When we think about decluttering stuff, the last thing that comes to our minds are photos. Yet photos build up to the thousands, especially since the introduction of smartphones.
We click, snap and tap every moment and expression, now we not only have to keep up with physical prints but a forever growing digital hoard.
Let’s be honest, phone cameras are now so good and we take so many photos that we have too many to enjoy.
We see a beautiful sunset and the first thing that comes to our minds is not to enjoy it in the moment, but to snap the perfect image that we can enjoy years down the line, or can get the most likes on social media.
We receive a glorious plateful of food, and our first instinct is not to eat it, but to snap a photo for Instagram.
When we act like this, the moment we remember is not one of basking in the sunset, or of enjoying a meal, but of capturing the perfect photo, and obsessively checking our social media accounts for approval and validation.
And when every moment is experienced behind a screen or a lens, it becomes almost impossible to discern which photos are the most important.
It’s like losing a precious stone on a beach: it was special to you but you’ll never be able to pick it out again among the rest and won’t even be motivated to try.
I had the exact same issue, which is why I’m currently in the midst of sorting out years of digital and physical photos. And with there being decades of memories and sights, it’s no easy task.
What spurred me on to tackle this monstrous task was the sheer joy I experienced of choosing photos to go in my wedding album. The photographer took over nine hundred shots, but every single one was a joy to reminisce over.
I realised I was experiencing none of that joy with my home collection of photos; many of them were random and meaningless. The precious ones were lost in a sea of memories transformed into gigabytes.
Since that realisation, I’ve spent hours deleting meaningless photos taken on the spur of the moment: landscapes I no longer recognise, ten of the same photos from slightly different angles, photos that were downloaded from the internet, photos sent to me through Whatsapp, random images of animals and plants, blurry smiles, self-indulgent selfies, and meals I was in awe of.
Despite all the hours spent deleting countless moments of the past, I’ve barely made a dent in my collection. But believe me when I say it’s a great motivator that a good few months worth of shots are now worthy of photo frame treatment.
More and more bytes are being freed, more memory to dedicate to the best and most meaningful moments. Byte by bte, stories are emerging.
Deleting and disposing of so many photos has also been frighteningly sobering as to how many moments I’ve wasted snapping instead of experiencing.
Since the start of the project, I’ve spent less time pulling out my camera and far more observing with my eyes. If something is truly awe-inspiring, I write descriptions instead, and sometimes use it for inspiration.
If you’re considering minimising your photo collection, go ahead. It’s freeing. It’s cathartic. It’s revealing. Just remember to minimise your snapping, and maximise your moments, instead.
When you minimise your own possessions and you’re the only minimalist in a household, you will inevitably start to notice other people’s stuff. You will have all sorts of ideas in your head about what should go and what should stay.
Why does your husband insist on keeping that set of weights when he hasn’t worked out in years?
Why does your daughter have so many shoes?
Why can’t your room mate just throw away their bulging collection of ragged t-shirts?
Surely they can see the mess they’re living in. Why won’t they understand the benefits of being a minimalist? If only they would stop and listen to you!
Unfortunately, nagging, preaching or removing their stuff without permission will not only cause them to hold onto more stuff in an act of defiance and security, but can end up driving a wedge between you and the people you love.
Everyone has possessions which are important to them for a variety of different reasons. Maybe it’s for security, perhaps they grew up with nothing, maybe they grew up drowning in stuff like I did. Whatever the reason, you should never badger and pester someone to get rid of something they’re not comfy doing so.
My husband, son and I share a house with my parents. The only minimalist in the house is me, so for the longest time I felt frustrated by what I considered to be clutter from other people.
It seemed that no matter how much of my own stuff I got rid of, they accumulated even more. I became hyper aware of everything that was coming into the home, especially since we all share a kitchen and bathroom.
Where was I going wrong?
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I had turned into a preacher of minimalism. I was so encouraged by my new outlook on life that I wanted everyone else to experience the joy, and I wanted to minimise even more. Suddenly, every marketing tactic was clear to me, every needless item on a store shelf, every meaningless trinket left on my shelves.
It’s so easy to fall into this ‘I know best’ mindset when you’re feeling so renewed and energised from such a lifestyle change. But that attitude didn’t do me any favours, and it won’t do you any.
It’ll strain your relationships and do the opposite of simplifying your life.
I had many disagreements with my husband and parents. Nothing I said seemed to work and I was getting fed up. But in the end, it wasn’t worth the heated arguments.
Then I remembered that I was doing this for myself, and that pushing for results from others was stressful and counter-productive. Everyone around me had their own stories, and it wasn’t fair that I was interfering. So I stopped. And I realised how overbearing I had been and that the message of minimalism was being lost.
To my surprise, after a few months, not only did my husband start actively supporting my new lifestyle, he identified some clothes he no longer wanted. Even my mum had a random clearout and filled several charity shop bags.
Think about the last time you were shouted at or lectured. Were you angry? Did you feel inspired to do what the other person wanted?
I thought not.
But don’t worry. As human beings we’ve all been there.We want something from somebody who refuses to play ball and become desperate, convinced that we know best. Of course, all that serves to do is drive people away or cause them to rebel.
The best way to persuade someone is to always be friendly and sympathetic, and to lead by example. Minimalism is one of those concepts that’s better observed over time.
Once people see how much happier, lighter, and more relaxed you are, and how much more time and space you have, you’re much more likely to see a gradual change. The keyword here is gradual.
If you’ve come so far in your minimalist journey, you’ll know that change doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a few months.
It’s a learning process where decision-making skills are sharpened and mindset is improved or altered.
You’re even more likely to persuade the ones you care about by spending that extra time doing something you love, or spending time with them.
Everybody wants more time in their day, and everybody wants to feel important.
Whatever you do don’t pester someone or suggest to them what should be kept and what shouldn’t be. How can one sharpen their own decision-making skills and feel empowered if the decisions are being made for them?
When I was a child, there were times my mum despaired at my toy and magazine accumulation, but when she screamed and shouted at me about it, I held on even tighter because I felt like my stuff was important to me. As a spoilt only child, I was defined by my stuff.
In the end it doesn’t matter if you’re twelve, twenty-eight, or sixty; if you get spoken to badly, nagged and preached at, there will be rebellion instead of results.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to understand them, but most of all, live happily with your own values. If people like what they see, they’ll soon follow.
Just remember, that not everybody wants to be a minimalist, and your goal shouldn’t be to convert them, but to demonstrate a simpler way of life and bring out the best in yourself and everyone you meet.
Don’t remove other people’s stuff
Don’t forget what minimalism is all about
Do be understanding
Do be friendly
Do be patient
Do be sympathetic
Do lead by example
Do focus on you
Do remember the true meaning of minimalism
The meaning of minimalism? To remove excess stuff in your life so that you can enjoy an abundance of whatever is important to you.
Even the most seasoned minimalists will end up overwhelmed with more clutter if they don’t regularly keep on top of what comes in and what goes out of the home. Left unchecked, it’s easy to become complacent and end up back where you started.
Below, I’ve listed some of the clutter culprits which you should be especially vigilant of.
These get everywhere because they often get bought in packs. Unless you work at a school or in an office, don’t buy pens in packs because you’ll never get around to using the rest before they dry up and they will make your drawers messy.
Pens are also numerous in gift shops and are the next most common keepsake along with keyrings. Don’t be afraid to discard old pens, and if there’s one you love, see if you can buy refills instead of retiring it to a drawer.
People are suckers for brand new, fresh notebooks or journals – myself included. I have so many journals from the past that are half-filled because I got fed up and wanted a new one. The same thing happens with notebooks, but people keep the old ones ‘just in case’, and before long there is a pile of half-full notebooks.
If you use physical notebooks, avoid buying them in packs unless you work at a company or school.
You can also consider using apps and take notes electronically, but this option isn’t for everyone. I’m a pen and paper person myself as the notes stick in my mind easier and I get more creative.
Recently, I recycled piles of these after discovering boxes full in the attic, some with names of people I no longer knew.
Cards multiply very fast because we appreciate the words that people write inside them, or people pass away and we can’t bear to throw away their handwriting.
When it comes to cards, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a select few (I keep some beautiful and thoughtful ones in a photo album), but be sure to recycle the ones that just say ‘to’ and ‘from’, or from people you no longer recognise. You can also take photos of old cards and do away with the physical copy.
I once kept a hoard of old invitations in my bedroom drawer. They were so pretty and I was so honoured to have been invited to events that I kept them as a reminder. Ultimately, however, all I was keeping was junk and they got in the way.
A great event will stick in your memory so there’s no reason to keep an invite. But if there’s one you simply can’t get rid of, you could always place it into a photo album or a memory box.
There’s no reason at all to keep newspapers unless there’s something valuable to you inside it. Even then, you should cut such a thing out rather than keep the whole thing. Nowadays, the same information is available online so it’s highly unlikely you’ll miss out by recycling.
Magazines cost more money than a newspaper, are eye-catching, and over-spilling with information. It’s no wonder that we find it so hard to throw away old magazines in case there is something great inside that we’ll never be able to read again.
But do you really ever go back and read that old information? I doubt it.
That being said, you can cut out the stuff that really interests you and recycle the rest. If it’s a collectable series, however, you can buy magazine binders which will make them beautifully presentable and read like a giant book. I took the latter option for my ‘Writers’ Forum’ collection.
Unless you’re genuinely interested in an advert or service, trash it as soon as it enters your home. Be fast and ruthless.
These end up yellowing in drawers and wallets until they become invisible. Bin old receipts, and better yet, if a shop offers you a digital receipt, opt for that, instead.
Out of a sense of security we keep old paperwork and old bills, but more often than not, we don’t need them and they pile up into a miniature towers. It’s so simple today to scan and digitise anything you’re unsure of, or even to go paperless with companies.So ditch any old paperwork unless it’s very important.
These get bought as gifts and holiday souvenirs more than anything else. But they’re so common as gifts we can end up with a whole haul.
Just a few weeks ago, I was travelling with a mass of about six keyrings on my house key, yet didn’t even notice until my husband stopped me before leaving for work and asked “Emma, why on Earth are you carrying such a heavy mass of keyrings for one bloody key?”. I didn’t know, either. Somehow, they had become invisible to me.
Once I realised the absurdity of it, I chose two favourites and used one to identify my house key, and another to give my bag some character. I donated the rest.
Eventually, cables end up making a mini jungle. In today’s tech heavy world we own so many devices and all the cables and spares that come with them. Sometimes, we think we lose cables so end up buying even more, only to find the old one but keeping them ‘just in case’.
Years of this will not only make specific cables or parts hard to find, but you will end up with ancient, mysterious ones which are no longer relevant to anything you own.
As a gamer and a previous gadget addict, I have been to cable hell and back, once discarding of about three large carrier bags of unknown cables and ten USB leads. I’d say it’s fine to keep one spare, but any more than that and you’ll be lost in the cable jungle before you know it.
Batteries end up all over the house or breeding in the ‘junk drawer’, especially if you have kids. Old batteries can explode or leak battery acid if they aren’t stored correctly, and can eventually drain of their power. Not to mention, they are extremely hazardous for small children.
Only keep the batteries you need and don’t bother holding on to any mystery batteries that don’t seem to fit into any device you own.
Old half-full bottles of shampoo, freebies, Lynx gift sets and other toiletries will take over your bathroom if you don’t throw the old stuff away. If you have unused gifts, consider either using them before you buy more of a similar product, regifting or donating them.
Seasons come and go, and with them, coughs, colds and other ailments. One thing I’ve noticed with medicine cabinets is that nobody tends to throw old medicine away, keeping them ‘just in case’. Yet more medicine gets stockpiled every month or so until we are prepared for an apocalypse.
So, whenever you acquire new medication, discard of any old ones – it’s not healthy to have old medicine anyway, and they can also lose effectiveness over time.
Like with medicine, new makeup gets added but the old tends to stay in the back of the drawer. Always throw away old makeup because it’s the perfect hangout for bacteria.
People buy new mugs yet still hold on to scratched or chipped mugs ‘just in case’. People also like to prepare for huge tea parties that never happen, so every cup is a keeper.
Cups and mugs enter the home as gifts at various times of the year, as holiday souvenirs and as classy new kitchenware, and over time they fill every cupboard and end up stacked haphazardly.
Only keep the mugs you use and never keep scratched or chipped mugs because bacteria will thrive in them.
These are another thing which enter the home as gifts, souvenirs and new kitchenware. I’ve seen families of three and four with enough glasses to host a party of a hundred, yet only a handful of them are ever used. Consider donating or recycling unused glassware.
I’m sure I will have missed a category or two out, but as long as you keep an eye on most of the stuff mentioned above, you will have a fighting chance to keep your home calm and clutter-free.
Next week, watch out for ‘living with another person’s clutter’.
Once you make significant headway as a minimalist, you start to value having meaningful experiences over more stuff. As your mindset changes, creating memories will take far higher value than fixating on the latest styles or gadgets.
Think about it: do you remember everything you unwrapped several celebrations ago? Or do you remember who you spent it with? Do you remember what you purchased on that big shopping spree? Or do you remember the shared laughter of the people you were with at the time?
Yesterday, I went on a school trip with my four-year-old son to a theme park for young children and families. He was so excited to be on a bus and see all the landmarks on the way. He was delighted to see his friends who had also come along on the trip, and he couldn’t wait to try out all the rides. But something stood out to me on this trip that will always stick in my mind.
My son loves his toys and is frequently spoilt by the people close to him. Thinking he might want to check out the gift shop before we left, I told him about it. His reply was “But I don’t want to go to the gift shop, mummy, I want to go back on the rides!”.
He was having such a good time, just me and him, spending time together and going on the rides, that buying a new, shiny souvenir didn’t matter at all to him. He just wanted to make the most of the time we had. And for that I was proud of him and wasted not another moment.
My son smiled for far longer on that trip than any new plastic sword would have made him. What was even more memorable was when he gave me a big hug and said “I love you, mummy”. I didn’t need to buy him another toy to make him happy, and he was still talking about his day right up until he went to bed.
On a similar note, I don’t remember all the stuff my parents bought me over the years, and I was a spoilt child who always wanted more. What I do remember are family walks down by the canal, picking blackberries with my dad, having my crazy nan and uncle over on Christmas, playing board games with my parents, and playing video games with my mum.
All of those memories involve interactions and experiences with others because spending time with the people you care about is far more valuable than what’s on a store shelf or in your bank. Sometimes, we don’t even realise how significant a moment or day was until months or even years later.
Experiences will benefit anything and anybody in your life. Yourself, your family, your friends, your pets. The best thing is, you don’t even have to spend money if you don’t want.
A beautiful walk seeing new sights can be just a memorable as a day out to a place you have to pay to visit. A game in the garden with your child will stick in their minds far more than a new gadget. A visit to a family member you don’t see very often would cause a bigger smile than an object sent through the post.
The next time you’re considering a gift for somebody or treating yourself, consider the gift of your time, for there is nothing more precious.
Time over money. Experience over expenditure. Memories over stuff.