Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bare Minimum Part 1 by MCR Leah A.

I have felt the stirrings of minimalist philosophy many times, but it wasn’t until this year that I had anything to report on the subject. This is a three-part story of my first foray into minimalism. (Full disclosure: This was written after the fact, but I drew on notes made during the process so when I say I felt something, I really did!)

Part 1: My path towards minimalism

As part of my Master Composter Recycler (MCR) training there was certainly a real change in my thinking. I started rethinking my possessions: Why did I buy this? Did I need it? Was it making my life better, easier, or simpler? This TED Talk reinforced those thoughts, as did a fellow MCR’s YouTube video (and catchy song). I loved the basic ideas of minimalism: having less, doing more, becoming a connoisseur of life.

The book that started it all
Despite those positive attributes, it just seemed too daunting to me. Where would I start? What would my friends and family think? Would it actually make me happier, healthier, and wealthier in life? I was stuck limbo, interested in minimalism but not pursuing it. Then I read “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, & Play when no one has the Time” in August 2014.

"Overwhelmed" was an interesting read; it takes a gendered look at leisure time. The author examines the reasons North American women feel like they have no ‘free’ time. In brief:
  1. Women have inherited a cultural imperative to maintain thoroughly clean spaces. Leisure, for happiness and mental health, comes AFTER work.
  2. We own a lot of things that all require some amount of care.
Point one really hit home. My grandmother used to say “a man may work to dusk from dawn, but a women’s work is never done” every time my sister and I played a game instead of helping cook or clean. Even as a grown woman, I felt like I was transgressing when I did something fun or unproductive instead of cleaning my house, reading a school assignment, working, or volunteering. At those coffees with friends, we all seemed to be so busy that we were stressed.

If taking down time seems daunting, here is a lifehack for men or women: have fewer things to clean!

Every knickknack needs to be dusted, every blanket folded, every pillow fluffed. Each item you have in your home is not just a thing that you have, but a thing that you have to do. There is always a task to be done, and if we wait to play until we have nothing to do, we may very well die waiting. It was a logical, well laid-out case. I wanted to be free of the trap that my possessions had become.

Galvanized, I revisited this post by The Minimalists, the speakers from this TED Talk. I knew that their game would be a good way for me to start lightening up my life and making space for things that I truly wanted in it.

The Minimalists

How the game works:

This challenge spans one full month. Find a friend who will get rid of some of their excess stuff. Each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day. Two things on the second day. Three things on the third. And so forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. Donate, sell, or trash. Whatever you do, each material possession must be out of your house—and out of your life—by midnight each day. Whoever keeps it going longest wins.

None of my friends were in for September and I didn't want to wait, so I played the game a bit differently. Instead of using daily rules, I set the goal that, by the end of the month, I would possess 465 fewer items. That's the same total as the daily game, but if I missed a day due to school, work, or life, I had not failed.

I took it one step further and set the goal that only 5% of what I got rid of could go in the garbage. This meant I couldn't "cheat" and throw anything usable away just to be rid of it. After all, this wasn't just about getting stuff out of my life, but also about minimizing my environmental footprint.

With my motivation high and my game rules in place, I set up a spreadsheet to track what I sent where, keep an ongoing tally, and count down to my goal of winning this game.

Leah joined the MCR ranks in May of 2014. She believes that urban environments offer a real opportunity to make the world increasingly sustainable. Favoured topics include composting, urban design, and (now) minimalism.

Check back next week to read the next installment of Leah's foray into minimalism!


  1. Awesome! I can't wait to read the next installment. Midnight each night is a tough deadline to set for yourself, I list lots of kijiji but pickups are not that fast - how did you do it?! I started in this journey too, by taking Maria's Simplicity study circle class earlier this year and it has made me question everything that we bring into our house. We receive so much donated items for the children, that we constantly have to process and pass them along to others, it can be overwhelming, even though it has saved us so much money to receive hand-me-downs.

    1. Kijiji and freecycle are both long-game methods. I found that using those sites there are a lot of false starts. Someone says they want something, then doesn't show up to get it. As you will read in the next segments, I had to be more proactive about getting things out. (And playing the month instead of the day helped tons.)

  2. One of the biggest problems I find I had in decluttering was simply getting rid of it...I was constantly thinking "oh I can sell this" or "oh I can find someone someday in the future to gift this too", was easier to just box it up and donate it.