clEAn and lEAn ~ thoughts on decluttering

In the book by Francine Jay called ‘The Joy of Less’ she quotes Mahatma Gandhi as saying ‘Live simply, so that others may simply live’.

I am on a mission to live simply, I feel weighed down by our stuff and consumerism but attaining simplicity is simply not that easy.  At the moment I am evaluating our lifestyle, the contents of our home and the way we accumulate and use stuff.  I need to reduce our possessions but at the same time I hate waste.  Throwing out ‘stuff’ (by which I mean disposing of it responsibly of course and not putting it in the bin) that was once bought with our hard-earned cash seems a bit wasteful but holding on to it seems worse and if I don’t feel we need it now why did we buy it in the first place.

I spent a whole day at the weekend in the kitchen and dining room continuing with the major clear out and rearrangement of my cupboards. The main aim of this clear out is to create space and make it easier to reach the items we use all the time and getting rid of anything that we have little use for.  As Francine Jay suggests deciding what to keep is far easier than deciding what to throw away.

So with everything out on the counter tops one by one I began choosing the easy stuff – the everyday and the most used.

For a number of years now we generally haven’t kept things for best.  My mum has some beautiful china and many sets of cutlery (coming from Sheffield) all packed away and she still uses the two old plates (bought from the Sheffield market many moons ago) and oddments of cutlery that she has used everyday since I was little.  She is 92 now and I doubt she will ever use her best stuff.  I decided long ago that I wouldn’t have anything put away for best as I wanted to use nice things everyday and I do.

Ainsley Albany china

So I have no need to store ‘best’ things having said that I do have a pretty china dinner service – Ainsley’s Albany – (pictured above) that we collected over many years and used everyday for many years.  I do still use it at Christmas and would never part with it but it is the only thing you might call ‘best’ ware.  We mainly use the white Thomas tableware now to keep things simple and easily replaceable.

I have a few special items, the ones that you keep because they are beautiful or hold memories and they have earned a place in my cabinet but even most of these are used from time to time.

The new addition – the mug with Miss V was a leaving present from one of my colleagues – every morning for almost 19 years we would greet each other with ‘morning miss T’ and she would reply’ morning miss V’.  The mug is a wonderful reminder of our friendship.

Once the everyday, the special and the beautiful had been selected I came to the heap of ‘extra’ dishes – I am sure we all have them – the ones kept for entertaining purposes – parties, Christmas and the like – and these posed much more of a problem.   They require a lot of storage for very little use.

Although only two of us at home now we have to allow for enough dishes to cook and eat when our immediate family get together (now 7 of us and soon to be 8).  We also entertain with our larger group of friends a few times over the course of a year.  This means we have a quite a few ‘entertaining’ items;  larger serving bowls, extra plates, dip dishes, cheese boards – you name it we probably have it.

I pondered long and hard as to what I should do – a minimalist surely doesn’t have this amount of dishes stored in their cupboards.  And then I came across the wise words of Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less who it would seem had the same problem.  He realised that the minimalist life held by some people who only have two plates, two cups etc did not fit with his.  This group of people have different values and purpose.  Identifying our own values is the key; to own just the amount of things you need. Becker enjoys having people round – they belong to many different groups and they like getting together with family, friends and neighbours.

Lightbulb moment.

I enjoy entertaining and gatherings – I like cosy suppers with my friends and hosting New Year and Burn’s night – I hate paper plates and plastic cutlery unless forced to if we have a big party – so I reckon as this adds value to my life at the moment it is OK for my extra tableware to stay – but only as long as it remains useful and I do not add to it… Ever.

After some rearrangements and removal of certain items no longer required I am quite pleased with the final result.  My intention was to make everything that is most used accessible so I have tried not to stack the different sized plates on top of one another.

China cupboard

This did mean spreading out a bit more and to do this I removed the cookery books from these two shelves to create space for the less used white dishes, the table mats and my beautiful Finish red enamel bowl bought in the sixties.

I am loving the feeling of space already and the fact that everything is so much more accessible.  I have no doubt we could live with a lot less but at the moment this is our ‘right amount’ as far as dishes are concerned, a good balance of useful and beautiful.  I have chosen carefully and everything has had to have a reason to stay so I think there will be very little to declutter in future unless our circumstances change.

One minor problem now though – where do I put all the cookery books?