Stationery

brushes

We all have that one drawer, the one shelf, that one cupboard that seems to draw in no small quantity of pens, pencils, scissors, paints, paper, cards, note pads, and various and sundry items that would, in some way, fall into the category of stationery.

There is a special class of people, known colloquially as “Stationery Queens,” or “Newsagent Tragics,” who inevitably find themselves surrounded by all manner of writing, drawing, crafting, or colouring tools.

Working in a school, I’ve seen a fair few of these folks. It’s not hard to spot the classroom where the teacher has to bring in extra cupboards to house her collections. We all know that one teacher whose garage is full of all manner of creative ingredients that she “might need some day.”

But how many pens do I need? How much paper can I reasonably assume I’ll use? Do I really want those 7 boxes of assorted greeting cards taking up valuable shelf space (a.k.a. “life space”)?

I have to confess, I have always loved anything to do with creativity. Pens, paper, paints, frames, canvas, staplers glue guns, tins and boxes to store my creative elements in. . . . I liked the idea of having any tool that would take my fancy, at any split-second of inspiration, at my fingertips. I mean, how could I paint that beautiful sunset if I didn’t have a full set of oils, watercolours, acrylics and pastels? And, obviously, I needed to have a selection of boards, papers, canvas and mounts from which to choose.

Minimalism is about making the complicated simple, and this can be incorporated into all aspects of your life, including your creative practice. (Dan Johnson, Right Brain Rockstar)

What I realised—and am still realising—is that keeping a large amount of material on hand “just in case” is almost a guarantee that a rainy day will never come. Truth is, I have a few pens and brushes that are my favourites and which I use regularly. I prefer watercolours so hardly touch other media. I find sketchbooks or multi-purpose pads of paper work fine for me. Then I have a number of art supply shops nearby if I ever find I need a canvas, another medium, or different tools.

So, in looking over my own art-supply-decluttering trajectory, I have used a few principles which I would like to share with you.

You can have too much. You accumulate to a certain level and then the brain starts to work overtime whenever it comes to making a decision on what to use, what to do. Being overwhelmed with choice is the malady of our generation. What often makes life simpler (and provides focus as a bonus) is to limit your choices to what you absolutely love and can’t live without. Play the “lost on a desert island” game and pretend there are only 5, or ten creative tools you can have with you when you are marooned on an island.

It’s the little things. Another imprinted pen offered by a salesman? Another pack of notebooks bought on sale? Yet another box of those cute greeting cards? Recognise the difference between free and useful, and between something that adds value and something that is on sale.

Limit available storage. Nothing says “I can’t buy any more” then having no place to put stuff. Allow yourself one drawer, or one box, or one pencil case. Whatever fits in that place is OK, but no overflow. If you truly need something new, you must then dispose of something old to make room.

One more thing: Try digital. Do you have an iPad or Tablet PC? Why not get a stylus or pen and use it? A Wacom pen tablet may be something you can use, attached to your Mac or PC. You might wish to invest in a simple art app or programme. I have a couple of good ones I use on my iPad: ArtRage (painting) and Sketches Pro. Using apps, you can have a near-limitless quantity of pens and brushes, a huge variety of media and materials, and virtually-limitless storage for your creations.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. If you are creative, you will know the feeling of joy and fulfilment when you complete a piece of art. Your idea of what you can live without won’t match mine. In the end, it’s all down to whatever brings you joy and brings value to your life.

Explore Further

24 Best iPad Art Apps for Painting and Sketching  (CreativeBloq.com)

The Minimalist Guide to Creativity  (lifehack.org)

How Minimalism can Help You Beat Overwhelm and Be More Creative  (Right Brain Rockstar)

Kitchen

IMG_6975I am a food fanatic.

I love food. Not just any food, but quality food, nutritious food, elegant food, tasty food, exotic food. I truly enjoy food: shopping for it, cooking and creating it, eating it, serving it.I love checking out new restaurants. I read foodie blogs. I watch foodie shows like MasterChef and a number of kitchen-variety shows. I am amazed by the new breed of food-creation tools—moulds, pipes, smokers, mixers, crushers, sprayers, vacuum sealers, siphon guns, blow torches. . . .

Both my pantry and my cupboards show my food obsession. And this was a great cause of concern for me when I started down the minimalist path. What was I to do with all this food-related stuff?

