5 Thoughts on my Capsule Wardrobe After 3 Months

Sitting here in late May, it seems crazy to me that already Spring is almost over – as well as my first season of using my current capsule system! For anyone who’s not already familiar, I’m using a system I heard about from Signe on Youtube; I have a core capsule that I use year round (you can read about what’s in that, here), and then I have a supplementary seasonal capsule of about 10 pieces that I rotate out every 3 months. Here is what was in my Spring Capsule, and here is my recap post where I talk specifically, item by item about what pieces in there worked for me and what didn’t.

In this post I want to take more of a step back than I did in my Spring Capsule Recap, and look at how I found the system worked for me as a whole, rather than analysing the nitty-gritty of individual items (although, you know me and data – I’m not saying I won’t go there… just not as much!).

snow scene taken in a park. Snow covered ground, trees and a bridge.
This photo was taken in March…

 

1. I do not have a crystal ball


We started March with more than a foot of snow on the ground here in Glasgow, and on the Bank Holiday weekend in May we had what might well turn out to be the hottest days of the year. Both of these things are a-typical for a Glasgow Spring – we would have been far more likely to have 10c and rain for 3 months! Because weather isn’t predictable it means that I don’t ever want to feel too locked in to my capsule wardrobe. Sure, it’s good to have pieces that can be layered to give as much flexibility as possible, but at the same time, I want to be comfortable and dressed appropriately – so for me this season, that meant wearing my Timberland boots the whole time it was snowy ( I normally only EVER wear them when we’re hill walking), and grabbing an out-of-capsule dress to wear to my mum’s birthday lunch in May because it was the nicest, sunniest day and I would be darned if I was going to miss a rare chance to wear one of my favourite Summer dresses!

2. I still much prefer to plan my outfits the night before 

I know that for a lot of people, the draw of using a smaller amount of clothing that works together is the increased ease and speed of choosing an outfit. I definitely do find it a lot more enjoyable to put together an outfit now, but because I’m such a “just in case” person, if I leave my outfit choosing until the morning and haven’t checked what I have clean or what the weather forecast is, I know I’ll just end up wearing my rain coat “just in case” it rains, or a big jumper “just in case” it’s cold – thus robbing myself of the opportunity to wear a lot of more fun outfits on what turn out to be warmish, sunny days! Maybe as time goes on and I become increasingly familiar with the contents of my capsule and various, favourite combinations I have then this will change for me, but for the forseeable future I definitely see myself taking 5-10 minutes of an evening just to sort myself out.

black boots and autumnal leaves
This photo was taken in April…

 

3. I feel so much more put together when I leave the house 

I touched on this a little in my Spring Capsule Recap; when I talked about a t-shirt that went unused, simply because I never found myself getting dressed in a panic and flinging on jeans and a t-shirt. Even though a lot of the outfits I did wear were still very simple, and perhaps, to anyone other than me, it would have been imperceptible that I was now using a capsule system and getting dressed in a very different way, I just felt so different in my own skin. I didn’t become oddly clothing-fixated and spend all day focusing on the merits of my outfit or anything, but something about the act of getting dressed intentionally just made me so much confident and … it’s hard to put into words… to sound a bit cheesy, I just felt like “my best me” most of the time, whereas in the past, that was a rare occurance in amongst all the days I left the house praying I wouldn’t bump into anyone I know. For this single reason, even if there was no other benefits, I would be in love with the capsule wardrobe system.

4. I’m okay with having a bigger capsule, for now at least

I definitely am way up on the bigger end of the capsule wardrobe spectrum – and I don’t include bags or accessories in mine either (I have a post coming up on why I took these out of my capsule, so stay tuned for that one). I have 40 items in my Core Capsule and 10 in my supplementary Seasonal Capsule – which is a lot altogether, really. For some people this will seem vastly excessive, while for others, like my past-self, this will seem small and restrictive. It’s all relative. Even now, with only one season’s data, I feel like I could comfortably cut out maybe 5 pieces from my Core Capsule – take it down to 35, but what’s the rush? My journey towards a capsule wardrobe, or indeed, towards a minimalist lifestyle in general, is a gradual one, and I’m comfortable with that. With letting things evolve organically and move at a pace that I’m comfortable with, with taking time to really see how I feel about things, rather than making impulse decisions; whether that’s bringing items in, or taking them out.

sunny day in Glasgow showing blue skies and intense sunshine
And this photo was taken in May!

 

5. I’m happy to take the time to iron, hand wash or mend my clothes

This is a big one – for a lazy gal like me at least! Prior to using a Capsule Wardrobe system, I was (shamefully) a get dressed from a pile of clothes on the floor, and if something smells funny, toss it in the direction of the laundry basket kind of a person… yeah, I know. Now having less to work with causes me to take the time to hang clothes up when they come out of the laundry – because odds are I will be wearing them in the next week or so, so I need to keep track of them. Having less to work with, allows me to really focus on constructing outfits and choosing my favourite pieces to be part of them – from bras to silk blouses, I’ve come to realise that it really is worth taking the time to hand wash them, if they make me feel great when I wear them. As for repairing clothes, well, I’ve taken up sewing lately (I know, I’m as surpised as you are, if you’d like to read about it, I have a post – here), and after a slightly epic repair on a pair of Kenny’s Levis, I’m feeling empowered at being able to extend the lives of my clothes, or to repurpose them when the time comes. I always thought mending and hand washing clothes would seem like such a hassle, but actually, it gives me a very strong sensation of liberation and of connection to the items I own and the choices I’m making in life.

So there you have it, my thoughts on using a capsule wardrobe system… so far! If you’ve ever used a capsule system I’d love to hear what you thought about it? What did you learn early on? Did you feel constrained or liberated by having less to work with?

