Another step towards minimalism

I was talking about the perils of home improvement and getting a contractor in which might have led one to assume we were improving our house by adding stuff. Actually, we were trying for just the opposite.

I live in a twenty year old apartment in the heart of the city – mostly because it is so convenient. But being in an old apartment with space constraints has its disadvantages. Things were totally falling apart and something had to be done. But once we started, we realized that this was just the chance we had been looking for to cut the clutter and update our home to reflect how we live.

When we’d bought this house from its previous owners, they had filled it with storage of every kind – built in cupboards, stand alone wardrobes, console tables, crockery units, a bar, even a steel almirah! Moving from rented accommodation with limited storage we were very grateful for all this. However, as time went by we realized we were accumulating things just because we had space. Especially kids’ stuff. Gifts, party favours – every kind of junk. Even though we have been giving things away on a regular basis, there was scope for more and this was it.

My husband and I both come from homes with a lot of stuff in them. And again, that was how it was back then. Our parents on both sides are what we call self-made. They were not born into money. My dad has always stated proudly that everything in our house was bought with his hard earned money (And that we need to be grateful to mom for choosing to stay home and take care of us, but different story). The point being that every possession means a lot. My parents cannot let go of stuff and in growing up, I have come to respect that.

Things are different for us. My husband and I started work in the newly opened up Indian market. We benefited from the IT boom. We benefited from both of us working. We were never voracious consumers to be sure, but we suffered from a certain urban lifestyle. Our kids went for birthday parties. They had to give gifts, and got them in turn. Although I eventually started recycling any duplicate/avoidable gift we got out to the next party my kids attended (except for very particular friends and felt no shame in doing this), we have ended up with a lot. Party favors especially have been extremely frustrating. Most parents after planning complicated parties with themes and events and the best food find this one place to apply the budget cuts and most party favors in my experience fall into the category of cheap plastic junk. Something that can be used for maybe a month before it needs to be tossed onto a landfill. Dreadful! For my part, I have started giving out bags of cookies instead but back to the minimal mission.

Here’s what we have done so far:

  • Remodeled leaky kitchen and given away standalone cupboards and crockery units
  • Had slow close hinges put in the kids cupboards – doors have had to be changed for this. I need ideas on recycling/upcycling those doors!
  • I painted the laminate study tables with inspiration from this wonderful blog. I am not finished yet – will post the pictures once done.
  • Had the couches re-upholstered. I feel noble about this. We could so easily have bought new ones since it is sale season here. Besides, the images the repair guy has sent me are far from edifying. I don’t know if he polished the faux leather I got to upholster with but the couches look shiny! Aargh – will need help on how to dress down shiny brown leatherette couches.
  • Had the house repainted – this is still ongoing.
  • Reused the leftover quartz from the kitchen to make bathroom counters.
  • Put up steel almirah and wardrobe for sale – any leads on buyers of old furniture in Bangalore would be much appreciated!
  • Gave away all usable clothes and shoes we don’t wear often to Goonj. Shoe closet feels super roomy now! Plus mom’s old sarees and clothes left behind by visiting family (with their permission).
  • Have collected all outgrown toys, boardgames that came as gifts and I did not let kids open since we already had them (hence new) plus more kids clothes to give to Goonj next.
  • Gave away last years’ school books and extra stationery(so much of it, but these are mostly the more responsible party favours here) to the ten thousand books drive.
  • Gave away music system plus DVD player and music/movie collection to my house help – a NetFlix subscription plus an iPhone with a bluetooth speaker works for us.
  • Gave away old hob to cook
  • Gave away old lights/curtains to house help/cook. As an aside, it is not an act of dumping that I am doing here. These lights/curtains were left behind in the house when we bought it. We chose consciously to not redo at the time but use them some more. They still have a lot of life left in them but we may never do all this again! This is a treat to ourselves. And let’s be honest – in India, raw silk, blackout, pleat curtains are definitely a treat to my cook and house help!
  • Have already given away most of my cosmetics/make up to kids of friends/house help. I don’t really wear much make up and now my dresser is quite sparse. I still need to give away this old bangle collection that I never wear but love so dearly.
  • Need to sell one mattress to convert the guest room to a living room. This last has been tricky. I’d thought we had consensus on this but turns out we didn’t. My husband is iffy about not having a spare room for guests and visiting family but my thoughts on this are – why keep a whole room aside to be used only for a few weeks a year. Our current (tentative) plan is to replace our bed with a storage bed at some point in time (when we have family visiting) and buy foldable mattresses that we can keep in them. So, we can set beds up on the living room floor and put them away when done. And so, we have separate sitting and living rooms. The living room will be where the bookshelves and TV are – where the kids can read their comics  instead of lounging about in bed. Or watch sports with their dad. The sitting room is where people like my mom, mother in law and I can hang since we like harder chairs and restful, organized spaces! But this last is tentative.
  • Then there are some things I plan to buy! I have a collection of curios and artifacts from all my travels and had displayed them on my few shelves to an ever increasing state of chaos. Maybe a small chest to store them so I can display a few every week and rotate them. So there should be less dusting to do and maybe no permanent marks on the wall from hanging paintings!
  • Plus I want to buy/upcycle some planters. I moved completely from ornamental plants to kitchen gardening at some point of time and this would be a good time to bring in some colour and fresh air in the form of indoor plants. They’re sure to be a great change from old furniture!

