Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cupboards Full of Nothing

After the pest control man came and sprayed my house for cockroaches, he said there are a lot of eggs around.  I need to get rid of all the eggs, because each one contains another 30 cockroaches.  Getting any housework done with a 4-year-old and 3-month-old who both need little sleep and a lot of attention from mummy is a task and a half to start with, let alone trying to clean out cupboards as well!

But, I'm trying my hardest to get it done before he comes back for a re-inspection tomorrow.

I'd not actually noticed the eggs before.  I've seen the cockroaches, but not the eggs.  And, after cleaning out the cupboards, I know why.  The cockroaches are living in, and laying eggs in, the cupboards I don't access regularly. Why don't I access those cupboards?  Mostly because the stuff in them is stuff that I don't use.

I just found a platter full of dead cockroach bits that I didn't remember I had, don't remember where I got it from, and don't remember having used.  I'm not disgusted easily, but I am this week.

Here's to a less cluttered and more clean house!

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Less Bowl

I had a bowl in my kitchen that contained a collection of rubber bands and the twist ties that come on our loaves of bread. And some marbles. No idea where the marbles came from!

We buy more bread than we use twist ties.  I know I use them, but I can't think what for, so I kept ten and a few rubber bands.

The rest went in the bin, and I'll check that my husband doesn't have any sentimental attachment the bowl before I give it away.

One less thing on my kitchen bench.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Too many meals!

Not that long ago I made a list of all the different meals my family likes to eat. Given that in our house there are only 2 adults, one small child and a baby, lots of meals I can make one night and we eat leftovers on a second night.   
According the list, and the number of meals from each dish, it would take us 110 nights to get through the list if I only made everything once.  3 1/2 months!  
Every Friday we eat pizza - usually home made - and on Sunday nights we have something simple, like cheese on toast, or baked beans or scrambled eggs on toast.  That leaves us with five nights a week, so it would take us five months to get through the list.
Add into the mix that we spend anything up to a month each year on holidays or visiting relatives, and we eat out 1-3 times a month, so if I cycled through our whole list and never tried anything new, we would only eat the same thing (other than pizza!) twice a year!  
This tells me that I need to do one of two things:
  1. cut back on the number of different things we eat, or
  2. not keep the ingredients for every possible dish in my pantry
I’m not much of a meal planner.  I tend to go the shops, see what is a good price, then decide what we’ll eat for the next few days.  The thought of deciding on Monday what to eat for the next seven days stresses me a little. Well, a lot.  I sort of freeze up and can’t think what we could possibly even eat.  I don’t like too much structure to follow, but then I don’t like to get to 5pm and wonder what we’re eating tonight.  I guess that explains having so many ingredients stored in my pantry.  
I probably need to strike a happy medium.  I usually do the grocery shopping once a month, then top up with fruit, vegetables, meat and milk once a week.   If I made a rough list once a month of meals we might eat this month, then I could make sure I’ve got the pantry staples for those things when I do my monthly shop rather than buying an item just because I used it up last month.   If I was really organised, I could even assess what is in my pantry and see if something, like a half packet of split peas, needs to be used up that month rather than it sitting in the cupboard for a year (or more!).  I don’t need to keep a packet of split peas in the cupboard for in case I decide to make pea and ham soup. I have to buy the ham bones anyway, so why not buy the peas too? 
I could also cut a few things off my list.  I’ve never been that successful making my own felafel, and as much as we love sushi, the effort it takes for me to make it isn’t really worth it.  If we want to eat those foods maybe we should leave them to when we are on holidays and eat out more.  
My grandparents’ generation, and even my parents’ to a large extent, just ate meat and three veg every night, with the occasional casserole or roast thrown in the mix. I wonder if that is better or worse than the vast amount of choice we have today?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Where I’ve come from - the last straw