Starting from Scratch: Learning to Sew

I worked in a craft studio for seven years and completed an honours degree in art, so, while I’m certainly not claiming to be any sort of expert – I think it’s fair to say that I’ve always been a relatively arts and crafty person, obtaining a relative level of proficiency in working with various media from acrylic paint to clay and silk to glass… but put me near anything “string-ish” and I’m hopeless. This includes sewing, embroidery, crochet, knitting and yes, even pom-pom making was beyond me. I’m not sure why, but I can cause a sewing machine to malfunction from 100 yards away. My mum is a fantastic knitter (is that the technical term?) and my maw-in-law (who was also the owner of the craft studio where I worked) is a dab hand at most things, but especially good at sewing (and baking, but that doesn’t seem relevant here), anyway, my point being that both of these skilled women invested significant time over the years trying to teach me “the way of the thread”… and they both gave up, and remain a little traumatised from the experiences.

close up shot of the foot of my sewing machine, with fabric in the background.

There are a lot of things in life that I’ve realised I’m not good at and have happily walked away from (mum told me I would regret giving up the violin when I was 10… STILL WAITING MUM), but sewing is not one of those things. Not only does it open up so many cool doors for me, a mixed media artist, but when you start tying it in with an interest in sustainable living – the idea of being able to repair and alter my clothes seems too good an opportunity to just give up on.

Fortunately for me, and somewhat by random chance, I found myself at the Kinning Park Complex (my local community centre) a few weeks ago, taking part in a patch-making workshop as part of Fashion Revolution Week – it was a spur of the moment decision and I’m so glad I jumped at the opportunity. I met the lovely ladies from Kinning Park Couture, who make amazing up-cycled jewellery from waste plastic materials, and also have incredible patience and enthusiasm for helping newbies like me get comfortable with a sewing machine. At the end of a couple of hours not only had I not somehow managed to burn the place down or kill someone just by my being in proximity to a sewing machine, but I had also made my very own activism patch, and learnt to thread a sewing machine, and to not scream audibly every time I put my foot on the pedal.

Well, after that I was hooked, I was back at Kinning Park Complex a few days later for Social Sunday, and Kinning Park Couture helped my fix up a pair of Kenny’s Levis jeans which he had managed to somehow entirely rip the crotch out of (?????). The satisfaction I got bringing those jeans home to him and knowing that I had salvaged them and saved all that fabric from being wasted, was so immense, so much greater than if I had gone into a store and just picked him up a new pair of jeans. And not only is it so “worth it”, I also find sewing incredibly therapeutic: time somehow flies by and I just sit absorbed, stitching away (then unpicking, then stitching again… I’m enthusiastic, not skilled).

close up of all the bits and pieces in my sewing box at the moment
Ah, a box of sewing bits and pieces that was passed on to me – let’s just pretend I know how to use any of the things in this box…

I totally lucked out as well, because, after telling my mum about my sewing (and reassuring her no lives were lost in the process), she suddenly realised she still had her old sewing machine buried in a cupboard somewhere (hurrah for my mum never having read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I gave her 18 months ago), and so she fished it out and brought it to me and now, sitting proudly on my dining table is my very own sewing machine. Old, strangely creaky, but working perfectly fine – and I couldn’t be more excited!

Currently, I’ve gotten as far as making reusable cotton pads to take my eye makeup off each day, using scrap fabric from a pair of Alice in Wonderland pyjama bottoms that I had somehow managed to completely rip the crotch out of (????? seriously, why does this keep happening to our trousers?!). While not exactly a technically ambitious project, it’s a good example of how learning a skill like sewing to even the most basic level can make allow for the making of something that is actually useful in every day life. No more wasting of cotton pads and the plastic bags they come in for me, no sirree (and yes, my sewn ones have survived the washing machine, trust me, I was just as surprised my stitching held up as you probably are after reading this post).

overall shot showing my sewing box, machine and fabric.

While it’s obviously still early days for me, I do have my sights set on making a sort of “zero waster companion pouch thing” (erm, still working on the name there). Basically I want to make a type of roll, like a jewellery roll, but something that will have a section for me to store a reusable straw or two, some metal cutlery, and also a couple of cloth napkins – all things I’m trying to get in the habit of carrying, but am not quite sure how to safely/cleanly transport them in my hand bags. If you can sew and have any tips or ideas on how I might go about making this please (no seriously, please) share them in the comments below, or, even if you’re not a sew-er (again, is that the right term?), let me know if you have any ideas of other sections I might want in the pouch – I have the overwhelming feeling that I’m forgetting something obvious that “zero wasters” might carry for eating…

So anyway, I hope maybe this post gave you a chuckle at my hopeless sewing skills, but I also hope that maybe you take away from it that if something is important to you, don’t give up, you can find a way. No, I’m probably never going to work as a seamstress (oh, it’s seamstress, not sew-er isn’t it?) for a major European couture fashion house, but that’s OK. With a bit of hard work and yes, 17,000 mistakes along the way, it’s entirely possible that I can become competent with sewing, and like I said, sometimes that’s all it takes with a skill to be able to create something that can improve your, or someone else’s, quality of life.

