happy new year, friends! january 1 always feels like a blank slate, but this year i have that feeling tenfold. it’s going to be an exciting year for us — new province! new jobs! new house! it looks like frankie rose will walk! — and it’s very refreshing to be starting 2017 in a house that has been emptied of everything except our most favourite things.
before i get into what we tossed in the final 10 days of the minsgame challenge, i wanted to share a few thoughts on minimalism, decluttering, living small and the challenge itself (are those all just different words for the same thing? that’s not very minimalist of me, sorry).
first of all, this challenge was exhausting. even though i started decluttering (what was already a pretty clutter free home relatively speaking) months ago in anticipation of our move, i spent upwards of an hour a day combing through cupboards, closets and shelves this month, oftentimes revisiting those same spaces within the week because there always seemed to be more of which to rid ourselves. then, once i had set aside everything i wanted to toss, i had to dispose of it. and i was really trying to do that in the most responsible way possible. that meant books to a little free library, housewares to the thrift store, cell phones to a refugee group, hazardous waste to the dump, children’s books to a toy drive, children’s clothes to the consignment store, hangers to the dry cleaner, saleable items on kijiji — i could probably go on. unless something was truly garbage, i tried to find a new home for it. i couldn’t help but think how much time and money i could have saved myself if we’d just never bought/accepted the items in the first place or if we’d just borrowed from friends, family or the many community organizations that exist to loan stuff out. that being said, december was the perfect month to tackle minsgame; if you want your stuff to find a new home that’s not the landfill, i think december is the time of year when your stuff is most likely to find its way to someone who needs it.
over the course of the month i got rid of 654 things and recouped $390 — that number is a lot higher than the challenge goal (496) and it doesn’t include things that we’ve decided we won’t move but have not yet parted with (pierre has some sports gear he’d like to sell a little closer to the spring and frankie rose is, of course, constantly in a state of outgrowing clothes). but before we give ourselves a big pat on the back, we also bought/received a lot of things this month, too. we do celebrate christmas and birthdays (both pierre and i have december birthdays) with gifts, so while december isn’t indicative of how many things we acquire monthly on average, i was still shocked by the number of non-consumable things that came into our home even while i was spending at least an hour a day purging it of unnecessary things. in my opinion, a buy/accept nothing challenge would be way harder than the minsgame challenge (and just might just be a challenge i undertake in 2017). here is a list of what we bought throughout the month and/or exchanged with each other over the holidays and our birthdays:
- a weekender bag, a reusable coffee “sock,” three west coast herb lester travel guides, two pairs of dress socks and one pair of new cufflinks for pierre
- a new cell phone, the december issue of en route, a felted magnet, a wool wall hanging, the 2017 bookhou calendar, a pair of roots sweatpants and three new books for me
- a new dining room table and four chairs to fit our new layout
- a table lamp for the new living room, since there’s no overhead lighting in that room
- a fire safe box to hold passports, birth certificates and our wills
- two books, a new hat, a felted magnet, mitten clips, an extra bath towel and crib sheet, a wooden puzzle and about a dozen articles of clothing for frankie rose
- seven new mice and feather toys for archie
we spoiled ourselves rotten, basically. but then, we visited our families and acquired over 100 more new items. we actually had to leave gifts behind at my in-laws because there wasn’t enough room in our car. the largest offender is the stocking stuffer. next year we will very likely be celebrating the holidays by ourselves on another coast, but should we still be in ontario, i’m putting my foot down harder (it was already down) on stockings. no stockings! we kept about half of the numerous gifts we received:
- a wooden shape sorter, a stacking toy, three books, one pair of socks, two bath toys, a set of dominos, a smock, a winter jacket in next year’s size, an extra pair of mittens, a snack tray stroller attachment, a wooden table and chair set, a sketch pad and three toddler crayons, a few new outfits and one stuffed animal for frankie rose
- three additional toys for archie
- three new dishcloths and four felted dryer balls
- one christmas ornament
- my grandmother’s string of pearls, which i wore on my wedding day and have borrowed so often since that my mother finally gifted them to me for my 31st birthday
we also received a number of things that straight-up replaced things we already had. my grandfather’s chess set replaced a glass one we had that was missing pieces, six galvanized steel bag clips replaced some plastic ones, a nicer set of tablespoons, a running jacket, a travel mug, etc. i didn’t count these straight swaps in the minsgame tally, but i definitely followed the one-in-at-least-one-out rule if we received something that we already owned.
phew! that’s 84 new things, not including the stuff the was a straight swap and not including the 50+ things that didn’t make it past the threshold of our front door (again, not counted in the minsgame tally). i don’t know how that compares to everyone else’s decembers (what’s scary is i think it might be a pretty typical experience), but this feels insane considering we were engaged actively in a challenge to rid ourselves of excess possessions last month and have been extra vocal about the challenge of living in 800 square feet since frankie rose joined our family. but, here is another good reason why december is the perfect month to participate in minsgame: in another year, i might have found space for all the new stuff and then purged it in the months and years to come. but, this year, after spending so much time all month sorting, purging, organizing and donating, knowing i am probably going to be packing it all up again in a few short months, i didn’t accept anything new into the house that wasn’t immediately useful (that is, a book, toy or article of clothing meant for frankie rose at her current age) or that i wouldn’t want to move across the country.
