Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Our 30-Day Minimalism Challenge

On 16th June, my friend Nick Jukes invited his friends to do the 30-Day Minimalism Challenge together with him and report our progress in a closed Facebook group. Around 9 of us accepted the challenge, and in turn I invited my friends to play as well. We started on Wednesday, 17th June, and by the end of 30 days most of us successfully purged 465 unwanted items from our homes.

This proved to be a little tough for me because I have only recently moved house and rid myself of hundreds of items, and I am not one to purchase or accumulate many things in the first place anyway. Still, I loved the idea of the challenge and find decluttering and cleaning to be highly pleasurable, and managed to move my decluttering efforts to the parental home after I completed decluttering my own home.
Here's how I did in The Minimalist Game and some of the things I jettisoned:

 Week 1: My barrister's robe

One of the hardest things to let go of is items of sentimental value. However, reading Marie Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" taught me how to release such items in a gentle, respectful and satisfying way without feelings of guilt and remorse.

I was called to the Bar in 2004 and left legal practice in 2009 to enter into humanitarian service. I had initially wanted to sell the robe that I was called to the Bar in, but my parents objected to the idea, saying that I should keep it "to remember the day" with.
But our memories are ours alone, and it is not likely that I would ever forget that important day. I don't need the robe to remind me of the hallowed ceremony, the judge's encouraging words, the look of pride on my parents' faces, the testimonial of my Mover, or the lunch that followed.
The robe had been left forgotten in my closet, and I made up my mind to donate it to the KL Bar Room in the Jalan Duta Court Complex, where it would be loaned out to lawyers who forgot to bring their robes. I had myself benefited from this service many years ago. My friend Audrey volunteered to take it to the Bar Room on my behalf. My robe would continue to be of service to others and bring good energy both to the donor and the beneficiaries. I thanked my robe for the years of service and the memories, and gently released it to a higher good.

Week 1: Bowls, a juicer and a yoghurt maker

When I moved out of the parental home in 2000, I inherited a number of items from my parents. I never got around to using many of the items. On the second day of the challenge, I removed 2 melamine bowls from my mother that I had never bothered using because I preferred using the vintage pyrex bowls that I had also inherited from her. The bowls, as well as several food storage containers, were given to Kedai Jalanan for our homeless friends.
My parents had also given me a juicer and yoghurt maker which they stopped using, but which I never used because the juicer is too large and unwieldy for my kitchen (and the noise scares my cats) and the yoghurt maker is useless without the powdered mix (plus I am giving up dairy). I posted pictures of the two items along with many others in a Freecycle album on my Facebook and my offers were snapped up by friends.

Week 1: Office supplies and stationeries
I have a tendency to stockpile office supplies and writing materials. I ended up sorting through the pens, markers, notebooks and pencils and giving a bagful away to Beacon of Hope, the community learning centre that I volunteer at.
 Week 2: Bento tools

Things that come in sets are usually a waste of money. I bought inexpensive sets of cookie cutters and stampers for making bento lunches with, and found that I usually only use 2 out of every 4-5 designs in a set. I offered these duplicate and excess bento tools on my Freecycle album and they were snapped up by a friend with a toddler. Now they can make butterfly and teddy bear shaped sandwiches and cookies. Or maybe just use them together with play-dough, that's fine too.

 Week 2: Football magazines
 I really have to stop buying every FIFA World Cup souvenir magazine published even if the World Cup only happens once every 4 years. And I really, really need to stop buying those World Cup sticker albums. I have been buying them since Mexico '86 and have NEVER been able to complete an album. I will need to buy several hundred packets of stickers to complete the damned things. It's just a trick to make people (especially gullible children) waste a lot of money.
I didn't give away my World Cup souvenir books, although I did resolve not to buy more than one each World Cup. I did, however, give away my sticker albums to my students at Beacon of Hope. The boys love football and do not mind at all that the sticker albums are incomplete. It helps them learn about geography (names of countries that made it to the World Cup, continents, regions, and towns in which the matches would be played).

Week 2: Empty plastic jars and detergent containers

 I have been saving dozens of jam jars, plastic lidded jars (the kind that festive cookies and snacks are sold in) and empty detergent bottles (even the ones from my parental home and from my former roommates) for years, and while tidying the Wee Green Flat, found that I had more than I need.
Some of the plastic jars were repurposed for storing compost in the freezer (I do have a compost pot in the balcony, but larger items such as mango and jackfruit seeds are stored in the freezer to prevent decomposition until I can bury them in the forest reserve behind the flat on weekends) or batteries and bulbs for e-waste recycling, and some will be given to my friend Reita for the indigenous communities she works with (the ladies have asked for these screw-top airtight jars for storing grains and sugar in).
The fabric softener and detergent bottles and several plastic jars were given to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle), a detergent refill station that I frequent near the SPCA shelter. It would help customers who didn't bring their own containers and bottles, especially walk-in first time customers who would like to try out the products but could not do so without available empty containers.

