Minimalism is a coined term that means different things to different people. Sometimes I am tempted to steer clear from the word because of the weight and assumption that can be imposed on the idea. When it comes down to it, “minimalism” is just the lazy way of saying, “I own less stuff compared to the average person, for my own reasons.”
But what does Minimalism really mean to me?
Minimalism is a personal awareness of making the choice to own or accumulate what adds value to your life and give up what doesn’t.
Whether that means counting your items, owning a car, not owning a car, being a vegetarian, or living without digital clutter, the choice is between you and your life. Everyone is going to have a different expectation of what that means to them and that may change depending on where you find yourself in life.
The “right” way to be a minimalist, in this definition, is to be honest with yourself.
I share my journey through minimalism to share the value I’ve found in it, hoping that you may find value too. But I don’t stand as “the” definition of, or the way you should do or be a minimalist. I hope that my journey may help you with yours. At the very least, I hope you are inspired to launch off in your own direction with it.
Minimizing is always so difficult. It never seems to get any easier. After going on a “purchasing-diet”, I realize that shopping is just as an addictive of a habit as food is. I start fired up, nothing tempts me at the store, then someone gifts me or acquires something for themselves that perks my ears and all of a sudden I’m hot on the market.
I’ll be honest. I’ve cheated on my annual goal already. Several times. Many of which I bring my items and receipt back to the store, thankful that I can somewhat “erase” my mistake.
This week, I’m on fire again. Ready to lose weight. Materialistic weight. And as I look at everything I own, I think to myself, “I really, actually, kinda like all my stuff.” However, I wanna see how it really feels like… I want to know for myself if it’s really true…
Less is more.
I am not my stuff.
We don’t really need all this.
Things don’t bring happiness.
My life can still be fulfilling and abundant without stuff.
Really? Let’s find out.
So I counted my stuff. Personal stuff that I’d own without my family I counted somewhere around 150. Depending on how you’d count. Ex. I have like 30 essential oils, but since they fit in 2 small cases, I counted them as 2. But I really think I could live with less, much less. Because with the little I own, I am still delightfully excessive. Ehem, 30 essential oils.
Once I got down to 200 items, I felt like leaning out got harder. Letting go didn’t seem like an option, yet I know what my goals are and the reasons behind them. So I decided to approach it from another point of view… If I were to pack on a whim and I had 1 box to move (in Hawaii) with, what would I take with me?
Here’s my list:
- 8 Tops, 8 bottoms, 8 sports bras, 10 underwear, 1 jacket, 1 rainfly, 1 sweatpants, 1 macrame necklace, 1 flip flops, 1 swimsuit, 1 towel, 1 hat
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, chap stick, tweezers, magnify mirror, lavender castile soap, razor, hair straightener, deodorant, coconut oil, sea salt, barrettes, hair ties
- Colloidal silver, all essential oils, palo santo, 2-3 different incense, incense holder, Radiance Sutras, 1 gemstone, abalone shell, small candle, tingsha cymbals, 4″ singing bowl, journal
- iPhone 6, Olympus OMDEM1 – 2 lenses (no other accessories), laptop, small cd case with programs like rosetta stone and holosync
- Ukulele, native flute
- Travel Pillow, P-Style, 1 giant mug-bowl, wallet, passport
So what I’ve done today is left these items out and stored everything else away. I cuts everything down by half. I’m interested in how I will feel, what I take out, and what I let go of.
Will you join me in this experiment?
I didn’t realize what I had done when deciding to go for one year without unnecessary spending. I am used to seeing things that grab my attention and feeling justified to take them home with minimal scrutiny. This happened the next day after my new promise. We were at a local natural food store when I saw some palo santo. One of the locals was raving to me about the natural incense and I immediately understood the hype when I was drawn to the aroma of it coming from our roommate’s room. I immediately recognized the squared sticks and put them in our shopping basket.
“What are these?” Brett asked. “Palo Santo,” after my reply I realized what was coming. “Do you need these?” “Uhh…” I sighed, “no.” As I placed the incense back on the shelf I thought to myself, I’d like to manifest some into my life somehow. That would be really cool to receive some. I didn’t think anything of it, I sort of just put it out there.
