“There comes a time when you say, “Right. Out!” And that’s what happened when I downsized. I think we all have too much stuff these days.”
Those were wise words from my Mum, who I decided to bring on for Season 1 Episode 8 of Quest for Freedom.
This topic and this podcast today is all about …
The art of minimalism and freeing yourself from stuff.
If there’s one person who knows how to do that, it’s this girl. I think it’s a really important topic because whenever I am offloading stuff out of my suitcase, in my life I feel so much freer. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Which brings me to Christmas time last year, when I gave my sister and my brother-in-law the Christmas present of my time. And what I said I’d do for them is help them clear out their garage.
Now I have to say the garage was a complete and utter mess. There was so little room in there, there certainly were no cars, there was just all their stuff.
Now my brother-in-law Zanda, has 3 kids from a previous marriage and now they have my lovely nephew, Morgan and so as a family you do absolutely need more stuff. I can’t take that away from them.
I know I see friends with babies and they are like, “Every time I go out I just have to bring all this extra stuff.”
So I feel for those people. I haven’t yet experienced that and I get it.
But this garage was a piece of art. There was every single thing in there that you could possibly imagine. So they were thrilled needless to say that this was my Christmas gift to them.
So in January we set about decluttering the garage. Debbie, my sister, has been attempting to get Zanda to do this, as ultimately a lot of this was his stuff.
I think it’s one of those jobs that you can’t take on by yourself. You’ve got to do it as a team. You’ve got to do it as a family.
When we started, I knew that Debs would be okay with being a little bit ruthless with stuff but I wasn’t sure about Zanda. And it happened pretty early on.
I’m sure he is fine with me telling this story but I was starting to take stuff out of the garage to the car that we were going to put stuff in to get rid of. I checked with Debbie and Zanda if things are okay to move.
And then I started moving bits of planks of wood and jib board and Zanda was like, “Hey! Where are you going with that?”.
And I was like, “I was going to put it in the back of the car to take to the tip.”
“Yeah but I am going to make something out of that” and I was like, “Oh okay. What were you going to make?”
“I might be doing one of the cupboards for downstairs, like using it to make a perfect cupboard door piece.”
And I was like, “Okay. Well, let me just ask you a question. How long have you had this piece of wood?
“Uh, about 4 years” says Zanda.
“Okay and so when were you planning on doing this?”
And just in that moment there was this beautiful moment of realization or recognition in his eyes that he was in fact being a hoarder, and I wouldn’t say the top definition of a hoarder, because even though I do not watch TV, I’ve seen the ads for the TV series on hoarders.
You can’t even get in the door of the house. They live on piles of junk and rubbish …but that’s definitely not where Debs and Zanda are at.
Many of us have a hoarding mentality.
It really comes from just not wanting to let go of things that could be precious, that could be valuable, that you might do something with in the future.
But let me just push back at you, if you are one of those people going, “Yeah Natalie. Some things you just want to hold onto.”
Unless you are going to use that thing within the next 3-6 months, why on earth would you store it, keep it and have it cluttering up your personal space?
Why on earth would you keep something that you are not going to use and serves no purpose other than creating clutter in your living space?
So…back to that moment – a pretty great thing that happened, in that amazingly Zanda kind of turned completely around and started being really ruthless with stuff.
So there was an initial push back and hesitation and a real desire not to let go, but once he realized what he’d been holding onto he actually got into it and as the day progressed, we spent a good couple of hours in this garage.
He was throwing stuff in the back of the car and I was putting stuff off the side and he says, “Nope, that can go.” And it was so liberating.
We then went down to the tip and what was even more liberating. As you drive your car up and the trailer as well, then you get to chuck stuff off the side into this sort of pit thing, and then they either sort it, recycle it or take it away to go into the mound of dirt and create a big rubbish heap on some poor hill.
But, still it was really liberating.
We also took stuff down to be recycled and you get some money for that and it was crazy actually how good that felt.
And we went back and we did another load and slowly but surely this garage started to emerge, corners of space started to emerge.
Now here is the funny thing, that was one Sunday afternoon and then I believe I came back a couple of weekends later because, it’s a bit hard to tie in with the family and things going on and it already had started accumulating stuff.
But all of the stuff was things that they had now sorted out in the house that they were going to take to the Salvation Army or they were going to put on TradeMe, which is the New Zealand equivalent of Ebay or GumTree.
And so the cool thing is that they kept at it. They didn’t just stop there with the momentum and motivation I provided them with.
