The Make Do Interview with Stephanie Johns

googlyeyesStephanie Johns is the arts and music editor at the Coast, co-organizer of the Rebel Girl Halifax Rock Camp, and drummer in Moon.

Steph is something of a minimalist icon to me. I marvel at her clear counter tops and commitment to getting rid of stuff. She’s been dealing with my stuff for years. One time, we skipped a high school dance to stay home and clean my room. It was the better choice.

She is the best and most supportive person. You should send her pictures of stuff you’re throwing out. She’d love it.

I would consider you to be fairly minimalist. How has your stance on minimalism evolved to where it is now?

During university and for many years after I was a different type of minimalist, I was a freelancer and had no real steady source of income so shopping wasn’t an option. This was my choice because it was my choice not to work full time. I tried to avoid a full time job as long as I could (real mature, Steph) and in order to do that I had to not shop. After I started working full time in Korea I really let my consumerism bloom, things were cheap and cool there and I bought a lot. Coming back home and working full time I had more money to burn and I spent more for sure. After buying a home and moving, I got rid of about 30% of my belongings and it’s changed a lot about how I live, making things easier, mainly. Also the house we bought was really clean looking and I wanted to try and keep it looking as nice as it did when we first bought it. And my crappy possessions weren’t helping.

Is there anything you will not throw away?

I have a memory box (definitely bigger than it should be—it’s a memory suitcase) and I love going through it. I keep old notes from high school (some that you wrote!), ticket stubs, a lot of pictures and clippings and stuff. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it because I truly love looking through it. We were all such idiots.

Is there anything you have gotten rid of that you wish you still had?

My old Thrush Hermit and Super Friendz shirts!!! I think I gave them to Mandy. I miss them, but I also never wear t-shirts so maybe I would have given them away eventually. Or I would have had a mind to make a t-shirt quilt and I don’t know if I really like those.

You’ve been making do and trying not to buy stuff for a while now. What have you learned? Has there ever been something you thought you needed and couldn’t live without?

Yeah, I have done some impulse clothing purchases for sure. And normally I regret them. It’s all about clothes for me. I have overcome my desire for housewares and kitchen stuff entirely. But clothes—I just can’t shake it. What helps is going through my closet and seeing what I actually have. Also if I’m shopping I’ll hold something in my hand and walk around for a really long time, and then I normally end up putting it back. I’ve also realized it takes me forever and a day to actually use a unit of makeup. I will hang on to lipsticks for years. I keep trying to use up my toiletries but it seems they are bottomless. And they keep looking grosser and grosser as the months tick on.

Have you discovered any creative uses for household objects or products?

I have! I received a wine chiller thingie from my partner’s mom (I know, what is that even?) and I use it to chill wine if I want to look really fancy, but I also use it as a vase. She also gave us a lot of plastic plates for outdoor eating and I ended up using them as bottoms to all my plant pots. Mostly silly things like that. I wanted to spruce up the bathroom so I put my makeup brushes, toothbrushes and q-tips in tiny glass mason jars that I had lying around. It made it look matchy. I use coconut oil and Dr. Bronner’s soap for most things.

If money were no object, would your lifestyle be any different?

I think I would probably have less stuff, or the same amount, but better quality. I have this pilly, threadbare jersey blazer thing but I don’t want to toss it because I really don’t want to buy another one. I also hang onto clothing that doesn’t really fit me anymore, because if I changed sizes I wouldn’t want to buy new things. That’s dumb, I know.

What advice do you have for people who want to have less stuff?

If it makes sense for your lifestyle, get rid of it by any means necessary. I have saved so much time and money by downsizing. There’s less to clean and pick up, I’m calmer without the clutter, I can clearly see everything I have so I never accidentally buy doubles of stuff in my pantry, for instance. I used to think that I would sell all the stuff I never used and therefore recoup some money I spent on stuff that I obviously didn’t need. That would be ideal, but also, the time that you spend selling things is worth money too. Sometimes it’s just better to toss it and start fresh, if you have that option.

Join In

Forty-five percent of me thought that writing about this was a dumb idea, that is was self-indulgent and unoriginal, and that no one would want to read it. I decided I needed the accountability piece to give myself a fighting chance of succeeding, so I went for it. The comments and encouragement I’ve received from folks over the last couple of days have made me roughly 70% sure that this is not completely stupid.

First, I’d like to address some questions I’ve been asked.

Q: Can other people buy you things?

A: Are you offering? Here’s a list.

I’m not asking anyone to buy me anything. Notably exempt is my husband, because the car will need gas and we will need pellets for the stove and those things are allowed and he took a vow. Love, honour, and indulge my flights of fancy.

Q. Does travel count?

A: No. Crap that I buy when I travel counts.

Plane tickets and hotels are services and thus, are exempt. If I find myself away from home without an item I think I need (which I doubt), I have to make do.

Q: I make wine! Wanna trade?

A: Yes.

I am thinking about ways to facilitate trading/swapping items and services through this site. Stay tuned.

Q: This is great. Can I join in?

A: Absolutely!

I’m sure some of you have lots of stuff. If you decide to take on a similar challenge, then work out what your rules are and clue me in.