5 Newbie Bullet Journal Mistakes I’ve Made!

Ah Bullet Journalling: finally a hobby that can be both incredibly useful, and, incredibly soothing – well, until I make a mistake, and then I pretty much want to throw the blasted thing out the window. Literally. Before I tell you about the mistakes I’ve made (already), let me just say that this is not a “mistakes I’ve made, so you don’t have to” type of a post, because if you take up bullet journalling (or any other new hobby) you ARE going to make mistakes, that’s just part of the learning experience. Instead, I wanted to write a post just to share what did go wrong for me – because, trust me, I was completely blindsided by some of these issues – just as some food for thought for other new Journal-ers, and also to try and lighten the mood a bit about some of these sorts of mistakes, ‘cos like I said, it’s normal to make them… but it’s still pretty soul destroying to spend several hours on a spread only to realise it is in fact April, not May. Yeah.

a close up photo of some of my pen testing in my Bullet Journal

1. I didn’t test my pens PROPERLY

I mean, I did test them, of course, just not well as it turns out. I diligently assigned the back couple of pages of my book as a testing space, and I took the time to take every pen I own and draw a line with it to check for bleeding and ghosting – sounds good, right? Well, as it turns out, there’s a difference between quickly drawing a thin line with a pen and using a pen to “colour in”  – even if that is just doing a thicker line, or filling in a box on a tracker. What I discovered, was that I owned plenty of pens that I could quickly draw, or write lines with, but actually very few that could be used for shading or blocking in colour – but boy, did I learn this one the hard way!

Flicking through my Bullet Journal

2. I left pages blank that I was going to absolutely, definitely come back and do, like, any day now

I had read warnings about this before I started; about the importance of not pre-allocating pages and of making assumptions about future content. But it was fine, I KNEW I was going to want this spread, I KNEW I was going to do it just in a couple of days or something. Yeah it wasn’t fine, I didn’t do that spread, and I still have blank pages near the start of my journal.

One of the great things about the Bullet Journal system, is that, thanks to the indexing system, you don’t need to plan the page-allocation of your entire book out beforehand – if you decide you want a new tracker, you can just pop it in between months. But in my head I just really thought I would try and guess at what all my annual trackers would be and place them all at the start of the book, because it would be prettier. Yeah, random blank pages are not “prettier” as it turns out.

a close up of a spread I badly designed

3. I didn’t consider how much functional space I actually needed on a page

When I first started setting up page layouts, I was so focused on the aesthetic – on making them look cute and complete, and well put together, that sometimes I seemed to just totally disregard what I actually needed to use the space for. This went both ways – some pages I have masses of space when I only needed a few lines here and there, and other pages I’m now sitting trying to write three sentences in a space roughly the size of a postage stamp *sigh*.

A stack of journals

4. I didn’t trust my gut enough and I did all the pages I should do

Obviously the core bullet journal system is very well thought out, and used by a lot of people, but, one of the most amazing things about bullet journalling is its adaptability and flexibility. When I started out doing my journal I diligently included the year planner page… even though, thanks to crippling anxiety and depression, I don’t have any friends and therefore no weddings or dinners or parties to attend. (not feeling sorry for myself here, but it is nevertheless true). We aren’t taking any vacations or trips this year due to Kenny finishing off university and my cat now being at a stage where she can’t readily be left with other folks so easily… so yeah, not really a whole lot to mark on that page. At all. Probably should have just trusted my instincts there and saved myself the time!

Flicking through my Bullet Journal

5. I Didn’t check layout consistency from one page to the next: there’s so many things to think about,  it can be hard to get it all running smoothly at first.

Starting learning to Bullet Journal is a bit like starting to learn to drive, at least here in the UK anyway. You come up to a roundabout and when you’re new at it, it seems like there’s 1000 things to think about and you can’t autopilot any of it, so you’re trying to actually not hit any other cars, handle the clutch, time your move and have the correct speed crossing the roundabout (and don’t hit IT either), all while remembering to change gears appropriately and to mirror, signal, manoeuvre. At first, it’s a lot. Well, I think Bullet Journal layouts are the same – at first it’s hard to get your writing styles looking consistently the same, to have the same line intensity, same shading, same portions of the page divided up for different things  – it’s quite likely that you’re going to drop the ball on at least one of those things and “screw it up” a bit. Fortunately, like driving, you soon become more able to auto-pilot things, and fortunately unlike driving you don’t run the risk of killing someone in the meantime.

So those are just some of the “mistakes” I’ve made in my Bullet Journal already! I’m looking forward to making many more as I continue on this learning journey. Let me know down in the comments below if you use the Bullet Journal system – what did you find most difficult at the beginning? Do you have any tips for me?

The Difference Between Dead Time and Down Time

Growing up, I feel like I always had a lot of ideas; always had a bunch of projects I was working on, and a list of things I wanted to learn about. I wanted to illustrate books and I wanted to be bilingual, I wanted to travel and to write and to help people plan Walt Disney World vacations (I mean, I know that last one reads sort of specific, but it’s the truth so…). In short, I never saw myself as a lounging around watching VHS/DVD/Netflix (delete as appropriate for specific life era) sort of a person. But unfortunately, that’s what I’ve become.


Living with anxiety and depression has meant that there have been a lot of times when I’m not at my strongest; when my energy reserves have been low, my mood has been all over the place and my creativity has been entirely absent. The real problem with this is that I am REALLY bad at identifying and correctly managing these issues. Historically, I’ve pretended they’re not happening and forced myself onwards regardless; bullying myself for being weak or for failing at things, I believed that willpower alone should be enough to override the depression. I believed that getting blog posts or videos up was my priority and if I was missing my upload deadlines the solution was to skip other things; things like eating, bathing and relaxation time, in order to not lose face or to feel like my dreams were slipping through my fingers. Needless to say, this did not work out so well for me, and over the years I experienced some very big crashes which pretty much resulted in Kenny making me fish fingers and waffles twice a day for a week, while I sat in the same pair of pyjamas and watch Deadly Women on repeat on Netflix and cried into my teddy bear, wondering what Candice DeLong would have to say about me. I know it sounds like I’m joking, but honestly, I’ve experienced some really bad times.

I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it?

