Local

marketWhen I was in Primary School, I remember–in what was then called ‘Social Studies’—hearing how one day we would be eating grapes from France, oranges from California, bananas from Indonesia and beans from South America.

I recall thinking to myself, ‘That’s silly. We grow all these things here. Why would I want to buy them from overseas?’

In that era, we would travel into the city once a week to the markets and buy all our fruit and vegetables, then go to the local butcher for our meat, the bakery for our bread, and the dairy in the hills for our milk.

Today I can walk into any supermarket and see Californian lemons, Peruvian asparagus and green beans, Thai rice and coconuts and Mexican pineapple. In addition to this, we have Italian tomatoes in tins, Polish pickles in jars, and all sorts of spice mixes and pastes from India, China and Vietnam.

And it’s all so conveniently located in one place: the supermarket.

The days of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker are long gone.

No matter how I try, I can’t seem to divorce the idea of buying locally grown produce and locally made merchandise as part of the minimalist lifestyle. One of the main tenets of Minimalism is to reduce use and waste. It seems to me that buying a tin of Italian tomatoes must include in the cost the carbon price of the ship that transported it the 15,000 or so kilometres to my table and the purchase of a bottle of juice must take into account the fact that the concentrate from which it is made originated in Brazil. A price has been paid to use that product and often the price is the loss of our farmers’ livelihood and land.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a Globalist. I am all for trade. The idea of trade, however, is to give something others cannot get in their country for something they have that we can’t produce in ours. The idea of bulldozing thousands of hectares of fruit orchards in the South Australian Riverland into the ground and then buying our citrus from America and peaches from Europe astounds me!

I’m glad that Australian legislation now requires all fresh produce to be labelled with its nation of origin. I pay attention to this. Better still, shopping at farmer’s markets gives us access to fruit, vegetables, flowers, eggs, herbs, and meat that has been produced within a short drive from where we live. We support those who are part of our community and, at the same time, contribute to our own local economy. No waste of fuel. No needless pollution of our skies. No unused crops dug into the dirt. No farmers needing to sell their farm because they can’t seem to make ends meet.

We still enjoy foreign-made food occasionally, but whatever we can buy local, we buy local and support one another. That’s what the core of minimalist living is all about.

Explore further:

Local Harvest: Find local producers (localharvest.org.au)
The Australian Made Campaign
Why Buy Local (eLocal infographic)
10 Reasons to Buy Local Food (University of Vermont)

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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)

Books

I love reading. I grew up in a house full of books. My parents read to us as little children and invested a good sum in book collections and encyclopaedia sets as we grew. I remember our weekly visits to the Library which continued right through high school.

Truthfully, I owe who I am today to books and my love of reading. From Dr Seuss to The Hardy Boys to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, books have been indicators of and the catalyst for my growth: physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.

It came naturally, then, for one of my first furniture purchases when I left home to be a bookcase. I bought two of them, carefully sanded them back and repainted them and began filling them with books. When I met Vicki, I had an office in my house which, by this time, had three bookcases. I knew each book well and had read each multiple times.

But then along came Kindle. I hadn’t really noticed before, but my collection of volumes was becoming (as Robyn Devine writes on the Becoming Minimalist blog) my “sagging shelves of stress.” They were taking up space but not performing any useful or joy-bringing function. If anything, they were simply another status symbol: “Look at me. I’m intelligent.”

Before long, my books started missing my time with them. Dust gathered. I started giving away those I had bought on Kindle, then realised how little I had actually touched any of them (except to occasionally wipe off the dust). So, long before I discovered minimalism, I had culled my books down to three small shelves.

Now I have one small stack of books that I enjoy and that have meant a lot to me in my life. These are books I also lend out to friends and family. Not only does lending out books give others a chance to read something they may have not read before, wednesdays_at_onebut I look at it as giving them an insight into how I think and ideals that I hold dear.

I also use the services of my local library when I don’t find the book I want on Kindle (or can’t justify paying for it). As Jamie Morrison Curtis wrote:

You have a garden. If you ever get sad that you don’t have a garden of your own, remember that you have hundreds of beautiful gardens all over the city and all over the world. Try to erase the language of “want” from your head. You have everything you need. – Jaime Morrison Curtis, quoted on Be More with Less blog.

