spark finding and a request for feedback


a donate/sell/get rid of pile from almost a year ago - all gone!

Paring down and living with less is hard work. If it was easy everyone would have tidy closets and clutter free shelves. But it’s not. Especially in the beginning. In the beginning the road ahead looks long and hard.

You need a spark to make big changes in your life. You need a extra motivation. Something beyond what you have most days.

Six weeks ago I signed on for Faith’s Minimize Your Butt Fitness Challenge. I had big goals: drop 5 pounds, lose some inches off my waist and get back into a consistent exercise program. Oh, and I wanted to cut out eating chocolate during the week.

I didn’t meet those goals. In fact, I only lasted the first two weeks with the no week day chocolate. My sister came for a visit, I lost some motivation and then we went on a short vacation and I pretty much threw myself off the wagon. I also didn’t meet my exercise goal of running 3 times a week and doing 3 body weight workouts a week for the entire 6 week challenge. My waist measurement is the same and the 2 pounds I lost the first week is back on.

I could look at it as a big failure. But I don’t. Signing up, writing down my goals and updating my progress here gave me a spark of motivation. Despite some setbacks that spark is still there. And because of that spark I can say that I:

  • ran more in those six weeks than I did in the previous six weeks
  • got up to running 12 km – the longest run I have done since the fall of last year
  • I went two weeks without chocolate during the week – something I hadn’t done in a few months

So, while I didn’t meet my goals I did make some changes. And I found a spark.

I’ve decided to join a gym and figured out a plan so I can lift weights there 2-3 times a week while Chris is on parent patrol. A half marathon isn’t in my future but I will continue to run 2-3 times a week. I’m also reading more about the effects of sugar and trying to cut it out of my diet. In the last three days I have had my coffee with just milk and, while it’s a small change, it’s a start.

Go after the spark. Don’t think ahead to every room and closet and drawer and how much crap is stuffed into them. It will send you to the couch. Or worse, out shopping.

Instead, do that one drawer in the kitchen that irritates you every time you open it. The one with all the rubber bands, unsorted mail, coins, take-out menus and pens that don’t work.

Just do that drawer today. Every time you open that drawer and feel how easily it rolls open, how nice it looks with just two working pens and a pad of paper for notes in it, every time you see that you’re fueling a spark. It may be another two weeks until you can tackle the front hall closet or finally donate that bag of outgrown clothing, but the spark is there.

Results are great but staying motivated for the long haul is invaluable.

On that note, I would love to hear more about how I can help people get started with reducing their stuff. I’ve seen a few friends get excited about minimalism and then quickly give up. Initial excitement fades and that sale at H&M beckons. It’s hard to keep going with all the paring down and at the same time change your consuming habits.

What would you like to see more of here? How can I help you? I’ve created a short survey HERE but feel free to let me know in the comments as well.


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  • I needed this post. I was going at a great pace for a couple of months, then fell off, then got temporarily back on. But there’s sooooo much work to be done. Today’s goal will be that kitchen drawer :)

    My biggest problem is the follow through. I’ve been able to declutter to a point, but then what do I do with the stuff? We live in a relatively rural area, so selling on kijiji or what-have-you can be tricky since most people who want to buy are an hour away and we wind up having to drive in to deliver (only to find out they’re not interested anymore sometimes). I’ve had great success with garage sales in the past, but the time of year is getting bad for that. As a result, I am starting to amass boxes in my basement full of stuff to sell. But as long as it stays boxed and doesn’t make its way back in, I suppose that’s a step in the right direction.

    • I got quite frustrated with the work and time it took to sell things. You have the right idea: box it up but don’t forget about it. Plan for a garage sale next summer or look for a local swap meet and get a table. I got rid of a lot of baby stuff at a swap meet.
      Kitchen junk drawers are everywhere. We have one here but it’s the owners stuff so, lucky me, I just ignore it.
      Glad you got some momentum from this post =)

    • I don’t have the patience or time to sell things when we are done with them. I want them gone and I want them gone 5 minutes ago. I usually donate them to someone who I know needs them or to an organization that helps others like the local crisis pregnancy center.

  • Ah, sugar. I do much better when I eat as little as possible. My son’t birthday was this weekend and even though I only had one small piece of cake with ice cream, I could feel the effects and it left me craving it the next day and the day after! I used to think, “everything in moderation” but the processed white stuff (sugar, white flour) is a saboteur even in small amounts (at least for me).