Lucky for me I had an ‘out’ clause: creating, serving and eating food brings me joy. By the ‘rules’ of minimalism, I’m allowed to keep stuff that brings me joy, right?

Joy is a very subjective term and, while the various food experiences brought me immense gratification, the cupboards full of ingredients, containers, pans, cookbooks and utensils was not a joy to me. It brought added stress: storage, use-by dates, unopened multiple bags of ingredients (they were on sale at some time I’m sure), washing up, mess. . . .

So here’s what I did.

I started small.

My first attempt at de-stressing my food life was to decide that one-quarter of all my food-related gear had to go. If I had two of something, one got donated to the op shop. If I hadn’t used a cookbook since I bought it, it was gone. I got a stack of glass jars and put all my ingredients in them, labelled and visible, only replacing ingredients when the jar was empty.

I created a few basic rules.

Do not buy anything just because it’s on sale and I plan to ‘use it someday.’ My cupboards were overflowing with excess flour, sugar, nuts, grains, flavourings. I had a huge jar of maraschino cherries my mum bought me 4 years ago in the back of one cupboard and a mini-muffin maker in the back of another.

No more cookbooks. There is so much now online that hard copy cookbooks are no longer necessary in my life. (As it is, I hardly ever use them except for getting ideas.)

Clear the counter tops. I saw Josh Becker’s kitchen counters on YouTube after watching the Minimalism documentary and that ‘blank slate look’ was my goal—but it didn’t work out that way for me. I still have our coffee maker (can’t live without!), fruit bowl (healthy snacks) and knife block (easy-to-reach) on the counter and our stainless steel dish drainer lives on the sink. There is a candle and a box of tissues in the corner, but, apart from these few everyday-use items, our counters are clean and clear.

If you already have one, don’t buy another. I had accumulated multiple sets of things simply because I liked the look of those glasses, even though I already had a set in the cupboard, or I needed (no, I had convinced myself I needed) that kind of mug, even though the ones I had at home worked just as well.

Clean the Fridge. No more bills, photos (apart from on each of my kids and their partners), or takeaway menus hung piecemeal by magnets, clips or blu-tak.

Get rid of the catch-all spaces. In my case, I chucked out a multi-compartment wooden box we had been using for bills, pens, paper, mail and lots of other useful and useless items. I replaced this with one drawer and a drawer tidy, throwing out 90% of what that catch-all space had ‘caught.’ I still can access a pen if I need one, and I know where the stamps are, but they are not taking up counter space.

Always leave the kitchen better than you found it. I borrowed this from Cambria Bold (www.thekitchn.com). She explains that: ‘This might mean quickly wiping down the table when they pass through the room, or taking the water glasses out of the sink and loading them in the dishwasher. It means always looking at your kitchen with a discerning eye and asking yourself: “What small thing can I do in this moment to make my kitchen a little bit better?” Small things grow up to be great habits.’

I made shopping easier. I did this by refusing to allow myself to be sucked into sales or ‘bulk buy’ specials. I also started creating a shopping list and am (slowly) learning to stick to it. As Vicki reminded me just the other day, ‘The shop’s only up the road. If you find out that we really need that, you can just run up the hill and buy it.’ That’s a great line, especially since I usually find that I don’t need that item after all.

The kitchen is still a work in progress, I am still a MasterChef addict. And, although my Instagram is still filled with food creations, I am finding out that so much is possible with a lot less, and the additional effort exerted when you perhaps don’t have the exact tool you need makes the resulting dish all the more delicious.

Explore Further

Bargains (ozminimalist.com)

The 10 Commandments of a Clutter Free Kitchen (thekitchn.clom)

The Best Route to a Cleaner Kitchen (realsimple.com)

The 19 Items You Need on Your Next Grocery List (Huntington Post)

 

Meaning

Last night Vicki and I had the privilege of viewing Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things (see the trailer here) at our local Indy Cinema. The theatre was packed with many like-minded and curious people who laughed, clapped and gasped together in all the right places.minimaldoco

This doco is a well-crafted work and follows, loosely, one of The Minimalists’ (Joshua Fields-Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus) book tours, inserting commentary and analysis from a wide range of folk, from Neuroscientists to Culture-watchers and Media personalities. Through the story were inter-woven ‘chapters’ on topics such as fashion, tiny houses (one of my current favourites), advertising, meditation, and how to minimalise in a family setting.

All in all, this documentary perfectly captures the minimalist movement and the philosophy behind this growing phenomenon.

