My Journey to Minimalism

I slowly began combing through my belongings. Shoe boxes with love notes from old boyfriends, essays from school, souvenirs, collections of crap — all the things. This is one of the reasons why Minimalism is so hard – each time a person comes across a sentimental item from the past – they get a hit of nostalgic dopamine and they think the item still adds value. But actually, it does not. This is HARD to overcome! It’s why downsizing takes a LONG time and should be expected to be an emotional process. It takes a tremendous amount of identity work, patience, and self acceptance.

People keep asking my about my minimalist lifestyle. Thus, I shall share my story to reach my current position…

When I was growing up, and in college most people would have looked at my room, belongings, and assumed I was a hoarder. This is real. I had clothes, papers, books, everything sprawled all over my floor, an ever messy desk, terrible filing practices, and I lost everything within 5 minutes of setting it down. It was horrific – ask my Mom or roommates. I would walk on clean clothes precariously piled on the floor because there was no clear pathway between my bed and door. It was embarrassing, but I didn’t care. It was my space and I believed a “happy room was a messy room.” I grew up in a rather large home with a few extra rooms and whenever my bedroom became too cluttered for my own sanity, I would begin sleeping in another room. It was really that bad – yes, I acknowledge my privilege – being spoiled doesn’t make for a responsible, appreciative person. I wish I had pictures of the messes I would create. My mother even gave me the nickname “Little Tornado” for how I would come home from college, create a huge mess, and then leave. Every year I moved out of a dorm or apartment, I would pack up my belongings in trash bags and never go through a single thing to toss or discern what was worthy of keeping.

So my final year in college, I briefly dated a guy that introduced me to a lot of things but most importantly, minimalism and something called the Capsule Wardrobe. Brilliant! I began thinking about what I really liked that I wore and what I didn’t ever wear. What were the items I would constantly try on and then leave on the floor because I never actually wore them out, to class, to the gym, or anywhere. I began making trips to Goodwill. To be clear – before this I would fill bags with items I had designated for Goodwill but never actually made the trip so when I moved out/home for the summer – I would always simply rejoin these pieces with my other belongings.

After I graduated, my best friend and I decided to skip getting jobs and go for a hike instead. We were living out of a backpack and carrying everything we needed to survive on our backs for a few months. I fell in love with the freedom of needing nothing and belonging no where. I could literally take off, disappear, run away, stay, do whatever I wanted at a moments notice. I had almost no commitments. A favorite saying I learned at this juncture of my life and remains significant today is No place to be, all day to get there. I was truly free. I enjoyed the lack of burden of belonging(s).

When I returned to “society” and had stuff again – all the stuff I had left at my parent’s homes. I had old school work, books, trinkets, clothes, furniture –  lots of stuff and it was all a burden to someone else’s space because I wasn’t responsible for it. At the time my Dad had also begun searching for a retirement community to join. My immediate family had a desire to empty the house of everything that wasn’t his so he had no excuse not to find an alternative, more supportive, safer and healthier space to live. One man in a 5 bedroom house is entirely unreasonable for many reasons, especially one with MS dependent on a walker/scooter.

I’ll also add this – all of my grandparents had past before I was 13, and even close, elderly family friends had past away before I was 16. I had understood generally the daunting task of cleaning out homes of loved ones that had past away. I knew what was to come for my parents one day and to be honest, I knew me and my sister were not too particularly interested in dealing with the mess anyone left behind. Maybe this is selfish – but this was also part of the values my parents taught me. To have life insurance and a Will early on in life and to be prepared so as to not create a burden for anyone else. (I truly believe this is part of sustainability but that is for another blog topic, altogether).

So the point here – I knew people that died, cleaning out their houses was a burden, both of parents were downsizing before their time (rather than aging in place), and I embraced that process.

I slowly began combing through my belongings. Shoe boxes with love notes from old boyfriends, essays from school, souvenirs, collections of crap — all the things. This is one of the reasons why Minimalism is so hard – each time a person comes across a sentimental item from the past – they get a hit of nostalgic dopamine and they think the item still adds value. But actually, it does not. This is HARD to overcome! It’s why downsizing takes a LONG time and should be expected to be an emotional process. It takes a tremendous amount of identity work, patience, and self acceptance.