They kept on going and they made several hundred dollars if not thousands of dollars selling on Trademe some of their stuff.
A lot of that stuff was children’s stuff that wasn’t needed anymore or baby stuff that could go to another deserving family. And all it took was to start taking the photos, documenting and putting up the price and description on TradeMe.
Turned out Zanda had a bit of a knack for selling things. So it was excellent.
Now the cool thing was not only were they decluttering and getting a greater sense of freedom and space in the house, they were also making money. And let’s face it, everybody likes to make money. So this was brilliant for them.
Now right about the same time, and this is why I find the start of 2017 kind of fantastic and it’s been one of the best years yet.
But in terms of a time of change, it was for the entire Sisson family and the Rock-Evans family, which is now my sister’s side – it was one of those times of just everybody kind of decluttering.
So as my sister and Zanda were attempting to get things out of the garage and out of their house, Mum was attempting to downside the four bedroom family home that her and Dad had been in for fifteen years, because she was getting ready to sell.
Dad passed away in December of 2015 and Mum just did not need to be living in a big house anymore.
And Mum is not a hoarder, in fact, she’s amazingly minimalist. She buys quality things and she’s done an incredible job over the years for our family of doing up houses beautifully, but always with quality in mind.
However, Dad was a bit of a hoarder. So the two rooms or the two spaces in our house that were the most cluttered were Dad’s office and the garage. You know a man cave full of stuff!
And Dad would, bless his soul, keep even rusty nails in jars. He had a place for everything but it wasn’t super organized but he kept everything.
And I used to remember as a kid growing up no matter where we lived, Mum would go down to our garage and say, “Oh Peter, could you try and clean up the garage a little bit.”
It was just incredible he just had so much stuff.
I knew that would be hard for Mum to do, so I came over and helped out as much as I could to really go through a lot of stuff – letters, cards, boxes, files from years if not decades, photos, projector slides.
All the stuff that you hang onto and you keep because you think one day you are going to pull out the projector and you are going to go through slides from like the 1970s and 80s.
For those of you listening you do it, you know it!
So I challenge you to get the projector out and have a projector movie night and then either get rid of them all, or get them put onto digital formats so you can have them on your laptop and eventually print them or do whatever you like.
But basically out with the old, put it into a format that is accessible at anytime but doesn’t take up space and move on.
So back to Mum’s house, so we have Mum downsizing and generously gifting to my sister and I, things that we would absolutely need such as linen, towels, kitchenware etc.
And at this point as you probably know from my Changing Plans episode, Josh and I hadn’t actually bought the house yet but we were looking really seriously.
Mum was making decisions based on the fact that we might end up with the house rather than both be living in a suitcases.
So to her credit she held onto things we may need and she sort of split up a lot of stuff between my sister and I.
And what happened is all those stuff that Debbie and Zanda had been clearing out, was now getting filled up with trips from Mum and her house with stuff that she was giving them.
Every time they got rid of something, more stuff was coming in.
And I felt like it was the same for me.
I don’t own much stuff but even in my two bedroom apartment in Downtown Wellington, I’d accumulated a little bit of the stuff to have it fully furnished for myself when I rent it out.
I also had about four boxes up at my parents. And all those boxes are my everything, my life packed up into four boxes. Or so I thought….
As it happens as Mum is going through more and more of the house and I was there with her, she was like, “Nat I found this box of your clothes or your school gear” and I was like, “Oh damn.”
“I found your bag of motocross gear” from when I used to race motocross. And I really never want to get rid of my helmet and my motocross pants and shin protectors. And I was like, “Oh damn!”
So every time I go to help Mum declutter, I ended up coming home with more stuff, which I would then have to sort through, get rid off, give to the Salvation Army or downsize.
I just felt like as a family we were doing this give stuff, receive stuff, get rid of the stuff, sort stuff, sell stuff.
It was crazy. I was selling my stuff on TradeMe. I was listing some of Mum’s stuff on TradeMe. Zanda was helping out and then there was a big garage sale where Mom made like $850 in half a day and huge.
Also she had to downsize her house in three weeks or less once she actually got an offer on it.
The power of downsizing and decluttering
And here in her own words is kind of this whole process for Mum on really downsizing a lifetime:
Natalie: Let’s talk about how it felt to downsize and move out of a very large house – four bedrooms and all your and Dad’s stuff for the past 13 years.
Mom: For the past 47 years.
Natalie: That’s true because you’ve been in the house for thirteen years.
