A diet of stuff


I move a lot. When I first moved to Brighton, into a small room in a house with 5 students, I took a suitcase of clothes, a bag with my laptop and a couple of books, and 2 plastic boxes of essentials: a plate, a mug, a knife and fork, that sort of thing. It felt liberating to have so little, and there were very few times when I missed not having something.

After 4 months there, the student year had ended and I had to move out, back "home". I loved Brighton but I was also not earning a lot, rent there is expensive, so I moved into another busy student house with an even smaller room. It wasn't fun being the only non-student there, and the first time I met the other tenants was when we were unpacking our stuff. As soon as I could afford to, I moved to a small shared flat, and after another few months, I was finally able to afford to rent my own flat.

I lived there happily for a couple of years, then moved to my current place, a flat with my boyfriend, at the end of last year. In a few months we'll be moving to London.

In the past 5 years, I've had to pack and unpack a total of 6 times, and it'll be 7 by the end of this year, 8 by the end of next year if our ambitious plan to buy a property pulls through. I've moved house on the hottest day of the year, carrying everything I owned to the new place by hand, and on the coldest day of the year, carrying boxes up an icy hill to a car parked 2 blocks away because the snow made the roads impassable.

I'm always reluctant to buy stuff – every time I'm about to, I imagine packing it into a box. Then carrying that box. Despite that, I ended up with a lot more things that when I first moved – I guess when I first lived on my own, the temptation was to fill up the bare shelves to make the place look less like a hotel.

I also had a lot of things I wasn't using but had to lug round with me every time I moved – a DSLR that I hadn't touched in a couple of years (The camera on my phone is just as good, and lighter), my old Dell computer, 2 old laptops, a coffee table that didn't really have a place in the new flat, a TV from when I lived on my own, a guitar I never played, and a Yahoo hack day beanbag that was incredibly useful for a few years when I got it, but now filled up space in a cupboard.

I had a week off between projects and with yet another move coming up, I decided it was time for a late spring clean. Throughout, this mantra that Cennydd taught me kept popping into my head.

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

William Morris

The TV and camera I took to a Cash Generator down the road (I know I could have got more for them selling them on Ebay or Gumtree, but I'm very funny about giving out my number, or having strangers knowing my address). That was easy enough, I got a quote online and took them in. They took an hour to check they worked while I did a few more chores, then gave me cash. The only difficulty was carrying a 32" TV through town.

Clothes and shoes were easy to recycle – there's a collection point just a couple of blocks away. Bulky items less so. I don't have a car and the stuff I had wasn't good quality enough to donate to Emmaus, so I called the council. They collected an old coffee table, shelving unit and an old vacuum cleaner for £12.

Books are surprisingly difficult to recycle. I traded in as many as I could through Amazon's service, but there were a lot they didn't have on their inventory, so I took these to a charity shop along with some kitchen stuff.

The hardest thing to decide to get rid of has been my .net magazines. They're like a timeline from since I started in the industry. I bought my first copy in a WHSmith in October 2007. That was issue #168. 6 years is a lot of copies, and I've been lugging them round everywhere I move. But I can't bring myself to get rid of them, so I haven't decided what I'm going to do with those.

I think I've culled over half of my stuff. Weirdly, I feel physically lighter, less sluggish, like the things were pulling me down. The clearing is addictive, especially when I realise how much more space I have (I didn't have a lot to start with, so even just an extra foot is pretty amazing), and also how much quicker it is to find things. Going forward, I want my approach to my things to be the same as my approach to design, and how I write code: minimal, performant.