Minimalism: I threw out more than 20,000 items


Brooke McAlary

Brooke McAlary cleared out her home and work of things she didn't need and hasn't looked back.

Brooke McAlary cleared out her home and work of things she didn't need and hasn't looked back.

At one point, about 4 years ago, I was as close to having it all as I have ever been. I was (and am) married to a great man, we had a beautiful daughter and another baby on the way, I ran my own business, we were renovating our home, we had good family relationships, a recent holiday, wardrobes full of clothes... I was utterly despondent.

I could look around at all I had and feel nothing other than overwhelming exhaustion, stress, tension and the huge weight of trying to juggle this 'all'. Of trying to do my 'all' justice.

I was buckling under the pressure of trying to maintain work/life balance (here's a tip - it doesn't exist), running a home and being a full-time mum, while also keep up the appearance of having it together. Because God knows, the worst thing you can do when trying to juggle it all is to look as though you're Not Coping. So I worked hard to keep the act running.

Brooke McAlary and her family in front of their uncluttered home.

Brooke McAlary and her family in front of their uncluttered home.

We kept getting busier. We continued to add items to our list of things to buy, things to do and goals to kick. We kept buying stuff we couldn't afford. We continued digging a deeper hole, all in the name of keeping up with the bloody Joneses. 


And on top of that was the stuff we already owned. It was suffocating. Years of accumulation. Wardrobes overflowing with clothes I never wore. Years of hard fought credit card debt. A double garage so crammed with crap that no car had ever been in it. Boxes of which I knew not the contents. None of it was worth it.

When our second child was born, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression. It was a horrible time in mine and my family's lives, and I still feel a sharp pang of guilt when I recall what I put them through at the time. But you know what that dark, numb time taught me? None of the stuff - the clothes, the boxes, the throw cushions, the screeching plastic toys, the double garage full of crap - none of it matters.

One night, during the worst of my depression, I stumbled across a blog called Zen Habits. It's a blog dedicated to simple, minimal living and I spent hours reading the archives. As I read more about minimalism and simplifying I realised there were people out there intentionally living with less. People choosing not to keep up with the Joneses. People opting to live with less stuff, less expectation, less debt, less guilt, less busy-ness. And what's more, these people were saying that life got better, richer, happier when they embraced living with less.

That night I realised I wanted to be one of them.

I decluttered my business first. Made the decision one horrible, overwhelmed night to close the doors and let go. Then we tackled the house. We cleared out more than 20,000 items from our home in our first year of simplifying. Many, many thousands more followed in the next two years.

Now, almost four years after closing my business and starting the process of simplifying, life is mostly really good. Not in a having it all kind of way, but in a sustainable, content kind of way. I'm not saying that decluttering cured my depression. It didn't. It's much more complicated than that.

But now we have enough. We have enough clothes, enough toys, enough space, enough light, enough throw cushions (which is to say, none at all).

We don't live out of a backpack. Our kids have toys. We have books and a computer and multiple pairs of shoes. But what we've discovered is that life - the experiences, people, relationships that happen in spite of what you own - this is the important stuff.

And those Joneses? They don't know what they're missing.

Brooke McAlary will appear on tonight's episode of The Feed on SBS2 at 7.30