Mom: Fifteen years actually.
Natalie: Oh. I should get my facts right.
Mom: Actually, I just felt sick. It’s too much. I think the thing nowadays is less… definitely less. But you don’t want to throw things away that your children have given you or presents, Christmas, birthday or whatever.
But there comes a time when you think, “What am I going to do with this? Where can I put it all?” And I certainly have to downsize to a two bedroom apartment. And I feel I still have a lot but I am keeping the best, the very best… but even then I feel like I don’t want it.
Natalie: Do you feel lighter now that it’s all done because it was quite a process, wasn’t it?
Mum: Yes. But I could still lose a bit.
Natalie: Yes, you’ve held onto the lovely stuff as you said and a part of that is your identity and what you’ve had in houses for years.
Mum: It’s what you worked for. It’s what you wanted but even that has changed these days. What we’ve enjoyed was antiques, crystal, lovely prints of the olden days – that’s all gone.
People don’t even want it. Antique dealers don’t even want it anymore. But I think it could all go around in circles again and one day it will. But who wants to keep it for that long?
Natalie: Yes exactly. Do you want to talk about how you even started on the process? So obviously you put the house up for sale and then what?
Mum: Oh I started way before. I went through wardrobes and drawers. I did a little bit everyday or every second day at least. A lot of it went to Salvation Army and Mary Potter Hospice. There comes a time where you just get rid of it.
Natalie: And then when you got the offer on the house, we made it a pretty short turnaround time didn’t we because you wanted to be in your new apartment.
Mom: Because I was coming over to Bali for your birthday.
Natalie: So it was three weeks and so you’ve done some of that sorting beforehand and then you started downsizing and taking things out of drawers.
Mom: And going through linen covers and just knowing I won’t need these, you might need it.
The other part is that in our days we use to entertain at home. That has changed. We go out into a restaurant nowadays so you have all these lovely dishes that costs some money because you wanted to look good but you don’t use either anymore. It just all changed.
Natalie: Did you have a process that you were going through?
Mom: The thing is we were brought up and we look after our things – clothes, anything. Every time we moved we would take it with us but you didn’t wear it or you didn’t use it.
There comes a time when you say, “Right. Out.” And that’s what happened. I think we all have too much these days.
Natalie: I agree.
Mom: I use one dish, one plate, one cereal bowl, one mug at the moment because there’s just one. But even if there’s two you don’t need much.
Wise words from my Mum, Gina Sisson. I credit her so much in my life and that I really love being a minimalist.
And you know my sister and I differ a little on that. My sister is super creative and so she loves a lot of artwork up on the wall. I think she’s got tendencies to be a little bit of a hoarder and she’s cool with that.
But the point here I guess for every single one of us is every 3 months do a reconnaissance of everything that you own and ask yourself:
- Do I really need this?
- Is this better off in somebody else’s home or hands?
- Could I sell this and give it to a more deserving person who needs this right now?
One of my best tricks that I’ve learned is that if you’ve put something away in storage that you are just not prepared to give up, if you have not gone into that storage locker or that space or whoever you are storing it within 6 months time then you need to get rid of it.
Because if you do not miss something and use it every single day it is very likely that you do not need it in your life and it is weighing you down as a sense of stuff.
Now one of my good friends, Joshua Becker over at Becoming Minimalist talks a lot about this and here is a short excerpt from a Ted Talk that he did on this very topic as to the benefits of becoming minimalist.
“Out of the corner of my eye I see my son swinging alone in the backyard.
And suddenly I had this further realization that not only was everything I owned not making me happy, even worse everything I owned was actually taking me away from the very thing that did bring happiness into my life.
But not just happiness but fulfillment and purpose and contentment.
There’s a very different realization and I think it is the very foundation of minimalism – the very foundational truth that would cause anyone to intentionally own less stuff.
This reality is that not only are things not making us happy they’ve actually become such a burden on our lives that they are actually taking us away from the very things that we would prefer to be living our life for.”
If you’d like to learn more about minimalism, listen to this podcast interview with Joshua Becker about How to Own Less And Live More By Becoming A Minimalist.
And the final thing that I am really really weary of is cluttering our new house. Josh and I both made a very conscious effort and packed with each other but we are not going to fill this house with unnecessary stuff.
So first off Mum has kindly gifted us all these amazing things including a beautiful old vintage dining room table, a dining room cabinet, a cabinet for the lounge, a king size bed which will be now in our bedroom and some chest of drawers and lamps and some kitchen stuff.
