March 2023

Getting back to basics to live and breathe better

Getting back to basics to live and breathe better


Chanel Sabourin


Halina Torresan

Moving is, to put it bluntly, not quite my thing. Coincidentally, I moved around a lot when I was younger, and due to various life choices I continued to move frequently as I got older. The concept of moving from one place to another, always with an increasing amount of stuff, started to make less and less sense to me over time: mountains of boxes filled with belongings from your entire life being carted around by your friends and family, just to be crammed into new closets not so different from the ones they came from in the place you left behind.

On the other hand, I love packing light for quick trips, especially on my bicycle. When I travel, I tend to bring just the basics: a simple cosmetics bag, a few t-shirts, a jacket. Life is so simple. When I realized the joy I got from carrying nothing but the essentials on my bike trips, I began looking for ways to reproduce that same feeling at home.

Photo taken in front of Yo&Co coffee shop in Ville-Émard just before leaving on a 4-night bikepacking trip to Vermont.

The joys of travelling light

It’s hard to describe the feeling of freedom that comes from carrying your entire life on two wheels—or even leaving home for a trip with just one suitcase. Having fewer options is easier, in more ways than one. There’s no difficult decisions about which outfit to wear, no searching for a specific accessory or item—even cooking is simple because you have a limited amount of space to pack utensils and cookware.

For me, the joy that packing light brings me is a sign that I have too much stuff to choose from in my daily life at home—the kind of excess that can sometimes cause more stress than good. It was when I realized this that minimalism started to make its way into my head. Close your eyes and think back to your last hotel stay, where nothing in the room belonged to you except your suitcase. There was nothing to distract you. Think about your walks around the neighborhood, light on your feet, with a few possessions and the freedom to go wherever you want. If this sounds familiar, you've probably already experienced the state of mind that minimalism aims to put us in.

Minimalism: Creating space to live/breathe

“Minimalism” is a word that’s been on my mind for years. It’s a concept I love for the same reason I love opening a drawer that still has room for clothes: the empty space has a calming effect on me. It’s not like everything in my home is perfectly organized and labelled—that’s just not sustainable for me—but I have managed to incorporate this idea of space that I feel strongly about. (More on “how” later.)

In one of my favourite books on minimalism, goodbye, things, author Fumio Sasaki chronicles his personal path to minimalist enlightenment—from a stressed-out maximalist to a stripped-down apartment—and explains how we gain freedom and happiness by detaching ourselves from the things that we own. At one point, Fumio talks about how he created online photo albums of all his favourite things before getting rid of all his possessions; that way, he’d have a way to remember them whenever he gets nostalgic.

I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far yet, but if I close my eyes and think about the things I’d be sad to lose, there are actually only a few, and they’re all things that remind me of people I love. Try out this exercise yourself: imagine the dearest and most special things in your life. If the apocalypse comes, there really shouldn’t be more than 3-4 things you bring with you.

Make moving an opportunity to start fresh

My most recent move was in 2022, to a small condo that I chose primarily for its location and charm. Bucking the trend of our personal spaces getting bigger as we age, this new place was smaller than where I was living before. The decision to move there forced me to think about all my possessions in terms of space, and to set myself boundaries that would enable me to feel at peace in my new home. Since I consider myself to be an experienced mover, I treat each move as an opportunity to do a full reset. Want to do the same?

Here’s what I suggest:

As you begin packing up your things, examine literally every single thing you put into a box. For each object you think you can’t part with, Fumio says you should ask yourself questions like these:
  • Is it because it was expensive?
  • Is it because you feel guilty about throwing it away?
  • Are you ashamed that you were never able to make good use of it?
  • Do you feel bad for the person who gave it to you?
  • Do you feel like you’re throwing away a fond memory that you’ve attached to it?
  • Is your vanity preventing you from parting with something?
  • Or is it just easier to leave it where it is?
If you answer “yes” to any of these, you should maybe reconsider whether that item is worth packing up and bringing to your new place after all. And you don’t need to wait for your next move to try out this exercise! Give it a go any time you want to create a fresh new start in your home.
The 1-in-1-out method

Now that you’ve gone through the exercise of sorting through all of your possessions, it’s time to set some rules to make sure you don’t get overwhelmed by stuff again anytime soon. The only strategy I’ve personally found to be effective at creating and maintaining space is something the author called the 1-in-1-out method.

Here’s how it works: if you bring 1 new thing into your home, then you must clear 1 thing out. That’s it!

Example #1: You buy a new pair of shoes, so you get rid of an old pair of shoes you were only keeping around to paint in.

Example #2: You buy a new winter jacket, so you give away or sell an old jacket that doesn’t fit you anymore.

Note that this rule is only valid for items of the same type—so buying a new TV and letting go of a coffee cup won’t cut it.

Another thing I learned from Fumio Sasaki is that we ascribe too much monetary value to our things. I.e. “I paid $400 for this winter jacket 5 years ago, I can’t sell it to someone for only $40.” Actually, YES, YOU CAN. It’s much better for the planet if someone’s actually wearing that jacket rather than it sitting there in the back of your closet. I am, however, very realistic about it; sometimes my lifestyle creeps up on me and the rule is difficult to follow. Successfully minimizing the amount of things you own requires a good deal of letting go. You also need to accept that certain hobbies and passions can make this exercise especially difficult (hello to all the other cycling aficionados). To that end, I think the key is to stay aware of it and focus your minimalism priorities elsewhere.

Sometimes, it helps me let go of things if I think of them as people (or at least, alive). I like to think an unused bicycle would be much happier riding around on the road, or a winter jacket would be living a much better life if it got to actually keep someone warm. Basically, in my eyes, things are made to be used—not to be stored away hoping that someday you’ll miraculously let them thrive.

Ready to reset?

Once you’ve hit reset and are starting fresh, it’s much easier to apply the 1-in-1-out method every time you bring something new home. And soon, you experience this liberating feeling. Want proof? Here’s a list of all the little things that make me happy in my day-to-day life (and I'm sure you can relate):

Opening a closet and seeing free, unused hangers; taking off my shoes and having a designated spot for them in the shoe cupboard; opening the cupboard under my sink and seeing only one spray bottle (Unscented All Purpose Cleaner, of course); emptying the dishwasher and putting everything back in its place; coming back from the grocery store and having space in the fridge for condiments; opening my medicine cabinet and only seeing things I actually use… etc. See where this is going?

Spring presents the perfect opportunity for a reset. (Hello spring cleaning!) Even if you just have a couple of hours, that’s more than enough time to reset one closet or a cupboard. Start with the things you own multiples of or in some kind of variation. You don’t have to wait for your next move to start feeling refreshed! The goal is really to find a method that works for you and helps you avoid feeling annoyed every time you unpack groceries or put away the laundry. Ultimately, the end goal should always be your future happiness!

Keep us posted on your journey!