Living with less at home and abroad


If you are like us – regardless of whether you live in a spacious house in your own country or a tiny apartment abroad – you always end up with more stuff than you intended to own… and then your stuff starts bossing you around.

I’m here to say that our stuff is not the boss of us!

If you answered, “Hell Yeah!” just now, I need you to stop and think before you head out to your local book store to buy yet another self-help book that will inevitably join the troops of unnecessary stuff that is currently bossing you around. (Most self-help books have no business being books in the first place. Perhaps a pamphlet at best. Alas… that’s another blog post!) 

You do not need another book.  You need a few good ideas and you need to get started.  (I am beginning to sound like my mother here. No, on second thought, I’m sounding just like myself here. Sorry, mom.)

I’ll confess right now that minimal living is NOT my natural state (the pull of ceramic bowls is strong with me!) but DP is not a big fan of stuff and collecting and hoarding are not terribly compatible with living overseas. Now that we know that we’ll only be in our Bangkok apartment for 6 more months, and that we’ll be moving to a (much) smaller space in Japan, I’ve been thinking a lot about living with less.  Here are a few ideas that I have implemented that might also help get you started:

1. Donate the books and magazines that you have read
Go ahead. I dare you!
Listen… I get it! I love books and I love having a bountiful home library but the truth is that I rarely re-read books. One might even say… practically never. If you are like me, send these lovely books and magazines out into the world where they will make someone else happy. You can donate them to a local/school library, send a facebook message to avid-reader friends in your city listing your books that are up for grabs or leave them in your apartment building lobby which I did with great satisfaction on Friday afternoon. Somewhere in the building, some lucky person is reading a year’s worth of “O” and Vanity Fair.

2. Buy a Kindle
Can you believe it? Some friends may be shocked to hear me – an English Lit grad and teacher – use the k-word. Although, I still prefer the feeling of a “real” book in my hands, the Kindle offers a unique opportunity to address several challenges at once: we cannot take afford to all of our books to Japan AND traveling with several books just isn’t practical as airlines become stricter about luggage weight. On our last trip, DPs carry-on pack exceeded the 7 kg limit and, when faced with paying extra for it, he unzipped the front pocket, pulled out his books and added them to his checked luggage. He certainly wasn’t going to check his computer… so there he was, boarding the plane in a state of absolute booklessness. The Kindle makes more sense for me and I have already built a lovely little kindle library of 21 books of fiction and non-fiction.

3. Create modules
How is it possible to own 6 pairs of scissors but still never be able to find a pair when you need one? Francine Jay, author of the book The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life endorses the use of modules to collect all the things you need to do a certain task or craft. She encourages her readers to keep all of those like-minded items together in a plastic container with a lid and to store the module in a cupboard, closet or bookshelf until you need it. Then, you are rid of the extra scissors, pens, rolls of masking tape etc. 
The idea of these tidy little modules totally appeals to the neat-freak in me. Modules can take on many forms; a friend at work keeps all of the things she needs for the beach in one drawer and, when it’s time to pack, she simply opens up the drawer and throws the stuff in a bag. La voila.

4. A place for everything and everything in its place
This translates to, “Pick up after yourself”. Thanks for this mantra, mom. It really works for me; I think and feel better when our place is tidy. Ideally when everything is in its place, we feel less tempted to bring in new things we don’t need.

5. Purge the old, broke-down and non-lovely stuff from your home
When you bought those new fluffy white towels, did you get rid of some old ones?  How many towels, sheets, duvet covers, and pillow cases can a couple of family possibly use? I was raised by a mother born during the Depression so I understand her attitudes about holding onto things but there’s a limit. Many of us need to learn how to throw out, recycle and donate more frequently. DP and I got a free set of sheets when we bought our bed in Bangkok and while that’s a lovely promotional idea, we already have two sets and these “gift” sheets were not even remotely my style. The woman who cleans our house, however, was happy to receive them. Keep the stuff you love!

6. Streamline your paper lists with Ta Da Lists
A dear friend in Ottawa introduced me to Ta-Da Lists. Here’s what it says on the sign-up page:
Ta-da List is the web’s easiest to-do list tool. Make lists for yourself or share them with others. It couldn’t be simpler.
I’m inclined to agree as it took me only about 30 seconds to sign up and I’m now able to access all of my lists (Things to do at home, Things to do at work, Things for mom to bring from Canada in February, Things to pack for Hong Kong etc.) online regardless of where I am. You can also e-mail your lists to yourself and others and publish them online. No more lists on yellow post-it notes. My moleskin is still trying to adjust to not being a book of lists!

7. Get strict with your digital clutter
* Delete or file your e-mails. (Yes… 1,000 messages is too many to have in your inbox if your goal is to simplify your life!)
* Store the rapidly-multiplying documents on your desk top in folders
* Unsubscribe from the junk e-mail including
* Go through your Google Reader and delete the blogs that no longer make you happy

~ AFTER ~ 
 (Our 45 square metre apartment in Barcelona)

To be fair, the “before” pic was taken on the day I arrived in Barcelona but you get the idea.

So, what are your secret de-cluttering weapons? Don’t be shy!

One comment

  1. The cluttered in-box is the one that hits home for me. I read e-mail but am terrible at responding or filing it. I have lost touch with friends because of it. Spent most of last week e-cleaning five years worth.

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