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From cluttered to clear – an interview with anonymous Instagram user @seeking.minimalism

In this first instalment of a new series of interviews on the blog – anonymous Instagram user @seeking.minimalism allows me to delve into her journey from cluttered to clear, how she got started and what the effects have been on her life and that of her family.

Who are you?

I am Jenn, more commonly known as @seeking.minimalism on Instagram. I was once a software engineer, now running a finance related company with my life partner.

Where do you live and with whom?

I live in Montreal, Canada with my husband, the Mr (same age as me, 43) and two kids. La mademoiselle is 13 years old and Le petit monsieur is 11 years old.

What is your home like?

We live in a townhouse, which is fairly modern and new. I would not describe it as a minimal home, for when we moved in and filled it with furniture I was not yet in seeking minimalism mode and I am still working on letting go of more.

How did your home make you feel before you simplified?

Suffocated and frazzled.

And now?

I can breathe!

Tell us a bit about what lead you to declutter/minimise. Was it one particular event that was the catalyst or something that happened more slowly over time?

The desire to declutter and minimise slowly built up over time. But there were a few events that got the wheels turning. First was moving into our current home. We bought our house on plans, pre-construction, while we lived in a two-bedroom condo. We were able to design everything as we wanted within the limitations of the four exterior walls. So naturally I assumed we had planned the spacing fairly well and expected we would have so much extra space and everything would just be perfect. Then we moved in and discovered I was so wrong. We had so much stuff that we had literally outgrown our new home as soon as we moved in. There was so much stuff that the moving company had to call in a second truck with a second set of movers. It was a horrific experience.

Second event was reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Before reading it, it had never occurred to me to purge excess books or get rid of any old cherished collections. I held onto everything!

But to be honest, neither of these events actually got me to start decluttering. I was overwhelmed and did not know how to start.

How did you approach the task? What was your strategy?

I had heard of The 30 Day Minimalism Game through Youtube and Instagram, and although intimidated at first, I was very intrigued. I kept picturing myself taking out particular items and counting out how I would fulfil the 1 items, 2 items, 10 items, etc.

On New Years day of 2018, while playing a board game with the family, my eyes fell upon a bouquet of fake flowers in our family room. I realized that I no longer liked them and wondered why they were still there. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to keep them anymore! It was then and there, I made the decision that the bouquet would be the Day 1 item of my first 30 Day Minimalism Game. I also decided to start the Instagram account as a way of holding myself accountable to my decluttering goals. I posted almost all my purges, and kept counting the number of items as I went along.

It was a huge success for me, so I did the game a second month. And then I created my own minimalism challenge for myself, tackling a new category of stuff each day. I got into a rhythm of decluttering at least 10 or more minutes a day. I called them quickie declutters. Some months I would tackle a room a day, some a new category a day. I made it my mission to declutter each and every day, and to ensure as much excess as possible be purged from my home during 2018. Despite the hassle, I counted almost every item purged, as I was very curious to see what number I could reach by the end of the year.

Eventually, I started envisioning the space I wanted to achieve in the end, and this helped me remain persistent towards working on the final goal. I worked like a mad-woman every single day, seriously! There were a lot of sweat and tears.

I also challenged myself to no buy months, as an exercise to stop buying new stuff. I didn’t believe I could do it, but I actually made it through the month. And I’m so happy to have tried it, because I think it really did help me curb my shopping habits.

Did you get your family involved? If so, how did this work?

The majority of the decluttering was done by myself; it was mostly my stuff after all. When it came to the kids’ stuff, I asked them to get involved. I simply explained that we needed to let go of items that were no longer being used or no longer loved. It might have been a little hard at first to let go, but now it’s so easy for them. But I never pushed or insisted, I let them make their own choices. For example, they still each have far more stuffed animals than I would like, but despite not actually playing with them, they enjoy having them sit in their rooms. With my husband, I learned that I had to be extra gentle. While he does not have a lot of stuff, he does not easily let go. But I think he was seeing the benefits of my decluttering, so whenever it came time to go through his stuff, he sat down and did the necessary work. He still has about 20 bankers boxes worth of sports cards from his childhood, he’s not letting that go that easily.

What were the biggest changes you made in how you run your home?

Only items we love or is currently useful enter our home. Too often, through our work or the kids’ activities, free promotional items come in, but they immediately go into a donation box in the basement. Anything that no longer fits, no longer used or no longer loved immediately goes into this box as long as long it is still in good condition. I try to purge often and regularly. When the box fills up, I bring it over to a local donation drop off center. Some items may be sold, or offered to friends or family if we feel they may love the item themselves or be in need.

I also make it a point to keep surfaces free of clutter. I now aim to reduce visual clutter as well as have less to dust and clean. I used to be that person who bought all the pretty stuff to fill the surfaces. No more. But especially when you have kids, stuff gets left everywhere. The rule is your stuff belongs in your own room and how you manage your room is your decision, but common spaces should be clutter free.

How has your life been improved by minimising?