With all these, hopefully we will have a leaner, cleaner, more spacious home. At least that’s the objective. I’m sure there’s still scope to do more. And my greatest takeaway has been that before you start remodeling to a minimal lifestyle, you absolutely MUST identify what matters most to you and how/where you spend most of your day/year. Once you can identify how your house and you function, keep just the basic stuff and find homes for the rest.

I would love more advice on this though. Have other people done this and are there suggestions/things that I am missing?


’tis the season to be jolly

It’s almost time for Christmas!

I am a Hindu and this is technically not my festival. Although one could argue that in India, all festivals belong to all of us. But I have always loved books and Christmas to me is about all of this:

  • The March girls giving away their breakfast to a hungry family.
  • Hercule Poirot solving a murder.
  • Dickens
  • Buying plum cakes from Wenger’s Bakery in Connaught Place – which has nothing to do with books at all!

But these days, it seems to be mostly about shopping and stress.

Our Diwali celebrations are very homey. We make sweets and savouries. We draw rangolis and light lamps. It is the one day of the year that we all pray together. And then we take our pot over to a potluck with our friends and eat and play cards. Because Diwali is not just the festival of  lights but also dedicated to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and winning at cards on Diwali is considered super auspicious.

But just as crackers and pollution are to Diwali, shopping is to Christmas.

Of course in our consumerist world all festivals are mostly about these things, but Christmas more than all others seems inextricably linked with shopping and gift wrapping. For most of us bystanders at least. But the other day, I got a taste of a real Christmas celebration.

It was the last day of school before the kids started their winter break and their school had planned a Christmas party. We moms then got together and put one up of our own. We pot lucked it, and gathered in one child’s home. We sang carols and the children played. We all ate lots of healthy, home cooked food, played secret Santa with only one gift per child and went home. Sounds like nothing much but it felt like Christmas. And a big reason for this, was the venue.

The house where our party was held started out in life as what in Delhi, we call a barsaati. One room on the terrace. This terrace now, was watched over by a giant tree. And fringed by plants growing in every sort of recycled container including discarded commodes and old shoes! In the middle of all this was a wooden table with a bench on either side where the kids ate their lunch. And there were baskets to shoot into and punching bags and all manner of things for the kids to play with.

Meanwhile the house itself, seemed to have grown organically one room at a time on a need basis. The only rule I could see was that the house should accommodate family. So the kitchen was big and opened onto the dining room which had one big wooden table for all the family to gather round and maybe do their home and office work and chat with whoever was cooking that day. The living room had no ornaments, no paintings, nothing whatsoever that could be broken. And the bedrooms, we were told, were added as the family grew.

What a completely wonderful way to live! I could not do it. I don’t think I am acquisitive or very materialistic, but I do like buying keepsakes when I travel and I have always been very house proud. I don’t think I could be otherwise but I wish I could. Because what a brilliant way to live. Keeping things so very simple. Figuring out what matters to you the most and making it the most important thing to centre the rest of your life around.

We learn something new each day and for all my blabbing about minimalism and the environment, this is one thing I could work on. But no more preaching.

Just Joy to the World! Sing along, folks.

Happy Holidays everyone!