Easing in to essentialist living

The tension between the comfort of having stuff, and the freedom of letting it all go.

I’m a minimalist but even I’m finding it difficult to pack just one suitcase for at least several months away from home (ok, one suitcase and a small wheelie carry on).

I decided to try out life in Barcelona. Being on a budget, and with no hard and fast plans for how long I might be there, I’m making the sensible choice to rent a room in a shared apartment. A suitcase is all I plan to take.

‘Essentialism’ is a trend that we trend forecasters report on often. The act of stripping back, decluttering, simplifying, owning just the very essentials.

The ideal is that if we own less, we are freed up to do more. I’m about to find out if that’s true!

The success of Marie Kondo’s book, ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’, and similar publications, highlight just how appealing this lifestyle actually is.

Truth be known, I am another Marie Kondo at heart. I’ve always been this way inclined. My favourite thing to do as a child was to tidy my bedroom, organise my books and carefully curate trinkets on the shelf above my bed. My Playmobil dolls house was styled, not played with.

Student life followed by 6 years renting in London means I’ve moved house around 10 times in the last 10 years. If nothing else, being always on the move has been a great way to to get rid of the stuff I don’t really need and has been a deterrent from buying more.

Today, my apartment is decisively minimal and my wardrobe isn’t particularly large. I thought I’d be great at essentialist living (or living out of a suitcase) but even I’m finding it a struggle to make decisions about what to take - my persistent worry seems to be...‘will I miss this?’... Interesting, I’m starting to realise that even though I place less importance on having lots of stuff - the stuff that I do have - I’m absolutely emotionally attached to.

To make this easier I’m trying to remind myself of how I felt after living out of a rucksack in India for 2 months, with just 3 outfits, a bar of soap and some deet. When I got back to my flatshare in London I was totally overwhelmed by how much stuff I owned and how little I’d missed any of it, in fact, most of it

I’d totally forgotten about. The realisation of how long I’d had to work to earn the money to buy the stuff that I hadn’t missed and didn’t really need, made me reassess things considerably. After that I actually decided to work part time - so I could have more time and less stuff.

My suitcase packing strategy for clothes so far involves:

A pile of ‘wardrobe essentials’, made up of things that fit the following criteria:

  • ‘I’ve enjoyed wearing this lots of times (therefore I’m highly likely to want to wear it lots of times again).’

  • ‘This goes with lots of different things.’

  • ‘I feel good in this even on a fat day.’

  • ‘I can dress this up and dress it down.’

  • ‘This is good in warm and cool weather.’

  • ‘I can workout in this and feel ok wearing it to a coffee shop’. (I’m really starting to realise the value of ‘athleisure’, I was a bit late to the game, it took me a while to invest in workout gear that actually looks good enough to go for coffee in - although I have to admit, I’m still not overly impressed by much of what’s available for an ok price). I think there’s still a big opportunity for brands to do better.

  • Some other good questions to ask when whittling down...

  • ‘Can I make this digital?’

  • ‘Can I upload it to the cloud?’

  • So far I’ve managed to ditch:

  • My paper diary (which was a lifelong habit)

  • Most of my notebooks (although I do still have one - and a Muji pen)

  • My pencil case

Things that didn’t make it:

  • Clinique 3 step skin care - I’ve been using the same skincare for 15 years... but somehow needing 3 bottles just doesn’t cut it if I’m living out of one suitcase

  • Philips Epilator, and Remington Shaver - I’ve upgraded to a two in one - perfect multi- functionality!

Things that did make it but could have been designed better:

  • Brooks running shoes - ugly as hell but I’ve tried various ‘pretty’ Nike versions and my mid 30s knees just don’t like their dainty little souls - so reluctantly I’m taking my big old strollers for a comfy ride.

More reflections and advice on essentialist living coming up in future posts.

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