Email Subscriptions

Keeping a peaceful life is easier when living in a decluttered environment, and that includes our email inboxes. When we think of decluttering, our minds picture the overstuffed closets and drawers, not always digital clutter. But it’s there, clogging up our view and wasting our time.

Just like the rooms in your house, you can declutter your inbox by throwing everything out, doing a little at a time, or putting it all in storage and only taking out the things that you use. But emails arrive in our inboxes freakishly faster than we can buy stuff to fill our houses.

One thing that continuously fills the inbox is email subscriptions. They never stop, and seem to reproduce of their own accord. Subscriptions are great because we get regular information on things that interest us. There’s a lot of great, free knowledge out there. A good deal of it is sandwiched between ads and salescopy. But if you can only read the nugget of pure information and not get sidetracked into unwanted spending, the subscription is useful. But without proper management and read-and-delete action, these emails swamp even the most minimalist inbox.

Once you’re on a list, the list owner will not remove your email unless you specifically request it. They can share your email address with other lists too. So the question becomes how to maintain the inflow of information. Here are my top process ideas for a happy subscription/inbox relationship.

  1. Go ahead and sign up for any list that interests you. Easy joy.
  2. Ruthlessly unsubscribe from any that you know you don’t read every time you get a new one. Some will be easy (lists you don’t remember joining). Don’t worry, you can re-subscribe at any time (step 1). Either keep a list of the website/store or let it go. There’s a whole internet out there.
  3. Ruthlessly delete emails that have been sitting there, unread. You can always re-subscribe and get new (and probably back-dated) information.
  4. Delete emails you’ve read. If there’s something you want to share or save, do it immediately after reading. You don’t need to keep every email you were sent, especially if it’s stuffed with sales fluff.
  5. Create filters. It’s not as technical as it sounds and most email providers have simplified this. The result of filters is when an email hits your inbox it goes directly into its folder, waiting to be read. I have filters for health, finance and childcare newsletters, among others. When I have time to read, I go into one and read all relevant information at one time.

Happy reading!

On Gratitude

I attended a Thanksgiving dinner today and was reminded how important gratitude is.

Being grateful brings humility and gladness. No matter how bad things get there is probably something we can still be grateful for.

I’m thankful for the peace I experience daily. I don’t live in a war-ridden territory, nor do I need to see my husband or brother going to fight. I know where my children are, and they are well.

I’m thankful for the basic necessities. I have uninterrupted access to clean water, shelter, heat and fresh food, as well as recreation, education and social involvement.

Every time I get over a nasty cough, I remember how grateful I am to breathe easily.

I’m amazed I can plan for my future, with some level of certainty. I am grateful for the likelihood I will live through my seventies and enjoy my children’s children.

Please add a comment – what are the things you feel gratitude for?

A home for everything

A place for everything, and everything in its place.

I want to do my system reset so I’ll put my book and purse away. Where should I put the book? It could go here, but I need to clean the drawer first. There’s too much in this drawer. I really ought to declutter it. So, what can I get rid of? I want to keep the necklace but it needs to stay upstairs in the bedroom. Oh, I need to clean out that cupboard too. Hmmm, what’s this doing here? I really use it back downstairs. I’ll just pop it
down there.

Does this sound familiar?

It goes on, until after two hours, we’ve ended up scrubbing the bathroom faucet with a toothbrush rather than putting the hammer back in the toolbox. And instead of a quick clean up we feel that we’ve accomplished nothing at all!

The solution is to have a home for everything. Know where everything goes, permanently. Cleaning up goes much faster and probably gets done more often.

It seems straightforward and in theory, it is. The important thing is to make the “homes” permanent. Here are some more tips.

  • When you bring something new into your life, decide on a permanent resting place for it when it’s at home.
  • Group like items: envelopes, stamps, tape, scissors and stapler in one vicinity.
  • Label it: This is for keys, nothing else permitted.
  • Have a home assigned for temporary items too: papers that come in the post, visitor’s shoes, lunchboxes waiting to go to out, library books.
  • Spend some time decluttering so there is space for the things you want to keep. Add 5-15 minutes at the end of a system reset for light decluttering.
  • Find creative storage solutions: keep the spare sheet set between box spring and mattress, first aid kid in the kitchen, shoes in the workshop.
  • No squatting. Put everything in its place. If it doesn’t have a home, decide on one.

