Living with fewer possessions brings benefits to both our mental and physical health.
I lived in North America for five years, working as a nanny for a wealthy family. The house in which we lived was several thousand square feet and required many staff to maintain and clean; a housekeeper, cleaners, handyman, deep-clean teams, teams to clean the chandeliers, plant maintenance, pool maintenance, car ‘detailer’, gardeners- a seemingly endless stream of people coming and going from the house. Living there certainly crystallised my ideas on living in large homes, it wasn’t for me.
When my husband and I moved to the UK we lived in a small apartment (furnished with the obligatory van load of Swedish flat-packed furniture). It took mere minutes to clean, a quick sweep with the hoover, a scrub of the bathroom and a light dust took a fraction of our time. It cost us little to maintain and insure, we were able to work on a self -employed basis with no fear that we would struggle to meet our living costs. As we stayed longer we decided that it was time to invest in a home of our own.
We learned a lot of lessons in our first year of home ownership; maintaining a hundred year old house took a lot of money, especially when its former owners had resorted to the cheapest fixtures and fittings. Our aspirations of a beautifully decorated interior were soon drowned in the reality of the expense involved in rewiring old sockets, supporting Victorian chimneys (where former owners had ripped out fireplaces) and generally keeping things in working condition. Home ownership was an expensive and time consuming business.
We learned that decorating took a lot of time and effort and rarely transformed our rooms in the way we had envisioned. As with any older house , one job would inevitably throw up other problems to resolve, plaster falling off stripped walls, floorboards butchered by 100 years worth of plumbing and wiring. Gradually we sold our modern flat-pack furniture on ebay and replaced it with much less expensive second hand furniture which seemed more suitable for our older home.
When our baby boy arrived last year we prepared a new room for him to grow into, changing the large double for a day bed and providing shelves for toys and books. Decorating the room took the form of new cushions and bunting attached to the cornice as well as a few simple toys ready for him to use and enjoy.
Nothing prepares you for life with a baby and just how much time is spent caring for them and interacting with them. Our days became very full and chores such as hoovering, dusting and laundry were tackled at speed. We began to resent chores which seemed to be unnecessarily time consuming such as dusting all of the china on our welsh dresser and moving multiple items to dust and vacuum around them. The house, which had once felt so cosy and homely, now felt like a large obstacle course, full of items which were adding an inordinate amount of time to our daily routine. Added to this, there seemed to be a constant influx of toys and equipment for baby and, despite our best efforts, these seemed to multiply daily.
Around this time I started to read and follow some simple living blogs and podcasts, convinced that there had to be a easier way of life. Gradually we de-cluttered pieces of furniture, clothes, books and ornaments, selling or donating them to charity. I sold more than half of the clothes I owned and got rid of a triple wardrobe. I sold all of the china on our Welsh dresser and gave away the top half of the dresser, leaving only the cupboard at the bottom. As each item left our home, the effect was instant, the atmosphere seemed calmer, the air fresher and my mood lighter. I found time to garden and read again, activities which I had previously had no time for.
Items which we sold or donated helped to give us more money towards our holiday in Wales and numerous trips out with our baby boy. As we carved more and more space for our family in our home we felt better and better about ourselves and our house.
As we gradually got rid of possessions which were no longer adding any value to our lives we felt better and better and found more and more items to pass on, de-cluttering becomes quite addictive. Stuff which had sat idle for years will now hopefully be used by its new owners. Resources which would have been used to produce new versions of what we sold and donated will now not need to be extracted and precious energy will not be needed in their manufacture.Most importantly, we now are firmly determined that no more items will enter our home unless they are absolutely essential.
During our recent holiday in Wales we were determined to pack very lightly, just two outfits each ( we had access to laundry ) and two books and a set of blocks for our baby boy. We loved how freeing it felt and how simple it was to pack and transport our luggage. Packing has now become a challenge which we relish, we are determined to pack only carry-on when we visit Canada this summer and, thanks to friends of ours who have generously offered to loan us baby equipment, I think we will manage it. I certainly look forward to a simpler summer.