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How To: pare-back, declutter and simplify your life

If in doubt, throw it out (or donate or give away or return…). This has long been my mantra. I live for a good cull. And whilst it’s definitely a work-in-progress, based entirely upon casual observation, I’d argue I have a lot less stuff in my life than your average first-worlder (if you’re reading this, that’s probably you).

Whilst generations before us lived in a time of proper economic depression characterised by true austerity, most of us today have never taken measures like drawing a line up the back of our legs to give the illusion we were wearing stockings. The fact is that for the most part, we’ve enjoyed a lifetime of abundance and availability, no matter our financial situation. When else in history have you been able to spend anything from $3.00 to $300.00 on a t-shirt?

But if luxury is simply about having what the masses do not, then it was only a matter of time before more is more became passé, and the ‘less is more’, ‘quality over quantity’ and ‘curated’ type movements had their time in the sun.

Whether it’s an idea that resonates with you for the mental peace, environmental benefit, luxurious, anti-consumerist statement or some other reason, you’ve made it this far so… here’s how I go about making it happen.

Cuyana - Lean Closet

Ask some tough questions

They’re tough because sometimes you want to keep stuff for no good reason. Here’s how to tell when you’re holding onto it out of habit.

  • Does it make me or my family actively happy?
  • Would it pass the burning house test (see below)?
  • Have I used or looked at it in the last year? Do I foresee any reason I’d use or look at it in the next month?
  • Is it still ‘good’? That is, can still perform the purpose for which it was intended?

Come up with a plan

Not quite ready to say goodbye? Work out a farwell plan and make it happen. There are lots of ways to do this, but here are some of my favourites.

  • Put everything you’re not sure about in a box and stash it somewhere out of the way. If after a set amount of time (no more than 6 months) you haven’t fished anything out of the box, proceed directly to your the nearest donation point. Whatever you do, don’t look in the box.
  • If you’ve culled as far as you’re willing to go at this point, implement a 2-in-1-out system. It’s a simple premise: for every item you acquire, you get rid of two of the same calibre. For example, if you want a new juicer, you have to lose the rice cooker and the waffle iron. I find this a great way to work out whether you really want (or need) something or if it’s just a fleeting fancy.
  • Discover how much you really use things with this technique: take all the hangers in your wardrobe and turn the hooks so that they face you. Each time you wear a piece, turn the hook around the other way. After 6 months, donate anything with the hanger still facing forward. This works with almost anything in your house. For books, put a sticky dot on the spine. Put kitchen utensils in a box and return them to their home after use. You get the idea!

Make it last

Once you’ve made the cull, you’ll discover it’s rather easy to gradually end up back where you started. To prevent this, I work with a 1-in-1-out system. As per the above, it’s pretty straightforward – one item in means one item out.

Want more inspiration? Here are some places to start…

1. The Burning House – what would you take with you if your house was burning down and you only had the time to grab a few, precious things? This blog takes photo contributions from folks all over the world.

2. Daily Connossieur – Jennifer L Scott is a living embodiment of the 10 Piece Wardrobe and shares not just the 10 pieces that make her seasonal cut, but living with them day-to-day.

3. Cuyana – a brand who’s ethos is ‘fewer, better things’ (and their price point makes it very achievable). Their blog provides a how-to plan for achieving your version of a ‘lean closet’.

4. Project 333 – experiments in living with less.

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