I have nothing against owning books, provided they add value and bring joy to one’s life. There is one rule which I have adopted, however, when it comes to deciding which books I choose to keep and that is one taken from Oscar Wilde:

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading [or owning] it at all.

I have a friend who cannot abide a day without some time reading a classic novel—she must own just about every title in the Penguin Classics series (you know, the books with the orange stripes across the cover?) This brings her real joy. Her copies of these paperbacks all have dog-eared pages and torn and crinkled covers. They belong in her home and in her life. I have another friend who has a dedicated library room in his home, but he very rarely finds himself in that room or catches himself browsing the shelves filled with his massive collection. His library may bring him joy; I don’t know. Personally, I can’t see it.

If something doesn’t add value to your life or bring you genuine joy, that’s a good sign you don’t need it in your life. Time to give it away.

The Minimalists frequently give away books, but also talk about ‘minimalising’ a book once it has been read. This means that its value is multiplied as I pass it on to someone else, knowing that by removing it from my space I have not only denied it the chance to become clutter, but have provided value to someone else’s life.

I wish I could give away Kindle books.

Still, I keep my eye on my Kindle Library and remove books I’ve read so that only my current reading list shows on my device. Just like a library of books you never look at can bring a sense of being overwhelmed or mind-cluttered, an endless library in Kindle remove focus and clarity.

Currently on my Kindle, I have a couple of new fiction books from two of my favourite authors. I’ll probably sit down one weekend and knock those off in a single sitting. I have a handful of minimalist-oriented books that help to inspire me. I have a few classics by Kipling and Thoreau which I love to read in small doses from time to time, Rob Bell’s latest How to Be Here, a handful of music ‘fake books’ for when I sit down at the piano and just want to chill, and some deeper-reading books about science, religion and philosophy.

Once in a while, I’ll come across something I want to read but haven’t got time at the moment and I’ll use the email-to-kindle service to send it to my Kindle. Doing this forces the document on to my reading list and it has a much higher chance of being read than if it remained on the Internet or in my inbox.

Reading is one of my favourite pastimes and brings me great joy. That said, I prefer to live my life without the clutter of stacks of books or chokka-block full bookshelves. For me, I’ll stick with Kindle.

Explore Further

I haven’t talked about the ‘How to” in this post, but here are some very useful recommendations:

Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books (Becoming Minimalist)

How to Let Go of Your Books (Be More with Less)

Why I Downsized my Book Collection to None (Minimalist Packrat)

 

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)

 

Winter

imageToday I’m sitting in a warm living room while, outside, the wind is blowing up a gale and hail is hitting the front window side-on. It’s a blustery, winter day.

Yesterday we experienced a short time where the power went out. We lit candles, bundled up and knew that we would be fine. Our stove and hot water is open gas, so we weren’t concerned about a prolonged outage.

A short drive away, my son who is an apprentice gardener on a 9-acre country garden estate, was dealing with his boss in her massive house complaining how the floor heating wasn’t working and they would have nothing to do without the TV working that night. All he could do was stoke up their three fireplaces and come home to his small but cozy and warm home.

I am fascinated by the Tiny House movement and one of the big reasons I am drawn to a smaller home is the pure economics of it. Let’s face it, the monetary savings are enormous. Very ltitle energy is needed to heat a smaller space (and it takes far less time to get it up to a liveable temperature than a big house). Many of the tiny houses I’ve seen have more energy-efficient features such as loft beds which capture the rising heat, solar electricity and hot water, and cleverly-designed areas to maximize heat transfer and make the most of natural light and warmth.

That said, even our 1200-square-foot home is far more efficient than those near us that are far larger.

Minimalism is not simply about having less stuff. It is also about using resources efficiently with as little waste as possible.This not only makes sense in that it saves me money, but also helps us to makes as small a footprint on our planet as possible.

I am warm. I am clean. I am well-fed. I sleep comfortably.

The wind can blow, the rain can fall, the power can go out, and I’ll still be fine.

Explore Further:

How to Make Your Home Energy Efficient (WikiHow)

What We can Learn from Norwegians About Surviving Winter (Vogue)

Tiny Homes are Big on Energy Efficiency (Alliance to Save Energy)

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)