Two and a half weeks later I had a brief conversation with our Native American/permaculture-studied roommate about smudging and all the cool island plants that could be used for it. Later that day he came up to me, “I want to give you this,” he held up a squared stick, “It’s called palo santo. This is what the ceremonial tent always smells like, great to use for smudging.”
I don’t know why manifestations baffle me every time. After that I decided to go for something much more specific. One of the locals told me if a particular animal shows itself consistently in our lives, they become our protectors, a sign of good omen. The Hawaiians call them their family or personal gods. Sharks have become that for me. I thought to myself that maybe someday I’d have a necklace with a shark’s tooth to remind me of my connection.
I wanted to find the tooth authentically. I didn’t want it to be store bought or supportive of the fishermen who slaughtered sharks. I sat on the beach one day and chuckled to myself, It would be impossible to find a shark’s tooth amongst all this rock and coral. I wonder how I’d even find it. But if life wants to grant me that, I’ll take it as a sign that I can trust in the divine. Again, I just put it out there not expecting anything.
A week later our family was searching for sea glass and Brett started handing me odd things. Broken plates, crab legs, “I wonder what that is…” He handed me something that looked like cartilage and bone. I looked closer and immediately ran over to a fisherman standing nearby, “Excuse me! Do you know what this is?” He looked at it, “Shark’s teeth.” My heart lifted with excitement.
There was nothing pretty or exceptional about the teeth. In fact they’re worn down from the tumbling waves and they belonged to what appears to be a cow shark. Not a tiger or white shark. I take it that my asking manifested into a reminder, not only to trust in the divine, but also to remember that not all things fearful are meant to be feared.
I wish I could list, in detail, all the manifestations that have come true for me in my life… from being stay at home parents, to living in Hawaii, to my first hawaiian shark encounter… but I’d much rather hear about your manifestation stories. Please share them with us in the comments below!
I stood there looking at the suitcase of stuff I was about to store and I thought, “What in the world could it be filled with??? Some shoes the kids may grow into, but probably won’t use because it’s for cold weather, not island life… extra fabric for making cute shorts! To add to my collection of 20 pairs I already own… holy cow, I don’t need 20 shorts! 3 unused bottles of hand soap… carry on bags, too many… tripod, reflectors, half my clothes, GoPro straps – completely unused, fabric cutting board… unused toys…”
I turn to my three year old “Love, which of these toys can we say goodbye to?” Then I think to myself, What of this can I really use? What adds value to my life?
I ended up keeping the consumables, one bag, my tripod, and fabric cutting board.
Taking the box to Goodwill felt good, but then I noticed something different when I got home. I looked in the mirror and felt stripped, unattractive, and boring. I have nothing. I don’t have fancy furnishings to add to the atmosphere of my guests, I don’t have awesome items that would spark conversation or give me opportunity to tell of the stories affiliated with them, I don’t have clothes that would turn heads or make people say, “Damn, she’s smokin’!” And while the statement of having nothing is entirely not true, this is the least I’ve owned and I really felt as if I had nothing to offer except myself.
Wait, what? Offering myself isn’t good enough? So this is what it comes down to?
I would rather have someone interested in my story associated with a cool item in my home, instead of being interested in their story just because they’re in my life?
Or rely on things to create the atmosphere, rather than exuding positive, loving energy to share a warm, generous experience?
I’ll be uncomfortable in my attire, concerned with everyone else’s judgements… Especially superficial ones that would be impossible to measure up to the infinite number of standards… rather than enjoy what I wear and know that people who like me, appreciate me for me, not how I look?
I am NOT my stuff.
I have more to offer than stuff ever could.
Digging deep wasn’t fun. But it empowers me to get honest, get real, and give authentically. To remember that it’s not about identifying with my story, but to identify with others so that we may share a connective experience and add value to each others lives.
We had an opportunity to temporarily move to Maui and I find myself back at the closet looking at what I want to take and how I’m going to pack it. I decided I would only take the essentials and leave behind whatever I didn’t need for the 1-2 months we’d be there.
As I stared at my extra large suitcase for storage I started to feel the same burdening feeling I am so familiar with, What could I possibly need to hold onto if I didn’t need it for those two months? Where will i store it? How will I ship it to our new home when we return?
