On Minimalism

It’s been more than two and a half years since I decluttered my home. My daughter and I had heard about the minimalism movement, and it had piqued our interest. We were familiar with The Minimalists and their new movie called, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. It had had a profound impact on our lives, confirming what we already experiencing as we let go of our stuff.

My house was never brimming with tchotchkes or stuff, but I certainly could see myself living with less. Lord knows as an obsessive-compulsive I could stand to obsess over less. Now that my daughter had reached adulthood I wanted to embark on some new adventures. My stuff was still holding me back, so we rolled up our sleeves and began the process of letting go. Nothing was left untouched. I rummaged through every room, nook, and cranny in my home. I filled bags and boxes of ‘stuff’ to be moved out. I even gave my brand new Keurig to a friend. I liked my old french press better anyway. I packed carloads of my possessions off to new homes, thrift stores, and the dump.

Most people agree, as Americans, we have too much stuff. In the spring we get fed up by it all and set about to “spring clean.” We make an effort to clear and organize our space. But are often overwhelmed, and the excess becomes a burden. We “psych” ourselves up to let go of what we have and wrestle the desire to buy more. The process can be uncomfortable, and no one likes to be uncomfortable.

In all that letting go, here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

It’s a thin line between ‘enough’ and ‘excess.’
I don’t miss anything I’ve let go. Obviously, I didn’t need it. So why did I just keep buying stuff? Most of us spend a good chunk of our lives purchasing and storing. We buy things we think we might like, use or need. But in the end, it sits on a shelf or in a drawer, and we never get around to actually incorporating it fully into our lives. We talk ourselves into accumulating what we think have room, money or use for….only to have exceeded our storage capacity or our budget. I had to learn the difference between my real-self and my fantasy-self.

I’ve wasted so much money.
Nothing makes me madder than to reflect on all the stuff I bagged up and think, “Wow, that used to be money!” Americans, in general, tend to be cavalier with their money. We buy cheap, disposable stuff that doesn’t work or last, and when we decide we are done with it, we dispose of it. Clothing has become so cheap, that as a culture, we tend to toss instead of repair. We “borrow” money that isn’t ours to buy stuff we don’t need (think credit cards). I’m disappointed I have wasted my hard earned money. What’s worse is, I can’t get back the time I spent earning it…just to waste it.

I’ve contributed so much waste.
Over the years we have heard that our land and water resources are limited, and we should be good stewards of it. As I boxed up my excess, all I could think was that I have been a terrible steward of the items I chose to take into my care. All of those cheap plastic items, electronics, clothes, and discounted housewares were things I purchased and took ownership of. As I decluttered, I tried to find new homes for things, but I know a lot of it went to a landfill. I still feel a pang of guilt. How long will it take my crap to disintegrate?

Count it all a distraction.
Mindless consumption is a distraction. Success is not defined by what we own. Success is the freedom you have to do the things that you want with the people you love. Minimalism has freed up my space, time, thoughts and finances. The excess was distracting me from living a more meaningful life. Minimizing caused me to re-evaluate what I love and value the most.

Life will still be messy.
Minimalism isn’t about maintaining a show home. Minimalism is about clearing out the clutter and excess so you can live your life in your space and still have room to breathe. It’s about having a life filled only with the things you love and the things you need. Life will still happen, and it will still be messy from time to time.

Living more minimally requires a paradigm shift.
It’s a journey, not a destination. One doesn’t clear out their house, wipe off their hands and call it good. Keeping the clutter out requires diligence. Rotating out clothes, books,  furniture and household goods takes work. Some things we have for a season, some we have forever. Living as a minimalist requires action. For everything you bring in, take something out. Change the way you think about your purchases. Think about buying quality items that will last, rather than cheap junk that requires constant replacing and disposing of.

Minimalism is about more.
Having less allows me to invest my money in experiences. It also requires me to work less to maintain my lifestyle. In turn, that allows me more time to invest in my relationships….and that is a win/win for everyone.

As a result of becoming a minimalist, I required less space. I sold my house, had a tiny house built and moved to an island in the Pacific Northwest. I am doing more of what I love. Minimalism was the catalyst to move me from a place of complacency to a position where I was actively engaged in every aspect of my life. It has inspired me to reevaluate my passions and purpose. Letting go is not always easy but as Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

If you are a minimalist or heading in that direction, what inspires you? What lessons have you learned? Let us know in the comments below.

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