I have been immersed in the minimalist culture for a while now. I have read most of the books mentioned in the documentary and regularly listen to several podcasts featuring some of the major players. What I took away from the film is this idea of meaning.

Everything I own, must bring some meaning into my life. Everything must serve a useful purpose or bring joy. It’s not the number of things I have, but the fact that the things I have are my favourites and are put to good use in my life. Sometimes minimalism can bring meaning to my life in a different way than I expect. I appreciated the story of one couple who decided to pare down the number of possessions and found that, in doing this, it opened up opportunities to borrow from and to share with others, thus building relationships in community with like-minded people.

Vicki hasn’t had the same exposure to minimalism that I have and what she took away from the film was a greater awareness of the effect of modern life and culture—especially advertising and fashion—on our lives. What all those featured in this production had in common was a determination to make a new path for themselves in saying ‘No’ to the expectations of culture and say ‘Yes’ to what brings joy and meaning into their life. It wasn’t simply a philosophy of having less stuff, but having more time, more quality relationships, more freedom, and more focus.

The film is still playing a few Australian venues (not in Adelaide again, unfortunately) and I hope it achieves good success. (It is also available to pre-order online for under AUD$30 including 6 hours of bonus content.) Its message speaks to a great need in the lives of most of us who share this planet: a need for meaning, for an awareness of the cultural pond in which we swim and how we can respond to this in a purposeful and responsible manner.

Gadgets

I am a gadget geek.

I genuinely look forward to the new iPhone being released, the latest edition of TechLife magazine, a newer and more compact lens for my DSLR camera, or the latest advancement in earbud technology.

I appreciate sleek design, the minimalist styling of any Apple product and the powerhouse of boards, chips and processors ‘under the hood’ of a laptop, phone or SmartTV.

But, the fact is, most gadgets and technology-rich products come with a sense of novelty and are challenging and fun to use for a while. . . . Then they lose their lustre, are not all that the reviewers promised, or don’t make me as happy as I thought they would.

Since jumping into minimalism, I have had a major cleanout and rethink of the gadgets I use and the gear I buy. Here are a few tips that I’ve come up with based on my own rationalisation experience.

Clean out those drawers of cables, spare parts and adaptors. When we first started going through our home and decluttering, this is one of the first problem areas I attacked. I found drawers and boxes full of copper-cored ‘spaghetti’ of various lengths and types that rarely saw the light of day. Most of it fell into the ‘just in case’ category. It took a while but I matched up all adaptors with their relevant tech products and realised I had 3 or 4 of some when I only needed one. I also found a handful of transformers from old gadgets which I had disposed of years ago—out the door. I had 5 HDMI cables and only really used one. I had a box of old VGA, RCA, ¼” and headphone adaptors of various configurations—out they went. I had covers and cases galore which I used for a few weeks and fell out of love with just as quickly. Gone. I realised after I had finished, that I used the greater part of my Saturday on this one area—it clearly had been a problem.

Sell or give away unused or outdated Gear. I had an old iPad (victim of an upgrade) which we thought we could use as a media server attached to our TV. We didn’t use it. Chances are, we would never use it—just maintaining it would take time we didn’t really need, or want, to spend. I sold it. We had several old mobile phones so we erased their data and dropped them in a Mobile Muster bin at a local phone shop. We had an old laminator, a CD collection that was never utilised, numerous USB devices and hard drives. These too were sold. Reclaiming cupboard space never felt so good.

Refuse to buy into the ‘Newest is best’ mindset. Now that the clutter is gone, it’s still a temptation to trade-up, buy new, or give in to the advertising that bombards me every day with the latest and best gadgetry. But ‘new’ isn’t always ‘best.’ My son just traded his old mobile phone for (wait for it!) an iPhone 5s. He did his research and juxtaposed that against his needs as a gardener and chose a tough, well-made phone with just the amount of technology he needed to make his life easier. He gets that rationality from his mum. Unlike him, I am far too easily drawn into new technology and I know this will continue to be a problem for me, so I unsubscribed from Gadget Geek, TechLife, and a raft of other magazines and email lists whose sole purpose was to create a need in my life where there was none. I try to avoid ad-driven websites when I do my work. I stay away from big brand retailers and, when I venture in to the Apple Store, I hum under my breath the theme from The Minimalists podcast:

Every little thing you think that you need . . .
I bet that you’d be fine without it.

