Category Archives: 2011 in 2011

2011 in 2011: un fait accompli


Un fait accompli – noun, def: An accomplished fact, something that has already occurred; a done deal.  

Yes, it’s a done deal.  I’ve finished my decluttering project and have decluttered 6033 items from my home this year.  I didn’t manage to finish my “little project” before we left on our vacation in Puerto Vallarta, but I am finished in advance of the end of 2011.  This will allow me to focus less on decluttering and more about getting into the spirit of Christmas, which is coming up pretty fast this year.  My wish for Christmas this year is that we’re able to avoid a major influx of gifts and toys for the children, and the only way I know how to accomplish that is to not buy them anything myself.  So they’ll be getting one joint gift (a Lego set) from Santa that they can both play with.  No, I’m not a grinch.  I just don’t like seeing the wrapping flying off the presents on Christmas morning, only to see the same toys and gifts neglected within a week due to the fact that the kids got too much stuff.

We returned from Mexico this past Sunday and although I did not think once about decluttering anything while I was there (heaven!), I did have some time to reflect on how happy the people there were and how interesting that fact is given that they have a lot less materially than a lot of other people in North America.  It is definitely a powerful observation.  Here’s a few other things I learned while travelling this past week:

  • You can go on a week’s vacation and bring only one backpack with you.  For our family of four, we packed four small bags for our vacation – two small duffel bags and two day-size backpacks.  For future trips, I am going to aim for one backpack per person.  My six year old demonstrated that he is already big enough to carry a backpack with all his things in it, which is great news for any parent travellers out there.  I brought enough clothing with us that we didn’t have to do any laundry (just hand-washing a couple of items), but the good news is that if you have access to laundry, you don’t need to bring as many things with you which can lighten your travel load considerably.
  • You may not need more than ten items of clothing for a week long trip.  And, as a bonus, your back will thank you.  I brought only ten clothing items with me, and not only was I content with the size of my wardrobe for the week, I brought too much and didn’t get  a chance to wear everything.  The kids were more likely to wear all the clothes I brought for them, but I discovered halfway through our trip that there was laundry facilities in the lobby of our hotel and had I known, I would have packed only half the amount of what I took with us for them to wear. My husband, the pack mule of the family who ended up carrying three of our bags most of the way home, had a huge realization when we arrived home and he told me he brought five pair of shorts with him on our trip and he only ended up wearing one.  I know he’ll remember that point the next time we go somewhere.
  • If you pack lightly and opt to go for only carry-on baggage, people will look at you like you are a terrorist when you tell them this.  It happened a few times – in Vancouver as we prepared to leave, in Mexico at the check in counter on our way home, and again at Canada customs when we flew into Calgary on our way into Vancouver.  There were even announcements in the airport at Puerto Vallarta that recommended limiting carry-on luggage – the reasoning was that it was “for your own safety.”  As far as I know, there aren’t any dangers to taking only carry-on luggage, I guess as long as the security screening process is effective.

All in all, the trip was amazing and lots of fun was had by all members of our family.  Perhaps we won’t wait so long between travels next time – our last trip to Mexico was for our honeymoon eight years ago!  I don’t think I can wait that long for another pina colada.

How do you like to travel?  Do you travel light or do you like to take all the comforts from home including the kitchen sink?  If you have any good packing secrets for aspiring minimalist travellers, be sure to share them in the comments!

2011 in 2011: taking a moment to reflect on the numbers

I’m hoping to have my decluttering challenge complete before the next two weeks are up. We’re heading off on vacation for a week to a sunny, tropical location and I really do not want to be thinking about minimalism or decluttering while I’m there enjoying the occasional cerveza around the swimming pool.  I’m closing in on my revised goal of three times my original goal of 2011 items decluttered from my home in 2011.  I’m at 5781, which means I’ve got 252 things left to unload before my vacation starts.  Eek!  I might just have to have another go at the kids t-shirt collection before we go.  Or maybe their bin of stuffed animals.  To be honest, I’m not sure where to look for unwanted clutter anymore – I guess that means my project has been a success!

I was compelled to look back at my list of things I’ve decluttered so far and tally the amount of clothing that has left my family’s closets this year.  And the numbers are shocking.  As of today, the following amounts of clothing and accessories have left our home – most of these items went to several thrift stores we are lucky to have in our neighbourhood, but a few items were passed on to family members and friends.

