)

But, I digress. I do have a point.

I’ve been thinking about those termites recently as an analogy to another type of bug – Clutterbugs. According to the wisdom that is the Urban Dictionary, a “clutterbug” is one who excessively hoards, accumulates junk, or collects clutter.

Previously, I would not have considered myself a clutterbug. Hoarding? Accumulates junk? This wasn’t me. For starters, I’ve moved around—A lot. Every move has forced me to ruthlessly prune and cull any junk, so I saw myself as more clutter free than the average person. Secondly, our house is tiny. How much clutter could we have within these four walls?

But I’ve been thinking about that word excessive. Excessive means “more than necessary”. When measured against this yardstick, I am a clutterbug. I can glance in any room in our house and see things that aren’t necessary.

I acknowledge though that some things aren’t necessary but still bring happiness. For me, this would be smelly soy candles. And there are some things that are necessary but don’t scream “HAPPINESSSSSSSSS!!!” Like a toilet brush. So perhaps a better measure for one’s clutterbugness is the amount of stuff that does not contribute in either of these ways. It’s about being intentional with the stuff we surround ourselves with, about asking:

Is this necessary? Does this thing contribute to my best, happiest life ?

I think about this and reach to my right and open the first desk draw to apply the intentional test. I find a pair of glasses that no longer help me see better, a cover for a phone I no longer have and a stylus for I’m not sure what. Hmmm. So I have a clutterbug lurking after all. Just like the termites, it’s crept up on me and has invaded my home—My happy space.

Draw clutter

Some may argue (like ME not that long ago!) – What’s so bad about that? An old pair of glasses isn’t a big deal. It’s not termites or anything. But I’m beggining to see the many benefits of minimalism. The problem with clutter, with meaningless, unintentional stuff… Is that it is not simply passive. It collects dust, occupies space, can overwhelm, and eats your time as you dust it, or tidy it, or rearrange it to make way for more stuff!

When I first started researching a life more mindfully minimal, I happened across Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. His home was cluttered too, but then he describes the day that he claimed his life back:

Memorial Day weekend, years ago, I got my life back.

I’ve relived the scene a thousand times. I woke up with a simple job to do: clean out the garage. It was not a project out of the ordinary. In fact, I did it every spring. But on this particular Saturday, for the first time, I’d be introduced to the truth that I didn’t have to.

Our lives were typical: work hard, make money, spend it on mortgage payments, fashionable clothes, nicer cars, cooler technology, and more toys for the kids. But when everything from my garage was piled high in the driveway while my son sat alone in the backyard, it was a conversation with my 80-year old neighbor that opened my mind to a new way of thinking. She said it like this, “Maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff?”

And a minimalist was born. In that moment, I made a life-changing realization: Everything I owned had not brought meaning, purpose, fulfillment, or lasting joy into my life. In fact, not only were my possessions not bringing me joy, they were actually distracting me from it.

I’ve also heard Becker describe this transformational moment on a podcast. He explained that his son had been begging him to play, and he had been dismissing his son with exasperated declarations that he had to clean the garage… Before of course, he caught himself in that moment and realised the ridiculousness of the fact that the lifestyle he’d purchased was forcing him to spend time with his stuff, instead of time playing with his son.

This certainly resonated with me. I’ve spent many an hour dusting, cleaning and reorganising stuff. Shifting it from one area of the house to another. Buying things to put it in. Shifting it again. Organising it… And round and round it goes. It is ridiculous that this stuff we own ends up owning us!* We pay for it not only with the initial purchase, but we continue to pay for it with the precious currency of our time.

As I mentioned in my first post however, I have felt a little lost about where to begin on improving this area of my life. I’ve been unsure of how to adapt the stories of others, like Becker, to my own world. And there’s a lot of information and advice out there! My journey is not unique—many have already walked this path, and many have blogged about it too—but it is unique for me.

So, what’s my first step?

My first step is: Not to bring one new thing into the house without removing something already here. Nothing grand or ground-breaking. But, it will ensure that this very moment is PEAK CLUTTER. In fact, it is peak clutter minus three items of unintentional stuff as I place the glasses, phone cover and stylus in a box ready to donate tomorrow. Woot!

Evernote Camera Roll 20160410 113152

TTFN

P.S. The podcast I heard Joshua Becker on is called Slow Your Home. If you are interested in minimalism and intentional living, this is a great resource. What I really enjoy are the interviews with a diversity of people who bring different perspectives, stories and advice to this idea of living a richer life with less. As a mum who has to work, some interviews resonate with me and some don’t… But there’s the beauty in the podcast; there’s always another interview only days away, and therefore the possibility of another interesting or inspirational story.

P.P.S. For those following along at home, I encourage you to open your nearest draw and consider how many of the items pass the intentional test. How did you go? I’d love to hear what you find. Am I alone in my cluttered draws? Even better… Is anyone else declaring this moment as PEAK CLUTTER – committing that nothing new enters your home without another thing exiting?

*P.P.P.S The things you own, end up owning you… As I reread these words, they seemed familiar. A quick google confirms that this sentiment is indeed unoriginal and belongs to Fight Club. It must be regularly quoted because I confess I’ve never seen the movie or read the book. I’m more of a Sense and Sensibility kind of soul.