Boxes are a bit of an obsession in my family. We love a good box and are quite convinced that good boxes are worth saving for that unpredictable moment when a good box will be needed. Often this is birthdays or Christmas though it is not at all uncommon to unwrap your Christmas gift and find that whatever it is has been contained inside a cereal box or a cracker box. Mum has confessed to removing the cereal in order to be able to use the box. This Christmas I dumped all of the cotton swabs into a jar so that I could use their box for the gift I’d bought for my mother. Dad’s gift went into an empty box of Yorkshire Tea. And thus my collection of useful boxes remained unused but continued to grow. Often the collection contains shoe boxes. Aren’t shoe boxes always in demand? Any other sturdy relatively plain box smaller than a shoe box also gets saved. In addition to this, the wisdom handed down in my family is that one should always hold onto the box that any technology or small appliance came in. The reason is that if one has to return it or send it for repairs there is nothing so practical as packaging it up in its original box and styrofoam.
Recently I decided that I’d bloody well had enough of this practice. How often do I actually use the boxes that I’ve saved? When was the last time in thirty years that I’d needed to use the original packaging of a small appliance? I am not a minimalist by some people’s standards but I don’t like excess, clutter or junk hanging around. I like my home tidy, although full, and I try to hold onto things that I believe useful or beautiful and nothing more, but it’s the useful concept that trips me up. Some minimalists get rid of books which to me is unthinkable. Their reasoning is that they are never going to read them again no matter how much they loved them and I have to grant them that. I rarely re-read my books either. But these same book-tossers will have decorative items around their homes which have no use other than decoration, perhaps are sentimental and they have chosen to keep these. I choose to keep my books for the same reasons. For me they are decorative and sentimental and to borrow the term used by Marie Kondo, they spark joy. Real joy, of the kind reserved generally for kittens, loved ones, chocolate and wine. But boxes do not spark joy, they are certainly not beautiful and I have to admit that although they seem useful they have not proven themselves to be so. So in a determined storage room clean-out in which I also found many other items I could donate to the charity shop, I hauled out all of the empty boxes and began to flatten them ready for recycling. At this point I have to make a confession. I put three back. I can’t cure myself of the frugal be prepared attitude overnight and perhaps I don’t want to. But it’s a big improvement and a long stride forward in my march towards what I will call minimalism my way.
You won’t see a difference when you enter my home. You would never have seen the boxes anyhow, but I feel the difference. And when I go into my small storage room (it’s something between a room and a closet) I can find what I am looking for and I am nearly at the point of only having things I regularly use in there. Some items are seasonal, some are cleaning implements, and there are a few small furniture items I know I will eventually let go of. I’m not trying to become a minimalist and the minimalist aesthetic is not my style. I have a strong drive to only be surrounded by what feels necessary and what I love and to shed the excess, the ugly and the not useful. I’m not at all averse to owning items purely for decorative sake and this even includes a very attractive and useful box in which I actually put things. I am happy to be a collector, but do not wish to be a hoarder. Before Marie Kondo there was William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement. The words attributed to him are the ones I try to live by: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." This says it best. Not everything will spark joy. My frying pan does not, but I do need one. At the moment I have more than one, as I am trying to find the style and size I like best. But once I find what I clearly need and use, the surplus can go. As with boxes, it's easy to accumulate just in case things. Stocking up at sales, having something on hand for when the old one finally wears out, or being unable to quite decide between two almost good enough things. These are attitudes I inherited and am trying to moderate. It feels good to live with less, but I don't identify with minimalism as an aesthetic.
Here are some of the very personal thinking processes I try to keep conscious and foremost in my mind:
1. I don't need to go shopping unless the fridge is nearly empty.
2. If I have to get rid of something I already have when I bring this item home, do I still want this item?
3. I already know that essentially stuff does not make me happy. Keep remembering this.
4. Flip side: Some stuff does bring me joy but quite specific things. Books, art supplies, plants and clothing I feel good in, a cat to cuddle. Focus on these.
5. Time for art, time to read, write, spend with my closest and dearest people, a walk in fresh air, good conversation, delicious and simple food-these are the things that bring me joy.
6. If I cannot find words to describe how much I like something then I should consider buying it. If I can say, oh that's cute, or that's pretty, I am admiring it but not loving it. "Oh..." followed by a trance, generally means I love it.