I'd always said I would clean closets and get organized while on maternity leave with our first child. My husband and I aren't hoarders by any means, but we constantly battled junk drawers and meagre closet space in our 1,100-square-foot condo. After 10 months at home, my son was finally napping well but I was no farther ahead on the clutter.
So we went minimalist.
The living-with-100-things movement and stories of radical minimalists had intrigued me, but I knew we weren't aiming for the extreme. Instead, we got rid of everything we rarely used. That equalled five trips with a full car to the Salvation Army, weeks of posting electronics and baby items on Craigslist and selling the Olympic torch I ran with in the 2010 Torch Relay on eBay.
We sold most of our books - my collection went from 300 to six volumes. We purged kitchen tools (coffee grinder, flour sifter, cake pans), baby items (clothes, bathtub, diaper bag, activity mat), makeup and cosmetics, two broken laptops and old cellphones. My wedding dress will get another run down the aisle after I sold it for $150 to an ecstatic bride-to-be.
The last thing we got rid of was our rarely used car. We now use Zipcar, rentals or public transit. Most of the time we walk.
Living with less hasn't been easy. The purging stage was emotionally and physically exhausting. My initial estimate was that it would take me a week. After two months of sorting and donating and selling, I still have a small bin of items to be listed for sale when I am feeling up to it.
Getting rid of thousands of dollars of clothing and housewares that we had barely used, or were still new, made me feel awful about my thoughtless shopping. I had spent weeks and months of my life working to buy these things. It turned out they were things we could live without.
We also went minimalist with our finances. With a new perspective on what we actually need, we reduced our bills by $1,000 a month and curbed our casual spending. We cancelled our cable, newspaper subscription, gym membership and car insurance. We had some luck in the form of a small inheritance and a good tax return. Selling our car and rarely used household items resulted in $5,000 in our pockets. In 10 months, our $82,000 of student loans, investment loans and credit card debt was reduced to $25,000. We're still chipping away at the rest but we see a debt-free future ahead of us and it feels great.
Family and friends have been supportive, skeptical or adamant that we are making a huge mistake. We have been gentle with our words on the subject, and often tell people that it's not for everyone.
I no longer go into stores just to browse. I keep a list of everything in my wardrobe, what needs replacing and what items are still needed. My wardrobe packs into a medium-sized suitcase. I wear everything I own. Everything fits. When I need to do laundry it has to be done or I will have nothing to wear.
Our home is easy to clean, our things are easy to find, our dresser drawers easily shut and some are even empty. I'm not shuffling piles of stuff around desperate for a clean surface. We know what we have, we know where to find it and we know what we use. We are cautious and patient about buying anything new. Sale signs no longer sing to me. Since cutting our cable we now watch between five to six hours of streamed television or DVDs a week. We're finding more time for the things we gave a lot of lip service to but didn't always make time for: health, fitness, reading and each other.
I documented our journey on a blog (theminimalistmom.com) and found it to be the best way to connect with other minimalist families. There aren't a lot of us. The home is mostly a female domain and women tend to be shoppers, gatherers and collectors. Deciding to live with less and not spend money as a hobby or an emotional pick-me-up has alienated me from a few friends. While I don't preach about it in person, several friends have read my thoughts on the subject on my blog and have quietly stopped inviting me to social events. I'm okay with this. My closest friends, regardless of their affinity for minimalism, have been supportive even if they are holding onto over-stuffed closets themselves.
At family gatherings, we're teased about our less-is-more edict. If we buy something new, we hear comments. But our home isn't barren. We have a couch and a television and wine racks. I have a beautiful leather wallet bought in Rome and a handbag that I love. We have things and nice things, but just one of each and just what we use. I don't mind friends and family looking over my shoulder and questioning my purchases. I want them to see that this isn't about having nothing or very little or a set number of things. For us, minimalism boils down to having what we use - and nothing more.
With our reduced spending and reduced debt I am able to stay home with our 16-month-old son. Minimalism has given me one thing you can't buy: time.
To the hard-core minimalists we are not minimalist - we've just cleaned house. That's fine with me. The living-with-100-things movement is not for most people. Living with just what you need, no matter the number, can be for everyone.
Rachel Jonat lives in Vancouver.