The Simple Life...
I’ve always worked in academic years rather than calendar ones. It’s really confusing for others, particularly when I start referring to next year in Spring. People assume I’m talking about the actual next year when I really mean July/August. Most people grow out of this when they leave school and university, but for me it was maintained, first by playing rugby, and then when I changed careers and became a teacher.
I’m not going to bore you with details of my life in education, but the Autumn term is the longest of the year, and can be a real slog to get through. On the other hand the spring term races by, and I can’t believe we are at the end of January already. It’ll be half term before I know it and then the cycle of mock exams/revision/real exams will begin and we’ll be heading off on our summer holidays.
The reason that I’m talking about how quickly the year is going is because a lot of my resolutions were in part inspired by our summer plans. Sometimes we make a conscious change in our actions, and there has certainly been an element of that as I seek to live a more sustainable life. Sometimes we need a motivator to finally help us to make the changes that we want to, to stop making excuses and get on with it.
I’ve been speaking a lot recently about wanting to live a simpler life and this has been accelerated by a decision that we finalised back in November. In August this year, Kat and I are going to be moving to Australia for a year. It’s been on the radar for us for a while: Kat’s had the ambition to live in Australia since she was about four, and we have finally decided to take the plunge (don’t worry, Kalleco will still be run by Kat remotely)!
This is a really exciting, and terrifying, adventure for both of us. For me it involves taking a sabbatical year from teaching, and not having regular paid employment for the first time since I started my first paper round at the age of 13. It’s also an opportunity for me to explore some of my non-teaching ambitions, to travel, and to share some great experiences with my wife and best friend (both the same person).
Neither of us considers ourselves to be wasteful, but we are constantly surprised at how much we accumulate. This is made particularly clear when we’ve moved house in the past, and the realities of flat-sharing when we were in London meant that happened six times in six years. Moving house is a good chance to reduce clutter, to give away to charity, and to recycle other things. It’s nothing like the challenge of trying to reduce what you live with down to a rucksack or suitcase for a year!
Back in 2005 I lived in Australia for nine months. I did not have a huge number of possessions at the time, I was 21 and attuned by filthy student living to be quite happy wearing the same jeans/t-shirt combo for days on end, and I still struggled to reduce what I needed down. In 2011 I went out to France for a year, and started with just one hold all (that grew and by the time I left I had at least triple that).
The things I have accumulated now, by the age of 35, with a marriage, a love of cooking, and a reluctance to throw things away borne of environmental concern and a nagging feeling that I might need it at some point means that this is going to be even more challenging. With three months of planning behind me, and just over six months left to fully prepare before we head off, I’ve been researching plans to help me slim my life down.
A long way to go…
Although this may surprise some of my friends and colleagues, I consider myself an optimist. Kat might argue that at times my optimism can spill over into delusion, and I consistently underestimate how long tasks will take. Cleaning, DIY, cooking, packing, blogs (sorry) all of these are things that I start at the time I think it will take to complete them, and end up overshooting the deadline. Our Christmas holiday experience has made me even less confident about this challenge.
At Christmas we went away for two weeks. I started off with an intention to be minimalist. Yet I packed a hold-all full of clothes and shoes. Admittedly I did not use half of the things I took, but it does not bode well for living for a whole year out of one bag.
So what can I do to change? And apart from the practicalities of carting around more than one bag in Australia, why do I care so much? I've started to do some research and for my next trip I'm going to follow the advice of Emma at Mind Body Green. Careful list making seems like a sensible start, and their other tips can make a big improvement to my, currently woeful, packing.
Sustainability and consumerism
I’m going to speak more about consumerism and its impact on the environment in my next blog, but it’s relevant here so I’m going to touch on it. It’s not just packaging waste that is polluting our oceans, filling landfills and releasing toxins into the environment when it is burnt, there are problems with plastic in so many other elements of our life. As more and more people consider an eco friendly, sustainable life, at some time individuals will have to have a reckoning with themselves and consider what they buy and why. Buying and producing less is essential (see my blog on The Buyerarchy of Needs) if we want the environment to improve.
