More humanity. Less stuff.

We need more humanity

Last week I was interviewed on the radio, which was weird/fun.

The host and I were chatting about minimalism and simple living when a text came through from a listener.

The host read it on air, and the text simply said, “You want to know what it is to live simply? Go visit Nepal and see how little they live with.”

And I couldn’t agree more. That one, simple message neatly summed up a complex issue I really struggle with: the privileged position from which I can write.

“Oh look, a [relatively] affluent woman talking about all the stuff we don’t need. There she is, surrounded by all the things many people would literally die to give their families. Clean water. An abundance of food. Good health. Access to doctors, hospitals, medicine. Security. Safety. A support network. The ability to vote. The freedom to have a different opinion and not fear for her life.”

Sometimes, I admit, I feel like I have no right to be talking about simplicity.

Sometimes I feel like a ridiculous idealist. It’s not hard when life is so easy.

Sometimes I feel like a jerk, tossing about ideas of living with less, when a majority of the world’s population don’t call that ‘minimalism’, they call that ‘life’.

But then I realise that those of us with the most (and, yes, if you’re reading this on a computer, with electricity, in a building or a place of relative safety, then I am talking to you) are the ones in a position to make the biggest changes.

Most of us would agree we need far less than we currently have.

So what would happen if we all shed that excess and became content with having less?

  • Our focus could shift further away from stuff.
  • The world’s over-stretched resources could spread further.
  • We could help more people.

That’s what I really want to see in the world. Focus less on stuff and more on humanity.

The difficulty – and I understand this as much as the next person – is in getting to that point. It’s all well and good to talk about it, but when the reality is of an over-stuffed garage and a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear, moving from theory to practice is difficult.

This year I have been part of a 12-month program called A Simple Year. Each month members have received a module of work tackling different elements of simplifying life – from work to money, travel to how to maintain simplicity once you achieve it. The modules include comprehensive reading materials, guidebooks, projects and homework, as well as live calls where students are able to ask any questions they may have.

It’s been a massive success this year, with many of the participants telling us that life has changed in dramatic and positive ways. So we’re doing it again in 2015.

The program was created by Courtney Carver of Be More With Less, and I am so happy to co-present alongside her and the following simplicity advocates:

If you’re interested in finding out more about the course, early- bird regstration is open until 14th November. Check out all the details and course specifics at

How to deal with sentimental clutter

How to deal with sentimental clutter

A few weeks ago I had a documentary crew out to our house. They were filming a short piece on the emergence of minimalism in Australia and asked me to be involved.

I was really excited to be asked, but I won’t lie: I was terrified. Terrified of being on camera. Terrified of sounding like a privileged douchebag. Terrified of being found a fraud when people exclaimed, “That’s not minimalism!”

Part of the shoot was done in the small garden shed we use as secondary storage. In it we keep things like our lawn-mower, my gardening gear, house paints, camping equipment, outdoor toys, a couple of boxes of Christmas decorations and one memory box per person.

I was asked to open each of the memory boxes to show how I manage to keep a balance between sentimentality and clutter. I was happy to do this until I was asked to open a plastic crate down on the bottom shelf.

I had no idea what was in there. I knew it was my stuff, but it could have been anything.

Upon opening it I realised it was old marketing materials, catalogues, business cards, order forms, inspiration boards, design sketches and press clippings from my jewellery label. I had not thought about this stuff in over two years, and it’s been more than four years since I closed down the business. The question wasn’t, “What is it?” but rather, “Why do I still have it?!”

I muttered some kind of excuse as to why I still had this clutter, and swiftly moved on.

But over the following days I really thought about it a lot.

I remember having gone through all this stuff during one of my biggest purges, and going back to look at the contents now I can see I did keep only what was interesting or had some sentimentality attached to it.

It’s really interesting to go back and trace your journey towards simplicity by looking at what you’ve held on to during various purges. By looking at the contents of this box I could see the process of becoming less attached to my business (and the goals, successes and stories tied to it) but hadn’t been ready to let go. I could, however, see a big shift, and the good news was that I had been intentional about it rather than blindly keeping everything related to my business.

And, when it comes to dealing with sentimental items, I think that is the key: Be intentional.