My second son was born two weeks after my 30th birthday.  He’s three months old now. The pregnancy had taken it’s toll on me.  I get tired so easily, and pregnancy makes me tired.  I spent the whole nine months with very little energy, and what energy I had was given over to my older son, who is four, and has an incredibly active mind needing a lot of stimulation.  Plus, I spent a lot of time procrastinating. 
The baby was born, and I was then really unable to do much more at all than looking after the baby.  Just like his older brother, he isn’t so keen on sleep. I could not see any time in the foreseeable future when I was going to do all the things on my list that I had procrastinated , and I had a little meltdown.   The house was getting messier and messier.  The list of things I needed, not wanted, needed, to do was getting longer because I was putting them off too.   
And gifts were pouring in. Gifts for the new baby.  Gifts for my older son, congratulating him on becoming a big brother.  Gifts for my husband from his students for the end of year. Then Christmas.   I was feeling ungrateful every time something else arrived for the baby because he didn’t need any new clothes or new toys - we had everything left from our first baby! 
I was craving simplicity.  I just wanted things to be simple and straightforward. That way I could have time to spend with my husband and my children, and not feel guilty that I hadn’t finished things or that I wasn’t meeting other people’s expectations.    I had been striving for simplicity for so long, but was making it too complicated.  
But then signing back in to Google Reader on the iPod Touch while rocking the baby one night, I was reminded about minimalism.  I used to read lots and lots of blogs, and after culling them by half to try and regain some time back, I simply stopped reading all together.  Some on finance, some on housekeeping, some friend’s blogs.  So I’d read about minimalism before. 
And that’s what I wanted.  Just the basics.  Just what we need as a family.  Not what everyone else tells us we need.  It’s what I had been searching for all these years. 
I’m starting to feel a little freer already.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where I’ve come from - a catalyst for change

During my uni days my bedroom was getting more and more jam packed.  I hated it, because it was always so messy.  I found it too stressful to work in, and found myself studying either at the dining table or the library.  My sister hated it, too, because she shared the room with me.  It was the size of two bedrooms, but we still had to share. My sister is a bit of a neat freak.  I sometimes wonder if that’s my fault... 
I wished at the time that I didn’t have so much stuff.  I wanted to be the sort of person who could just put everything they owned into the back of a car.  I didn’t realise that I could have been that if I wanted to.  Instead, I chose what seemed a whole heap cooler at the time - the sort of person who bought a new CD every week or two.  I listen to very few of those CDs anymore.  I know now that spending breeds spending
I left home and had not one car boot full of my stuff, but probably five or six. Or maybe more.  I couldn’t take it all with me at once.  My sister was moving town at the same time, so my parents got a big trailer and moved us both at once.  Just that stuff filled the boot and backseat of my sedan. Twice.  And I’d left stuff back home.  
I moved house twice while I lived in that town. The second one was into my husband’s house when we got married.  It was a big effort to move, both times.  I didn’t realise that it didn’t need to be.  
But then, a few months after we were married, we decided to pack up and head overseas for two years.  We were only taking what we needed for the two years with us.  Everything else was going into storage.  
As I began packing things into boxes to go into the storage facility I kept thinking but what if I don’t want this in two years time?    But, we were busy getting the house ready for renting it out and didn’t have time to properly go through stuff.  I got rid of quite a few things, but could have got rid of so much more.  I didn’t realise that I was right, and I was going to be storing stuff that I just got rid of when it came out of boxes two years later.  
I didn’t bring anything home with me that I didn’t want, when we came back to Australia.  I gave bags and bags of stuff to the girl who looked after our house.  She was so grateful, because she only earned a few dollars a day and couldn’t afford much.  
Then I had my very own house for the first time.  A whole house.  With just my stuff in it. (As opposed to moving into my husband’s house that he had already furnished himself.)  And I was in it all day most days, because I was now home with a baby.  And it wasn’t just my room that was messy - it was the ENTIRE HOUSE.   That’s when I started decluttering a little here and there, but unfortunately, I was still buying stuff and hoarding it. It’s been a very gradual process, thus far, but I can honestly see a difference between now and when we moved in here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where I’ve come from - the stuff

I keep stuff I don’t need.  I buy stuff I don’t need.  I buy more than I need. I buy things and keep things for ‘just in case’.  I think I’m saving money when I buy something on a really good special, not realising that if I never use it then the money is wasted.  
When I was studying English Literature, I would scour the secondhand bookshops for my required texts, but came home with three other books I wanted to read, but not necessarily the book I needed.   It would have been cheaper to go straight to the Uni bookshop!
My friends and I would go ‘op-shopping’.  I don’t know what you call it in your part of the world, but we would jump in the car and go to four or five different charity stores.  In Australia we call them op (opportunity) shops, or Vinnie’s (St Vincent De Paul) and Salvo’s (Salvation Army) and or Lifeline, after names of shops.  We could go looking for outfits for fancy dress parties, or dress up nights at youth group (a couple of us were leaders), or just funky outfits.  I could easily go for a morning op-shopping with the girls and spend $20 or $30, and never spend more than $5 on a piece of clothing.  I’d go by myself other times.  I was buying all my clothes cheap - I was, and still am a little, into the retro look - but buying so many of them.   I did get a lot of bargains.  A dress for 10c, that I got a lot of wear out of, and is still hanging in my cupboard because I love it and haven’t been willing to part with it yet.  A pin-stripe suit for $1.  I gave that back to Salvos a few weeks ago.   
When I was studying Education I would collect things that would be useful for teaching.  I was going to be teaching Music and English, so I collected up books and CDs and sheet music.  They would all come in handy if I were to be teaching a unit on that particular topic! 
I love to sew and make things.  I have unfinished craft projects, and untouched fabric and craft materials dating back over ten years.  
Since having a family I stockpile food and clothes and toiletries and games and activities.
I could go on, but I won’t.  I need to put an end to buying things for in case I need them, and then not using them. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Where I’ve come from - I’ve spent how much? On what?

