Minimalism:Where I Began

After I began this blog, I had dozens of thoughts and topic ideas racing through my mind. There are SO many things I wish to write about, to document, and to learn. I came up with a list (so far) that was seven pages long! I truly wasn’t sure where to start so I looked over the list and decided to start with the topic I felt the most comfortable with – minimalism. I hope to write this information from the standpoint of a reader that perhaps may have just searched the word on the internet for the first time, with no knowledge base or experience yet with the lifestyle simple living brings. Allow me to begin by telling you how I found the concept and where I began.

Of my three siblings, I have always been the sentimental child. I don’t care for any adjustments to our family traditions during the holidays to which I’ve grown accustomed, I saved everything that could be construed even dimly as meaningful, and couldn’t bear to throw away anything someone I knew had owned or given to me. I’m not sure why my two sisters and brother aren’t this way in the same way that I am. I can’t help but wonder if I experienced loss in such a way that caused me to feel like I needed to hang on to every item as though it were the memory itself, for fear of losing both the item and the associated memory. This occurred to me when watching hoarders; women who lost parents early in life or found their father passed away were now, as adults, saving each and every animal they came across, even deceased ones by the side of the road. They named them, wrapped them in plastic or tin foil, and stored them in the freezer so that they might cryogenically cherish a life with too soon and too sad an ending.

Whether I experienced loss, simply was never pushed to purge my toys, or just was a remarkably sentimental sort of person, I found myself saving nearly every. single. thing. I amassed books, and was especially proud of this particular growing collection. These books were proudly displayed, though I began to run out of anywhere to put them. Some of these books remained unread and now, in retrospect, I’m able to admit that the truth of this matter was that I felt the collection spoke something about me to others. I assumed it made me appear well-read, deep, smart… choose your descriptive. Next to sentimental items, my literature collection was the most difficult change I had to make.

I found myself buried in old pet collars, boxes full of journals and notes, more clothing than 5 people could wear regularly, knick knacks, boxes of costume jewelry, small childhood items, duplicates and triplicates…and that was all before moving out of  my parents house. I won’t even share some of the items I found once I started going through things – I’m ashamed to say out loud how bad it truly was (you must take my word for it). After college I moved back home, and then at the age of 21 became married to my first husband. Because my mother’s home was always filled with warm decor and inherited treasures, I truly felt that decor and treasures made for a happy marriage and home. At this point in life I had already discovered the magic of thrift stores, and took my hoard even further by picking up kitchenware, as much primitive decor as I could find, more books on marriage and cooking, recipe guides, and (this was some of the worst) holiday decor.

Sure, the apartment was always clean (hygienically, speaking) but the clutter had more than begun to make itself apparent. Below are a few photos, which show an extreme mess as I was beginning a redecoration that day (see after photos). In the ‘after’ photos, everything looks tidy and neat, though I only bought more items and found more clever ways to store the old. I now find it fascinating what lengths I would go to in order to keep absolutely everything. Note in the photo with the white entertainment center that you can see my white gloves and ceremonial candle from our wedding. Even our vows were up there on 3×5 cards, getting dusty and stained, though I couldn’t bear to part with these items. It seems to me now, that if we truly cherished these items, they wouldn’t be “one among many.”

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Sure, the afters look more attractive than the mess, but without throwing any of this away, donating, or gifting… it was all truly just bathing swine. As this marriage unraveled, I became desperate to make an unhappy home stable by coating it with all of the trappings I deemed warm and inviting, hoping this would bring some salvation to a sinking ship. Truth be told, at some points shopping itself and seeking those treasured finds at thrift stores became a distraction that I was starving to find – an escape from realities I was not yet able to face.

After only about six months, the relationship turned more violent than I was willing or able to work with. I had begun to lose a part of myself, grappling with values (and family input) that whispered derision in my ears and openly acknowledged my failure. Those closest to me neither truly knew nor understood the situation I was living with at this point, and divorce was considered immoral. My feelings of rejection from the husband I expected to be with forever, mingled with the pointed failure to make this relationship work (despite having a living room that could have been mistaken for a Christmas store during the holidays), reminded me I had nothing left to focus on. I had no one to bake for, bring home gifts for, do laundry for…

When I then decided to leave the apartment we shared and separate, I spent my days (you guessed it) shopping. Quite alot of life happened between the separation and my realization of minimalism, so to make a longer story short, I began a career which entailed alot of moving about. For awhile, I was content to deal with the struggle packing, driving, and unpacking all of these things brought (it’s not like I can get rid of my THINGS, right??).  Because I was now spending time alone, various truths about my life began to slowly reveal new things to me.

All my life I’ve been told that I’m too ‘extreme’ of a person, that moderation in all things is key, and that it isn’t healthy to be so all or nothing. I’ll concede that there certainly efforts and times in life where moderation should be practiced. I made an effort to change this “all or nothing” side of me as I grew older, but the truth is that it’s part of who I am. I find passion in delving into something that brings me joy and interest as thoroughly as the parameters allow. It can certainly be a negative trait when directed at the wrong windmills, however I have found that – when directed at a healthy passion – this quality allows one to attain new knowledge of the subject like a sponge and to practice new ideas with an open, eager mind.

That being said, it is no wonder to me that when I began to feel I was lacking any spirit or goals, I went in search of the exact opposite. I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the boxes gathering dust. I felt swallowed by the laundry I could no longer fit in a wall-length closet, let alone find that sweater I was hoping to wear. I felt stuck by the sad household reminders of a failed marriage lurking just in the storage room. I began to lose sight of the reasons I had for keeping all of these things that not only didn’t bring me joy, but also no longer served any purpose in my new life.

