I gave away our stuff’: the minimalists doing more with less
Growing numbers of people, partly inspired by Marie Kondo, are ditching consumerism for a simpler life
By: Jo Thornhill/The Guardian UK
It’s time to declutter. Fuelled in part by Marie Kondo’s call to eschew anything that does not “spark joy”, a growing number of people are questioning whether they are better off with less in life – from old jackets stuck under the stairs to unnecessary shopping trips and gadgets that clog up the home, or even a property that is larger than they need.
This new push towards minimalism, whereby people live with less, can have substantial benefits for the environment and people’s state of mind, as well as their finances. But does it mean living on rice and wearing the same two outfits all week? Or is there a more measured way to cutting out the unnecessary?
Georgina Caro downsized the family home, gave away three-quarters of their possessions and now thinks much more carefully about every purchase. As a result, Caro and her partner, Phil Warne, who live in Cornwall with their two young children, no longer have any short-term debts and have halved their mortgage.
“If you are someone who feels a constant pressure to keep up with things, bigger house, better car, more expensive clothes, then minimalism could be that breath of fresh air which allows you to step off the consumer treadmill,” she says.
The proliferation of minimalist blogs online are filled with stories of how people have decluttered their homes and disposed of the bulk of their possessions. The principle is simple – buy significantly less and save in the process, paying off consumer debts and mortgages.
In the US, advocates such as Joshua Fields Milburn, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Becker explain online how they have turned their back on the pursuit of material goods, extolling the virtues of minimalism and how it enables individuals to live more intentionally and focus on the important things in life, people and experiences, rather than possessions. For anyone living beyond their means and concerned about debt, there is the added financial benefit.
Caro, whose website gypsysoul.co.uk has advice and tips on living a sustainable and simple life, started reading about minimalism five years ago, a period when she was feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed. The family had moved into a large home in Kent and the couple were running a busy pub.
“We had this fantastic big house and we were filling it with lovely things, but I could feel my anxiety levels rising. We were spending money and accumulating more and more stuff – but we didn’t need it all. It started to feel meaningless. I realized I just wanted to live a different kind of life.”
They now live in a small three-bed home, having downsized twice. Each member of the family owns about 30 items of clothing. Disposable income is spent on quality family time, such as eating out and day trips, water sports and holidays, instead of material items. Owing to their change in lifestyle, the couple are able to save each month and expect to be mortgage-free within 10 years.
“Shopping used to be a leisure activity but now we only shop if we need something specific. When you have spent a lot of time and effort decluttering your home, the last thing you want to do is fill it with more stuff. We have a ‘one thing in, one out policy’,” she says. “When I am shopping I ask myself: ‘Do I need it?’ And if so: ‘Why do I need it?’ If there is something we need or a holiday, for example, then we save up.”
For some, the idea of minimalism brings up images of an austere life devoid of creature comforts. But Caro and others say this is not the case.
Blogger Chris Wray, on his twolessthings.co.uk site, says: “I have a normal lifestyle. I live in a normal house, in a normal street, with normal children. I own a car and have rent and bills to pay. To all intents and purposes I’m as normal as you. Where I differ is I arrived at the conclusion that having more ‘stuff’ doesn’t make you happy.”
Rowena Driver is a professional home organizer and decluttering expert. She has run her business, An Extra Pair of Hands, in Beckenham, south-east London, for four years and says demand is growing among those who need help to organised and reduce “their stuff”.
Many people feel overwhelmed by their possessions and are waking up to the notion that life would be easier and simpler with far less, she says. Frequently when she is helping a client to declutter they will find things they had forgotten about, items unopened or still with tags on, or they may have bought many duplicates of something over the years.
“By reducing and organizing their stuff people can find the things they need, which reduces stress,” says Driver. “And in the long run they should save time and money because they realize they don’t need to buy more. There is far less waste, which is good for the environment and their bank balance. It also makes it much quicker and easier to clean the house, so that saves people time too.”
The messages of minimalism of course make financial sense. “In the worst cases people might be buying things on credit or getting into debt and it could be stuff they just don’t really need,” says Hannah Robinson, financial planner at Ellis Bates in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. “By being more careful and mindful, it should become easier to make better choices and ultimately save cash.”
Robinson recommends people pay off any short-term debts first, such as credit cards and loans. After this, try to build up an emergency savings pot of cash and also consider putting in place protection policies such as life and critical illness insurance.
“If you have the ambition to radically reduce the amount you spend each month on discretionary items, it might be possible to start making significant savings towards your future goals – whatever they may be.”
‘People think minimalism must mean living like a monk … But it isn’t like that at all,’ says Antonia Colins.
‘Best of all we’re saving money’
Overwhelmed and stressed out by work and family life, Antonia Colins decided something had to change. Starting with small steps, she began by clearing out her wardrobe, then slowly moved to other parts of her home.
“Little by little, I streamlined everything,” says Colins, who is from Chesham Bois in Buckinghamshire and runs a bathroom showroom with her partner. “I got rid of so much of our stuff, selling things, taking bags to the charity shop or giving things away to friends.
“In the beginning it was difficult convincing [partner] Jason and the children of the benefits of decluttering. But they understand it now and they can see how much easier life is in our home. We know where everything is, it takes far less time to clean the house and get ready in the mornings.
“Overall life is a lot calmer. And best of all we are saving money because we don’t needlessly buy things.”
Before she had children, Colins worked in fundraising for 10 years, and now writes the balancethroughsimplicity.com website. She is keen to tell people that minimalism doesn’t mean giving everything up.
“People think minimalism must mean living like a monk, with no enjoyment. But it isn’t like that at all. Minimalism is about being more considered and mindful about what you buy, stopping the compulsive or impulsive spending, which so often leads to debts and stress – and more clutter,” she says.
“In the past I might have had five or six different sweaters in my wardrobe, for example. Some would still have the tags on because I got them home and didn’t ever wear them. Now I have a capsule wardrobe where I can see everything and I love every item.”
Colins continues: “Where there is a gap or something needs replacing I can shop to do this. It’s not about denying yourself things. It is just about being more conscious with your spending.”
She says her biggest savings have been made through spending less on clothes and household goods. “I plan meals for the week so I don’t buy food unnecessarily. I’ve decluttered the kitchen cupboards so I can easily see what ingredients are there. I never buy duplicates by mistake now or throw away food. I have halved the cost of our weekly food shop through this process – it’s a huge saving.”
Colins also says she has got rid of all her store and credit cards so there is no temptation to spend unwisely or on a whim, something she might have regretted in the past.