Every time I visit my parents, I have a massive row with my mother about the hoard of Disney videos gathering dust in my old room. She keeps them in the unshakeable belief that they “might be worth something one day”, and it drives me absolutely mental.
So every time I come back home I bitch to my housemates about my mother’s infuriating inability to throw anything out, even when it’s blatantly obvious to anyone that a shitty VHS of The Rescuers Down Under is never going to be worth anything. Unfortunately, as my housemates are swift to point out, I am in no position to judge. For I, too, am a bit a hoarder.
I love stuff. I love buying things. I only don’t like shopping in actual shops because I am a borderline sociopath and might kill someone one day for walking too slowly, but I have, as friends and flatmates unanimously agree, too much stuff. (Online shopping is my problem, especially ASOS. They do next day delivery. And who doesn’t love getting a package in the post? Even if you know exactly what’s in it and you’ve paid for it yourself, swapping your autograph for a big brown box of instant gratification is one of life’s greatest pleasures.)
“Why do you have so many shoes? You haven’t worn some of them in years,” someone once asked.
“Yes, but some of them aren’t for wearing,”
“What are they for then?”
“They’re Art,” I said sulkily. “You wouldn’t understand.”
There are few things I dislike more than girls who bang on about their shoes like they represent a significant part of their personality (“teehee, I’m a real-life Carrie Bradshaw!” Fuck off.) Unfortunately, though, I have inadvertently become one. I have forty pairs, a quarter of which are completely unsuitable for, well, anything.
And it doesn’t stop there. I have so many clothes I can go up to a month without doing laundry. Every surface in my room is covered in crap.. Nobody has seen my floor in weeks.
My long-suffering housemates. James and James, have to bear the brunt of my terrible condition. At the beginning of January they suggested we play the Minimalist Game, a joyless exercise in the great and boring art of Throwing Things Away made up by the two blokes behind The Minimalists blog. All we had to do was throw away, donate or sell an item. Just one on the first day, but then two on the second. And three on the third. And so on. The person to stay in the game the longest would win.
If we all made it to the end of the month, we would have each removed 496 unnecessary things from our lives.
Well, that clearly wasn’t going to happen, I thought. I knew I had a bit of decluttering to do, but there was no way I had nearly five hundred possessions to toss. I agreed to it anyway, and so the great purge commenced.
At first it was fun. You throw away only a smattering of items in the first few days, most of which you’ve probably been meaning to get rid of anyway. Jettisoning items already earmarked for Oxfam brings on a pleasing feeling of (undeserved) satisfaction, the kind you get when you cross something really easy off your To Do list, like ‘take a shower’ or ‘have dinner’.
Around day seven it began to get more difficult. I’d already binned my manky slippers and saggy-gusseted bikini bottoms. Gone too were all the fossilised bottles of nail polish and half-full tubes of tinted moisturiser I’ll never use because they give me hives. With both Jameses still going strong, though, I knew it was nearly time to tackle my wardrobe.
Throwing away clothes is always an emotional experience. No matter how old or too small, binning old threads is hard. The best thing to do is set parameters that force your hand when emotions inevitably cloud your better judgement. Initially, anything that I hadn’t worn in two years was chucked, and even then every elimination brought on feelings of grief and guilt. Most of all, I feared regretting my decision. Sort of like wardrobe FOMO, I guess.
But after it was done, I felt great. I started to gain momentum. I found my fancy dress box and binned everything, even the most excellent purple wig I wore to be Buzz Lightyear at the work Christmas party. I tossed anything made of that sweaty polyester. And anything more than one size too small. Then anything I hadn’t worn in eighteen months. I plateaued on day fourteen, then realised I had a whole cache of untapped crap in my knicker drawer. Out went the sad orphaned knickers and magnificently uncomfortable Elle MacPherson bra I secretly hated but kept because it was expensive. Then I tried on everything that made me feel fat and got rid of that. Then anything I hadn’t worn in a year. I was on a roll! Unstoppable! A minimalist in the making!
I came third. Which is a pretty poor show, considering there are only three of us and I definitely have the most stuff. But I still lasted until day eighteen, way longer than we thought. In total I got rid of 161 items, made some cash on eBay, and gave a shitload to charity. Twenty pairs of shoes bit the dust. The Jameses, who both threw in the towel on day twenty, binned 385 more items.
Our flat is now a little bit emptier and we spent the eBay money on steak. So, you know, worth it.
Would you ever try the Minimalist Game? How long do you think you could last?
An edited version of this piece originally appeared on The Debrief.
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