Moving house for my family of six, two dogs and a cat, with just my ute and a friend helping out for one day might sound like a lot. It was. In November 2019 we received the news, our rental home was being sold. With My wife, just having given birth to our fourth child 28 days earlier and our 3 year old in a ½ body cast for a broken femur this was not the news we were hoping for from our land lord. I won’t lie, “Here’s a rent reduction” would have been nicer. While working full-time in a shift work job, studying, and fumbling my way through parenting I proceeded to pack all of our possessions room by room. I was sure to leave out the essentials so that we could still function while looking for a new home, kitchen always goes last guys.
When the time came to pack the room my 5 and 6 year old daughters share, I entered with four ready-made boxes determined to pack all of their toys, fifteen minutes later I had filled those boxes and I wasn’t even halfway there. Soft toys, plastic toys, timber toys, toys for the toys to play with, toy wardrobes full of toy clothes. I quickly realised that my daughters’ barbies had more things than I did, a 31-year-old man who spent his whole life attaching my worth to my ability to accumulate, and Barbie had out done me. This was a problem. What should I do here? Do I go through my children’s things and donate everything that I believe they get no value from? I couldn’t. Every time I felt the need to throw things out I was struck with a wave of guilt that I was depriving them of what society was telling me that children in 2019 need. That was my moment, my reckoning. I decided there and then to pack up everything we had in the house without another thought to its function or whether or not it gave me joy (my soon to be discovered mantra for possessions, thank you Marie Kondo). I decided that in the new home I would put all of the boxes from the old house in one room and consciously un-pack them one by one deciding very carefully which items would stay and what would go. After no less that 30 trips with the ute fully loaded with stuff, a stuffed to the brim 20t Pantech truck, 3 movers (who’s boss ended up offering me a job but that’s a story for another day) a wife, 4 children, 2 dogs and a cat, the new house was full. It was time to get to work. I emptied the first box and 90% of its contents went straight into the bin. Papers from 2016, cards from people that I no longer see, all things that I had assigned some fictional value to. That empty box became our first donation box. I then proceeded to open each box with a heavy-duty black garbage bag and a donation box nearby, this worked for about an hour. My wife was the undoing of our plan.
In our lives, I am the practical one who takes a rain coat when it’s raining. My wife prefers to pretend it’s not raining. But when it comes to parenting she is a practical genius, so much so that her consumerism has led to her obsession with items that make our parenting easier, what a paradox, buying more stuff to make your life easier.
At the end of the first night in our new home I had purposely unpacked several boxes containing my stuff (always a good place to start) sorting through what to keep, what to donate and what to tip. C on the other hand had emptied the entire kitchen and stuffed it into cupboards and covered all the flat surfaces with the things we ‘needed’, a family of six has to eat.
This process went on for the first month, I would unpack and organise our possessions into the two separate containers and C would find a cupboard or new box to stuff items back into that weren’t ready to be sorted yet.
By end of the first month in our new place the only items in the girls’ room that had been unboxed were their clothes. The rest of their belongings remained in their cardboard prisons. Before we had moved I asked our two eldest girls and our son to pick 5 toys each and put them in a blue tub, which was going to be the “you can play with these while we move” box and ended up being the “they are the only toys you have because the rest of your shit is locked away” tub. The day eventually came to start unpacking the rest of the girls’ room. We decided that I would go through their dress up box, which is approximately 1.5m long by 0.5 metres wide and so full the lid would not close. After 20 minutes, all of the “don’t fit”, “don’t like” and “don’t care” items were gone. That would be the simplest thing we sorted through that day. The rest of the day was constant arguing between me and my wife on the best way to organise the girl’s things, that’s right organise the organising. Do we make piles? Do we just start pulling things out of cupboards? The options were endless and I couldn’t cope. (Yeahp control freak…I’m working on it) It ended with me being a little over the top and taking over the situation and it didn’t end well. I separated all of the girl’s things into their respective piles, dolls, doll’s clothes, doll’s accessories, and misc. Low and behold we ended up with the same number of toys jammed in a cupboard. Our start to minimising the children’s things had failed, and why? I was trying to force it! Instead of leading by example I was trying to just get the number of items we owned down, big mistake!
This is where we left it for weeks until C and I started the 30-day minimalism challenge from thminimalists.com. Each day we would collect our items and donate or trash them and slowly but surely we made some more progress. On day SIX my wife was putting together donations for victims of the bush fires ravaging Australia at the moment, she spoke to our five year old daughter about whether she would like to donate a toy to the victims of the bush fires, A jumped at this and donated FIVE dolls. WIN!
Jump ahead to day 10 while moving some broken chairs into the backyard to take to the tip, our eldest daughter asked me what I was doing. I explained to her that we were slowly minimising our possessions. (This might sound like an odd way to talk to a child but she got it)
“I want to spend less time with my stuff and more time with you babe.”
“Oh dad, I haven’t gone through my stuff for the kids who lost their stuff in the bush fires yet, should I do that now?”
And without any further prompting my eldest daughter was on her way to becoming a minimalist.
Before long and to our surprise our girls had upended their doll boxes and had already donated half of their things before we could blink, some of which were sentimental to me and my wife, but the kids were fine. After doing their best Santa impersonation and checking everything twice the toys in the red bucket were going to be donated.
C and I could not believe the progress the children had made over the last 10 days. We had not really discussed including the children or decided the children had to be minimalists, in fact one of the driving forces for us wanting to minimise our lives was so that the children could have more, more of us. It was never on the agenda to get rid of their stuff.
Our family is far from a minimalist paragon but we are on the way. With everyone now on board it feels easier to make that hard call on an item then it was before. If it doesn’t ultimately lead to a life of purpose, then it doesn’t stay in our home.