As with most things, I’d have to suppose it started with an article I came across at work on Facebook. I’m not sure how the dominoes began to quietly fall, but I remember that I was fascinated by this idea of living simply. I read that it allowed you to begin to enjoy experiences, rather than things – if you didn’t own so many things you had to spend time cleaning and organizing, you’d have time doing more of what you love. While I didn’t yet know or remember what those things were, the article suggested things like reading, horseback riding, learning a new skill… Well, I’d love to do more of that! The thought came easily to me, and I felt a flicker begin to ignite within my spirit that I had not felt…in a long while? …ever?

At the same time I had been reading Eat, Pray, Love by the marvelous Elizabeth Gilbert. It had been a long time since I picked up a book, but something renewed the vigor in me to do so. This book brought me a peace I had not ever experienced, and fueled thoughts in my hurting soul that maybe, just maybe, I was meant for more in this world than what I had allowed myself to be thus far. In the novel, she also rid herself of all but her most treasured possessions, and began to truly LIVE life, experiencing all the things she’d always wished to through travel, spirituality, and friendships. It was quite a symphony of the right things at the right time. I began to delve deeper into this idea I came across from people who began to fascinate me, called minimalists.

At that time I worked a job that had occasional down time in the office, and spent as much time as I was able devouring articles and blogs. At this point, I did not realize how far this would go for me, and I had no idea that it could touch so many areas of life other than your closet and storage. I found myself drawn to the more extreme minimalists, fascinated by their photos and the ways they found to do without things the average American consumer couldn’t imagine not having. Some had just a few favorite books, some had none at all. Some had a lavish California king sized bed with a simple white comforter and no throw pillows, while some slept on a yoga mat in a van or yurt. I couldn’t get enough, and so my journey began.

For whatever reason, this movement resonated with me personally. Perhaps it was because I was so opposite this lifestyle where my possessions were concerned that it caused me to realize, for the first time, how unhappy the clutter made me. Perhaps it was because it was a new journey my spirit desperately needed in order to remove myself from the belongings and reminders of a previously lived life. For what ever reason, I began to realize that – it was nearly four years ago now when I began my journey – this would be life changing for me. A life change I desperately needed.

I began with my clothing. It seemed the easiest as it was something touched daily and it brought the most stress. I never saw my floor, most rarely fit, many I purchased because it was white tag day at a thrift store, some I didn’t even like but they were hand me downs, some were gifts (and you can’t get rid of gifts!), and others I had quadruplicates of. I do believe when I first began that I did a count of all of my hooded sweatshirts, and found more than fifteen of just those. I began with fervor and before I knew it, had a wardrobe of just my favorite things. I kept one pair of jeans, my favorite yoga pants, a few favorite t shirts, a skirt, a dress… I’ll share more on each subject or room in other future posts. I look forward to detailing hints and ideas for minimalist wardrobes. Because I found the clothing purge enjoyable and easier than I expected (as well as more diverting but cheaper than shopping…), it created a fun frenzy of decluttering, returning items to their owners, and donating. Behold, my first true hobby.

No sooner than the moment I moved on from my clothing hoard did I look around and realize… this wasn’t going to be easy.

This is just SOME of the photos I came across from when I documented the beginning of this process. I’m ashamed to admit that this was after I started. Even my trunk was full of storage. This doesn’t show even an eighth of my books, an ounce of the number of mementos, or any of my clothing. A few of the boxes pictured are SOME of my holiday decor. There are tubs of discs I had so many of I couldn’t even take care of properly. But even with all of this, the most shocking part of all of it to me can be summed up in a short phrase: as my divorce was being finalized, the rest of my life began to fall into place.

I began to find a passion and a purpose. What at first was a distracting experiment, soon became meaningful and fulfilling. Given my history, I expected that my failed relationship would destroy what was left of me. I was certain I’d fall apart. Instead, for the first time I began to genuinely meet myself – learn what drove me. The effort and the challenge awakened something that had been long since sleeping inside of me.

At this point, I’ll shorten my story and save some specifics for other postings. Minimalism comes in stages – not all at once, sometimes more than others, and occasionally in ways that surprise you. Eventually, of all those items pictured above beside such things as dishes and just a few remaining decor items, I was left with just what was truly meaningful or necessary to my life.

The things that remained began to hold far more meaning than they used to. I created a ‘bucketlist’ for the first time of all the things I wanted to learn and experience in life. I began to explore those things immediately. A couple years ago, I was even able to meet the authors of the blog that changed my life (and I made sure to tell them so). I highly encourage everyone to explore the blog written by The Minimalists, Joshua and Ryan, among others.

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My life was no longer about having the right things to make a perfect home and marriage. I had instead learned that a home is made happy only by content and nourished souls living within its walls, and by loving relationships nurtured by mutual respect (and as we all know, you must first nurture and respect yourself before having the ability to truly respect another).

Minimalism is not for everyone, though I believe contentment is. American society does not encourage contentment. It begs you to have the newest iPhone, it reminds you to consistently update your wardrobe to fit in with others, and it beckons you to never relinquish any of the things you’ve attained so that you can keep up with the Jones’ or “just in case.” I no longer worry about ‘just in case,’ and I certainly don’t put value in who made my clothing (which I can now easily find, launder, and keep off the floor). Though not easy (and often downright challenging), it is so far one of the best and truest endeavors I’ve ever undertaken. It has been one of my dearest blessings in life to be able to break free from the chains materialism fetters us all with.

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