When faced with a decision now to buy or upgrade, I do three things:

I ask, “Will this bring me genuine joy?” Being aware of how the feeling of happiness when purchasing a new product passes quicker with every new product I buy, I know better than to mistake that consumer excitedness with lasting joy. The truth is gadgets never bring joy. What you choose to do with them has the potential to bring joy. We need to see these products as tools, not an end in themselves.

I ask, “Will this add value to my life?” Having given away most of my library, my Kindle for iPad bring immense value into my life. My photo collection, scanned from my family’s photo albums can be viewed on my TV, my iPad, or my phone. The value is beyond measure. With my camera, I record beauty which brings me incredible joy. The list isn’t long, but every piece of technology I now own has a purpose and a measurable value attached to its use.

I wait. I usually give such decisions a good week, sometimes more, to settle in my mind. During that time, I read reviews of this and similar products, looking particularly for evidence of value added to the reviewer’s life. I research to see if this is the best use of my money or if there is something that is of better quality—something that does the job I need it to do in a better or more efficient way.

I am currently looking to upgrade my Blitz-n-Go smoothie maker since it is nearing its last ‘blitz.’ I’m now up to this stage, but I have put the decision on hold because I have determined that the best value item isn’t cheap and I need some time to save for what will be the best use of my cash. I’m not willing to splash out for another cheap item that will, like its predecessor, last less than a year.

I continue to look out for confirmation bias in my mind—where my mind find ways to justify why I should have this new item—and rationally think through occurrences of this. A ‘Pro’ and ‘Con’ list often helps as well. If at the end of the predetermined time, I still see this purchase as a good idea, and I have the funds to do so, I go ahead and commit.

Once I buy it, I remove from my life the old version of it or the unit it is replacing by either throwing it in the garbage, selling it, or donating it to someone who can use it.

In the end, I am left with a handful of really useful gadgets that continue to bring joy or add value to my life. I’ll share in a later post those items I have, use and, in some cases, wouldn’t be without.

Explore Further

Best Travel Gadgets from the Man who Owns 70 Things (Forbes Magazine)

Our 21-day Journey into Minimalism (The Minimalists)

How to Recycle Your Electronics and Gadgets (CNET)

Bargains

“We might need it someday.”

“It’s too good a deal to pass up.”

“At that price, I’d better get two.”

How many times have we caught ourselves saying these or similar things? I must admit that I have made such declarations many times, usually at the bargain shop or in the throes of end-of-season sales.

If that’s not enough, we receive reams of unsolicited sales paraphernalia in our letterbox or in the mail, urging us to “Buy now,” and telling us “This offer is for a limited time.” Bring on the mind-insulting rug, furniture or car ads to TV that tell us that these are “never-to-be-repeated prices,” and we can’t believe how quickly the money has flown from our wallet or bank account.

File 1-06-2016, 1 19 40 PMAnd this is how we use our free time. Shopping is the new religion. Malls are the new places of worship. Sales are the worship services. Bargains are the gods. We are fanatics, addicted to the feeling of completeness a full shopping bag seems to bring. As Michelle Castillo writes, “There’s nothing as addicting as a cheap buy.”

Correct that to a “perceived cheap buy,” because, as we are all aware, very few places ever sell everything at Recommended Retail Price (RRP). That’s simply a stated figure that retailers use to show how great a discount they will offer to secure your custom. And we fall for it, spending billions  in shopping centres and mega-malls every year. Then there are online retailers, local and international. Then there are the increasing number of social shopping sites such as Groupon, Zazz, Catch of the Day and Daily Deal and it’s all the easier to be tempted to exchange your hard-earned dollars for things to clutter your home and life.

Someone once told me, “A bargain is only a bargain if you need it.”

But how often do we buy something we think we “need” when, in fact, it’s not necessary and adds no value whatever to our life?

Like the bike I’ve ridden once.

Like the new tool I had to have and used it for the first time in the three years since its purchase.

Like that dozen Krispy Kreme® donuts (I really needed those? All of them?)

It’s time we learn how to say “No” when confronted with the purpose-written advertisements and dazzling billboards. We must learn to question our purchases and to abstain from the “just in case” mentality.

If it doesn’t add real value to your life, regardless of how cheap it is, it’s not a bargain—it’s an unnecessary expense.