so, time-consuming as it was, i’m really glad i did this challenge. it really focused my decluttering efforts; i went from tossing things in a box haphazardly to going through one area at a time efficiently. for those of you interested in tackling this challenge in 2017, my strategy was to work from a list numbered one to 31. beside each date, i wrote down an area of the home or a type of item (e.g., books, christmas decorations, craft supplies, kitchen) that i thought would yield the approximate daily clutter requirement. so, if i thought i’d have 10 cds to purge, i went through the cds when i got to day 10 and i’d do so with an eye on ridding myself of not just 10, but all the ones we never listen to. if that turned out to be 15, i didn’t count it towards the next day’s assignment, because i already had another area earmarked for day 11. once you’re in week two, you’re tossing upwards of a dozen and then two dozen things a day, but it’s not actually that hard if you can think of a handful of big ticket areas (craft drawers, christmas decorations, the shed) to tackle near the end of the month. i’ve already talked about how much time this challenge took, but it would’ve taken much more time had i gone about it any other way. knowing exactly which area i was going to go through as soon as frankie rose fell asleep meant getting right down to work once she was in her crib.
the momentum of this challenge also made it so much more effective than a vague decluttering-before-we-move challenge. i was really really motivated and that’s what made it okay, finally, to toss things i had hung onto for years because of misplaced value. if something was expensive (either a gift or purchased), there’s an incredible amount of guilt associated with getting rid of it. it’s a lot easier to tuck it away somewhere, just in case, especially if you have the space. but if it’s just tucked away somewhere and you’re not looking at it or using it, and you have no intention of ever looking at it or using it, it has absolutely no value, no matter what it actually cost. i had a couple things like this, moved around and saved for years, sometimes for more than a decade, but never loved or used. i decided i wasn’t going to move any stuff like that 4,000 km to victoria so it’s all gone now.
having completed this challenge, i’m also totally recommitted to living in a small space. if things were starting to feel even a little bit cramped here — well, 650+ things lighter, it doesn’t feel cramped anymore. we stumbled into this lifestyle by accident — when we bought this house we had every intention of putting a monster addition on it and then we got cold feet about the monster debt we’d need to take on to pay for it and here we are, six years later, now with a baby and a pet, living in 800 square feet more comfortably than ever. when we started looking languidly at real estate in victoria a few months ago, it was very tempting to favourite larger homes (larger being, like, three or four bedrooms). the market is robust out there, but not as competitive as toronto, so our dollars actually stretch pretty far. but that’s just not who we are anymore. we’re small space dwellers and, this time, it will be by choice. someday, when frankie rose is grown, i’d love to buy some land and build a true tiny house. or live on a houseboat — there are so many tempting houseboats in victoria, but we just can’t risk it with a toddler.
finally (are you still reading?), an annotated list of what we got rid of this week:
december 22 — we went through our main storage areas (three wooden shelves in the basement and two wooden cabinets under the basement stairs) and tossed 112 things: sunglasses (2), pants (2), mementos (7) from past jobs, hangers (14), notebooks (2), books (6), a cd (1), race medals (29), participant ribbons (26), swim googles (1), an old wallet (1) filled with old student cards, passcards to former office buildings, etc., a set of car keys (1) to our honda civic (rip), a head lamp (1), an unopened package of closet pole sockets (1), an old laptop and cell phones (6), a beer glass (1), a belt (1), pillowcases (6), throw pillows (2), a pair of shoes (1) that i loved but couldn’t even wear sitting down let alone walk in, a hat (1) and a pair of gloves (1).
december 23 — i save tissue paper in good condition and gift bags all year long and i took my holiday wrapping time as an opportunity to cull anything i wasn’t likely to reuse from our collection of gift bags (23). plain paper bags were kept because those are very versatile, but we didn’t need to keep 20 “welcome baby girl” gift bags.
december 24 and 25 — i purged our shed of a whole bunch of renovation material leftover from our mudroom addition, the toilet that we cracked when we repainted the bathroom a few months ago, half-empty gallons of paint and stain (16), the world’s smallest bungee cord (1) and shop vac bags (3) for a shop vac that broke. (note: i didn’t actually purge our shed on christmas eve and christmas day.)
december 26 — i cleansed our kitchen cupboards of chargers (10), an oil and vinegar set (2), carafes (2), plastic tupperware (6) and a number of other miscellaneous items.
december 27 — i donated all the christmas decorations (31) that we didn’t put up or out this year. we bought a slim artificial tree two years ago, so our tree isn’t ever getting any bigger, but we receive new ornaments every december. when we decorated our tree this year, we only put up the ornaments that had a story. if we couldn’t remember where or who a decoration came from we decided to pitch it.
december 28 — for many years i collected set lists from concerts, sometimes jumping up onto a stage at the end of a set or talking my way into a dressing room. they have a lot of value to me, but i haven’t had anywhere to hang them since we moved into our house. i removed the set lists from their frames (those dollar store clip frames) and donated the frames (28). the set lists will be a lot lighter to move in their new home: a manila envelope.
december 29 — with the sectional, rug and television coming upstairs earlier in the month, our basement is opened up to a new layout. i now have a much larger area for my sewing machine and associated patterns, fabrics, etc. i went through my craft drawers (36) and got rid of all the almost-done spools of thread, bobbins that didn’t fit my machine, etc.
december 30 and 31 — the end of minsgame! i donated an entire box of tea light candles and holders (61), probably last used in my dorm room. i stopped counting at 61, so there were actually more than that.
january! frankie rose has a birthday, but i’ve set aside a few of her christmas gifts to wrap and present as birthday gifts. could this be the month where we acquire nothing? i just might give it a shot. i’d welcome your thoughts on the minsgame challenge if you participated or on how you navigate gift-giving occasions like birthdays while living in a small space. and thanks for reading! i did not mean to be such a windbag on this one.