    • I’ve been reading up on the Paleo/Caveman diet for over a year now. I know many people that stick to it quite closely – no grains, dairy, sugar – and have seen huge health benefits. My plan is to move in that direction. The white stuff is also hard for me to eat in moderation. One square of chocolate turns into a bar, a slice of bread into three.

      • My 4-year-old does NOT like grains, potatoes, pasta, dairy, eats very little sugar. He loves fruit, veg. and meat. He has never been sick, he is full of energy and is very slim. …and he does not even know about the Paleo diet. :)

  • I got my first motivation from having to clean my mom’s house out after she passed away. I would say there were areas of her home that verged on hoarding. I had lived with her for a few months before she died and when I finally came back to my own home, it was with fresh eyes and A LOT of determination. It has been more than 9 months now and after several garage sales, countless trips to the thrift store and selling stuff on craigslist, I have made noticeable progress. I now have cupboards and drawers that are EMPTY. And I mean empty! The stress level has dropped in our house and time for other things seems to have increased. There are still 3 rooms to go, but after my first empty drawer, I was hooked.

    • Read a story about a similar experience of a child clearing out a parent’s home after they passed away. The son had to take six months off of work to deal with emptying his parent’s home.

      Great to hear about the stress level dropping in relation to decluttering. We had the same experience.

  • Hmmm…well my hobby is getting rid of things, so I don’t think I need help in that area. Maybe, instead, of finding where that balance lies of having just enough…not too little, but not too much. I know that varies between individuals, but I am still struggling to find it. Even though I know we have MUCH less than all we know, it still FEELS like too much.

    • We own about 10% of what we did just over a year ago. Our overseas move and selling all our furniture lead to an extreme downsize.

      Some days it still feels like too much. But this usually coincides with being a bit behind on the laundry, dishes or picking up after myself (and everyone else!).

  • I like reading about people who have embraced minimalism, but do not live out of a backpack and owning just 50 things. I think your blog is great in that respect.

    I also agree with minimalist mommi that it’s sometimes hard to find balance. And when are you done decluttering? I declutterd my kitchen three times in the past year. Each time, I think I’m done, and then suddenly I wake up and look at our kitchen and find something new to declutter.

    How to communicate and explain minimalism to friends and family who are not minimalists is also something I like to read about. I know this has been covered before, but that’s something I struggle with. We recently cut our cable for example, and people find it really strange or weird, especially since cable is not as expensive over here as in the US or Canada (about 17 euros per month).

    • Thanks, Eva. I struggle with balance too and some days I just want to get rid of everything! But, we’re not extremists and we still want to have a home that feels homey – not a bare room with two folding chairs and a Kindle for each of us.

      These are good things for me to be reminded of. We face similar challenges with explaining our different choices to family and friends. Particularly new friends we have met here in the UK. We’re a bit of an oddity with no car and living in a small flat. There’s also a delicate balance with defending your choices while not judging other people’s choices. For sure more to come on that topic and I will canvass some other minimalist-ish families on how they deal with it.

      • What I find annoying/funny (depending on my mood) is when other people presume that we’re only minimalists because we have a small house. :) Or they think we are simply poor. :)

        • I agree, my kids sometimes come home from school and ask if we are poor because we don’t have XYZ.
          Sometimes its hard (very in some cases) for people to understand why we make the choices we do

  • Thanks for the ‘spark’ even though I don’t have a kitchen drawer to do (I live on a 30 ft sailboat :) but i do have nooks and crannies that are driving me crazy!! So I’m going to start there…I love being minimalist and would be a lot more so but my husband keeps me in check.. a good thing too, cause we’d probably have almost nothing LOL! I found ‘The Flylady’ years ago on the net and she really helped me get organized. She also helps you keep things really clean… not that I do this all the time but it really brought great improvement.

    I enjoy your posts a lot and have you linked to my blog :) In regards to things I like to read… I get a lot out of post about organization, doing with less and discovering ways to be content with simple things or simple stuff :)

    • Thanks, Mary. Wow. Living on a boat! I love the sound of that. Even if I do get sea sick.

      I’ve read a bit of Flylady too and enjoyed her take on simple cleaning (though my bathrooms are not currently a good example!). Thanks for the feedback on things you like to read about – those are some of my favourites too.