In my daily life, I can finally relax in my home. I can breathe. I have more time to do things I enjoy. After years of little reading, I read regularly again. I have read 18 books so far this year! And I have stopped feeling a need to go out and buy more stuff. Our weekends are spent doing family activities, going to the market, exercising and spending time with friends and family.

A much unexpected “perk” of decluttering was finally healing from my past haunts. I had tried therapy a few times in the past to deal with postpartum depression and other painful issues, but none were successful. Instead I dealt with my pain by shopping, hoping to add happiness to my life, but we all know this does not work. Somehow, purging out so much stuff from our home helped me release all those past traumas and desperations, and I felt whole again. I have come out a much happier person.

In what unexpected ways has your life or that of your family been affected?

We did get rid of a lot of furniture, particularly in our master bedroom, and there was a huge fear of letting go of so much storage space. We sold the furniture as a set, with the intention of buying new and larger bedside units to compensate for all the drawer space we lost. However, the unexpected feeling of liberation and serenity was so extreme and welcomed that we no longer wish to add anything else. Surprisingly the girl who always strived to add more and more furniture is happiest without. There is more furniture in other parts of the house I would like to let go of, but the Mr. is not on board… yet.

We love travelling, and focusing more on experiences and less on stuff has drastically changed the way we travel. We have become a carryon travel family and it has been a complete game changer. We do not have the space to pack extra stuff, and it allows us to be very mobile and we focus on the destination and the activities. Only on our last trip we checked in one bag because we bought a lot of liquids items, and waiting for that bag to appear on the carousel caused us to miss our connecting flight back home. It was a huge reminder that our travels should have stayed focused on experiences rather than stuff! But no point in sweating the small stuff right? We made it home safe and sound, regardless.

However, in general I do not believe in allowing a minimal way of life dictate how we live. In fact, I refrain from calling ourselves minimalists. We still allow ourselves to indulge in things we enjoy. Plus as much as I wanted and expected to live a more minimalistic lifestyle, I have learned that it cannot be imposed on my family. My husband cannot resist buying Le petit monsieur the latest hockey equipment whenever he can, and Mademoiselle still insists on buying little travel souvenirs for herself and her friends wherever we go.

What were the things you found hardest to part with or to decide on whether to part with?

Expensive items. I found it hardest to part with items I knew I had spent far too much money on, large or small. I try to sell most of the pricier items to recoup some cash, but not everything is easily sellable, unfortunately.

Describe the ways in which you prevent your home from going back to the way it once was

I always try to imagine exactly where a potential new item will fit in my home. Sometimes, this helps me realize that there simply isn’t a space for this item in my home. Or, if I feel I love the item too much, then I find another item to let go of so that everything has a resting spot and will be used.

How do you think simplifying has benefitted the quality of life of your children?

Their daily life does not revolve around stuff. But they are also a bit older so they are not playing with traditional toys anymore, all of that was already long gone (somehow I was fairly good with regularly purging the toys). They enjoy their personal activities, spending time with their friends and doing family activities. They do not seem to desire stuff as much as some of their friends.

If there is anything you think your children feel they miss out on as a result of your lifestyle, what would that be?

A lot of our kids’ friends are very fortunate to have ALL the latest gadgets, and my kids do feel some envy. They would love to have the latest iPhone, iPad, MacBook, multiple bicycles, electric scooters (funny, it’s all about the electronics and sports equipment). But we do not allow the kids more than what they need. Otherwise, I do not think they miss out on anything. They know they are fortunate to have more than they need and they do not actually ask for much.

Describe some of the ways in which you’ve had to adapt in order to live more minimally

I am not sure we have had to make any major adaptations. Yes, we are more careful about what is brought into our home, we question everything a lot more thoroughly. But this transition came about naturally. We probably do laundry a bit more frequently than previous as there are less clothes in our closets. But myself, I still need to make a conscious effort to stop stock-piling food, toiletries, and socks. I also regularly need to resist buying dishware. I don’t know why but I seem to love every new set I see. It’s terrible!

What has been the biggest challenge on this journey?

Starting. It took too many years for me to finally start. And patience. Minimizing doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you’ve been accumulating for so many years, as I have. It was a rigorous year of decluttering throughout 2018. But I’m so grateful for having finally started, being persistent, and reaping the benefits today.

What is the most important or valuable lesson you’ve learned?

Happiness is not acquired through having more stuff. I came to a new realization that I felt more happiness getting rid of all the stuff I once believed would bring me joy. Happiness comes from gratitude for what we already have, life experiences, and being in the moment with friends and family.

What words of wisdom or encouragement would you offer to motivate someone ho feels about their home the way you did in yours prior to simplifying your life?

Make today Day One and purge one item. Repeat. It will not be perfect. You will likely not achieve that perfect minimal home, so do not try to replicate what you see on social media. Do you.

What do you think? Has Jen’s experience inspired you to make a change? Let me know in the comments below.

You can find Jenn documenting her minimalist journey over on Instagram

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