  • 169 articles of adult clothing
  • 5 jackets
  • 122 articles of kid clothing
  • 10 bags, purse and wallets
  • 21 pair of shoes (includes both adult and kid sizes)
  • 23 pieces of costume jewellery
I think what’s most shocking to me is that at the beginning of the year I had nearly 200 items of clothing in my closet, and I still considered myself a minimalist.  I also am grappling with the fact that I can’t fathom than these numbers include nothing from my husband’s side of the closet – apparently he is already a minimalist and doesn’t need any help from me!

Clearly clothing has been an issue for me in the past – since my teenage years, I’ve always gravitated towards having more clothing as a means to being more secure with myself. I’ve learned, however, that it is possible to feel secure in ones’ self and still have a small (and functional) wardrobe.  If you’re thinking of downsizing your closet, I wholeheartedly recommend it!  It’s freeing to be able to devote that mental real estate to other, more enjoyable things.  I’m looking forward to the end of my decluttering project and getting into the maintenance phase – I’ve noticed that shopping and looking at clothes no longer holds the same excitement for me that it once did, so I’m secure in the idea that I’ll be able to resist bringing a lot of extra, unnecessary clothing back into my home.

Is there a particular item or group of items that seem to be cluttering your home?  Do you favour knick knacks or are you more of a fashionista?  Do you have any strategies for keeping your weaknesses under control?  I’d love to hear from you!

2011 in 2011: getting back out some of what you put in


My decluttering challenge challenge for the year is nearly over, and thankfully, it’s getting harder to find things to let go of around our home. Could this possibly mean that we are getting close to having just the right amount of stuff for our family and our home?  I think so, and that’s exciting news!

I’ve reached a total of 5241 items decluttered from our home so far this year – I’m now wondering if I can triple my original goal of 2011.  2011 items to declutter originally seemed like a very lofty goal, but once I got started, it had a way of snowballing.  Who knew that we had so much stuff in our tiny home that we would be gladly willing to part with? Certainly not me!  Lately I’ve started selling things from my own closet that I would have thought prior to the start of this project to be “staples” in my wardrobe, items that I would never part with.  Interestingly enough, once they’re gone I don’t feel any pangs of regret about letting them go.

I did a quick tally of things we’ve managed to sell this year, and I’ve reclaimed over $1800 from things that we were no longer using or no longer wanted. That’s sobering stuff. Here’s a quick breakdown of the things we sold and how much we managed to recoup on those things:

  • Clothing (Adult and Children) – $615.  The majority of sales I made in the clothing department were some higher end, brand name clothing items that came from my own closet.  I sold my remaining Lululemon jacket, as well as an expensive sweater that wasn’t getting any love from me.
  • Toys, Kids’ Gear and Children’s DVDs – $538.  Most of these sales were the result of some major toy decluttering, but nearly $100 came from the sale of some Baby Einstein dvd’s that my kids received as a gift, but never did end up watching.
  • Strollers – $525.  Strollers are darn expensive.  Thank goodness they have some serious resale value in my city.
  • Cloth diapers, disposable diapers and potty training stuff – $150.  Yes, I sold not only the last few cloth diapers I had left in my youngest son’s diaper stash, but a box full of unused disposable diapers too.  Yes, Craigslist is a VERY popular place in my city.
Selling things I no longer want has a way of reminding me that maybe I don’t need to be consuming quite so much stuff in the first place.  The biggest secret to keeping a decluttered closet (and home) is to not replace things once they’ve left, or of course, not bring them home in the first place!  I’ve developed the habit of shopping less, which of course has resulted in buying less – this is one habit I am hoping to keep in place permanently.  In addition to the items I had success in selling through craigslist, we’ve also managed to donate nearly 900 items so far this year to a variety of thrift shops in our neighbourhood, most of which were household items and clothing.

Do you have any belongings you’re considering selling to recoup some of your hard earned cash?  Do you like to eBay your former treasures or do you go the craigslist route? Or do you prefer to donate things when you are finished with them just to get them out of the house?

2011 in 2011: bed, bath & beyond the pale


When I first moved out on my own back in 1999 (“in the olden days”, as my six year old likes to say), my favourite thing to buy for my new home was baskets.  Go figure.  I started my adult life with very little – a bed, a dresser, some clothes, and some kitchen things shared with my first roommate and oldest friend. I have no idea why the siren song of baskets always seemed to be calling my name, but I purchased my fair share of them over the last 12 years.  First it was to organize personal items, cosmetics, towels, napkins, you name it.  Then I got married and had two kids, and I started using baskets for other things – storing cloth diapers, onesies, kids’ clothing, and, of course, toys.

