30 days of minimalism

The 30 Days of Minimalism game challenges you to edit your life and possessions with increasing intensity. Martha Weeks declutters…

‘The things you own end up owning you,’ says Joshua Fields Millburn, in his memoir Everything That Remains, which he wrote with business partner Ryan Nicodemus.

I know he’s right. When I moved into our current house with my family four years ago, I was determined not to get overtaken by ‘stuff’. It worked for a while, but now our house is filled with usual paraphernalia associated with having three children, a husband working from home, and a global pandemic.

Like everyone else, to cope with boredom and loneliness over the past 18 months, I’ve bought online, got out my wallet, and acquired so much more than I ever needed. Inspired by Fields Millburn’s book, I decided to spend the summer holidays undertaking the 30 Days of Minimalism game – you get rid of one thing on the first day of the month. Two things on the second. Three things on the third. So forth and so on. By day 30, you’ve got rid of 465 items.

The key to the game is not only the editing process, but that every material possession you get rid of on the appointed day must be out of your house – and out of your life – by midnight that day.

Things start well. I’ve decided to theme it initially, so I’ve picked bigger items to begin with – such as furniture, lamps, coats, artwork. I’ve been thinking about this challenge for a while so I hit the ground running and manage to hand off an armchair on Facebook Marketplace, and give a couple of lamps to a neighbour, some coats to a homelessness charity and some artwork to a second-hand shop.

From here, I start working through the things I know I have too many of – placemats, tablecloths, cups, plates, shoes (a pair counts as one item before you think of cheating), scarves, bedding, clothes, candlesticks, flower vases. The last two are harder, I love my décor, and it starts to bite a bit when I have to say goodbye to something I like quickly. Especially when some of them are items I only bought a few months ago, but haven’t really used or loved as much as I thought I would.

I save the items I know I don’t care about for the later days – electronic wires (I mean I’ve got about 30 of those anyway); dusty freebies from hotel stays (guilt as charged!); towels and tatty bed linen.

My kids and husband don’t escape the ‘Great Purge’ – as they have started calling it – either. Broken and unused toys are jettisoned to the recycling (so satisfying); while I finally get into the loft and throw out 16 of my husband’s university essays, which, for reasons known only to himself, he has insisted on keeping for nearly 25 years.

There are some days that I really struggle though. ‘Books’ is hard, especially as I keep avoiding it and have to eventually get rid of 28 of them and they leave gaps on my bookcase that make me cross for days. Other days, when I’m working, and on a deadline, I end up sorting through stuff late in the evening and then just dumping it on the street as there’s nowhere else to take it, which feels both lazy and not ‘in keeping’. (This is London, so it’s all gone by 6am, but still.)

There are some days that I don’t theme either, which end up with surprising results as I find myself just walking around the house picking up stuff which I no longer want – that is a very weird feeling.

And I think, actually, this is the best way to do it – as you’ll uncover items you wouldn’t have even thought of otherwise. Some of the things I have been glad to see the back of have included: a chicken-cooking brick someone gave me that they ‘didn’t’ really need’ (turns out I didn’t need one either); a faux stuffed pheasant that seemed a good idea one Christmas; a decoupage trunk with pictures of horses on that my mother bought me when I was 12 (I’m not 12, and I’m not into horses anymore); and a rug that, when shaken outside, was so stained, smelly and threadbare it had to go to the tip. How had I not noticed how horrible it was before?

And while the relentless pace of constant self- and home-editing has been furious and overwhelming at times, I’ll admit
I do feel a lot better.

What have I learnt?

One: Put boundaries around your possessions. Just because it’s free or someone is pleading with you to take some white elephant item that they don’t need, doesn’t mean you have to say yes.

Two: I buy far, far too much fast fashion, which never lasts, often shrinks and gets forgotten. Buy better, buy sustainably. 

Three: Once I get rid of certain items, I find things I hadn’t even remembered I had, and fall in love with what’s left, which is like getting new things all over again.

Four: The key to decluttering is to take the stuff to the charity shop/recycle/sell it that day. Getting it out of your house creates a visual sense of freedom that is really important.