Around my 20th birthday I had a bit of a life changing moment, and reached a certain point of maturity.  I was still living at home while I studied, but at the time I was housesitting for three months, and about to quit a part-time job that I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up during next part of my study.  For whatever reason, I sat down and worked out how much I had earned in this job, and then looked at my bank account and wanted to know where it had all gone. Before having this job, I’d been unable to find a part time job for various reasons (not least being my lack of maturity!), and had relied on a chunk of inheritance money I had received from my late father’s parents’ estate after they both died.  It was enough to be the equivalent of whatever I would have earned working part-time through my five years at uni.  
I have an excellent memory, and had been able to sit down with my bank statements and work out roughly what I had spent money on over the previous year.  I was shocked, saddened and ashamed to say the least.  I had spent every last penny of my earnings on crap.  So many books I intended to read.  So many CDs.  So many clothes, jewelry and make up.   I’m so glad I never thought to get a credit card while I was at uni!
I didn’t exactly stop buying stuff.  I would still see ‘bargains’ and the shops and buy them even though I didn’t really need them.  I still bought books that I intended to read.  I still bought fabric intended to sew stuff. I still bought CDs for just one song.   But I did start to spend less, and spend within my budget.    
Straight away I stopped using my debit card.  I had been buying everything electronically, and had no idea how much I was really spending.  I just got the cash I needed and only spent that.  That plan has worked on and off for me over the last 10 years!  Nearly a year later when I was able to take on another job, they only paid in cash, so I very diligently kept what I needed and banked what I didn’t for the time I worked there. 
I was probably fortunate in the next semester that I was well and truly overloaded in my subjects for uni: finishing off my Arts degree, while starting my Education degree because the penny finally dropped that to get a career in music I had to KNOW people, and I didn’t.  I was doing 18 credit points instead of 12, and had no time for anything much, especially not shopping!   
In my final year at uni I had a job earning good money, except that because I had to do 12 weeks of teaching prac during the year, it meant I could only work one or two shifts on weekends.  That only covered the cost of fuel in my car, and maybe coffee with friends after church on Sunday.  So by the time I finished uni and got a full time job in another town, I had about $175 in my bank account.  I had to borrow money from Mum to pay the bond on my unit!  
But my lessons had been learned, and I didn’t want to find myself in either position again.  And I haven’t.  I managed to save 25% of my after tax income in the two years I worked in that job.  Since being married, we have never spent more than we’ve earned in a year.  Which is a start, but when I look back on how much stuff we’ve bought and not really needed, and some not really even used, I think we probably could have saved an awful lot more than we have.  And have a somewhat less cluttered house!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Where I’ve come from - why I was a hoarder

I had a bit of a brain dump the other day, just writing about my relationship with stuff, and how I have come to be a hoarder and the things that led to me unlearning those behaviours.  I'm going to post each section over the next few days. Some of them could be long. Just warning you. 


I used to be a hoarder.  I would:
  • buy things because I liked them or thought they would be useful, and they were a good price
  • keep things because one day they might come in handy
  • keep things because I had spent so much money on them and it seemed wasted if I got rid of the item 
I first knew I was a hoarder when I was 12.  I just had no clue that keeping stuff could be a problem.  Mum was helping me pack my room ready to move house and found a pile of out-of-date gossip magazines.  I had kept them for in case I needed the photos for something.  
I think I know why.  You see, my father died just before my sixth birthday, and then Mum remarried. Then when I was ten we moved down to Brisbane, then two years later moved back to Townsville.   I was a socially awkward kid (I’m on the nerdy side!), and those couple of years in Brisbane were the easiest years by far.  
I think that in my subconscious I’ve been afraid to let things go in case I lose something important and can’t get it back, or don’t have it when I need it.  Holding on to stuff gives me some control, or at least the illusion of control.   
But instead, I’ve been out of control of my stuff, and I’ve discovered that there are things in life you just can’t control.  Things like death and the economy and the weather and other people.  Things that happen despite from your stuff, and can sometimes take away your stuff. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Today we had our house sprayed for pests.  I was embarrassed by the sheer number of cockroaches.  It quite likely wasn't my fault, but I feel it could be that my clutter impedes me from keeping my house as clean as I would like it.