Getting rid of a lot of stuff from my home, I’d been left with a bunch of baskets with nothing to put in them.  I had some luck a few months back selling baskets on craigslist (who knew there was a resale market for wicker baskets?!?!?!), but I haven’t yet unloaded any of the plastic storage containers that I’d been using to store everything that wasn’t in a basket.  Seems I’ve managed to declutter enough to part with my Pottery Barn baskets, but now I need to get real and start taking a closer look at the things that live in the bigger plastic containers.

So pretty. So useless. "Beyond the pale" is an old term to describe being "unacceptable, or outside of the standards of decency." Pretty sure the number of wicker baskets I used to own was "beyond the pale."

I’ve still got half a dozen large storage bins in my apartment (we don’t use the storage locker in our building, nor do we have storage anywhere else), and needless to say, these bins take up a ton of room (about half of the floor space in my closet).

What lives in these plastic behemoths?

  1. Bin of off-season kid’s clothing
  2. Bin of clothing that my six year old has outgrown but that my three year old has yet to grow into
  3. Blankets for winter
  4. Christmas ornaments / decorations
  5. Paint for home improvement projects
  6. Tools and other miscellany for home improvement projects
I’m pretty sure the last two bins are off limits to my decluttering efforts (I’ll be leaving those for my husband to address), but the other four are definitely up for consideration.  The kids’ clothing needs to be whittled down – I’d love to get down to one bin from two.  As for the linens and blankets, I’m still of the impression that I need to let go of some more of the smaller fleece blankets I managed to accumulate upon having child number two.  I did gift half a dozen of these little blankets to a friend who just had a baby and was happy to take them, but I’ll have to see what’s still left and decide what to do with them.  Finally, there’s the seasonal Christmas stuff.  We have a small, reusable (so green!) Christmas tree that we’ll be decorating when the holiday season rolls around this year, but for some reason we have an overabundance of decorations.  The only thing we decorate is our tree (other than the fact that we have a giant light-up Vancouver Canucks sign – ack) so we really don’t have a huge need for all those decorations.  I’m feeling like this is not something I want to tackle right away though, so I’ll probably procrastinate until the end of November arrives.

Another thing I need to stop doing is buying gifts for children in my life (for other peoples’ kids, not mine) and hanging onto them for an entire year.  Of the things left in my home now, there is not much that is being “stored.”  Most items are actually being used – clothing, shoes, jackets, basic furniture, and things used in the kitchen.  However, I do seem to have accumulated quite a few things this year with friends and family in mind and suffice it to say, I can’t wait until it’s Christmas this year and all these things get to leave my house.  Let’s just say I have issues with buying things in advance.  Like the fact that I do it, and I probably shouldn’t.  Oops.

The moral of this story is don’t buy too many storage bins or you just might end up filling them up with stuff you don’t need and don’t want to come live in your home.  The end.

2011 in 2011: parting with the sentimental stuff


This morning I threw away 73 pieces of my oldest son’s artwork.  I had saved some artwork from his two years at preschool, and his kindergarten teacher had kindly put together a lovely art portfolio for each of the children in his grade to take home at the end of the year.  Looking at all those works of art brought back a lot of memories of my son attending preschool and kindergarten, and how proud he was of all his artistic creations. Mixed in with all the treasures, there was a lot of not-so-special stuff that needed addressing.  I tossed some scribbled pages, as well as artwork that was just a bunch of random stuff glued onto a page.  I kept art that contained hand-prints, foot-prints and anything that documented his own thoughts and words at the time (a couple of “I love my Mom” works of art definitely made the cut).  I didn’t count the remaining items, but my guess is there is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 pieces of artwork left.

Given that I’ve been tackling the project of decluttering my home for nine months already, I wondered why I hadn’t thought to declutter this stuff before now.  I think besides the fact that my mother-in-law has advised me to keep every single piece of art from my kids’ childhood (not gonna happen!), my reluctance to deal with the art is part and parcel of the fact that it’s difficult to watch your kids transform from babies into kids, and again from small kids into bigger kids.  Time marches on, and no where is it more evident than in the faces of children who were once, not so long ago, little babies.

Things about which we are sentimental are often the hardest to let go of.  I think it’s worth saving only the most special things, because saving everything means the really special stuff gets lost in the clutter.  Here’s a few things I’ve kept in mind while letting go of my son’s artwork, which ranks right up there with photos of my kids as things I’m sentimental about:

