Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.
This week, we have a wonderful contribution from KandK. They tell us how simplifying their work inspired them to create an open, airy, uncluttered home.
My husband and I drifted into minimalism, starting around the time we simplified our work. In the late ’90s we went from being owners of a small business with a staff, a payroll, and rented office space to being independent contractors working in cozy home offices. We didn’t make as much money as we once had, but our work didn’t cost as much either. We had done away with most of our fixed costs along with the daily hassles and stress of management. The biggest issue on our daily commute was somebody forgetting his coffee and turning around on the stairs. We saved more money by cutting back to one car, and we began to walk or cycle to run errands.
But home became more crowded when we added our offices and a large amount of computing equipment. We got organized, made good use of shelves and floor space in closets and built rows of wide shelves in the basement, then filled all these spaces high and tight with what can best be described as “stuff.” It seemed that everything our family had brought into the house over twenty-odd years was still there. We used some of it some of the time, but mostly it was squirrelled away on a shelf or in a closet.
Now, my husband (K) is a wonderful man, and I love him, but he’s clumsy: two left feet. Unlike me, he’s uncomfortable without a lot of space around him, and although I found our situation cozy he had difficulty in what he experienced as cramped quarters. This was the impetus for the next change, which started slowly and picked up in earnest when our teenagers grew up and moved on. Over the course of some years we made room by freeing the house of an astonishing amount of that stuff. Not being garage sale people, we looked for places to donate. Furniture and clothing ended up at our local Goodwill. Surplus building materials and tools made their way to The Habitat for Humanity. Through Freecycle we found new homes for old electronics, textbooks and computer programming manuals, surplus garden tools, and even a stack of previously trodden patio stones. We donated books to our local public library and excess office paper and art supplies to the neighbourhood school.
It wasn’t easy to give these things away, but we learned to manage and negotiate emotional attachments, and though we (more often I) couldn’t bring ourselves (myself) to dispose of everything, we ended up with a small stack of boxes that fit unobtrusively and neatly in the basement. The benefits were many and easy to identify. The house became easier to clean, and the very atmosphere felt lighter. We didn’t hesitate to open closet doors for fear of what we’d find stashed inside. And, most importantly, my sweetie found he had room to move about without tripping or knocking something over.
By the time we’d taken most of the stress out of work and eased our “stuff burden”, we found we had time and head space for the next step. We embarked on a campaign of simplifying the house itself. We resolved to rid ourselves of cubbyholes in which clutter could breed unnoticed. We took doors off closets and turned them into open shelving which we keep only lightly populated. We turned a narrow, gloomy front hall into a bright, sunny space wide and clear enough that K can turn around (see photo). We gutted our galley-style kitchen and rebuilt it in a streamlined Scandinavian style (did I hear someone say Ikea?) with a pantry unit at one end, no upper cupboards, and a hand-picked piece of postmodern art mounted above the sink.
Our story isn’t over. Hobbies beget clutter, and my stash of fabric and knitting supplies threatens to swell on a weekly basis. K has built new shelves in the garage, and the last time I looked there wasn’t much free space there. But even if we backslide a bit I believe we’ll be able to keep it under control because we’ve developed a mindset that must be common to the people on this site. It’s best described by the words of a visitor to our bare-bones kitchen. When his wife, looking thoughtfully at the bare wall, asked if it would be possible to put back the upper cupboards, he said in a soft and wistful voice, “Sure you could, but I like it like this.”