We need to be intentional about what to keep and what to let go of. Instead of looking at the box of trinkets or childhood items and saying, “Argh! I can’t decide so I’ll keep it all,” we need to make a decision.

If that decision is, “I love this thing and want to keep it,” then that’s perfect. If that decision is, “I don’t know yet,” that’s OK. It might be the best answer for now. But you need to ask the question. You need to be intentional about keeping things. Otherwise it will continue to be just clutter.

So last week, I headed out to the shed and opened that last remaining box of deferred decisions.

It was interesting to look through the contents and see what I had thought was important. I didn’t feel bad for having kept it, but upon inspection more than 2 years later, I realised it had changed from stuff I had intentionally chosen to keep, to clutter.

And I realised that the transformation from clutter to sentimental works both ways.

When we are initially faced with the idea of simplifying our home, we balk at the idea. “But this isn’t clutter! All this stuff is sentimental!”

Then we move a little further into our journey and we realise that much of that sentimental stuff is, in fact, just clutter. Deferred decisions, guilt and a lack of time.

We move through that clutter slowly, methodically, keeping what we believe to be important. It becomes sentimental again.

It gets packed away, saved for posterity. Then we rediscover it, hiding in a dusty box in the shed, and we realise that it’s no longer sentimental. It’s changed back to being just clutter. Much of it is stuff that we were simply afraid to be without, but with the passage of time has come the realisation that it’s OK.

And so it was that I found myself looking through the contents of that box in the shed. It was interesting, but I was ready and happy to let it all go. So I did. Every single piece.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a (brief) moment of fear as I picked up each of these items and put them in the recycling box. But, quite literally, the second I let the item drop from my hands, I felt a lightness. A relief. A release. And I knew I was making the right decision.

How to declutter – any space, any time.

How to declutter - any space, any time.

Hello! If you’ve made your way over here from The Feed or Daily Life, welcome! Glad to have you here. Any questions or comments, feel free to drop me an email and introduce yourself.


Belongings, possessions, accoutrements. Keepsakes, mementos, sentimental items. It doesn’t matter what shape it takes – if any of this stuff is weighing you down, it’s clutter. And if you want to simplify your life, you need to lose it.

This means one thing – decluttering.

Yes, it’s a buzzword. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it may force you to face some of your demons. Yes, you’d prefer to be sipping margaritas in the sun. (Who wouldn’t?)

But when you’re done – even if it’s simply decluttering a single surface in your home – you will feel lighter. You will feel proud. You will feel a sense of calm when looking at that space.

So many of us get overwhelmed at the thought of starting that we never really begin, but if there is one thing I could tell anyone about decluttering it’s this:

Start small.

Don’t tackle the store room, the garage or the toy box[es] first. They’re too big. You will get halfway through, become overwhelmed, stop, get disheartened and find yourself more discouraged than before.

So trust me, start small.

When people are trying to pay off multiple debts, they’re often told to put all their efforts into paying the biggest one first. This seems to make sense.

But so often, the better way is to pay off the smallest debt first. It will take less time, and you get a victory. You win right from the start. You beat that debt and won’t ever go back to it. This makes you hungry for more victory. So you focus on the next smallest debt. And so on. It snowballs and you build momentum.

Decluttering is the same.

Back in the day I would try to declutter an entire room at a time. I’d walk in to our cramped spare room and empty the contents of one storage container on the floor, start shifting through the pile, get distracted, start on another pile of crap, realise I hadn’t finished the first one, go back to that, get overwhelmed, discouraged, frustrated, until I’d give up and close the door.

It never worked very well.

So one day I focused on just the kitchen drawer. You know the one – random utensils, chopsticks, a couple of lego bricks and a fine dusting of bread crumbs. (Come on – everyone has one. There’s no shame in it.)

It felt good. I didn’t get overwhelmed. I didn’t give up halfway through. And because the space was contained and the task was achievable in one sitting, I was able to push through the distractions until it was finished. Never before had a clutter-free drawer been so inspiring!

I found myself itching to do more, so next I tackled the medicine cabinet. And over the following days I moved on to the bathroom cabinet.

Then the hall stand.
The fridge.
Tupperware drawer.
Laundry shelf.
Cleaning cupboard.
Dry goods cupboard.