Over the last year or so though, things swung too far the other way. I think I gave up. I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it? I couldn’t consistently upload to YouTube so why keep disappointing people? The language I was learning wouldn’t stick in my head, the diet plans were abandoned when I had a ‘dark day’, I pushed and pushed at the few friends I had to try and get them to leave before I ruined things… what was the point in anything. I would only fail and exhaust and embarrass myself in the process.

The more I felt I was struggling the more I tried to slow down, so the more time I blocked out for myself. I needed an hour in the morning and three at night just to veg out and watch things online, to feel placated enough to somehow function throughout the rest of the day. Then when this didn’t work, I blocked out more time. Cancelled date night, stopped cooking, stopped reading, stopped painting my toenails – there wasn’t enough time for any of that. I didn’t have enough time. No matter how many hours I sat and did nothing, I could never relax.

Meanwhile, my Bookmarks folder and my YouTube watch later playlist were overflowing. I had a notebook bulging with thumbnail sketches and planned blog posts. I would jot down jokes, or prompts or things I thought might help people – if only I would one day be strong enough to do something about it. Then, one day, as I rolled over onto the third season of Suits, and realised I’d hated at least the previous 1.5 seasons of this show I began to wonder what I was doing with my life.

I had so many ideas and so many things that I wanted to do and to give back, I really believed that I could help other people with mental health issues, but I just felt so powerless to do, well, anything about it. Nevertheless daring to hope a solution was out there, I started looking into time management and productivity methods. I downloaded approximately 73,000 apps to help me, I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

Then in my reading I came across the Tony Robbins concept of N.E.T – which stands for No Extra Time – and I’m not going to lie, on the surface this sounded like a scary thing for me. I felt like I could barely function, limping through mandatory tasks like food shopping, and now, I was supposed to do multiple things at once? Seriously? But yes, indeed this is what N.E.T is about. Basically, it’s the idea that we have all this time we have to sink into things such as cleaning the bathroom, jogging or commuting, but, while these tasks engage our bodies and in some ways leave us “stuck”, they don’t actually control our thoughts. Now I, like a lot of the population, used to use situations like this to zone out, or watch something trashy, to “relax”, I thought, my anxiety meant I needed to relax – but what else could I do with this time?

What if the half hour I spend washing dishes can also be the time I learn Spanish? What if I use my bath time in the morning to check-in with myself and visualise the day ahead? What if instead of watching Suits while I eat my breakfast I read or I learn something new through a site like Skillshare – I mean, sure, I’ll miss being #LittUp in the mornings, but you know, sacrifices need to be made I guess.

I’m here today not just to say that N.E.T really works well – because I think, probably, that’s been established already – but to talk about exactly what it’s taught me, and the amazing gift it’s given me. I started by making a list of what I wanted to do with my life, in specifics (as in not just “get fit”, but “run a half marathon in 2018”), and then made a list of things that I know to be true about myself and my needs, (as in, that I am a morning person who starts the day fired up and slowly drains throughout the day) and I set about working out ways that I could match up taking care of my needs with getting what I wanted.

I don’t want to too much into the specifics of the routine I made here as this post is already crazy long, but I do want to talk about the results. I worried that I would feel overwhelmed by giving myself more to do in a day; that I would feel rushed or pressured but actually it’s been the opposite. For example, if I am out a jog and I’m really low energy and I’m walking more than I’m jogging, I don’t find myself focusing on the negativity there because I’m also learning about life in Glasgow in the 1800’s, so even if I don’t run much, I’ve still come back into the house a ‘richer’ person. I could give a dozen examples like this, all of which would be true and, for me, a huge deal, but as I said, I think the benefits of using the N.E.T. method are well established, so let me just finish by talking about the biggest lesson I’ve learned of all.

I had previously thought that all the time I had spent lounging about in front of Netflix was relaxation time, time that I needed to recharge my batteries, but I can see now that I was wrong, it was dead time. I wasn’t learning, or growing or achieving anything, but I also couldn’t relax properly because I was so wracked with guilt about wasting my life away. It’s hard to relax when you have a list of goals you’re getting no closer to, and a pile of dishes in the sink you’ve not washed in days. I kidded myself that the time was good for me, I was listening to my body and showing that I was in control of looking after myself instead of pushing on to silly levels, but I can see now that it was the anxiety talking. After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control – i.e on the couch with a cup of tea in hand. And I let my anxiety convince me that this was for the best.

After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control…

Now, although yes, I am tackling much more in a day, I find that by structuring things well and pursuing things I’m genuinely very passionate about, I feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed and by achieving so much earlier in the day, by the time evening comes around I’m ready for some ACTUAL downtime. Time where there is no guilt or pressure, where the dishes are done and I can take a little time to be proud of myself for the day before getting cosy under a blanket with a good book, or actually watching a whole film from start to finish.

Learning about the N.E.T method, as well as becoming aware of how I work and what I want as an individual, has meant that I am able to structure my days and make the most of my “good times”, so that when the times come that I’m sad, or I’m tired I have the ability to switch off and give myself some proper down time, rather than staring into space like some sort of zombie, shutting out the real world and my own thoughts. There is a huge difference between down time and dead time, and I am so glad that I’m finally able to tell the difference between the two and give myself the actual relaxation that I deserve.

Minimalism and Materialism

When I first started learning about minimalism, or, about minimalists, to be more exact, I was very much under the impression that minimalists were very disinterested in their possessions. I thought that they treated their belongings as entirely utilitarian and that they lived an essentially separate existence from them, only owning and using the bare minimum. Writing this down now, it seems a little mad, but honestly, for the longest time, I thought one of my goals with minimalism was to get to the point where I spent almost zero seconds a day thinking about the objects I own – imagine my shock and disappointment in myself when I very much seemed to be doing the opposite.