One less thing: Packed bags

I only noticed it tonight… My evening consisted of hanging out with my kids and doing dishes, even though we had a major outing today. Why was it so simple?

The answer: I had automatically unpacked all my bags within 10 minutes of walking through the front door. I didn’t even register doing it (Ok, I admit I wasn’t being present!) but the chore had become an automatic “System Reset” routine.

I emptied the dirty dishes into the kitchen, kids clothes in the wash, hung up my wet swimsuit to dry, set aside receipts, put away my sweater and scarf, and hung up my bag in its place. The things to go upstairs, I put at the bottom of the stairs for my next trip.

It boils down to: Emptying your bags when you get home will bring peace and simplicity to your day. There will be no more rotting food or mouldy wet clothes, fewer lost papers, less “I can’t find it!” moments, and no headaches of digging through a bag for something you need RIGHT NOW.

Here’s your fieldwork: Immediately after entering your place of residence, empty your pockets, your bag, the kids’ stuff, your backpack, whatever. Put everything away (within reason, if you’re going out again, you know what I mean). It’ll only take a couple minutes, I promise. Do it every time and it’ll become a habit.

Using a system reset for peace

A system reset is really great because it gets you back to zero. Imagine coming into a brand new place to work. The surfaces are clear, things are in their place, the right tools and ingredients are available and you can begin your task immediately.

That’s what you get when you reset your system at the end of your work each time. And your work could be computer work, paperwork, cooking, exercising, making art, recording music, dancing, house repairs, writing, planning events… anything at all.

It is easier to do the system reset if you have uncluttered and cleaned recently, but it is still do-able if you haven’t. Each time you finish your work, reset the system and add five minutes for decluttering and extra cleaning and you’ll get there eventually.

The term “system reset” came into being on a tenting trip with two under-twos, where we stayed one or two nights in each place and traveled halfway across North America and back. 1) Every travel morning we cleaned and packed our gear. 2) Every travel arrival we set up completely. 3) After each meal (four meals a day) there was a system reset where we put food away, washed dishes, sterilised bottles, boiled water and did hygiene time. It would not have been so smooth a trip if we didn’t have everything ready for our children at any given moment!

So how does one do a “system reset” for peace?

  • Before you leave the office, clear off your desk surface. Put items in their homes and file any paperwork.
  • Empty your inbox at least once a day. Paper inbox and email inbox.
  • Wash dishes after each meal. Wipe down counters and the table. Your kitchen should be ready for you to start making the next meal.
  • Put away your tools, gear, equipment when you’re done. Sweep the floors and wipe dirty surfaces.
  • Wash clothes, swimsuits, towels, etc. once you have a washer full, or spot-clean an item so it’s ready to wear. Empty your lint trap or store clothes pegs away from the elements and insects.
  • Make the time to repair or replace the things you need to get your work done.
  • File papers. Scan them if you need to keep a copy. Shred or recycle the ones you don’t need.
  • Push furniture back to where it should be. Put away gadgets, appliances and utensils in their places.
  • If your supplies are running low, stock up so you don’t get stuck halfway through your work.
  • When you’re finished using the computer, close everything. Shut it down or let it sleep. If you want to save something to look at later… save it (email it to yourself if you need to) as opposed to letting it sit open waiting for your attention.

One more thing

I’ll bet you’re wondering if I got the title wrong… usually minimalists write about one less thing. But this week I added something to my possessions: A coffee maker.

For the last seven years I have resisted buying one. I have tried all the instant coffee brands, going without, buying at work, filtering with a piece of cotton and a funnel, and using a travel cup with a plunger. None gave satisfaction.

Therefore I bought myself a double-walled, stainless steel, 8-cup french press. It makes gorgeous coffee. I’m unlikely to break it with my clumsiness or world travels. I can take it camping. I’m very happy with my purchase.

Does this signal the end of stylish minimalism? Not at all. Is the joy of freshly brewed coffee at home worth owning another possession for me? Yep.