      • Rachel, Mary, Before we built our tiny house I put in a serious campaign to get my honey on board for living on a houseboat. He wasn’t budging on the issue though.

        Mary, how exciting! Hearing about boat living just sounds so different somehow.

        Rachel, sorry for hijacking the conversation, the boat thing just got me excited. :)

  • Yeah, my minimalism is a work in progress. I’ve let go of tons of stuff this year, but there are certain areas of my life where I find it harder to stay minimal. Most evidently, it’s clothing for my kids. While on vacation, I came across a consignment shop that was having a $1 sale. And I stocked up for the kids for the year. Good news is that I don’t have to shop until next summer and I only spent $40, but bad news is, their closet doesn’t really have room for those extra 40 items of clothing. Eeeeep! I say it’s great to have goals, but don’t be discouraged if things don’t go exactly how you imagined them. If you find yourself getting discouraged by trying to stick to your original goals, just make some new ones! :) Looking forward to igniting my own “spark”, especially in the exercise department in the coming weeks.

    • That sounds like an amazing deal! It is hard with clothing. Particularly when they grow so fast. Really easy to see the benefit of buying while you find it on sale, not when you need it.

      We used to have two bins of clothing for Henry to grow into. Some hand me downs and some I bought at end of season sales. That was when he was still very new and I was still really into shopping for baby clothes. Just organized some boxes here and we now have just a dozen items for him to grow into. Two of them are pairs of shoes I got off a Craigslister as part of a package. Everything else was gifts. I actually had a moment of “oh no, I’m going to have to start shopping for him”. Luckily he has quite a bit of room in his current size so we should be good for a few months.

      So is your youngest starting preschool? Does this mean you will have a few non-kid hours during the week?

      • I’m ashamed to admit that I had to downsize 4 full bins of clothing (from a total of six bins!) before I had my second child. What baby on earth needs six bins of clothing for the first two years of their lives? Whew, thankfully that stage of my life is over. :) We are now down to one bin of clothing for both boys to grow into, and about half of them are hand-me-downs from my oldest to my youngest.

        T won’t be starting preschool until maybe January, so I’ll be relishing the time with him for the next couple of months and we’ll be just taking it easy together. Hopefully he’ll keep taking his afternoon naps so that I do get a big of a break, to either relax a bit or get a workout in.

  • What I’d love to hear about is how to use things we already have to solve new problems. As part of my recent decluttering, I found that we had 6 (that’s six!) wasp traps. All of them purchased. So I got rid of 5. Then I went to a friend’s house and found that they had made their own out of a vase, some rolled up cereal box, and a piece of ham. They had to do it this way, because that family of 5 lives in a beautiful one-bedroom cabin in the woods. They have to have double-functioning items, and that wasp-trap becomes a vase at other times. I love it! I love *not* consuming, not purchasing!

    Thank you for your post, btw, I found it gave me more patience with my husband’s style. I remind myself of the changes he has made, and I am much happier that way.

    • Ooh, I love multipurpose items and re-purposing items for new tasks. I will keep this in mind and track my own re-purposing and collect a few others to share.

      Thanks for your kind words on the post.

  • I have 3 kitchen&paper junk baskets. I have improved from last year from having probably 6+ containers and baskets. My best times to declutter are when I cannot find something and have to go through all that junk *irritation big time*- then, I will be sidetracked and maybe toss half of it and put the other half into another basket. I have emty shelves and a big empty bookcase, I want less storage now.
    If I can resist not to bring it/buy it, I am good for a while and creating something useful (knitting, making toys from hosuehold items) helps. I doubt that I will be a minimalist, but having less to organize and clean really appeals to me – gives motivation.

    • The ‘creating something useful’ really struck me. I find when I am working on a project I am really engaged in my urge to consume in every form – food, media, shopping – wanes.

  • 12 KM! Wow. I have a bad history with exercise so I’ve been holding steady with my 5km. Sometimes I walk it, sometimes I run/walk. If I stick with this, I’m happy.

    Being on a budget has been the biggest thing for paring down. I’m forced to use what I have because I can’t spend more. It works.

    PS. Write what you love.

    • Are you running Run for the Cure with Amber, etc? That is such a great event.

      Funny, I asked for feedback and all the survey results tell me to stay on the same path. I’m still fascinated by, and very passionate about, the benefits of de-cluttering and living with less stuff.

