Luckily, we're all realists here. Each step that someone takes toward lowering their impact on the planet is one to be commended, even if all it involves is cutting a little spending here and there or taking a pile of unworn clothes to the local charity shop.
You lived with one and two other people at times last year. How hard has it been to drag the non-believers with you on your clutter-free quest?
Tara Button: It is always a compromise – it has to be. People are different, and there’s no point imposing your will on other people. For the most part I’ve been really lucky to be living with a natural minimalist – my fiancé really couldn’t really give a crap about actual stuff. The only thing he’s a mass consumer of is media; he lives for stories, comedy, culture. If it was just up to me, maybe I'd have thrown out the widescreen TV... but then he might have thrown me out. The only slight struggle we still have is with his little sort of detritus clutter – you know, like dead pens, stationery, other little nick-knacks. But that's just about tidying really.
When it's not just a couple, when there’s a third or fourth person, it’s naturally more difficult. It can be pretty tough just to work out whose stuff is whose, and I'm not keen on moving stuff around I don't own. I’d never want to feel like I’m imposing something upon an unwilling participant. A great time to approach decluttering is actually when a housemate leaves or when you move house yourself. It’s a great opportunity to take stock.
How has running a business made it more difficult to keep your pledge?
TB: Well, the nature of the business means that, luckily, it's constantly on my mind. I do find myself having less and less time and that can definitely lead to more impulse-driven shopping. I think it's a lot like grocery shopping when you're hungry – you go in for a tin of soup and come out with a Twix multi-pack and a great big bag of Doritos. When there is something that I think I do need to add into my life, for the business or at home, I really try and carve out some time to make a focused decision about it. Get it right now and I'm saving myself time further down the road.
So you've managed to avoid impulse shopping all year?
TB: [Looks to the ceiling, laughs furtively]. Well, the other day I did buy this kneeling chair. It basically shares the weight of sitting between my knees and bum. I was in pain; the chair in my writing room is crazy uncomfortable, and I was just thinking of my poor back. I might not have looked into it as much as I should have, but I wanted to make the pain go away. I mean, it’s arriving in a few days so I can update you, but usually I’d have put more time into it.
I think we can let you off. How about at Christmas – did you manage to avoid giving throwaway stuff?
TB: Hmm. Well, that's a downside of running a business, writing a book and planning a wedding at the same time. My time is so squeezed that even with the best will in the world things do get left to the last minute. I have to really fight that. I now set up birthday alerts to make sure I have enough time to really think about what I want to give them. I would say I did well on the whole, but as it got closer to Christmas I was left with whatever delivered soonest, what shops were local. So maybe there were a couple of things that were sub-par.
You’ve also got to be wary of pushing your agenda on other people. When I was looking for a present for my little niece, I found something I knew she’d absolutely love. I know her really well and she’s always been obsessed with dressing her toy dolls, so when I found this sweet fashion designer set I had to get it. It was filled with fairly disposable little bits of plastic, most likely won't be remembered in five years and definitely wouldn't be classed as BuyMeOnce. But I was right to go for it – it turned out to be her favourite present. And no, I didn't ask her myself! If she gets lots of joy and use out of it then it’s worth it.
I should really make clear that was an exception though! I got my nephew a One World Futbol and a goal; he’s just three, but it should last him for years and years.
That's cute. What about the other way around – did you manage to prevent friends and family from piling on things you don't need?
TB: Luckily, my family are quite aware of my opinions… now. I think it does give them a certain bit of stress – I’m definitely harder to buy for. Having said that, this year everyone did well – stuff off the BuyMeOnce site is a bit of a safe bet for me! In the future I might make a point of saying that I’d be super happy to be taken out for dinner, receiving experiences over objects. Actually, something I’m especially excited about is the gift from my parents. They’ve given me money to put towards building the perfect BuyMeOnce bike.
Has there been anything that you were ready to discard that's managed to make it's way back into your life?
TB: No, I don't think so. [Pauses and gazes into the distance]. Well, actually – there was a denim jacket that I bought... well, a long time ago. I stopped wearing it because I felt it was too casual; something about it didn’t feel like me any more. But I just put it on one day a few months back– I was cold and it was close – and my fiancé really liked it. It was surprising, and I looked at it with fresh eyes. It’s a handy object that fills the gap when its too warm to have a proper jacket and too cold for a tee. It took someone else's opinion to make me realise that.
Is there an argument to just hold back a little when you're doing a big Marie Kondo-style clear out?
TB: No – still be ruthless. I kept that jacket through a cull or two so there was always something in it. I got rid of over half of my clothing last year, and I don’t miss any of it. I don’t know if I can even picture those pieces any more.
Does it help to have someone there on your side when you're having that one big declutter?
TB: I made 99.9% of the decisions myself, but if I was in a quandary it was nice to have my fiancé to call on. The other way around – maybe I was more involved when we culled his wardrobe. He knew he wanted to cull but needed a little push. We decided he'd have five vetoes on clothes he really ought to be chucking but had an attachment too. He was happy with that and looks a lot better for it.
If we all weren’t being judged every day, I think we might all end up dressing in the same casual outfit all the time. When you love someone, you might have to accept that they come with a beaten-up Goonies t-shirt. If I were to give advice on how to cull, I’d say bring someone over who’s supportive without being overbearing – you need to be in charge, but having someone emotionally comforting to have a break with, have a drink with – that's great.