  • Designate a portfolio for your kids art and keep everything in one place. This concept is not designed to help you keep every single piece of artwork that your child brings home, but to keep only the most special pieces in a place where they can remain in good condition so that they will still be around when your kids get older and want to reminisce about the things they did when they were small.
  • Consider keeping anything that documents how small your kids once were.  I’ve decided that the most important pieces for me to keep are works of art that document my children’s tiny palm prints or outlines their tiny feet.  I also like to keep art work from Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, as kids usually take this opportunity to write down how much they love Mom and Dad.  If something gives you the warm fuzzies when you look at it, consider keeping it.  If not, recycle or toss.
  • Consider tossing anything that could have been made by your neighbour’s kid.  If it’s just a bunch of macaroni glued to a piece of paper, maybe it won’t be so special in ten years.  Maybe it’s not special right now.  These types of art are ones I don’t hesitate twice about tossing into the trash.
  • If it’s really special, but really cumbersome, take a picture.  Sometimes kids come up with amazing ideas which translates into some really cool art work. However, they can end up being large or too unwieldy to house in a minimalist art portfolio.  If it’s something your child loves but you’re not so wild about, consider taking a photo of your little Michelangelo’s work of art and then displaying it in their room until the dust takes over and it’s time to let it go.
  • Put it on display or make it useful.  I’ve taken some of my son’s art and framed it for his grandparents as gifts.  Sometimes a scribbled or painted page can be transformed by a simple wooden picture frame.  Major bonus points for the fact that most grandparents adore this type of gift, as it’s something that captures the spirit of their grandchildren when they are small.  Alternately, consider putting your child’s latest sculpture to good use.  My dad still has a pencil holder I made for him in grade 1 on proud display in his home office – even though it’s just a cup with popsicle sticks glued to it, he’s made it useful and it’s stood the test of time.
  • Recycle unwanted artwork where you can.  Most of the items that I culled from my son’s art work could be recycled.  Of the 73 items, no more than 5 of them had to be tossed in the bin as garbage.  I like to encourage creativity in my kids and want them to continue to make great art; however, I would prefer to allow my kids to be creative while at the same time being sensitive to the planet as well.
I’m now at 4933 items decluttered so far this year, and I’m still looking around for things to donate or toss.  I’m finding less things in my home that fall into the “what was I thinking?” category, and I’m having to put more thought into the things I still own and if they are contributing beneficially to my daily life.

How are your decluttering efforts going?  Do you tackle the sentimental clutter or is it off limits in your household?

2011 in 2011: using failure as a motivating factor


We’ve just returned from our last vacation of the summer and are trying our best to settle into the back to school routine.  It’s hard to maintain a lot of the routines from home when you are on vacation, and I tried to go with the flow and appreciate the differences.  We went to the beach, the park, for long walks, and spent lots of time together making great memories.  What we didn’t do was think at all about how our purchasing choices would impact our home upon our return, or how our choices in food would impact our waistlines. Oops.

I’ve decided though that failures should be looked upon more as opportunities for future improvements, rather than things I should be punishing myself over.  Rachel at The Minimalist Mom had a great post the other day about setting sights on the bigger picture – if you set goals and don’t meet them, don’t be discouraged.  Re-jig your original goals to create new goals and stay motivated in your minimalist journey for the longer haul.

A few less-than-ideal highlights from our vacation included:

  • I bought new-to-us, gently used clothes for the kids even though they don’t really need anything in the clothing department.  My hometown has a great children’s consignment shop, and they were having their annual $1 sale.  Yes, one dollar. While I’ve heard of such a thing, it was like an urban legend to stumble across a sale like that.  I ended up taking two trips to the store, and bought a total of 40 new articles of clothing for my kids.  My oldest will not need any more clothing before the end of next summer.  As a frugalitarian who hates to shop but still likes my kids to look adorable, I cannot tell you how happy this made me.  As a minimalist, I am struggling to find places to put all those extra items in the kids closet.
  • I received a Tassimo coffee machine from a friend with their blessing to use it while they are out of the country, even though I’m trying to drink less coffee and am ashamed of the amount of waste that comes along with the use of these machines.  I wrote previously about these fancy machines that make coffee from pre-prepared pods of coffee grinds, and how as much as the coffee was delicious, I wouldn’t be buying one.  Well, it’s harder to turn down one of these things when it turns up on your doorstep courtesy of a very good friend.  My friends have been using this handy little machine for a few months and bought it prior to knowing that they would be moving out of the country for awhile.  So when they offered it to me, I agreed to take ownership of it for the next year.  The coffee is still delicious, and while the pods are disposable, the plastic from the Tassimo pods can be recycled if you put in a small amount of effort to clean out the used coffee grinds.  I’m also taking a small amount of solace in the fact that I’ve given up buying coffee from coffee shops, which will eliminate my use of disposable cups, lids and sleeves.
  • I ate very poorly for the second half of my vacation.  For the second part of our 10 day vacation, we were in Armstrong with family and spent nearly every day at the Interior Provincial Exhibition (otherwise known as the IPE).  With everyone being so busy taking in all the excitement of an agricultural fair, midway complete with rides, and the rodeo and stampede action, there wasn’t much time for grocery shopping or preparing meals.  We ate out a lot, and if there’s one thing about Fair food, it’s that most of it is deep-fried.  I ate more than my share of mini-donuts and french fries.  We had some friends come in from out of town to spend the day with us at the Fair, and my girlfriend went so far as to indulge in a deep-fried Mars bar.  Yes, it really does look as disgusting as it sounds.  Needless to say, there were not too many fruits or vegetables consumed by anyone in our family over the course of the latter half of our trip.  A sad statement really, considering my husband and I had spent the first half of our vacation eating very healthily and going for long walks/runs every evening.