Before I discovered minimalism, I would have (if I was being very honest) described myself as materialistic. I had more clothes than I could possibly be aware of, piles of creams and lotions and nail polishes spilling from every surface and enough pens, paint and craft paper to collage the surface of the moon. Shopping was an addiction. I felt a high when I clicked “proceed to checkout” or walked out the store with something new and shiny (or fluffy, or colourful, or sparkly or, well, you get the gist) – I would crave buying things almost all hours of the day. It wasn’t a good day when I hadn’t bought something. So, when I started to pursue a minimalist lifestyle I figured that I would be able to stop compulsively shopping – and yup, mission accomplished – I thought I would be able to reduce the number of unloved items in my home – uh-huh, have done – and I thought I would stop thinking about objects as important, stop wanting to spend hours browsing online and stop being emotionally involved with my possessions – um, no.
What I have now come to realise is that I was never a materialist before. I was a compulsive consumer. I had a strong need to obtain and hoard items, to collect, to stash and to accumulate things at an alarming rate – but I had little to no awareness of the specific items themselves. I bought things only to buy things: discounted things, limited edition things, pointless things and wasteful things. Even necessary items weren’t treated rationally as I stockpiled soap, body lotions and mascara. It didn’t matter what it was: I wanted to accumulate anything and everything as fast as my wallet allowed. I always told myself I was looking for perfection, and what better way to find the perfect t-shirt than to buy ALL the t-shirts. I told myself when I found the right one I would stop, because then I would be happy. But of course, the ad industry worked very hard with my already well-established shopping problems to ensure that I was never to feel satisfied, never to feel complete.

 

At first, after I had calmed down the compulsive shopping (which is a subject for another blog post), the minimalism thing seemed easy, I mean, just don’t buy things, right? Well, obviously, no. Things break, things wear out and our lives and interests change ensuring that from time to time we must replace or introduce new items into our lives. When this first started happening to me, I fell back into old habits – I just didn’t know any different. White shirt gone all grey and pilled? Nip into H&M and replace it. Hand-bag falling to pieces? Primark probably has some in the sale. But then, you see, something interesting started happening. Because I was so conscious of my shopping now, because I had slowed it down so much, I became almost suspicious of the things I was buying. Wait, I need a new hand-bag because the old Primark one has fallen apart after just six months? Should I buy another white shirt if I know I’m not going to take the time to care for it as a white fabric? If I’m only going to own one pair of jeans, is this the pair?
If you own more than 100 tops (which I did), then it’s basically impossible to be fully aware of what washes well, what’s flattering, what dries fast, what is low maintenance – but if you only own three sweaters, well, they can’t take several days to fully dry and they had better not all need ironing every time because seriously… no. Although when I owned lots of clothes, I, like most people, had distinct “favourites” that I wore most of the time – they weren’t true favourites, they were just clothes that were convenient and I sort of got used to, and so I wore them, day in day out, whether I really liked myself in them or not. Owning such a small amount of clothes now, I am much more in tune with what really works well for my tastes and my lifestyle and have essentially eliminated and learned not to repurchase everything that doesn’t work for me.

 

Nowadays, I don’t often shop, but if I do decide I need to make a purchase, then its’s a full-on project. Hours online reading reviews and learning about different companies, Excel Spreadsheets to track my research, budgeting and maintaining an inventory of various categories. Maybe to some, this sounds like exactly the opposite of what minimalism should be – and for me, a year ago, this would have seemed ridiculous – but honestly, this way of living works so well for me, for now at least. I am becoming a conscious consumer; far from perfect, but getting better everyday at making sensible, durable purchases from more ethical sources.
Basically, I’m just so much more involved with my possessions now. Each purchase I make has to be carefully considered, because the item will be with me… basically until it falls apart. Each item I own needs cared for and maintained, because if lose a glove, I don’t just have a stack of spare pairs sitting there. Massively slowing down the rate at which I acquire items has meant I have been able to ensure the purchases I do make are so much more “me” rather than whatever was being pushed that week in the mailing list/magazine/commercial that caught my attention – this has come about by slowing down and being conscious of items as I wear or use them, and learning about them as well as learning about my own needs and preferences.
The flip side to all of this of course, is taking time to remember that these are still all just “things”. It’s all about balance. I found the most perfect ceramic drinking tumblers the other day (drinking out of glasses triggers my anxiety), and while I cherish and enjoy these tumblers every time I use them and I feel they were a worthy addition to my home; if they both dropped and smashed tomorrow, then it would be okay. They are just things.

 

So, if you ask me, it’s great to be materialistic. To have some understanding of the environmental toll that the production of consumer-goods inflicts on the planet’s resources and many of its communities, and to seek to minimise this. To feel grateful for and to fully enjoy your cosiest sweater, your prettiest necklace. Consumption is a necessary part of the human existence, and with that in mind all we can do is make the best choices we can in that moment of our lives and then, be free to make the most of our possessions and the value they add to our lives. I think materialism is a misunderstood word, that gets a really bad rep – we associate it with shallowness or with greed, when really in essence, it’s really anything but. Learning to care about the objects I own has removed so much of the guilt and confusion I used to live with, and opened up so much space in my heart for gratitude and peace.
So here I am: I’m a minimalist and a materialist, and proud.

Minimalism and Nostalgia – What I’ve Learned.

If we were to make a scale running between “cold hearted bitch” and “tears up at every Disney movie ever made”, then set me up with some Kleenex because I am most definitely a nostalgia loving, sappy, kid at heart. Even for those who would consider themselves more “practically minded” than me – the person who kept every sketchbook I ever filled as a kid (spoiler: they were all filled with pictures of horses and ‘fashion designs’ – all named after birthstones or zodiac signs. The fashion designs… and the horses) – I think the idea of tossing out irreplaceable childhood mementos and memories can be pretty daunting. I mean, I can’t just go out and get some Tazos if I decide I want to get into it again, can I?