None of these was a big thing on its own. Most took between ten minutes and an hour to do. But the combined impact of having a clean, decluttered kitchen, organised bathroom cabinets and tidy laundry felt amazing. And I hadn’t even started the big stuff yet.

So my biggest piece of decluttering advice is to start small. Give yourself 15 minutes and choose one space to declutter today.

Your Never-Fail Decluttering Technique

When it comes to the physical act of decluttering, many of us get stuck again. Deciding to start small, and actually decluttering that small space are two very different things, so here is my tried and tested technique for how to declutter. You can use it when working on any space and it will never lead you astray:

1. Decide on a single surface to declutter.

Once you begin, do not move on to another until this one is completely clutter-free and (preferably) well organised.

2. Establish an area as your work space.

You need a clear, flat work surface for sorting and organising.

3. Grab four boxes or bags.

  • Donate Box – for anything in good condition that can be donated to charity, given as hand-me-downs to friends or family, or given away using Freecycle, TuShare or other similar services.
  • Throw Away Box – anything not in good, useable condition.
  • Recycle Box – items that can be recycled (typically papers, cardboard, some plastics, tin, etc).
  • Holding Box (optional) – keep any items you’re unsure about. Put these items in storage for six months and then decide (based on whether you missed or needed the items) if you will keep or donate the contents.

4. Remove everything from the space you are decluttering.

Take everything out of the drawer/shelf/cupboard you are working on and place it all on your newly cleared work surface, leaving the space completely empty. Clean it with a damp cloth. I like to use diluted white vinegar in a spray bottle, as it helps remove mustiness.

5. Pick up each item individually and decide if you will keep it. If you’re unsure, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need this?
  • Do I want this?
  • Do I use this? (Or have I used it in the past year?)
  • Do I love this?
  • Is it beautiful?
  • Is it meaningful?

The amount of time you spend on the decision will depend on what it is and how much is has meant to you in the past. (Decluttering the fridge will take less intense scrutiny than decluttering a box filled with keepsakes from your childhood, for example.)

6. Work through each item, placing it in the appropriate box, or back on the now-decluttered surface. 

7. Box up the items for donation and recycle/throw away the things you can’t give away.

8. Marvel at the beautiful clutter-free surface you’ve just created.

Once you’ve found your decluttering groove, this method will become second-nature and you’ll be able to tweak things so they work better for you. But while you’re in the early stages of simplifying, starting small and following these steps means you’re less likely to get overwhelmed.

Other Helpful Resources for your Decluttering Needs

  • Sign up to join my free Slow Home BootCamp – it’s a 7-day email course designed to help you take the first important steps towards creating a slow home. Sign up here.
  • If you’re looking for support as you begin your simplifying journey, I run a Facebook group you may be interested in joining. There are almost 3,000 of us in the group, and we share the ups and downs of our personal decluttering efforts, as well as ideas and encouragement. Plus it’s genuinely the nicest group of people I’ve ever had the privilege to get to know, and we’d love to meet you. (It’s a closed group, meaning you need to be manually approved, so bear with me if it takes a little while to pop you in. I may be sleeping at the time!)
  • This post has a fabulous list of crowd-sourced decluttering tips that are invaluable.


But… what if I need 12 towels today?

But... What if I need 12 towels today?

(via Kevin Steinhardt on Flickr)

Spring has sprung here (yay!) and I spent an hour yesterday changing our linens over from winter to summer. As I was packing away the heavy sheets my eyes fell on our towels. Or, more specifically, our collection of towels.

We are a family of four. We do not need 12 full-sized bath towels. Plus beach towels. Plus 4 kids towels. Plus hand towels. Plus bath mats. While hardly excessive in Western terms, it is ridiculous to own so many.

Even with guests, illness or bad weather I have never gone close to needing all these towels. The ones on the bottom of the pile? I couldn’t tell you the last time I used them. So they’re gone. 6 full-sized towels, 2 kids towels, 4 hand towels and 2 bath mats. Donated.

And the annoying thing? I could have let go of more if it weren’t for that whiny voice in the back of my head saying, “Yeah, but what if…?”

What if what, exactly? That’s the $64,000 question.

What if I need all 12 towels at the same time?