All of those things we actually need and that means we don’t need to go and purchase them brand new. We can recycle, we can reuse and we can keep these beautiful pieces in the family that have been a part of my life for so long.
The next part that we’ve been doing is I have become a bit of a TradeMe addict and we’ve set a budget and we’ve actually listed out on a spreadsheet, because we are geeky like that – all the stuff that we need versus what we’d like in the future.
We’ve listed those out so it’s by order of priority and then we’ve put next to it guesstimates on what we’re sort of prepared to pay or budget.
So we did a quick look online as to what things are going for and then we put in what we think we’d be prepared to pay.
And now we are playing a little game, so I love bargains and I love getting a good deal and I love negotiating.
I am setting out to become the TradeMe queen and I am finding incredible things because as you know the saying goes:
One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.
And just like we’ve been doing as a family for the last 2 or 3 months of this year, other people on TradeMe are getting rid of things that they’ve long held in their family or in their house and finally have just decided to release and let go of.
And so I’ve picked up the best bargains. I got the piano!
If you listened to Changing Plans and you heard me talk about the piano that I thought I’d missed out on, would you believe that lady had no luck with the person who bid and won on the auction and beat me in the auction?
They flaked on her and so she actually texted me while I was in Bali saying, “I can’t believe it’s happened again. Is there any chance that you would still like to buy it?” and I said, “Yes!”
Done. Put the money in her bank account and she sent me a text saying, “Thank you! You have restored my faith in humans.”
So I got the piano! And the piano stool and the sheet music for a $150. This beautiful, old, vintage piano which I am going to polish up.
I bought an entire bedroom set of furniture granted a little bit retro, like a round mirror, a chest of drawers, another chest of drawers, two bedside table and a headboard for a $100 NZ.
Even if it’s not great, it’s going to be a bargain and I can paint it and we can use it and then we can always resell it.
And I’m just honestly having fun. I also bought two single beds including the mattresses, the frames and the bedside tables, pretty funky for like $400.
And I just love this because why do we always buy new stuff?
I mean granted sometimes you just want new things like you are not going to buy second hand underwear or laundry. I get that but why do we have this incessant need for new?
I personally love reusing and recycling. You get some incredible, sturdy, quality crafted pieces of furniture, ornaments if you feel like ornaments, lamps, all sorts of things for so little.
Because people don’t see the value in them anymore and yet to me they are incredible.
I bought a 5 lights with brass stands for $100. I am going to continue to find these amazing bargains and only put things in our house that Josh and I agree on and to add value to it and make it a really beautiful home that we love being in.
As the Suitcase Entrepreneur and yes I am still Suitcase Entrepreneur even though I am moving into a house.
The Art of Packing Light
I just wanted to pass on some packing tips and once again I’d love to bring you back into a short conversation that I had with my lovely Mom who I have to say is an impeccable packer.
And I definitely have witnessed her since being a kid packing for our entire family and we used to travel really light considering there were the four of us.
She now packs even lighter just for herself. it’s quite incredible.
Between us, we often look like overachievers. If we ever go on our girls trip together to Melbourne at the start of each year to see the tennis, (it would have been 14 times together or something), we just pack so little.
And it never ceases to amaze me at what people pack. Did they fit the kitchen sink inside the suitcase?
And if so how do they fit their actual clothes and the things that they really need on the trip. It does really astound me.
Here are some tips from the packing queen and her daughter. I credit her for everything that I do when it comes to being a Suitcase Entrepreneur.
Natalie: Because I think since I was two years old, you and Dad took my sister and I on around the world tours and trips ,which is amazing, and we no doubt learned from you how to pack really well.
And I think people still marvel now when they see how I live out of the suitcase. I know you used to pack for Dad as well.
Mum: In one medium suitcase.
Natalie: For the both of you?
Mum: Yes. And half of that we wouldn’t use.
And yet even when we had bed and breakfast some people would come with these enormous cases. Each one would have a big case, plus overnight bags and God knows what.
And I used to think, “My God. And they are only coming for 2 or 3 weeks, when we would be away for 8 weeks with less.”
Natalie: So what are your tips for the art of packing light?
Mom: For underwear, one clean, one on, one used – that’s only three of everything which is easy.
Natalie: Really? I actually take 2 weeks worth of underwear because they are quite small and thin. And that means if I can’t find a washing machine or do my washing for two weeks, I’ve always got underwear.
Mom: Yes I take a few underpants but for Dad that worked for him.