And of course, as I would point out with all aspects of minimalism – if you want to keep all of those mementos, then you do you – there is of course no right or wrong here, BUT, what if you do decide you don’t want the entire space under your bed to be occupied by Beanie Babies and souveniers from a theme park that doesn’t exist anymore? Well, here’s what I did – what worked for me, and what I regret.

Method One: Put things away in a cupboard? (AKA the “Out of Sight Out of Mind” Method)
 
The first thing I did came right at the start of my decluttering journey, and to be honest, didn’t work that well for me (I mean, there’s probably a reason everyone advises to leave photographs and sentimental items until the very end, but hey, I’m a rebel). I chickened out of even dealing with all the ornaments and trinkets I had amassed from 18th birthday gifts and the like, and instead I put them all in a box and we shoved them at the back of a cupboard somewhere. Some people like this approach, the idea is that you put them away for some months and then if you don’t miss them, or feel anything when you take them out, then they go bye-bye. Of course, the cupboard we shoved the box in happened to also house the Christmas tree, so when my box of precious, irreplaceable items came back out it was during the annual Christmas Tree stress-athon (“Which cupboard did you put the tree in?” “How should I know you put it away!” – Christmas is not Kenny’s favourite thing in the world.) We plucked the box out by accident, thinking it housed the sparkly reindeer (as you do). So, as I looked back through my items it was less of a ‘well thought out reunion’ and more of a quick rifling through newspaper and trying to make a split second decision before the “high up cupboard” was closed again and out of my reach (I do not ‘do’ ladders, for everyone’s sake). In amongst this I sort of realised that this just hadn’t worked for me, because I hadn’t dealt with the emotions associated with the items before I put them away, I just had that decision to make from scratch when I finally took them back out, which made the whole excersise seem a bit pointless (and we never did find the sparkly reindeer last year). It took me just as long to decide how I felt about things then – and at a much more stressful, less convenient time – than if I had just gone through the process properly in the first place – because of course I didn’t actually want to keep the ceramic owl I painted when I was six, I wanted to ‘keep’ the memories associated with it, so physically hiding the owl didn’t help – it was never about the owl.

Method Two: Taking Photographs of Items and Then Getting Rid of the Actual Items (AKA Let’s Get Digital, Digital)

Another thing people suggest doing if you have a bunch of bulky items that you only keep because they remind you of something or someone, is to just take a photograph of those items and then toss the giant stuffed bear/vase you hate/hat that hasn’t fit you since you were eight, and hey presto, a giant box of memories can be condensed down to the size of a flash drive. It sounds great, and for some things I did like this – like, for example with my childhood sketchbooks, I took a bunch of photos of the meticulously labelled sketches I made of outfits for each of The Spice Girls (trust me, they have no idea what they’re missing out on here), and stored those digitally and then was able to get rid of those books and believe me, that felt great, they really did weigh a ton and take up hella space, but… that was about all I liked it for. During my degree (which is in art), I primarily kept visual journals, and again, these things were so bulky that they took up about half of my bookcase, and I mean, how often did I even look at them? So I did the same thing, I took photos and then tossed them, and boy, do I regret it. These pages were layered and textured – they were tactile and meant to be interacted with – the emotion that I felt both for and from them, came from physically touching them and seeing all those layers of writing, of scribbles, of images, and in reducing them to a 2D photograph I robbed myself of ever really getting to “experience” those pages as they were meant to be experienced again. The same is true of some stuffed animals I got rid of – it wasn’t what they looked like that held the magic, it was the feel of their ‘fur’ or their particular level of squishyness if you gave them a hug, and a photograph just doesn’t give you any of that.

Ultimately, I  regret getting rid of my journals – if I knew then what I know now, I would have kept them. With the teddy bears and everything else, I think ultimately I would have let them go onto new homes (and new hugs #sappy), but I think I would have less emotions about it now if I had made a clean break  – thanked them for their service and released them with love – rather than trying to kid myself that I could “keep ahold of them”  through the photographs. You cannot have your massive Eeyore and eat it, or something like that.

Method Three: Better Check Your Mum Doesn’t Want That Teapot

Marie Kondo cautions heavily about storing things in other locations – whether that’s hoarding 33 lipsticks in your desk at work or never fully moving out of your parents house; all of these items are still our posessions, even if they’re not physically in our homes. I totally agree with her there, and I did even go as far as clearing all my stuff out of the attic at my Mum’s – well, except the guitar, I mean, I feel like I totally might come back to that. One day. Not soon. But here’s the thing I learned with nostalgic items – it wasn’t just me who felt nostalgic about some of them. There were items I literally had boxed to go out to charity, but after mentioning them to family members they gratefully scooped them up – totally appalled that I would consider getting rid of them at all. The reason I didn’t feel like this was ‘cheating’ was because I had made my peace with these items and was ready to let them go, one way or another, but I’m not going to lie, it was easier to know they were going to my mum who would cherish them, rather than just releasing them into the big unknown. Of course, I have no idea if she still has the items (I mean, yes, of course she does, she is NOT into minimalism), but it did make it easier to let them go at the time. So while clearly this shouldn’t be your main method of letting go of items, it possibly is worth checking if that handmade felt Christmas tree bauble you made at pre-school means as much to someone in your family as it once did to you (Unless you’re a member of my family where my mum “forgets” to take my 23 years old felt bauble out of the Christmas Box, EVERY YEAR).

Method Four: Suck It Up Buttercup

I wish I could say that there was some easy way that worked for me; some trick or step by step process, but there wasn’t. I’ve taken several passes through my memories box at this point and honestly, I still don’t really have a shitting clue about what to do about a lot of it. I have days where I feel like my heart is being ripped in half at the thought of throwing some of these things out, and then I have days where I feel like my memories box is like a dangerous, emo, wormhole transporting me back to my teens – which it has to be said, were not great – and really, should I revisit those times? Is it healthy to keep the memories of these places and people alive? Is it healthy to not remember them?