But I was more embarrassed by the piles of clutter, and the stuff shoved into cupboards, because the pest control man had to spray in those places.  It's certainly not as bad as other people's houses, and definitely much, much better than it used to be.

I don't like feeling this way.  I want to be able to invite people home for lunch after church on Sunday, or have a friends over for morning tea, and know that we can find the dining table and the kitchen bench, without having to shove things in another room. Without apologising about the state of the house.

Things have to change.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What minimalism means to me

Having and using just what we need to live a full and happy life. 
Getting out of the cycle of buying and discarding and being dependent on work and money. 
Having less tangible stuff, but more time together. 
Having a tiny to-do list so I can be free for helping others.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I don’t want a house

We bought a cheaper, basic house with nothing in the back yard.  We thought we wanted to garden, and that we could save some money on the house itself by doing up the yard ourselves.  I was sure I wanted to be a gardener.  We’ve put in a small shed, a little patio to sit on to watch the kids play, and a garden bed.  And hardly use the back yard.  We also hate general maintenance, so it seems.  We had some minor flooding during the cyclone, because of a problem that probably should have been fixed a long time ago.  Now we really had better fix it.  
But then it dawned on me today: I don’t want to own a house.  
We bought a house because, well, that’s what you do.  Isn’t that what everyone with a family does?  I live in regional Australia, where everyone I know, have ever known, lives in a house with a yard.  If they live in a townhouse or a unit it is just until they can move into a proper house.   Every weekend you have to mow the lawn, and, at least at my house, most of the time we can’t even use the yard because it is so stinking hot.  I’ve been telling my husband for as long as we’ve lived here that I wish we didn’t have so much front yard because we don’t use it for anything but keeping the letterbox on. 
I still want to own a house rather than rent it - our mortgage repayments are far lower than rent, but now I’m wondering whether my family’s lifestyle is more suited to a 3-bedroom unit in a small complex. Somewhere we we can still have people over (which is something we do actually do), and maybe a couple of pots of tomatoes and things on the verandah, and then be able to walk to the park to play cricket or ride bikes.  Maybe a courtyard or a large verandah where the kids can get out and run around and where we can spend all our time outside (hey, I live in the tropics!). 
The funny thing is that I’ve been attracted to that style of housing for so long.  Maybe my subconscious has been trying to tell me something.  I think we probably should have known that we don’t like maintenance, because we aren’t exactly handy people.  I’d much rather read a book, and my husband would much rather kick a football, than prune trees or paint walls.  Really. 
The toughest thing now will be to convince my husband that we should even consider it.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cleaning Up

We made it through to the other side of Cyclone Yasi.  My house came off nearly scot-free.  A lot of others weren't so lucky.  We were without electricity for a bit less than 48 hours (others have been much longer, and further north where they were worst hit could go weeks yet) but because of good preparations I didn't need to throw out much food.  We cooked up whatever we could on the butane stove, and the little bit of meat we had in the freezer has defrosted now, so I'll cook it up today.  Buying only what we need in t short term makes a lot of sense during cyclone season!

Because I'd moved everything lose away from windows, we're now putting it back.  But as we are putting things away we are also culling.  My husband (who isn't even on my minimalism journey, he just wants a tidy house) and my 4-year-old are sorting through toys and doing a great job.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I have never wanted to be a minimalist more than today

Cyclone Yasi is bearing down on us.  It is massive. It is really scary.  It's already getting windy, and damaging winds will be affecting us within 3 hours from now.

If you pray, please pray for North Queensland: that people will remain safe, and that the storm will lose intensity before landfall.  We are being told in official warnings that this will be the worst and most life threatening cyclone in living memory.  We are used to cyclones here, but not of this magnitude.   We are used to cyclones badly affecting one or two towns, but not 5 or 6.  We know about them lasting a few hours, not an entire day and night.  Even the authorities are scared. The worst of the storm should miss us, but we are on the south of the storm, and the southern side is always the worst.

We've been madly moving stuff inside, and into cupboards or into more sheltered spots in case a window blows. We don't want missiles inside the house.  I wish I didn't have so much stuff to move - so much of it useless or unnecessary.