Last minute, we decided not to go to Maui. Something about it just didn’t feel right for our family. However, I now had authentically chosen “stuff” I needed to address.
While there were some items that would definitely benefit us to keep (bulk consumables that we regularly use), there was more than plenty “just in case” things that was neither serving nor enriching to hold onto. It was sitting there, waiting for the opportunity to be passed up. Might as well give it to someone who will use and appreciate it.
I scrounged up a small box that I eventually took to Goodwill and realized that these possessions laid burden on me because of the state of mind, or intention, I had when purchasing the items. I noticed certain things that were thought through, waited upon, and even excessive in its counterparts (my sewing machine or essential oil collection- I have 27!) I have no issues with. However, the sale items I bought on impulse are the constant in my Goodwill pile.
It’s as if that lustful, crocodile-nature tipped my negative karma onto these things. Cleaning them out of my life truly feels cleansing to my spirit. Coupled with my no-purchasing goal for the next year, I really feel like I will find myself in a place of honesty with my experiences in life and my possessions.
What are you holding onto that brings negative energy when contemplating what to do with it? Can you notice the stress that may arise when looking at the boxes in the attic or thinking about cleaning out the storage closet?
Writing that down felt like a failure waiting to happen… it feels impossible… actually, worse… it feels like a lie.
Truth be told, although I am a minimalist I still purchase something excessive a few times a week. Whether it’s more fabric for a sewing project, another essential oil, or a candle for our home, I am still bound to the desires of spending. And I’m addicted. I still love to shop. Shopping makes me feel like I’m doing something for myself. Like I’m treating myself for all the positive effort i put into life.
However, I’m ready to let go of the feeling that I actually need it to feel fulfilled.
Boycotting spending for a year is more or less an extreme way of proving to myself that I don’t need it. That I can be happy and feel abundant in life without having to gift myself with something every time I run an errand. It could also bring up some interesting challenges that may be just what I need to breakthrough this wavering space I’ve been in for the last few years of wishing to feel lighter, yet continuing the vicious cycle of decluttering and re-accumulating. I am also excited to explore new ways of manifesting experience and desires into my life.
Whether you decide to take on the challenge for yourself or read about my experience, would you join me in a year of no-purchasing?
Who doesn’t? It’s culturally ingrained in us from the minute we were born; adorned with gifts on every holiday, bombarded with marketing left and right… no matter what, you cannot escape the impulse of desire that materialism inspires within.
So what can you do, despite these impulses, to fulfill that satisfaction without making too much of a dent in material acquisition or your wallet?
1. Window Shop – I like to go as far as building a wish list, or putting stuff in my cart and taking the time to try it on. I pick and choose the ones I absolutely love and would like to buy and I either put them back or on hold and tell myself I will come back later if I really feel I need it. Over this time I can ground myself without temptation looming in front of me and I can truly inquire about my wants or needs of these items, as well as remind myself that I’m probably happier wishing for It rather than buying it.
2. Shop Thrifty – If there’s one thing I love about Goodwill it’s practically guilt free. I love the $1-3 tops that are already broken in. Sometimes I take them home and mess with them on my sewing machine, other times I bring them back, guilt-free. Most of the time I find my favorite items are the second hand ones. And when I feel like letting them go, I am not worried about the couple bucks I spent, which pales in comparison to $20 on a new top.
3. Exchange/Replace Possessions – The most difficult task for me is to really comb out all the excess. For example, I have 3 musical instruments and I know one or two would keep me occupied for ages. The didgeridoo was an impulsive buy, it’s massive, and not as fun (as my native american flute or ukelele) or easy to play for long periods of time. What I really should have done was ask myself, “Am I willing to replace one of my instruments for this didgeridoo? ” or “What can I relinquish in order to bring this item into my life?” To avoid the dangerous cycle of minimizing-accumulating-minimizing-accumulating, it’s so important to continually inquire before bringing new possessions home.
How do you keep your things in check when acquiring new things?
Moving is listed amongst some of the most stressful events in life including divorce and the death of a loved one. What?! It sounds crazy, but for most of us, we can easily relate to the overwhelm of sorting, packing, shipping all our belongings while uprooting the whole world around us.