  • Fab post – honest and down to earth – real life!
    Whilst on holiday we ran out of sugar and I stopped having it in my coffee (I was so relieved to read above you take sugar too I thought I was the only person in the world who did). “Great” I thought “that’s me done with adding sugar to drinks”. Nope it’s not! Within a week of getting back from France I noticed that I wasn’t taking sugar but had started eating a biscuit with my coffee, which I never did before. Didn’t take much for the penny to drop. I’ve compromised with half a sugar now… moderation is key to life! Have just e-mailed you x

  • I love what you write, even when it does not apply to me.
    I think just reading your blog on a regular basis reminds me that I do not need to have this or that, and that the choices we are making are not ‘weird’ no matter how strange people think we are.
    I think you are inspiring to many, please keep up the good work.

  • I always love your posts, Rachel and am continually inspired to de-clutter and live with less! We have gotten rid of MOUNTAINS and MOUNTAINS of stuff in the past several months. Some sold, but most given away. I’ve never regretted or missed one thing!

    We live in a very small space and it feels so good when it’s tidy and neat most of the time. And when it isn’t it only takes a few minutes to get there.

    The kitchen is still the dumping ground and like a previous poster mentioned I keep de-cluttering it. The junk drawer has been done several times! Now that school is back I need to dive into all the paper work, school projects and mail that creep onto the island, then the shelf, then the cupboards…

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Great post!
    Ever since I started reading your blog, many months ago, I’ve been sorting and getting rid of various things in our small place. It’s taking a long time, and I only get the energy to seriously go through things once every few weeks, but at least I’m getting somewhere. Good reminder to tackle one drawer at a time! That’s encouraged me this weekend.

    I find almost everything you write about is interesting and practical, so just keep writing what you love to write about because it seems lots of people can relate to you.

  • First of all, I’ve been reading for a while and I love your blog. It’s given me lots of motivation to (& helped me feel not quite so crazy about) get rid of stuff & keep new stuff from coming in. THANK YOU!

    On a completely different note, I have a question about living in Europe. My husband & I loathe the selfish, give-me-more, consumerist attitude that most Americans have. We are seriously considering escaping to Europe some time in the next few years to save our kids – & ourselves – from this poisonous way of living.

    I know you lived in Canada (not the US) before the UK, but I still have to ask. Do you feel like you finally live in a culture that doesn’t revolve around consuming? Or do you still feel like you’re constantly swimming against the status quo? Or is it somewhere in between? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


    • Hi Lauren,

      Thank you for the kind comments.

      Those are interesting questions about the difference between Europeans and North Americans. Funny, I was just in Toronto for a few days and felt completely overwhelmed, and inadequate!, with all the home decor stores, clothing stores and the beautiful homes I was lucky to be hosted in. Now, I would say the difference isn’t really about now living in Europe but about living in a much smaller town. There just aren’t the shopping options that there are in big cities. And I feel like that changes the focus of life: people here are really into activities and getting out and being a part of the community. Way less focus on home wares and new clothing and upgrading everything they own.

      One thing that is different is that even my friends here from larger European cities don’t talk about “stuff” and shopping as much. People are a bit quieter about buying things. I like it. It’s the early days yet but I feel like I don’t hear as much verbal salivating over big screen tvs or expensive hand bags. I also notice there is a bigger focus on vacation and time away from work. People holiday here. A lot. Even if it is something low cost and simple like camping or hopping over to the UK for some down time. A huge part of that is just that people work less here. Five weeks holiday is standard to start with. Add on stat holidays (10) and it means that about at least every other month you could be taking a week off work. From an outside perspective this seems to permeate day to day life as well. People don’t seem to work the long hours they do at home. Now, I don’t work in an office so this is a very broad generalization.

      Would love to hear from others that have crossed the Atlantic (either way) and how they perceive cultural attitudes about consumerism.

      • Hi there!

        I think this is a very interesting topic!