Do you feel like it's all paid off? Has your mind felt that bit clearer without so much stuff around?
TB: Definitely. It's such a joy to open a drawer and see what's in it. It saves you time and helps you to become organised. If you have 85 bits of Tupperware, matching the lids is nigh impossible. If it's five then you stand a chance. Having space on the surfaces and finding a home for everything gives you more of a rhythm in your domestic life, and you’re stopped from going into a spiral of messiness.
Checking the Checklist
i do not need a bread machine
i do not need a waffle maker
i do not need more than 4 pots
i do not need more than 1 frying pan
i do not need matching mugs
i do not need a smoothie maker
I actually discovered more things I didn't need in the kitchen. My fiancé and I had a glorious cutlery clean out, and now every time I open my cutlery drawer I feel a little rush of happiness. We got rid of all the wobbly stuff and the pieces with dodgy rust spots – all of the stuff that just got left in the drawer. We’d also managed to accumulate a distressing amount of disposable cutlery from the takeaway. I’ve since resolved to specifically ask for no cutlery or chopsticks to be put in the bag.
I cut down hugely on the amount of baking items I had, which cleared out half a cupboard. I still have everything I need to make a decent cake; I just don’t have everything I would need to launch my own bakery.
Sometimes when you get into a hobby such as cake baking, you can go overboard with the gadgets and gizmos that go with it. Similar to buying an expensive set of golf clubs before the first lesson. To get around this, if at all possible, borrow the equipment you need for the first few months of your hobby. Only then make the expensive commitment.
We’ve recently had a coffee maker crisis. Our Tassimo takes these really non eco-friendly plastic pods that can’t even be recycled. I’ve decided to hold the coffee maker ransom until the company comes up with a better solution.
Wasn’t there a smoothie maker suspiciously sitting in your house most of last year?
Well after saying I wouldn’t buy a smoothie maker, my flatmate was given a NutriBullet and we all got hooked on morning smoothies. When we moved out, my fiancé bought us our own. We know that we will use it because we have used it for several months now, so it’ll be a good investment going forward.s
When looking back on this list, I laughed because just last week I was thinking it would be nice to have matching mugs. Sometimes it can be tempting to buy things for a life you don’t really have. I might have friends over to dinner, but rarely for coffee. They're also the kind of friends who will find more joy in my “Don’t Let the Muggles Get You Down Mug” than a matching set of elegant china.
i do not need a watch
i do not need any more than 8 pairs of shoes (trainers, summer flats, winter flats, flip flops, heeled, winter boots, hiking boots, wellies, slippers)
i do not need more than a capsule wardrobe
CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES
I’ve gained a ring (an engagement ring) and bracelet since writing this piece. My friends and family know better than to buy me bits of jewellery now, but when my sister-in-law saw a bracelet with the symbol of my new start-up on it, she rightly thought I’d love it.
These extra pieces add a little bit more stress (when I thought I'd misplaced the ring) and extra thought to my day. However, they represent my love and purpose, and they complete the button necklace I wear everyday which symbolises my identity. To have them on my person reminds me of what’s important.
I’ve been wearing my delicious winter boots every day since it started to get cold, and I’m so grateful for them. They go well with everything, have a heel high enough to give my short frame a boost, but I can walk for miles in them without getting sore.
I used to have a real shoe fetish, so it might surprise some people to know that that I’m not interested in having one in every style and colour; I just don't feel that impulse anymore.
i do not need a games console
i do not need a desktop computer
i do not need a landline
i do not need any dvds
i do not need a sat nav
My technology use hasn’t changed at all in the last year, although my iPhone screen broke twice. Once was my fault, the next time it just died. My fiancé and I started debating about whether our future kids would be allowed a games console. I never had one growing up, but he did and he sees it as a bonding experience as much as an anti-social, brain-rotting escape. I’ll let you know what we decided in eight or nine years' time.
i do not need any more cushions
i do not need to change my interior "look" constantly
i do not need friends' freebies that don't fit in my home
i do not need decorative tat that has no meaning to me
i do not need any 'seasonal' decor e.g. halloween cushions
i do not need more musical instruments than my guitar & piano
i do not need any more gym equipment
i do not need any magazines (unless work related)
i do not need any massage, exfoliation or pampering gadgets
i do not need any makeup other than my staple 5 (mascara, eyeshadow, concealer, lipstick, perfume)
i do not need any hair products other than shampoo, conditioner and serum
i don't need any nail care other than clippers, file, remover, and my favourite colour
FURNITURE, LEISURE AND BEAUTY
I haven’t broken any of my vows on my furniture, beauty or leisure list other than borrowing a medicine ball from my sister-in-law. I have gone on to use it every week since so it’s a keeper.
I’ve tried to go one step further and become more zero waste with my beauty regime. My deodorant, shower gel, face wash and conditioner are all unpackaged in solid form, and I now use bamboo flannel rounds to remove my makeup which work wonderfully. One side exfoliates while the other is silky soft.
So overall, not bad I reckon. Perhaps one or two slip ups at a push, and plenty of new things to add to the minimalist cart going forward. Is there anything else you think Tara or BuyMeOnce ought to be cutting out on? Let us know in the comments – we'd love to hear how you approach the problem of stuff.