Unjunk your life, save money, and save your sanity

Unjunk your life, save money, and save your sanity

About 10 years ago, Pead PR owner Deborah Pead sent me an invitation to a media lunch. This is exciting partly because it’s Deborah Pead inviting you to lunch, but it’s memorable to me because the invitation came tucked inside a beautiful box with a single, stunning silver fork.

This fork, I still have it. I hate accumulating possessions, so I don’t actually own many utensils at all – just enough for one or two friends to come to mine for dinner and not have to BYO fork  –  so this fork is my favourite fork and it takes pride of place in my cutlery drawer (which, incidentally, doesn’t even have a cutlery divider, because I object to them on the basis that they’re ugly and ultimately useless, if you only own a few forks). I love this fork so much that I’ll hand wash it between dishwasher rounds, just so I can use it at consecutive meals.

The fork, it brings me joy (thanks Deborah). And since then, since realising how much joy a single utensil can bring you, I’ve resisted acquiring extra things – stuff that doesn’t give you the happies – and instead opted for a minimalist approach. I don’t see the point in owning Lots Of Things when most people hardly have time to scratch themselves these days.

Speaking of lunch, I ate some the other day with Esther Goh, who writes sensible things over at Sorted.org.nz (go have a look). We got to talking about Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and how Kondo reckons you should only keep things that speak to your heart: “The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’” Kondo writes. “If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.”

Esther, who as I said is very sensible, pointed out that you can’t only own things that spark joy; after all, your toilet brush doesn’t spark joy (if it does, this is the wrong website for you), but generally you need to own one to reasonably get by in life, or at least for the sake of marital or domestic harmony.

This made me think about a bloke called Fumio Sasaki, who’s apparently a ‘hardcore minimalist’. Sasaki gave away all his stuff  –  he used to be a passionate collector of books, music and so on, but got sick of having to keep up with the latest trends. So he spent a year (yes it took him a year) selling everything or giving it away to friends.

“Spending less time on cleaning or shopping means I have more time to spend with friends, go out, or travel on my days off. I have become a lot more active,” Sasaki says.

Sasaki is living a richer life, on several levels. And I have to confess that, while minimalist, he has a pretty kick-ass utensil drawer (read this Guardian story for more, including pics). However, I haven’t yet been able to ascertain how he cleans his toilet, given I’m pretty sure he doesn’t own a toilet brush.

Anyway this is extreme minimalism and as with anything, when you take it too far it just gets silly. But after giving my bookshelves a good zen over the weekend, I reckon the basic principles for unjunking your life are:

  • Do it slowly. Tackle a drawer, a shelf, a cupboard, at one time. Otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed and resort to eating peanut butter straight out of the jar while watching cat videos on YouTube.
  • Throw out things you’d forgotten about but aren’t necessarily delighted to rediscover.
  • It’s OK to be a bit ruthless (sometimes it even feels good).
  • Keep stuff that’s useful, that you know you’ll use within the next year, or stuff that’s come in handy in the past year. If it’s a regular, it gets to stay.
  • Don’t keep stuff out of obligation. Someone else likes it? That’s cool, they can give it a home.
  • If you have little kids, be conscious you’re making decisions on their behalf too. Instead of chucking something, maybe you should box it up and put it in storage for them later in life. It might not resonate with you now, but it might with them later.
  • Clothes. Don’t keep clothes that don’t fit you thinking you’ll fit them one day. If you do, they’ll be out of style. You’ll appreciate the wardrobe space now more than the unfashionable item in the future. Clothes are pretty disposable, so this is one area you can be really ruthless.
  • Anything you can transfer to digital (books, music, movies), do it.
  • If it’s quality, sell it rather than chucking it.
  • Drink lots of coffee before you start.  
  • Don’t throw out your toilet brush.
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