Explore Further

Social Buying Motivated by Psychology, Not a Great Deal (Time.com)

Shop ‘til You Drop: Battling Compulsive Shopping (Australian Psychological Society)

Anti-consumerism is the New Democracy (abc.net.au)

Assembly Required (Is shopping the new religion?) (The Guardian)

Clutter

“If you have clutter in your real life, your tangible life, then it really adds to the emotional clutter in your mind.” Giuliana Rancic

Early in our marriage, my wife and I dropped by to see my mum’s cousin. Her daughter was a reporter with the local paper and it seems like our visit was something that didn’t happen too often in their part of the country.

When we entered the house, I was first overcome with a smell that was something between the staleness of old, mouldy newspaper and the stench of one who hasn’t used soap for a while.

Both were probably true.

The second thing that hit us as we made our way through the kitchen was the sheer amount of clutter: picture every bench, cupboard and table piled high with dirty/clean dishes, magazines, appliances and leftover snacks. As we moved into the ‘living area’ we mused how that one could exist in this room, but certainly not live: piles of newspapers and magazines, boxes filled with who-knows-what, clothing and blankets thrown around haphazardly, and a narrow aisle through it all to get to the furniture . . . which we had to clear off before we dared to be seated . . . if we didn’t mind the dust.

Before we were able to escape outside for the obligatory photo, we both made mental notes of this disconcerting state of intense clutter, hoarding and filth, and silently pledged our home would never, ever become like this.

Thank God, our house has always been clean. We have never had to struggle to find a pathway anywhere on our home. We were pretty good at this ‘uncluttered’ life.

So we thought.

When I first came upon The Minimalists, I thought we had our stuff under control. We didn’t have boxes of unused clothing in the spare room, our bookshelves were filled with books we loved, and our wardrobes contained clothing that we wore somewhat regularly …at least that was what we thought.

Until we decided to test how much of a hoard we had and hired a skip bin. We logged on to Skip Bins Online and, the next day, a huge Jim’s Skip Bins truck dropped off an empty container in the driveway. Over the following week, we went through our shed, our spare room, our wardrobes and drawers, our cupboards and our yard and hardly found anything to throw out filled the bin to bursting with all sorts of rubbish and useless stuff … plus 12 huge garbage bags full of clothing, bric-a-brac, Manchester and kitchen gear to drop by the Salvos, plus several boxes of books to pass on to friends who read!

In the process I relieved myself of thousands of old photos (scanned them), yearbooks (took photos of memorable pages), music books (haven’t sung those songs for decades!) and ‘just in case’ clutter (you know what this is—the two kitchen drawers full of buttons, ribbons, shoe strings, nuts, screws, that old hinge from the previous kitchen door which you might need one day, golf pencils, promotional pens, various ointments and bottles of who-knows-what …)

We were gob-smacked at how much stuff—rubbish and donate-able goods—we could find in our average 3-bedroom home. Surprisingly, it didn’t stop there. For the next 3 or 4 weeks, our kerbside wheelie bin was chokka with the remnants of the clear out. And, just when I thought we had left only the essentials, I did another run-through the house and gathered enough gear together for a car boot sale (which happened last week and  I made over $200) as well as several more bags for a friend who is starting up a charity shop.

Did we need to declutter? Definitely ‘Yes.’ As Francine Jay (Miss Minimalist) is known for saying, “Your home is a living space, not a storage space”–and this enormous pile of stuff was simply making our house a beautiful storage locker. There were things in that skip bin that (first) long ago ceased to have any meaning to us or (second) no longer added value to our life. Getting rid of it was the best decision we’ve made.

Is this the end of it all? No. Living with a minimalist mentality means we are always evaluating what we own using the twin questions of meaning and adding value.

As The Minimalists say,  it’s not about the what? but the why? Decluttering is not the end result, just the first step.

You don’t become instantly happy and content by just getting rid of your stuff—at least not in the long run. Decluttering doesn’t work like that. If you simply embrace the what without the why, then you’ll get nowhere (slowly and painfully, by the way, repeatedly making the same mistakes). It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable, to come home to your empty house and sulk after removing all your pacifiers. I believe we are seeing the value of less more each day and we have come to a point where clutter will not enter our home again. (Blogpost: Decluttering Doesn’t Work. Read it here.)

Strangely enough, one of our favourite programs to watch together on TV is Hoarders. It takes us back to my second cousin’s house and an unfortunately unforgettable day.

Perhaps we know we always need a reminder.

Explore Further

5 Tips for Decluttering (short video)

10 Creative Ways to Declutter Your Home

18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess