The week of my 16th birthday, I got my first steady job working at a Salvation Army thrift store. My passion for thrifting developed over the four years that I worked there, and having first dibs on the goods before they hit the floor meant I never left a shift without buying at least one thing. My bedroom was full of amazing vintage treasures and it became a safe place when I was a weirdo teen that never totally fit in.
I spent the four years after high school moving to residence every September and back to my mom’s place for the summer. The layout of my room at university changed every year but the size remained the same, an 8 x 10ish tiny space with a shared bathroom, no kitchen of course. I became used to living with almost nothing, a handful of cds, some posters on the wall, five of my favourite books, enough clothes for ten days. I didn’t have money to buy a bunch of stuff and I was too busy to shop anyway.
After living in residence for way too long, I got an apartment with a friend and her boyfriend. Together we acquired a ton of furniture from all over the place. I started a new job where I was making slightly better money, and a lot of it went towards accumulating lots of stuff that I didn’t have space for in residence and I relished in the warm satisfaction of consumerism. I bought dvds, filled my closet with clothes, and a bunch of other random things like a big Elvis bust that seemed essential at the time, and an enormous wood plaque of the Pope. I was only living at Eglinton and Bathurst for a year when I decided to move back with my mom in Aurora and sort out a dramatic quarter life crisis.
I didn’t realize how much stuff I had until I started prepping for the move and pulling all the crap out of my bedroom. My roommate came over with a weird look on his face and asked how he could possibly not know that I owned a recliner. He hadn’t seen it before but there it was, massive and sitting in the middle of the hallway. This unfamiliarity was not because it was a new addition, I just owned so much clothing that I never put away and the pile had completely enveloped the chair – like the tar monster that ate Tasha Yar on Star Trek TNG.In a really short and awesome period of time I moved back home, met Ron, and moved in with him and his two friends. We’ll write about our experiences living there in another post, but the short of it is that our place was cramped and I reduced almost all of my possessions to one plastic tub. One. Plastic. Tub. It felt great not having to sift through clothes and I never lost anything because there was nothing to lose. We lived at that place, right on the corner of Dundas and Dovercourt for two years and it was the best. When we decided to go out on our own we moved east to the Danforth, where we’ve happily been for the last eight years. Ron and I didn’t have much stuff when we moved and it didn’t take us long to fill our new home with a ton of neat things. Friends would come over and spend time looking at all the little trinkets and books saying, ‘it’s like a museum in here’ and ‘wow, you guys have a lot of stuff.’
And we did. We found things, went thrifting often, turned our small dining room into a full studio with an industrial sewing machine and plopped a 6 ft drafting table right in the middle. Our walls are covered in art and vintage rugs overlapped across the floors. Ron and I were having a chat one night about going on an extended adventure and we both shrugged and said, ‘but what are we going to do with all this stuff?’ It took a while to acknowledge that curating our beloved little apartment was awesome, but not when it had become a roadblock to pursuing cool opportunities. Making the choice to simplify happened very quickly and pretty soon we were gleefully giving away things that we once thought we’d never part with.
There’s no way we’ll ever be ultra minimal people. Ron and I have sentimental hearts and there are impractical possessions that we’re going to hold on to. That being said, we were able to cut what we had in half over the last year. The process helped us in ways that we hadn’t considered: anything that frustrated us (like our stubborn coffee maker) was out, it became easier to keep our shit organized, and we developed a further appreciation for what we did choose to hold on to. Most importantly, when we were presented with the idea of moving to Memphis, we jumped right in because we were that much closer to being ready to go.So coming from a couple of people who really love stuff, I thought I’d share a few of the ways we painlessly scaled down our possessions.
- We started with a full sweep of the apartment and got rid of anything that was straight up useless. I found a stack of TTC passes from the last three years that we had been saving for no reason, we went through the fridge and cupboards and got rid of expired cans and jars, there was a bag of toilet paper that we bought but didn’t like so it was taking up a bunch of space in the closet, the list goes on. This was an easy way to feel accomplished without making any tough decisions.
- Next we talked about what drove us nuts. I hated owning a microwave, it started turning on all by itself so we had to keep it unplugged and I only used it occasionally to heat up a rice bag for sore muscles. Getting rid of that thing felt fantastic and it really invoked a drive to get rid of more stuff. Paranoid that those vintage wool rugs are harbouring germs that could kill you? See you later, alligator! Hate your old, humongous television that you never really watch because commercials are the worst and also Netflix exists now? Goodbye forever.
- Anything that we had multiples of, went. For some reason we had two sets of wine glasses, more towels than we’d ever use, I had 4 pairs of leggings that were identical, and so on. We kept our favourite of each item and donated the rest.
The most challenging part at first was giving away items that I like very much but never use or wear. For clothes I followed the standard rule, if you haven’t worn it in the last 12 months, it goes. This was stressful at first but my attitude changed when I realized that not only did I not miss the clothes, I forgot that I even owned most of what was in my closet. I was able to do another cut, and then another, leaving only what I’m excited about and what makes me feel good. I stopped buying new clothes because I look forward to wearing what I have and these pieces aren’t buried in a sea of sale items that I thought I needed in the moment but never actually cared about.During this process we tried to generate as little waste as possible. We gave stuff to our friends, donated ten garbage bags of clothes, had a garage sale, sold the bigger items on Craigslist, and traded a bunch of my vintage treasures for consumable goods like organic olive oil, cider, and tea in my favourite online community, Bunz Trading Zone. It’s a Toronto-based group that started on Facebook and quickly became a little sensation here, with side groups like Bunz Dating Zone and the Curvy Bunz Clothing Swap for the fat babes like myself. They recently launched an app that I haven’t tried yet, but if you’re curious I think the code to get in is 777777. We’re not affiliated in any way with them, but I’ve traded lots of our stuff this way and it’s been pretty fun so far.
Finally and most importantly, we significantly reduced our consumerism. Ron and I found that the more we cleaned out the place, the less we wanted to bring in new crap. When we were tempted to buy something we took the time to consider its usefulness, how sentimental we felt about it, or if we already had something similar or better at home. We took a break from buying books because we each had an unread pile on our night stands. The two of us discovered a joy in going out for the day and seeing wonderful things that we walked away from and built some true appreciation for what we chose to keep around.
If you have any questions about how we minimized or tips on what you’ve done to cut down your possessions, we’d love to hear them in the comments. I don’t think we’ll ever reach that point where we’ll stop assessing what we have around us, even though our biggest household challenge is about to happen. We’re moving from a one bedroom apartment to a place that has two bedrooms and two bathrooms! We’ve been repeating to ourselves, ‘we will not fill it with stuff. We will not fill it with stuff.’ Let’s see how we do.