Weeks 1 and 2: Books

Everybody loves books and it is difficult to view books as clutter. However, using the same Marie Kondo method of decluttering, I decided to let go of books I had enjoyed but am unlikely to read again. Now the books can bring others joy and knowledge as well.
 Some of the books were put on offer in my Freecycle album, while others would be given to the MNS Green Living Little Free Library.
Weeks 2 and 3: Electronic waste

I don't have many electrical or electronic devices, and those that I do are maintained, repaired and kept in a good condition so that they would last a long time. However, I do have broken phone chargers, an unrepairable phone, and an 8-year-old cheapie CD player that no longer works after Pix pushed it off a shelf by mistake.
I collected electronic waste from my flat, the parental home, my previous rented bachelor pad and from friends and stored them in a bag until I had enough to make a trip to our e-waste collection bin in the MNS headquarters worthwhile. I finally transported all of these to the e-waste bin one Saturday during our MNS branch AGM. It feels great to finally have these out of the house.

Week 3: Letters and documents 

Even though I had only recently moved to a new place and had spring-cleaned and decluttered aggressively, there are still things we can organise and declutter if we make up our minds to do it. I decluttered my document folders, removing expired coupons and vouchers, invoices, letters and documents I no longer need, instruction manuals and expired warranties for shredding and recycling.

Katniss decided to pose very prettily next to my stack of unwanted documents. Isn't she such a good helper?

Week 4: Clothes hangers, and more documents

I am running out of things to declutter in the Wee Green Flat. I did, however, find myself constantly annoyed by the assortment of colourful plastic hangers left in the laundry area by the previous homeowners. I prefer a streamlined look, and had brought with me my black clothes hangers to make my closet look less cluttered. I kept some of the clothes hangers for the drying rack, but packed up about 25 for Kedai Jalanan for the pop-up street store.
I also tidied up my backpack, wallet, and the cloth shopping bags I keep by the door, and sorted out more letters, documents, coupons, receipts and ticket stubs for recycling.

Week 4: Library labels 

Very few things left to declutter now, and my cabinets, cupboards and bed drawers are mostly empty anyway.
Still, it occurred to me that I should sort out my folder of stickers and library labels. These are sold in packs of 10-20 sheets each and are great for labelling things, but I will never foreseeably finish using them before they lose their adhesiveness or start 'foxing', since I have already had these for a few years. I kept only 2-3 sheets of each and cut the rest up into strips and put them in a large used envelope. I took these labels with me to Beacon the following week and used them as classroom rewards for cooperative and helpful behaviour and effort and correct answers. My students have reached that level of comfort and confidence around me that I normally don't have to bribe them into trying to answer questions or read aloud in class, but it was still nice to have something to give them, especially since they come from low-income families and do not have much pocket money for little luxuries.
If there is anything I know about children, it is that they love stickers and they love writing their names on everything, so the labels were extremely popular and the youngsters were practically fighting to answer questions. I was a little deaf and bedraggled by the end of the session but it was worth it, and I still have enough labels for a few more sessions.

Week 4: Parental home

Back at the parental home for part of the weekend. I spent 2 hours decluttering the cupboards in my childhood bedroom and cleared out a number of things for the charity shop and to be passed to Reita for the children in indigenous communities. (If you laugh at the pink pony coin purse, I'll kill you).

Of the toys I cleared out, I kept some of them and put them in small shoebox-sized toy bins that I set up in the parental home and the Wee Green Flat for children who visit. This way, the children will be kept busy and happy and our feline and canine children will not be harassed.

Week 4: Kitchen pantry

The initial plan was to clean out my refrigerator, but there really wasn't anything in it that needed removing. I eat mostly fresh organic produce and use up everything.
My kitchen pantry, however, was a bit of a disgrace. I have the habit of stocking up on things (normally organic dry food items, pet food and treats, household items and personal care products) when I spot a bargain, and the pantry was stuffed to bursting point. I sorted out the pantry and removed expired medication and First Aid products for safe disposal at the hospital medicine collection bins. I grouped like items together and put frequently-used and about-to-expire items in front.
The packets of organic snacks and dried fruit were transferred into clear jars and put on my entryway table where they are more likely to be seen and eaten by my friends who visit. The pantry cabinet doesn't look terrible now, even though it is still very full, but at least everything in it is needed and will be put to use.

End of Week 4:

I stopped counting the items to be removed or minimised after a few days and used them only as a basic guideline, instead of stopping at 3 items on Day 3 and so forth. I know for sure that more than the stipulated 465 items have been removed, repurposed, donated or recycled.
At the end of 30 days, I have these 3 bags of things that I haven't taken out of the house yet. One bag consists of things for Freecycling that are awaiting collection by friends. One bag consists of things to be offered to our street clients during my next Reach Out, Kedai Jalanan or Homeless Hairwash session. The remaining bag is of knick-knacks and odds-and-ends with resale and reuse value that I would be dropping off at the charity bins for their charity shop or other fundraising projects.
The other Minimisers and I enjoyed the process and challenge so much that we have decided to continue it for another month, only without counting the number of items, and focusing instead on areas that need attention (e.g. Day 1: Junk Drawer, Day 2: Broom closet and so forth). It is good to do the challenge together with friends for accountability purposes, and reporting our progress each day is a source of amusement and motivation. By freeing our lives of physical and mental clutter, we are creating more space and time for things that really matter.

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