Yes, messes occur and washing machines back up and guests visit, but the what-ifs and the maybes are not a good enough reason (for me) to hold on to the excess. If there is a flood, or a defrosted freezer or a family-wide illness, we will work it out.

I now look back at the things we held on to for so long, to placate that whiny voice saying, “Yeah, but what if…?” and I wish we got rid of them sooner. I can honestly say there has not been one single thing I regret having de-owned.

Not one single thing do I think of and say, “Oh, I wish I still had that.”

Part of the reason is because stuff simply isn’t as important to me now. Stuff doesn’t hold the weight or the status that it used to, so it’s OK not to have it. And it’s even more OK not to want it.

But the other part is that I’m no longer afraid of the what-ifs. Sometimes I still listen to them, but I know that, really, the world will continue to turn even if I don’t have enough of the same-sized dinner plates.

Which brings me back to our towels and the obvious truth that sometimes – despite all the lessons of simplifying over the past 4 years – it’s still hard to live with just enough.

So maybe the question shouldn’t be, “How many towels do I need?” but rather, “If I am wet, can I get dry?”

If the answer is yes, then I have enough.

And this afternoon, I’ll be taking those excess towels out of the linen cupboard and in to my ever-running donation bag. After all, we have enough.


Instagram or it didn’t happen.

Instagram or it didn't happen

We’ve just come home from a quick, lovely weekend away.

Sparky and I are in the midst of a really busy period, the kids have just finished pre-school for the term, and life has been feeling very un-slow lately. Without sounding too much like the personification of a First World Problem, it was a break we were very grateful to have.

On Sunday morning we headed to the beach despite the fact that it was grey and cold and windy. Personally, I was keen to sit inside and drink coffee, but the kids have been itching to get their feet in the sand since winter began, so we walked down to the water anyway.

It was so beautiful. The ocean was all steel greys and navy blues, with crests of white and turquoise as the waves broke on the sandbars. The sky was gunmetal. The sand was a cold yellow. I sat up on the dunes and watched little flashes of red and pink as Sparky played with the kids on the waters edge. Yes, I’m waxing poetic, but damn it was gorgeous.

As I sat and watched them play and squeal and chase each other through the water, I was hit full-force by ALL THE EMOTIONS.

Love. Terror. Peace. Gratitude. Incompetence. Pride. Completion. Vulnerability. Sadness. Joy.

Bam! Right in the kisser.


Did I mention it was beautiful?

It was an unrelentingly photographable moment. A moment you want to wrap up and preserve and revisit on those days when there’s chalk ground in to the carpet and the kids have taken more than you have to give and there’s nothing in the fridge apart from leftover Chinese from last Friday. And it’s Thursday.

But I didn’t have a camera. And I didn’t have a phone.

I had my eyes. I had my heart. I had my brain.

So instead of worrying about the angle, or trying to get the best capture of the moment, I simply sat and watched my heart run around outside my body and I soaked the moment up and tucked it all away in my temporal cortex.

I didn’t Instagram it, yet it still happened.

I guess the question is, had I taken a photo of this moment, would it have made such an impact? Would I have felt it so deeply?

I don’t think I could have. I felt all the feelings because I was completely present.

A photo would have been gorgeous, I have no doubt. I might have had other emotions and recollections when I went back and looked at the camera roll, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

The irony of writing about this moment on my blog is not lost on me. But now I’m going to level with you.

I love Instagram and I’m quite fond of most social media. (Except FourSquare. It’s creepy.) I regularly capture snippets of my day-to-day life, things like kids, pets, gardens, sunsets and coffees. I love documenting sweet moments in my day, and sometimes I love sharing them with others.

But not always.

I believe some photos just need to be for you. No sharing. No likes. No comments. Just documenting a little moment and revisiting it on those days that seem like too much hard work.

And even more importantly, I believe some moments just need to be revelled in. No camera. No agenda. Just eyes and heart and brain.

Trying to capture the essence of these moments in a photograph does a disservice to the people we share them with, and it does a disservice to our memories.

So this week I’m challenging myself, and you if you’re up for it, to go and make memories. Real, skin and dirt and laughter memories. Don’t be afraid that you won’t remember those moments without a photo. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But in the doing, you will be living, not just observing.

For me, that’s real life. Right there.


(*And for anyone curious, the photo above was taken months ago. Same weather, different day.)


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