Shoes, a good pair of walking shoes. Something that is comfortable if you go out at night and maybe some sandals depending on the weather where you are going.
And if you are travelling to lots of places it doesn’t matter whether you wear the same thing every second or third day. People haven’t seen it before.
I always felt that you take with you your favorite things, that you feel comfortable in and just something good at night like trousers and a shirt but women always seem to have to have more.
But even then, just a couple of tops and the rest is just casual. And things are very casual these days aren’t day?
Natalie: Well, that depends if you are going to a business event or something that’s more fancy.
Mom: Yes if you are just going on a holiday it is casual.
Natalie: And what about toiletries?
Mom: Sometimes I think that’s all a bit too much but basically again I take what I wear everyday – sun tan lotion and shampoo.
Natalie: Suntan lotion is expensive in a lot of countries. I do the same putting everything into small bottles because it can last for weeks.
Mom: When I am in England, sometimes I buy the smaller bottles. You don’t get it so much in New Zealand or wherever.
Natalie: You do now. Anything else in terms of where you pack stuff, because we all have different ways, some people use packing squares.
I have a two-sided suitcase so I put my better clothes on my left hand side and my sports care, flip flops and toiletries go on the other side.
Mom: Yeah, you’ve got a good system but I sort of use my suitcase as a drawer. I fold things so neatly and pack it in a way that I remembered Aunty used to say, “Did you just iron that?”, I said “No I got it out of my suitcase”.
Natalie: I definitely didn’t pickup on that skill from you.
Mom: Yes, actually they were always fascinated with that. It’s just my way of packing.
Natalie: You also iron your sheets at home.
Mom: No I don’t, only B&B. Gosh no.
Natalie: Well, thank you. Those are the tips from the Suitcase Entrepreneur’s mom.
So I hope that those tips are helpful to you if you are really having trouble when you are travelling the world and you really just can’t pack light.
A couple of other tips I’d love to throw in there is put everything that you want to pack into your suitcase or your backpack on the bed before you go. Then once again do one more ruthless run through.
So if you’ve ended up with four black t shirts and three pairs of brown shorts, can you just not take one of each?
And if you put five beautiful dresses out and you are only going away for a week, could you not just take three and a shawl so that you can change your look?
And then put them into your suitcase or bag and if you find it still too full, take it all out and do the same ruthless routine again.
A couple of more tips:
You can buy anything you need typically in the place that you are going to. So if you are going to go from a summer environment to a winter environment, I wouldn’t necessarily pack all the things that you need for winter.
I would buy them in the country that you are in before you go into the other country or have just enough warm layers and as you get there you can stock up on anything you need.
The only caveat on that is sunscreen as I mentioned, when I was chatting to Mum, it can be really really expensive in other countries.
And obviously alongside that are your pills or your tablets or your supplements, whatever you really truly can’t do without that as specialists we need to get from your doctor or maybe a herbalist, I would definitely take those with you. But just take the quantity that you need.
So for example, on this trip to Bali I took a couple of supplements and vitamins and I put them all in one supplement container so I don’t need to take six or seven containers.
And the final tip for me is layers. Layering of your clothes allows you to be warmer because you can just put more and more layers on but it doesn’t add huge bulk to your suitcase.
I particularly love Kathmandu and IceBreaker products. IceBreaker is Merino wool from New Zealand.
It keeps you incredibly warm, wicks away any sweats, dries super quickly and you can wear it for an entire year without washing it and it still wont smell.
If you don’t believe me, Sir Peter Blake who is unfortunately no longer with us in this world who sailed around the world and set many world records and is q hero in New Zealand, wore his IceBreaker kit on the sailing yacht for a full year and it never smelt and he never had to wash it.
If you are really going for a long time travelling or you want lightweight, yet warm and efficient and trendy, IceBreaker all the way.
And finally, rolling.
There are a lot of people who pack in squares and you can put clothes in them and you can seal them and you can press them down, and you can fit way more in your suitcase, which is great.
I’ve never done it. I’ve never felt the need to take so many clothes that I have to compress them down. And then also I haven’t really felt the desire to unpack and uncompress all these squares but it is handy if you want to maximize your space efficiently.
But I love rolling clothes. One, it stops them from creasing and two, it actually does take up less space in your suitcase.
So those are my final tips on packing light and the art of minimalism.
I would love for you to share what tips you have below the comment section and tell me if you are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
Stay tuned for Season 2 either in April or in May. It’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because I am taking a business sabbatical for all of April.
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