Ultimately though, the best method that worked for me was just to sit down and really face the music, and go through it all, all at once. I had huge success in some areas – such as the afformentioned childhood sketchbooks – but I have not done so well in others – stuffed animals have faces, okay, so it’s harder, you have to like look them in the eye as you tell them you don’t love them anymore, oh jeez, here come the Toy Story 3 flashbacks…

Anyway, I have learned a few things along the way through doing this though, namely:

1. The memories that really matter to you, the people that really matter to you, you won’t forget, no matter what, so while I’m not suggesting that you throw out all the old photos of your closest family members and just keep the ones of you with random people at parties (that would be a hilarous photo album to show future children though), but just that if there are items you’re holding onto purely because you’re scared you’ll forget an amazing day, then it is ok to let go. You won’t forget.

2.  You don’t have to get rid of anything. I mean this in both the short term and the long term. Marie Kondo talks of the importance of decluttering once and doing it so thoroughly and properly that it is not an ongoing process, and while for the most part I do think that makes sense, I also know I had good days and bad days (or good months and bad months actually) when it came to decluttering and if I had tried to force anything I would just have ended up building a Beanie Baby fort and defending it with my life – so yeah, in the short term, if it really doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right; stop the process for as long as you feel you need to. And of course, in the longer term, even if you feel commited to minimalism, remember that there are no rules attached to minimalism, so you can keep every certificate you ever got in school, or have every wall decked out with 100 photos, that’s all totally cool – if it’s what feels right for you.

3. Not all memories are good memories, and by that I don’t just mean the ones that are obviously not good – like the time I was chased by a gaggle of geese at a farm park when I was a young child. I still can’t hear that awful honking noise they make without practically hitting the ceiling. I’m also referring to memories that “should” be good, but aren’t – for me, for example, that was basically anything to do with school. My anxiety crippled my life during my school years and while I always did really well academically (well, I mean, PE doesn’t count right?), I found that any time I looked at a school certificate or souveneir from a school trip, or even photos from back in the day, all I really felt was the fear and the shame and the guilt associated with my anxiety back then. I could consciously remember the feeling of our choir winning the competition, or of getting an A in maths when nobody thought I would (I did do well academically in school, honestly, but there was a certain floppy haired boy in maths class, so you know) – but at the same time as I was trying to focus on those memories, I would also feel the bottom drop out of my stomach and all those bad feelings from the past come back, and ultimately the bad feelings were worse for me than the good thoughts were good. So I got rid of everything from my school days – at least this way nobody can hilariosuly print an old school photo of me in A1 size for my 30th birthday or something…

So that’s it, that’s what I tried and how it worked, and what I know now, which admittedly is arguably still not very much. For me, this was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of shifting to minimalism, but I overall feel I’ve done pretty well in letting things go, but as you can hopefully tell from the hopefully artsy pictures that I have hopefully taken and sprinkled gracefully thoughout this post, I definitely haven’t gotten rid of everything either.

Ironically enough, for me the next step is to actually bring out more nostalgic stuff in the form of getting some digital photos printed (did you know we can do that??!?) and getting some memories put up on our walls. I very much like blank walls, but I very much like some of the people I’ve been lucky enough to know and some of the places I’ve been lucky enough to go to, too. The difference is that while sometimes I used to feel like I was living in a time capsule surrounded by so many memory triggers, now I can be sure to choose the photos of the times I really want to remember and then bring them out where I can enjoy them.

As always, if you yourself have gone through the decluttering process – KonMari style or otherwise – let me know what your experiences were, and hey, if you’re not into the thought of minimalism at all, let me know about that too!

Learning How my Hobbies fit in with my Minimalism

I realise I’ve always had a lot of ‘hobbies’, even before I was at an age to know them by that name. For Christmas, when I was two years old, I asked Santa for ‘scissors, paper and glue’ and from that Christmas morning onwards I have had an arts and crafts box (with plastic scissors at that age, I must add). It started as a small set from the North Pole and has ebbed and flowed in size over my years as an imaginative kid, a productive art student and even now as an ‘adult’ my arts and crafts drawers are still with me. And this is just one example of my hobbies. Over the years there have been many – from learning French, a recently rejoined pursuit, to skateboarding, which was boy-with-the-dreamy-hair motivated and was, mercifully, a short lived undertaking. But my point is that I have always had my day-to-day stuff that I could sort and declutter like anyone else, but then I would have whole drawers of ‘untouchable’ items because they were my art supplies. Or my makeup collection. Or 10,000 notebooks I had acquired for writing in. And while the specifics have changed over the years, I realise that I still have a lot of ‘hobby’ stuff that I just won’t even consider taking apart.

So how does it fit in with the life I want to live? Paint stained tables and drawers bulging with scrap paper are a far cry from the minimalist images popping up on my Pinterest feed – but how do I feel about it?

The first thing I did when I started thinking about my hobbies going forward, is gave some thought to the Miss Minimalist quote; “declutter your fantasy self”. For a long time after I was out of my teens, I held on to so many relics from my less-than-wild adolescance – Nirvana t-shirts, Hello-Kitty-dressed-as-satan backpacks and some seriously chunky black eyeliner pencils. I held on, not because my teen years were great (they really weren’t), but I think it was more to do with the idea that our teen years are when we make a lot of decisions about college and life and all those big scary sorts of things, as well as have first loves and do a lot of learning about ourselves, and frankly, I think I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that time was past, and not being able to shake off the feeling that I wanted to go back for a do-over. Holding onto all those clothes and accessories really didn’t make me feel good though. I felt very confused each time I went to get dressed: it sounds dramatic, but honestly, being confronted with those garments in the morning would just have me being hit with waves of nostalgia, regret and panic about where I was now in my life. It was like trying to have multiple identities which, as well as causing some bizarre ‘fusion’ ensembles to appear, also put a lot of pressure on me in an area of my life that really isn’t worth stressing over.

