Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bare Minimum Part 3 by MCR Leah A.

During the month of September, Leah started a minimalism challenge. The goal was to remove 465 items from her life by recycling or donating, with only 5% of items allowed to go in the trash.

Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.

Halfway through September, Leah was down 231 items, and keenly aware that she had some tough choices ahead. Read how she finished out the month and whether she met her goal.

Part 3: When the going gets tough, the smart stop carrying things OR Beware the ides of any month

After a whirlwind of effort in the beginning of the month, the middle found me swamped. First assignments due for school, a busy month at work, and my house was covered in piles of things based on how ready I was to let them go. I am a skilled organizer, yet cloth bags and boxes could only tame so much. Confronting my stuff every day as I came home was definitely stressful, but it just made me commit to ideals of Overwhelmed even more. It was a trial-by-fire which I couldn't have designed better.

Want a great way to unpack your perceptions of the balance between work and leisure? Try watching TV while piles of clothes cover every bit of space you aren't occupying! A glass of wine helps, in my experience.

I had intended to hold all my clothing donations for Homeless Connect, but I needed some room to study. I dropped bags of clothes and other miscellaneous items into the donation bin in front of BGCBigs. A third party sells it off and directs a small portion to the charity. Not ideal, but my donation options are limited since I have a 9-5 job and no car.

When I tallied these items I was at 329 (71%) items down. Just 136 (29%) to go! It had been while since I actually moved things out of my house and I had forgotten how great it felt to come home with less than I left with. I could see why the original game had the daily element, but I was definitely glad to be doing this over the month as a whole. I don’t think I could have kept going facing 22-30 items per day for the remainder of the month.

Week four started off with another batch of items destined for the Reuse Centre. I felt almost petty counting my old laundry scoops as 4 items, but they were on the list and I debated each one. It's weird, the things that seem easy to let go of at first and then you hear a voice taunting, "maybe I will need this someday…"

Forget that voice—someday rarely comes.

I was also able to pack up items for my sister and mother from the keepsake project for shipping. When both they and the Reuse Centre stuff went out I would be at 469 items. I had done it!

...But there were still boxes to go through, closets to clean, and things I could almost let go of. I decided to up the goal to 500 items to keep the motivation high. Disappointingly, I had to put the challenge on hold for the next three days while I cleaned up for a dinner party. To console myself, I shredded all the paper I had amassed during the month to date. That task also gave me that light feeling I so enjoyed.

Saturday, September 27th, my friend Kat collected me to do a donation run. The Bissell Centre got "54" items. Like the pens, I counted multiples of the same thing as one item. The last Reuse Centre run was under deadline at 3:55 pm! I let go of my collection of cooking magazines after much debate, including a last minute one in the parking lot outside of the centre. I don’t use them with the internet at my fingertips, and they can have a second life in someone else’s kitchen, or perhaps as part of a vision board collage.

I spent the last two days of September enjoying my space. I felt like I had hit the edge of what I could let go of without regret. I think just like regular weight loss, losing too much stuff too fast can be as damaging as it is beneficial.

I input my final data, and sat down to do some analysis! Garbage total was under 5%, and in just a month I had removed 552 items from my home. Counting several lingering items I'd packed up for friends, my final total was actually 630. I have let go of those things in my mind even if they haven’t left my house (Yes, there are that many things left in my spare room!)

This game was a great experience. I have planned some miniature versions of it for 2015. I'll pick a weekend and commit to purging 50 items. Perhaps as a January 2015 kick off! Maybe you’ll be playing along with me then.

Lessons Learned:
  • Be a weekday warrior. While leaving big donations for the weekend makes sense, take something out of your house each day for the emotional lift.
  • Track what you are doing so that when it starts to feel daunting you can look at exactly where you are in real numbers, not estimates.
  • Don’t forget to take a day off if you need to.
Read Bare Minimum Part 1 & Bare Minimum Part 2

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


  1. Way to go Leah! I've really enjoyed your series and you have a great writing style too.

    1. Thanks Nicola! I really enjoyed sharing this experience with others. (I held a swap last weekend and continue to be amused at how much I have that I don't need.

  2. You go Leah! I'm contemplating doing a blog post on how many items I own, I think the number could be surprising.

    1. I would absolutely read that - especially if you wrote about how/what you would count!

  3. Leah, I also wanted to mention that we have a minimalist meeting this coming Sunday at 2pm at Mercer tavern (if you, or anyone) is interested in attending. Some great conversation about decluttering always happens.

    1. Since I totally missed this one, when might the next minimalist meeting be? (Feel free to prod me on Facebook as well.)

  4. Yay, Leah! You inspired me to declutter my living room (again). Never ending job, this business of keeping life simple!

    1. That is super awesome to hear! It is odd how the clutter seems to accumulate, eh?