Minimalism is a means, not an end. Clearing out the excess leaves a huge amount of space for the good stuff, the living we really want to do. Sometimes that means buying a coffee maker. Hardcore minimalists might drink their coffee with the grounds still in the cup but what’s the point of that if you choke on every sip?

What this means for seekers of peace and joy

The point is to not stress out about getting rid of everything you own or do, and to not be afraid to add new things. If learning how to paint was always your unrealised passion, go ahead and buy the paints and brushes… and still call yourself a minimalist! Mind you, this isn’t an excuse to go shopping or buy on a whim. If you’re not sure you really want it, don’t get it. And if you decide to go for it, do your research! Don’t be afraid to take your time… took me seven years for a coffee maker.

Declutter what makes sense for you. And if something makes you smile every time you use or look at it or participate in it, declutter around it to give it the room it deserves. Clear your schedule to make the time. I made room in my cupboard for my new coffee maker, so it’s not clutter on my kitchen counters.

What do you want to showcase in your life? What’s getting in the way? Is there something you’ve been wishing to add in?

How you spend your money is how you vote on what exists in the world

When we think about spending money, budgets often come to mind. Budgets to keep our peaceful sanity. We think of buying things of high quality to get the most joy for our buck. Also, minimalism helps to keep the clutter down, and to stop spending on things we don’t need. But what about the things we do spend on… how can we get better at voting for what we want to exist in the world? Here are three great steps to get you thinking and voting with your money.

  1. What bugs you about the world? What things do you wish were made better, done more efficiently or produced ethically?

    For example: I don’t like super cheap department stores. You know the ones that smell like rubber, even the clothing section? The clothes are cheaply constructed and made of plastic fibres. They are super cheap and somewhat fashionable but aren’t durable or stylish. They are less comfortable than natural fabrics and often made in sweat shops abroad. It disturbs my peace of mind that such cheap products are made and supplied to me at a low cost.

  2. What are the effects of your money? When you spend on the poorly made items, the inefficient service or fair trade (but not audited) products, what is the impact? Who is affected and how? What else is involved?

    My example: The more clothing I bought from the cheap department store, the more profit it made. The real cost came at the expense of the environment which was mined for petroleum to produce synthetic fabrics, the people (possibly children) who sewed the garments at ultra low wages, the environmental impact and waste of overseas transportation, my higher closet turnover rate and wardrobe dissatisfaction, and the landfill where the clothes ended up.

  3. Consider where you can spend differently and do that. Educate (don’t lecture) others about it and encourage (not judging or chastising) them to do the same.

    To continue: If I’m in a shop smelling of rubber I get out into fresh air ASAP. I read the labels on the clothes I buy and aim for 100% natural material. I read the labels to see where the clothes were made, if only to become more aware. I make my own and do with less. I shop at and donate to second hand shops. When I get comments on my clothes I share my philosophy, going only as deep as it feels natural for that conversation.

Where are you spending money that you want to change? What are the far-reaching effects of your voting?

Digital clutter

What is digital clutter

Digital clutter is electronic information that clutters your life. It includes emails, photos, videos, documents, bookmarks, and everything else on your computer. Just like physical clutter, it bogs up your life and ties you down. Clutter has been defined as a confused or disordered state or collection, and more than once by our online minimalist friends*. Basically, clutter is anything that takes away from your peace and joy life. Big or small, physical or electric, relationships or commitments… if it doesn’t bring you peace and joy, it’s clutter.

*Any distraction that gets in the way of a remarkable life [from Unclutterer] /Anything that is disorganized, anything you don’t need or love, too much stuff in too small a space [from Becoming Minimalist]

The benefits of clearing out digital clutter

  1. Get more space. Using gigabytes and terabytes that you may never access is wasteful. You’ll need to upgrade your hardware sooner to keep up with the storage demands.
  2. Save money. Hardware upgrades, bandwidth transfers, cloud accounts… there is a cost associated with digital storage.
  3. Save time and be more productive. Unless you have a spectacular search engine and use something like evernote to make all your stuff searchable. Less images and films means you spend your time doing something productive.
  4. Know what you have. A full closet leaves you with nothing to wear so you buy a new outfit. So it is when looking at your digital listings, you might just go back to Google to find anew what you need.
  5. Reduce stress. When there’s less to lose, there’s less to worry about. And if your computer falls over before you’ve backed up, it won’t be so bad.
  6. Enjoy the lighter feeling. It’s the same feeling of freedom we get with decluttering our physical stuff.
  7. Become less attached. If you really need something you deleted, odds are it’s out there on the internet and you’ll be able to find it just as quickly as searching through what you already have.
  8. Evaluate future purchases more carefully. Laying down $15 for an ebook is easy and online marketing is persuasive. Keeping your digital stores clear will help you resist.