        I am from Germany and though I’ve never lived in America, my father lives in the US for quite a while now and I’ve been visiting (and travelling a bit) there quite a few times now.
        Though most people are no way minimalists over here in Europe, I experienced some differences:

        1. Cars vs. Walking. The average American town/city (unless it’s one of the really big ones like New York or so) is built for cars. You have a mall with a big parking lot, some more really big stores which you drive by – often stores are just too far off to just walk there. Over here in Europe, most towns (even the small ones) have an ‘old’ center with narrow streets, rather small shops and hardly any parking. So, me (and many others who live in a city) rather walk to the supermarket or the bookstore instead of driving there. Or go by bike. (of course, there are exceptions and yes: we do have the big supermarket right out of town here as well meanwhile, but still – you may easily walk without being regarded as weird)

        2. Fashion. Whew. Over here (I am living in a rather big city, more than half a million inhabitants and a pretty lively night life etc.) I walk through the city wearing rain boots, if the weather isn’t that great. We also have those ancient cobble stone pavements, you know, so it is just not possible to walk with stiletto heels. (especially given the lack of parking and city centres into which cars are not allowed, you usually will have to walk at least some hundred metres from car to bar) You will ruin your expensive somethings in next to no time. So, most people go for ‘reasonable’ clothing rather than the latest fashion (of course, fashion does take a part, but it’s not as crazy, I think). Actually, being in New York and San Francisco has been the first (and only) time in my life that I thought about whether my belt matched my shoes – and felt inadequate if it didn’t.

        3. Lack of free things to do (esp. without car). Well, maybe this isn’t something that does apply to cities like New York, but I had a hard time doing some low budget ‘sightseeing’ in the States. I never had that problem when travelling in Europe. I think, this is partly due to the larger distances in the US. There is a higher population in Europe, so you can quickly and easily do ‘city day trips’ or visit some little town or village nearby. There are many interesting old towns and cities within one hour by train from almost everywhere, so you can just start at 9 in the morning with a couple of girlfriends, go to another town, visit some church or castle there and drink a cup of coffee, stroll around a bit and come back in the evening. (Did this in England, France and so on as well, so that’s not a specific German thing) Additionally, as towns are often more compact (built a few hundred years ago for pedestrians, not for cars), you can also go out to the fields, forest etc. by bike (or go by train to the next tiny village and go for some hiking there), without having the need of a car.
        (e.g. my home city does have an opera house, theaters, cinemas, university, museums, parks, clubs etc, but it takes only about 25-30 minutes to be out of it – in the nature – in every direction, if you go by bike.)
        Of course, there are also many historical sights almost everywhere, so you can also spend a day following some writer’s or composer’s or king’s footsteps…
        These are all fun things to do. Without a car, without purchasing anything (except maybe train tickets or moderate entrance fees and the odd snack or coffee). People do that a lot over here. It’s quite common to do a day trip on the weekends – be it a trip to a different town or a hiking tour.

        I must admit that in the US, as things were often too far off for just a day trip, the mall often was the most appealing ‘sight’ to me. Which led to lots of shopping.

        (I hope I didn’t offend anyone! These were just my personal experiences with cross-atlantic travelling. Maybe, I didn’t really get the inside-view after all)

        • Thank you both for your feedback!

          The idea that success & worth can be measured by something other than how hard you work, how much money you make, & how much stuff you own is so not a regular part of the American culture. I love the idea that holidays (& staying connected with family!) are an important part of life there. And I’m so excited for you & your boys, Rachel, that you’ve found a place to live out those values!

          And Anne, I think you are spot on about free activities being hard to come by. I went to Germany for a month in high school, & I loved the lack of emphasis there was on fashion! People cared about their appearances but weren’t so judgmental about others, even high schoolers. Wearing the same outfit a few days in a row was totally the norm, & I got really spoiled not having to worry about what people were thinking about the way I dressed! :)

          I’d love to keep hearing more about this topic if anyone else has more feedback to share!

          Thanks again!

          • Very interesting conversation, I currently live in Toronto Canada, but would have to say that I have found many likeminded people in my neighbourhood. We live right in the city, but are very lucky to be in a ravine area.
            We have a walking school bus, where 1 or 2 parents walk about 20 kids to school every morning, and most of these kids will walk home as well.
            Although there can be much talk about clothes and house stuff, I have been able to find a large network of friends here that would rather focus on other issues. For me it’s just a matter of who I choose to spend my time with. Although we may not be ‘minimalists’, many of us have tried to have a larger outlook on life, and a hopefully a ‘greener’ one too.

  • OH! I just love this blog. I just found you – recommended to me by a fellow blogger. This so speaks to me, I am kind of “obsessive” about minimizing. I believe in this with all my soul heart and I know that reading your blog is going to soothe that part of myself. I get rid of things all the time, and actually began what I call the “Buy Nothing” Budget and it has changed our life. Yay!

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