It took a couple dozen moves and thousands of dollars in my life to realize that moving was mainly so stressful for me due to the attachment, identification, and fear resulting in the clinging of all my stuff.
I spent so much on this, I don’t want it to go to waste.
What if I need this in the future?
But this is meaningful to the person who gave it to me…
After a while, I made a decision that the conflict wasn’t worth the stress and certainly not worth being tied down. In 2009 I sold most of my possessions and lived out of a backpack while traveling the Philippines for three months. It was only the beginning of this newfound liberation and a life of minimalism. Over time I continued to let go of more and more.
Fast forward five years later, I have a family of four and we are still not “settled”. We’ve enjoyed, as a family, living, visiting and experiencing Australia, New Zealand, Ohio, Utah, California, and Hawaii over the last few years. And although my personal possessions have been the most minimum they’ve ever been in my life it is still stressful for me every time we move! Gone are the days of slinging a backpack over our shoulders and leaving on a whim. We have diapers, snacks to plan, carriers, car seats…
(Yes, we’re those people at the airport with kids on their backs, pushing a cart stacked too high of luggage. Every now and then, the stack slips and all the luggage falls creating a barricade of pissed off people. Not to mention the snail-pace it takes us to get from point A to B).
So what exactly did we bring to Hawaii? Here’s the list, in case you’re interested:
- Checked Bag #1: Was a moving box filled with the kids’ legos, hydration pack, a cutting board, kitchen knife, a few kids plates, bowls, and sippy cups, a couple placemats, and body care products (shea butter, oils, castille soap, colliodal silver, etc.)
- Checked Bag #2: Kids toys, kids books, camera tripod, reflectors, and diapers.
- Checked Bag #3: All our clothes, 1 extra pair of shoes for each of us, 2 masks & snorkels.
- 2 Car Seats (Check-In)
- Carry On Bag #1: A few days worth of clothes, iPads, and daily essentials.
- Carry on Bag #2: Jackets, baby food, diapers, wipes, water bottles.
- Carry On Bag #3: My sewing Machine.
- Personal Item #1: Backpack full of important documents, several external hard drives, passports, credit cards, computer wires, software, pens, and thank you cards.
- Personal Item #2: Camera Bag with camera gear and computer.
- Personal Item #3: Small cooler of food for the day.
- Shipped Items: We had a medium flat rate box of my husband’s tools shipped out, as well as my ukelele.
I would say, aside from our media work and a few excessive items (sewing machine & ukelele), we could have done it much lighter. But all of these items add value to our life experience and contribute to gaining us more time in our day.
If you had to move to an isolated island where shipping was expensive, what would you bring?
When it comes to kids it seems the amount of items necessary to raise them are endless. While in comparison our family is extremely minimal, it still feels like a lot of work to keep the stuff that we feel add value to our lives when raising our baby and toddler.
At this time in our lives, here are my most valued items I feel greatly contributes to my life as a parent and my children’s growth:
- Baby Carrier (I have 2) – I love these things! They add so much value to my life especially when I am shopping with both kids, want to nap one, walk with both or have my hands free around the house. I love how the Ergo has a hood to shade baby from the sun, or discreet nursing, or privacy while napping. It also has a pocket for my keys and wallet and you can also choose from an assortment of bags that can clip onto the carrier for diapers, bottles, or whatever else you need! Having baby carriers eliminates my need for strollers, which are difficult to travel with and store. They also make my time more efficient by allowing me to shop while napping my baby.
2. Small Cooler – As a family that loves outdoor activity and travel, our small cooler has been priceless for carrying extra milk, fresh fruit snacks, and cool water. We use this thing day in and day out! I use the small pocket in front for spoons, napkins, and teething tablets.
3. iPad – I know what you’re thinking, iPads are totally an excessive item! However, it greatly reduces our clutter and adds value to my kids’ learning life. While we maximize imaginative and outdoor play as much as possible the iPad has served us for long car rides, keeping physical books to a minimum, and teaching our kids things like colors, letters and numbers. Like anything, it’s not about what you own but how you utilize it and I am extremely grateful for this piece of technology.
Well, there you have it! Those are my three most valued kid items at the moment. They are either the most frequently used and/or add the most efficient value to our lives. If you had to choose, what are your 3 most valued kid items? I’d love to hear!
All the best,