Instead of allowing all of these things to hamper my efforts towards minimalism, simplicity and good health, I have renewed my efforts and desire to live better.  I’m trying to consider the journey more so than the destination.  If you have plans to live differently, don’t be discouraged if your best laid plans go astray – take comfort in the process and get motivated, even setting new, revised goals for yourself if that helps.  If you fall off the proverbial wagon, just renew your efforts and get back on.

Like most things in life, minimalism is a journey, and the object of striving to live more simply is more so about the process than the end result.  Rooms and closets that have been decluttered will likely need to be purged more than once in this lifetime.  Eating poorly for a few days can be rectified by a return to a lifestyle of healthy eating and regular exercise.   Dietary indulgences can be reflected upon and efforts doubled to do better in the future.  Now that a few extra things have found their way into our home, I’ll be working to declutter a little more before the end of the year.  As of last count, I’m at 4822 items decluttered in 2011.  I’m hoping to hit the big 5K before the end of the year.

If you’re decluttering this year, I’d love to hear how your project is going!  Keep me motivated by sharing your story in the comments.


on radical minimalism and why you might be able to relate more than you think


When I started counting the things that were leaving my home, the number got bigger and bigger.  And pretty soon, I realized why some minimalists count the things they own.  It’s because that number is a lot smaller than the amount of items that had to go before them. I counted 33 items in my seasonal summer wardrobe.  A month into the experiment, I realized I only wore two thirds of those items.  I guess I don’t need those other ten items after all.  One number continues to shrink as the other number grows.

Radical minimalism is not something people arrive at a day or even a week after they decide to begin their journey into minimalism.  It is a stage in the process – not everyone will move into radical minimalism from mainstream minimalism.  But I’m beginning to see how people arrive at radical minimalism.  It’s easier owning less.

The less I own, the less time I spend thinking about what I own.  The less time I spend taking care of what I own.  The less time I spend shopping for what I own.  The less time I spend paying for what I own. The less time I spend working for what I own.  The more time there is for doing more enjoyable things, and not acquiring more stuff.

A few super motivating, radical minimalists:

Nina Yau of Castles in the Airhere’s one of my favourite posts ever on radical minimalism, or “ultra minimalism” as Nina refers to it.  This is another fave.

Everett Bogue, formerly of Far Beyond the Stars.  You can read Everett’s archived blog here, it’s extremely motivating and I highly recommend it.

Dusti Arab of Undefinable You and formerly Minimalist Adventures

Bea Johnson from The Zero Waste Home

Kristy Powell from One Dress Protest 

Notice how none of those blog names have the word “minimalist” in them?  It’s because they’ve already moved beyond that, beyond the obvious, and into living more radically.  I was reading about all these different people who are really and truly (and successfully) living with less, and I wondered why can’t any of us do the same?

When I started identifying with the things these people were saying is when I began embracing the concept of radical minimalism, at least in theory if not yet in practice.  I always thought radical minimalism was some kooky offshoot of the minimalist movement that was for single people who longed to be “location independent” or “cybernetic yogis.” Good news, it’s for them but it can also be for me (and you) too.  Because once you’ve shrunk the amount of stuff you own to a negligible amount and you realize that you’re happy, or even happier than you’ve ever been, you begin to see how radical minimalism can be truly freeing.

I’ve given away thousands of things that I don’t need to other people, and I have yet to miss anything.  The benefits to owning less are great.  I would recommend the process of winnowing one’s belongings to anyone looking to live a fuller life.  Having I cleared away nearly five thousand items from my periphery, I can see a lot more clearly and the rhythm of my daily life is more enjoyable.

Start by letting go of things you don’t use or need.  Start counting your stuff.  Start making a connection between what you own and how little you actually need.  Start decluttering your life – your closets, your home, your schedule, your work commitments.  Make time to simply be, and see what comes of it.  It can be frightening.  And liberating.