How to de-clutter your digital information

Just like decluttering your house, this can take some time, especially if you’ve been hoarding digital information. Unfortunately there’s no visual gratification for the work, so I recommend the clean-slate method.

  1. Archive everything into a folder and date it. This is the equivalent of emptying your kitchen into a box and putting it in the garage. Keep the few things you know you’ll need and move everything else out of your main workspace. This means moving data onto another device such as an external hard drive. You can export emails and bookmarks, then save in the same folder, then delete what’s in your account.
  2. When you need something, move it back.
  3. Let that archived folder wait. In a year, you probably won’t be able to remember what’s in it. Maybe in another year you’ll be ready to delete it.
  4. Don’t collect new clutter. Every time you click on save, or don’t click on delete, ask yourself if you should keep it, toss it or not sure. Keep is for things you really love and actually use, just like physical decluttering. Remember you can probably find it again if you need to, whether it be a quote, e-book, video or photo

Need some inspiration? Read about Ev, who deleted everything… all his professional photos, his hugely successful blog and all personal digital stuff!

Update: My personal example is about music files. I have collected many, many mp3 files. I haven’t even heard many of them. And in the last five years I’ve devoted some hours to sorting and organising them. I even bought a specific external hard drive to store them. But since I acknowledged the reality that I’ll probably never listen to most, I started deleting and only organising the ones I absolutely love, working my way through the unsorted files as my mood for music strikes.

Furoshiki: the simple way to carry

I discovered furoshiki a couple years ago. As a minimalist, I use it all the time. Forget about packing cubes while travelling, I bundle with silk scarves. A gym bag to lug all my gear for dance class? Nope, a couple quick knots in my 1-metre-square fabric and it’s covered.

What is furoshiki?

Furoshiki is a Japanese style of fabric wrapping, originally used to bundle clothes in the public baths. Now people use it for bundling, wrapping gifts, carrying books and bottles, and decoration. Check out wikipedia for more history.

Two things: re-use and environment.

Minimalists abhor uni-task items. That is, we don’t like to own things which are used for only one purpose. The packing cubes I mentioned above are a prime example. They have become popular in the last few years because they simplify suitcase organisation. But they are useless beyond travel. A cloth can be used to wrap like items, and cinched to compress them if needed. The same cloth can be re-used in many ways: as a book bag, scarf, napkin, backpack, blanket for the kids, wine bottle wrap, shopping bag, handbag, neck or head wrap for warmth, cape for sun protection, makeshift sitting mat and more.

Re-use saves the environment because you don’t need to purchase (so nobody needs to manufacture) bags specific to the task. But even better, you can use furoshiki instead of plastic bags (or even the reusable cloth bags) when shopping. In fact, the environment minister of Japan began promoting furoshiki to the general population for this one reason: to cut back on plastic shopping bags.

The stylish minimalist in me has one more point. Your furoshiki cloth is in your colour scheme and looks great no matter what you’re carrying! Plus you can reuse the cloth as a neck or head wrap for warmth (or a makeshift sitting mat) if needed and still look fantastic. Saves you cash while looking great.

How do you do it

First you need the cloth. There are beautiful and functional styles available in every price range. You can buy online or make your own by going to the local fabric shop and buying a metre or so. Even if you can’t sew, you can cut the material to size and leave the edges raw, depending on the type of fabric. I use this unsewn option as well as square silk scarves.

Once you have the furoshiki, follow the simple pictoral instructions for tying. Pictures and videos are incredibly helpful, moreso than I would be by trying to explain it to you in writing. So below are a couple links to get you started. You can always search for furoshiki on the internet for plenty of examples. If you’re so inclined, learn a few boating knots so they are easier to undo. I ruined one scarf with a double knot that I left in for months.