The forgotten habitat

The living room before the minimalism challenge. (Photo by NCC Staff)

The living room before the minimalism challenge. (Photo by NCC Staff)

March 14, 2017 | by Christine Chilton

Staff at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to diverse habitats across Canada. From land to air to water, inhabited by the tiniest insects to the largest mammals, there aren’t many habitats we don’t deal with. Except those that we go to when we leave the office every day: our homes.

Just before Christmas, I was sitting in my office in Winnipeg with a co-worker when talk turned to gifts and the amount of material belongings we’ve accumulated over the years. I mentioned that I was going to be doing the 30-Day Minimalism Game challenge (also known as a get-this-stuff-out-of-my-house challenge) in the new year, and we decided that we would throw it out as an office activity for anyone who wanted to lighten their load in 2017.

The rules were as follows (via

  • Find a friend or family member who’s willing to get rid of their excess stuff.
  • This month, each of you must get rid of one thing on the first day. On the second, two things. Three items on the third. So forth, and so on. Anything can go! Clothes, furniture, electronics, tools, decorations, etc. and should be donated where possible, sold via garage sale or online, or trashed if the item cannot be reused.
  • Each material possession must be out of your home—and out of your life—by midnight each day.

I was worried at the beginning about how I would do as the days got higher in the month and the house started to empty, but it never happened! We’re not a family that tolerates clutter or knick-knacks and I didn’t think we had very much “stuff” to begin with. There may have been days where I struggled with motivation, but not once did I run out of things to purge.

When I think about all of the habitat discussions at NCC, not once has our science manager discussed how a snake keeps all of its past skins because, “it might fit them again one day.” Nobody has talked about how large mammals never use an object, but carry it around with them for decades because, “their mom gave it to them and they don’t want to hurt her feelings.” There are other species that collect things, but usually with a purpose, such as disguising themselves or attracting a mate. As a human, I feel confident that my husband didn’t decide to marry me because of my ability to hoard four garlic presses.

The living room after successfully completing the minimalism challenge. (Photo by NCC Staff)

The living room after successfully completing the minimalism challenge. (Photo by NCC Staff)

Now that I've completed the challenge, I've removed a total of 496 items from my home during the 31 days. Not once have I gone back looking for something that I got rid of.

The NCC regional office in Winnipeg had several staff participate. Between our households, we were able to a donate approximately 2,100 items to the Flavie-Laurent Centre, whose mission is to, “bring assistance and comfort to the impoverished and the vulnerable by distributing at no cost, clothing, furniture and household items.”

To be clear, I fully understand that the ability to remove excess belongings comes from a place of ability and privilege, and in no way do I wish to glorify poverty. This is the reason we chose to donate to an organization that would provide to those who are truly in need.

Since the purge started, I’m much more conscientious about what I bring into my home and my relationship with my belongings. I’ve never been a materialistic person, but perhaps that’s part of the problem. Much the same way NCC staff consider what a species needs to be happy and healthy, maybe it’s time to start putting a little more thought into my possessions to ensure they’re useful and that they bring me happiness, too.

For me, the challenge wasn’t about purging everything. I have no desire to live in a home that resembles a stark, empty place where victims are taken during crime shows (insert mental image of bare room with a flickering light bulb hanging from the ceiling and a mattress in the corner). It was about appreciating my own habitat as much as I appreciate nature when I head outside.

Not once have I gone out hiking and felt overwhelmed or dismayed by the excess. Now, I can feel the same at home.

Christine Chilton, Manitoba (Photo by E. Chilton)

About the Author

Christine Chilton is the community relations manager for the Manitoba Region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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