It’s pretty obvious that we won’t be cutting down all of our possessions to a bag full, and I’m going to be leaving some winter clothing behind in the UK. This will be put into storage, along with our kitchen and homeware. In the past when we have done big moves, I have started the process with the best of intentions about reducing clutter, then run out of time and packed everything really quickly at the last minute! With six months to go we have a real opportunity to think about what we want to keep, and what we want to recycle and pass on to those who need something more than us.
Why a minimalist lifestyle?
Minimalism is having something of a revival at the moment, although it’s questionable whether it ever went away. Two of the most enduring and popular forms of interior design, influenced by Scandinavian and Japanese ideas, are largely minimalist. Having too much clutter can cause stress and having an organised home is easier if you follow minimalist principles. The most famous advocate of these at the moment is Marie Kondo and you can check out ten tips for tidying here, based on her hugely successful book and Netflix series. Some of the ideas seem to be so common sense that you do wonder why you didn’t do them before, and although some of the others can seem strange they have roots in Japanese culture and society.
The idea of only keeping things that spark joy seems quite original and is the main thing that I think people have taken away from all the reporting about the KonMari method. It means you can keep the really special items that you want, which have happy memories and associations for you.
The thing that I find hardest about doing this is when I consider practicality. Some items that I need, do not spark joy in the literal sense, so I have broadened my definition of the word. For example, the bowls that I eat out of are not something that immediately spark joy in me, however they are essential and it would be wasteful to get rid of them to replace with a more pleasing bowl. I therefore consider the wider implications. The plain, ugly coloured green bowls (they were left by a previous resident of our home) may not make me immediately joyful, but they allow me to really enjoy rice dishes, soups, veggies, curries, and more, and eating definitely does spark joy for me! By taking on the method of piling items by category I can see what is essential, and for me that sparks a sort of joy, which I would not be enjoying if I were to be wasteful and simply dispose of them.
This is a process that is ongoing for us, and we are reducing our items a bit at a time. Because it’s such a big lifestyle change I find it quite hard to reduce all in one so I am expecting to go through my clothes another two or three times before we actually go away, reducing each time. I have items which do spark joy, but then when I reduce what I have it becomes clear that I still don’t really use them. I’ve found in the past that although I’ve found it hard to let some things go, when I do get rid of them it lifts a little weight from me, and I really enjoy having fewer items around. By repeating the process I learn more about what I need and what I use, and I think this is an important learning process for me.
If you really want to try this process but have no idea where to start there are KonMari consultants, such as Julie Strandberg, who is London based and certified by Marie Kondo.
Minimalism without waste
So, minimalistic living clearly has the potential to be both eco friendly and sustainable. Once we’re living a minimalist lifestyle I hope that we can keep it that way, replacing items when we need to and using the Buyerarchy of Needs as a guide for how we do this. But becoming minimalist from our current lifestyle needs to necessarily entail waste. What can we do about this?
When we are reducing what we have it has to go somewhere, and it really is no good to throw it out and add to the waste and rubbish which affects the environment so negatively. We’ve spoken about clothes swaps in our last blog, and what to do more generally with old clothes. If they’re not in good enough condition to give away or upcycle, we are going to use them to make homemade face and kitchen cloths, which we can give to our family and friends before going away. Here's a great DIY video by Fairyland Cottage on zero waste make up remover pads.
As for other items, one thing that needs to be considered is what they are made from and therefore, whether or not they can be recycled. We will always try to re-home something before we recycle (the process of recycling consumes energy and it is better to reuse, generally). Our first stop is friends and family, seeing if anyone needs what we have. The second is a charity shop, promoting a cause that we care about. This allows things to find a new home, and hopefully spark some joy for someone else!
And so the journey begins! Although we’re not on the flight for a while yet, and I still have another six months of work, the planning has begun in earnest. Last night we made a list of things we are definitely keeping, and whether people might want to look after them for us (seems a shame to have beautiful artworks tucked up in storage when they could grace someone else’s wall for a year - this is where we find out everyone hates our taste…). Simplifying our lives will be a gradual process, and it’s one we started before we made the decision to move to Australia, but we still have a long way to go. I’m going to summarise the KonMari method as “More joy, less things” and try to use that principle to organise my life.