Almost as soon as I started decluttering, I spotted this behaviour pattern, I realised that I was holding onto my past, and in seeing it clearly, I felt ready to finally say goodbye to that chapter of my life – have a little cry – and begin to move on. But for some reason, the same epiphany didn’t occur with my hobbies – like I said, the drawers and boxes that stored those items were always sort of invisible to me. They were given a pass through decluttering, because they were ‘specialist’ items. Well, no more. I slowly started to become aware that there were drawers I wasn’t opening, boxes I couldn’t recall the contents of, and in peeking inside, came to realise that they were all full of ‘hobby’ items. With each hobby I remembered I felt a pang of guilt that I was neglecting all these items, I felt shame that I was failing at keeping up with something that I really did want to do, and I felt pressure – how the heck was I going to fit this in? Eventually, a little voice in my head piped up to answer that last question, saying: what if I just don’t?

I love the idea of living a rich and full life, and so I see myself wearing a lot of (metaphorical) hats. I see myself being a polygot because I love studying languages, I see myself being someone who cooks a proper, elaborate dinner each night because I’m interested in nutrition (and because I freaking love to eat), I see myself by an easel, hiking in the hills, filming makeup tutorials, jogging, swimming and visitng the cinema weekly. I see myself doing a lot of things, I just can’t see when I would be doing them.

I think this is a key example of it not being a conscious pressure I place on myself – I don’t literally wake up each morning and give myself a hard time for not going out to photograph local wildlife and then combine it with a 10 mile jog home, but still, subconsciously I’m aware of all these boxes and drawers filled with all these ‘goals’ and ‘targets’ I’m failing to meet. On some level, I am still carrying all this around with me. I am still trying to remember the cheat codes to Mega-Bomberman, and retain the ability to speak conversationally in several languages, to ensure we get our 5-a-day in an innovative and exciting manner, and to pan an eyeshadow palette. It’s a lot of things to remember, really, given that a good chunk of my brain is already given over to remembering the lyrics of every ABBA song (‘cos those come hard-wired, right?).

So how did I go from having about 35,672 hobbies I never did, to picking out a couple that I wanted to continue with right now in my life?

1. Asked some really tough questions – what could I stop?

This line of thinking took me to some really dark places – dealing with the idea that I might never do something, led me to a lot of thoughts about my own mortality – you know, we only have so much time, we can’t do it ALL – I might very possibly die without ever completing Tomb Raider II for the Playstation One, or managing to master night-time photography. And you know what? In the end I realised that it didn’t really matter. While painting is fun and I’d love to be able to make beautiful desserts for my fiance I know that when the time comes and I’m on my deathbed I really won’t care if I ever did beat my sister’s score in the Wii ski-jump (not least because I know I never will). I know this is a really morbid way to think about things, but going to this extreme really made me realise what things were important to me – that added value to my life experience, and helped me grow as a person and express myself – and to be able to tell them apart from the things that while fun to experience now and again, were more weight and pressure than was worth stringing along.

2. What could I hit pause on?

After outright discarding a lot of my hobby items – buh-bye scrapbooking supplies – I was left with still a lot of things that I really did feel connected to, but that weren’t things I reached for everyday. For example, I had a lot of books on learning various languages, and a lot of books and tools related to learning calligraphy and hand lettering. I knew that while I was passionate about pursuing these interests, pursuing them wasn’t going to happen tomorrow or even next week and I wanted to find a way to keep them alive, but free myself from the constant physical reminder of them. I spent a lot of time online researching these subjects and for languages I found many great YouTube channels as well as the language learning website DuoLingo and I realised that actually, this combined with being able to store dictionaries on my Kindle meant that I could actually release ALL of my physical books to go to loving homes, but still be able to hit ‘resume’ on this hobby any time I like. As far as the physical ‘tools’ for hand lettering, or even my huge stash of printmaking supplies, I really looked at what I would ‘need’ to have on hand to get started again – what couldn’t I work without in the beginning? Everything else, I let go, knowing that if or when the time comes and I want to really get involved with these hobbies again, I will find a way to regain items as I need them. I trust that will work out.

3. Could items be loved more by someone else?

Then, when it came to the hobbies that I knew I was going to physically going to keep the items for- like the majority of my art supplies – I went through and tried to feel the joy, and workout if I’d actually prefer to let some things go rather than keeping them sitting in a drawer because ‘it made sense to’. In the end I got a big pile of coloured paper and pastels and various other bits and pieces ready to send off to the youngest budding artist in the family. On paper (no pun intended), it made sense to keep it ALL – paper is a non perishable and it would be a nightmare to try and find all those specific shades, weights and textures again – but in truth, I felt more joy at the thought of gifting them to someone else, practicalities be darned. For me, it was about finding the right balance between having still kept a ‘full set’ of supplies for my ongoing interests, but also that I wasn’t just holding on to so many things that I might actually never get round to using them.

Of course, deciding which objects to physically keep is only half the battle really. As with all of minimalism, it’s more about mindset than anything else, and I had to really have a big shift in my thoughts with my hobbies going forward. Right now, I want my biggest focus, or ‘hobby’ to be about being happy. About pursuing bliss and calm and fulfillment, and maybe once I’m feeling some more of that I’ll look to add in a couple more hobbies again, but for now, I’m liking the peace and quiet and the pressure-free space my home has become.