A journey towards minimalism

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Last Sunday morning at around 7am I stepped out into the garden, coffee cup in hand, the rest of the house still asleep. The sky overhead was clear and brilliant blue. The birds were merrily chirping their morning chorus. Bella and Luna, our beloved felines came to greet me and happily purr around my ankles. I sat in the morning sun, eyes closed, listening to the sounds of nature around me and enjoying the peaceful start to the day. There’s something truly luxurious about the freedom of Sundays – no school run, no work to go to, no pressure to be anywhere. It’s great!

Often we will pack our rucksacks and go hiking in the Mourne Mountains, but having checked the forecast the previous night I knew that Sunday was set to be an absolute scorcher. It would have been way too hot to go hiking with kids and the prospect of a lazy, sunny day in the garden was appealing after a week of deadlines and the usual family busyness.

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I enjoyed a second cup of coffee before the others surfaced from their beds and joined me outdoors. The kids pulled all of their camping gear from the garage and set up a cooking station so that they could prepare our lunch al fresco. I watched as my two youngest boys chopped and stirred and produced a meal for us all to eat together. I sat back and basked in the sunshine feeling the concerns of the past week melt away.
In the afternoon my youngest son and I built a fairy kingdom together. This is a boy who usually spends his free time kicking a football and tearing holes in the knees of his trousers! We chatted and designed our little fairy sanctuary together and it was just so peaceful. I was amazed at his enthusiasm and the unhurried pace of quality time together was nourishment for my tired mind. It’s wonderful what you can do with just a few garden scraps!

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Rewind 25 years….

I was ten years old when my family home burnt down. I was asleep in bed as were my 3 brothers, sister and dad. Mum was working night-shift and when I awoke coughing and gasping for air I knew something was drastically wrong.

Even as I type these words I can feel the panic rise in my chest. The need to escape. The fear.

I shouted for my dad and my brothers. Although I normally shared a room with my younger sister, she had been ill and was downstairs in my parents’ room. My brother who is only a year younger than me came running into my room as I frantically turned the light-switch on and off. We stood in the darkness on the 3rd floor of our town-house, barely able to breathe, not knowing if the others were safe.

My brother, aged only 9, closed the bedroom door and blocked the gap at the bottom with my duvet. How unbelievably brave. By that stage I had flung open the window and was screaming for help. My eyes were stinging. Our dog, Sophie, was barking madly down below.

Eventually, our next door neighbours appeared with a ladder. My brother helped me climb out and he followed after. In a blur of voices and sirens we were hurtled into an ambulance and taken to hospital. It was only once there we saw that my sister and dad and middle brother were ok. We had all inhaled a lot of smoke and needed oxygen. My youngest brother, who was only 2 had been rescued by firemen and was in intensive care because of smoke inhalation. Mum was there and miraculously we were all alive.

My youngest brother recovered eventually. As an adult looking back I have no real recollection of how long he was in hospital or how events unfolded. I only have my own experience and memories.

We lost our home that night. Everything was gone with the exception of a few photos and knick-knacks. The middle floor of the house had collapsed onto the floor below, which had been my 3 brothers’ bedroom prior to renovations the previous year. Everything my parents had worked so hard for was gone, either burnt or destroyed by smoke and water damage from the firemen’s hoses.

We were alive though and that was truly a miracle. Our friends, family and community rallied around us and got us set up in a rented property. My classmates kitted me out with a new schoolbag and uniform. Our local shop collected money to help us buy some new essentials and my parents’ friends got us beds and furniture and kitchen utensils and things we needed for day to day living. On looking back, the love and kindness we were shown speaks volumes about the human spirit.

In the aftermath, as my parents tried to rebuild out lives, as we digested what had happened we talked lots about how fortunate we were to all still be together. That night could have had a very different outcome.

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Today, when I recall that terrible night I know it is from that moment that my journey towards minimalism commenced. Stuff is just stuff. It can go up in flames at any point. It can become ash in an instant. After the fire, we visited the house as part of the salvage process and to see what we had actually escaped. To this day, I can see the charred, water-streaked walls, the smell was intoxicating and all of our possessions were black and destroyed. I can’t even begin to imagine how my parents must have felt seeing everything they owned thrown into a skip. But they had us – I guess that was what got them through.

I have never really placed that much importance on ‘stuff’ but as a mum to 3 kids, our belongings accumulated over the years. Toys, books, cups and bowls, clothes, souvenirs, instruments, shoes….kids come with a lot of stuff!

A while ago, I reached a point of ‘overwhelm’ – I was spending too many hours everyday washing-up, tidying-up, cleaning-up. For all the ‘ups’ in my life, there were a lot of ‘downs’. I was burdened by domestic duty and feeling buried in stuff. Something had to give and it was either my mental health, or, the other option…our belongings. I began the process of clearing out by category rather than by room. I started with clothes because the amount of washing for a family of 5 was an endless daily task. Bags were filled with clothes that were unworn or outgrown and taken to charity and clothes with stains, holes or missing buttons were put in a bag for recycling. Immediately I noticed a difference in my daily routine and this spurred me on to tackle the mountain of toys that were only really gathering dust for me to clean. My kids spend most of their time outdoors and aren’t really into toys unless it’s LEGO or K’Nex, so the boardgames, puzzles and trucks that were never played with were donated, books were culled (a very painful process as a book-lover!) and as I started to see clear surfaces and only things that I truly loved were kept I suddenly began to feel lighter. Somehow, removing the ‘stuff’ from my home removed a lot of pressure. My time wasn’t so consumed by clearing and tidying. It was liberating.

Having maintained a clutter-free home for sometime now I can truly testify that it is life-changing. While I have never been materialistic, preferring family holidays over a new sofa, somehow the stuff does gather over the years. I am now an extremely cautious shopper. I never indulge in ‘retail therapy’, the very phrase maddens me; that somehow purchasing more stuff will bring healing. It does not!

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Not only has my home benefitted from being clutter-free, but so has my mind. I crave simplicity in my days. Therapeutic moments for me include chopping vegetables (Is this odd? I don’t know. But there is something extremely satisfying about it!), sitting in my garden under a blue sky and listening (mostly to kids bickering but sometimes the birds and the giggles breakthrough), chatting with my boys about their days at school, reading a good book, lighting the wood-burner and enjoying a glass of wine with my husband after the kids have gone to bed.

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For me, it’s all about simplicity. The modern world has told us that constant busyness is a sign of success. That’s not true. Being able to slow down, switch-off and just be is healthy and rewarding. Advertisers bombard us day and night online, on tv, on the radio, on billboards – telling us we need more in order to be happy. That’s not true. Owning more than we truly need can become a chaotic burden as looking after it all consumes our time and ultimately our joy.

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Another beautiful Sunday….

Kids and husband still asleep after a tiring Saturday at rugby, I tiptoed downstairs, boiled the kettle, flung open the patio doors and stepped outside. Our fairy kingdom caught my eye and I smiled. The birds chirped, the cats circled my ankles. Thoughts for a blog post swirled in my head. Simple, luxurious freedom beckoned me and I went to it. I sat under the blue sky, I listened and I pondered. There were no tasks calling to me. I took a deep breath and sat for a while enjoying the peace.

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