When my sister moved out, she had a goal to fit everything she owned in her car. I thought that was good goal. I set it for myself and when I left DC and took off to drive cross country in early 2016, I was almost there! I left a few items that I couldn’t risk loosing with my Mom (legal documents, my framed diploma, etc). But every time I went home I found another box, another shelf, cabinet, something that my parents designated me to clear out. It literally took until this March of 2017 when my Dad finally moved out to get everything I own into one place, and to a countable amount.

A few years ago I came across this article and a few others related to counting belongings. As a result I actually made a little of 300 items I wanted to own. I worked on getting rid of everything that wasn’t on my list.  Draft of said list from 2014 here: IMG_8964.JPG

This list is nothing close to what I own currently but back in 2014 – it was what I set for my goal. This leads to my next insight on downsizing – decide what does add value to your life and everything else that does not fit the life you want can be eliminated. It becomes easier to identify when you are making choices that to not align with the life and burden you want to carry. Each of the items you are not ready to purge, but are not on your list, you now are able to identify as the gap you must mentally or emotionally overcome to reach your goals. With this process, you are able to reverse engineer your life. This is a key insight to taking ownership of your life and acknowledging that your life is EXACTLY how you DESIGN it to be an nothing else.

—->>>> Minimalism is an on going process that requires an individual to constantly question themselves and their choices and values. It begins in one area and slowly spreads to many others. It may begin in the physical realm but for me, it has expanded into the digital and intellectual realms as well. I edit and refuse content, consumables, people, places, behaviors – everything.

It is important to me to ask myself before I do anything –  does this add value to my life?  

  • When I see an article of Facebook – is the content helping me move closer to my goals for the day? (or year?)
  • When I’m shopping – is this item really what I need and want? Will it fill the function I actually need it for effectively?
  • When I’m out to eat – Does this menu item fulfill my dietary goals? My budget?
  • When I’m getting dressed in the morning – does this outfit convey the identity I’m striving for?

So there are also a few tricks for how to make the answers to these questions easier to answer!

  1. Plan in advance!  Set a budget and limitations before you even encounter a opportunity to make a choice. For example – if you are going out with friends for the night – know how much you can spend and only bring that much cash. No cards. Or if you are at a restaurant and browsing a menu – limit your selection based on price first so you don’t even consider all of the items on the menu and make the selection process faster and simpler.
  2. Create limitations! An example is getting dressed – I have edited my wardrobe to only include: clothes in white, black, gray, navy blue, maroon, and dark green. No prints. Accessories and shoes may also be brown, or have prints but still only in those colors. This making choosing what to wear much faster. Similar examples of this can be seen in Steve Jobs’ Turtlenecks and Mark Zuckerberg’s T-shirts.
  3. Say No! I love the word “no.” I once read an article about how to improve dating as a millennial that explained how if someone isn’t expressing their interest in you in an honest, eager “fuck yes!” – then they are a “no.” This is a good practice. “maybe” leads people to make poor choices – they are unsure and non-committed. This indecision leads to excess, distraction, and wasted, half-assed energy being invested, well, wasted really, in projects that don’t move forward at an appropriate pace and often are never completed. If you want to improve your life – eliminate “maybe”. Tell your friends honestly – yes, I will go to that party with you or no, I want to stay in and be alone. Tell your business partner yes, I like that Idea or no, I think that is a poor direction. Be clear and sure. If you need more information to make a choice, ask the questions you need answers to, but do not delay a choice with out knowing the exact next steps. (This also applies to articles, and books that other people suggest for me to read. I very particular about the content I allow myself to consume and do my best to not let society or peers determine such things for me.)

So what are my next steps? I am in a state of constant refinement. Adding occasionally but with a 2 for 1 rule – I must eliminate 2 items for every 1 I add. I also do a “minimalist challenge” twice a year – sometimes successfully, usually not. But I still make progress and I live a life by DESIGN. This is how I know that every day I am in some way getting closer towards my personal and professional goals. Everyday, I Make Yesterday Jealous and I have had no regrets since I began pursuing an authentic life in this fashion.