I thought Pinterest and interior design were at the root of my lifestyle change over the past year, but unbeknownst to me, the real reason for a lifestyle overhaul ran a lot deeper than that.
It all started with a book cover.
I was living in London and had just moved from a Georgian attic conversion in swanky but dull Holland Park in Kensington to a rickety Edwardian flat in sociable Parson’s Green with my housemate Gary, and I was working as a graphic designer in Notting Hill. I had a good salary and a busy social life and from the outside I appeared reasonably successful and sort of had my shit together. In reality, I was stressed out of my box, anxious, disillusioned, completely overwhelmed and deeply unhappy with how my life was panning out.
Like many, I’m a Pinterest interior design obsessive. The pictures are so uncluttered and calming that I would spend my 10 minute lunch breaks standing in the queue in Subway scrolling through ‘white bedrooms’, wishing I was in those pictures rather than in my life. I thought that if my home looked like that I might feel a little calmer. So I went shopping to try and make my home look like Pinterest. Since becoming a designer, I have become increasingly obsessed with white, simple aesthetics, and having things organised. I’m also terrible at putting stuff away – I really can’t be arsed half the time – so there is a constant war going on between the side of me which would rather be doing something more interesting than tidying up, and the side of me needing my space to look beautiful, airy and ordered in order to stay sane. Half my wardrobe would be on my floor, and the other half would be categorised by type and hanging up in colour, weight and length order.
During a rare ‘fuck this shit, I’m going to take the hour I’m entitled to’ lunch break, I popped into Waterstones to find some books about becoming a creative entrepreneur, and the cover design of Marie Kondo’s little book, ‘Spark Joy’ caught my eye. I read the blurb and rolled my eyes, thinking something snide about people needing to find something better to do with their lives, and put it back on the shelf.
That evening on my way back from work, I popped into H&M to browse the homewares section and left with a bag full of things I didn’t even know I needed or wanted. On the train home I was mentally planning out where I was going to store the stuff I already had, and briefly considered stopping into another shop to pick up ‘advance storage’ to accommodate future purchases. I got home and climbed into my room, tripped over my washing basket, dumped my shopping bag on top of the pile of stuff on my desk, which sent a cascade of paper and pens and receipts to the floor, including the rewards card I had been looking for for a month. And something clicked.
I can’t believe it took me almost 20 years to realise that the true solution to not having so much mess is to not have so much stuff in the first place.
But where do I even start?
I think you can see where this is going. I went back to Waterstones.
Throwing stuff out
I bought ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ in late August 2016, and started going through my stuff. I’ve had my share of clear-outs in the past (usually triggered by exasperation at not being able to find something) but never one like this. The ‘Kondomari method’ made me question the motives behind my purchases and the justification for holding onto things I had previously balked at throwing out because they were sentimental or gifts or expensive or ‘just in case I need them later’.
Over the space of 4 days, I threw out about 70% of my belongings.
One year on I have even less stuff, and I’m a lot more mindful about what I buy.
This is a list of everything I have bought in the last 9 months excluding food, toiletries and supplements:
Underwear, Socks and 2 pairs of shoes to replace worn out ones, outdoor 3-in-1 coat and a mini backpack for a holiday
Some Tombow pens, some Micron pens a ruler, a Leuchtturm notebook for my bullet journal
Yoga wheel to help my back, yoga mat to replace one I kept slipping on, a bowl I made myself at a pottery class, Muji soap pumps, packing cubes for holiday, scanner, clay, a phone charger, makeup brush and hairbrush to replace ones that had died, some ebooks on my kindle.
In my old life, I would have probably bought more than that in a single month. I now find this level of mindless consumerism, and the amount of waste I threw out in that first clear-out utterly shocking.
Facing demons and taking out the trash
What started off being simply a way to reduce the clutter and spend less time tidying, ended up being more like therapy and resulted in a pretty big lifestyle change. As I tried on everything before throwing it out, I started to realise that maybe things were a bit worse than I had realised and the feelings I had of being trapped, stressed, unhappy and inadequate weren’t just because my room was a mess. I fully believe that the state of a person’s home reflects their state of mind. Jung would have had a field day with mine!
I didn’t like most of my clothes: I wore baggy tops to cover myself up because I hated how I looked. I was constantly comparing my figure with the tiny clothes I’d held onto from 6 years ago when I had a 22 inch waist – conveniently forgetting that when I had a 22 inch waist I was severely depressed, only 44kg, and worrying my parents. When I remembered how dark that place was, it made it easy to let go of those things and focus on my health and happiness instead of my weight. I bought ‘stuff’ for my house to try and make me feel like a grownup that wasn’t totally failing at life. Everyone on Pinterest and Instagram had beautiful homes they actually owned with dogs, husbands and children and their own successful businesses by the time they were 25 years old, whereas I was in a tiny flat share with a leaky ceiling at age 30 with none of the above, an unfulfilling job, and constant reminders from my mother that I wasn’t ticking the boxes I should be ticking at my age, and that menopause starts early in my family (thanks mum, very helpful).
I also bought ‘stuff’ to distract me from my unhappiness. I had got into a really bad place so gradually and subtly that I hadn’t even noticed. It is really damaging to compare yourself to other people; and surrounding yourself with things and people that tell you every day just how much you’re not measuring up slowly destroys your self worth.
What started with a clear out of belongings motivated me to look at other aspects of my life that were weighing me down. It has taken a lot of time and effort to realise what is truly important to me, make some serious changes and focus on building the life I want to live: A life that is simple, and built on the values that are important to me – not a life that is spent frantically trying to keep up with what other people are doing, busting a gut to achieve things I don’t even want, to support values that mean nothing to me. I don’t miss or regret a single thing I threw out. I can’t even remember what I threw out – that’s how little those things mattered. I’m still paring my possessions down and getting rid of the things in my life that don’t matter, and building up the ones that do. It’s an ongoing project that is surprising and transformative in so many ways.
I’m really grateful to whoever designed the cover of Spark Joy. Without it, I don’t think I would have ended up where I am today.