What One Year of Minimalism Has Taught Me
It's November, which means right around this time last year I stopped using #EmbracingMinimalism and decided to just start calling myself a Minimalist. The three years leading up to that decision had laid a solid foundation that would lead to this inevitable change.
For three years I had focused on buying less and saving more. What started as a focus on money & debt lead to getting rid of clutter, coming face-to-face with my anxiety, becoming healthier and learning how to live with less. This year has lead to a lot of changes and a lot of realizations that I couldn't possibly sum up into one single blog post, but here's my attempt to do so anyways.
Minimalism isn't About White Walls
First things first, Minimalism is a lifestyle not a style. I used to think that Minimalism meant all white everything and dressing in black. I thought Minimalism was purely an aesthetic. Once I discovered that being a Minimalist really meant seeking a meaningful life over seeking a life of stuff and consumption that merely distracts us from what's really important, I realized I was already on that path and took the leap.
You're a Minimalist When You Decide You Are
If you're on this path as well, you can call yourself a Minimalist regardless of where you are on the path. You don't have to live in a single room with a bed and chair, get rid of your tv and dress in all black before you can call yourself a Minimalist. Minimalism isn't a destination in which you can't call yourself one until you've arrived. Just like Christianity, you don't have to have yourself together in order to be one. That's not the point.
You don't have to be perfect before you start, frankly, that's just impossible. The point is to just start. Just like a person who's been a Christian for 20 years will have a lot more insight into Christianity than someone who's been one for a year [hopefully] - a person practicing Minimalism for 10 years will, and should be, further along in their journey than someone starting on day one. That's just how it goes.
The thing that causes the hesitation of calling yourself a Minimalist is the 'hypocrisy' and irony that comes along with it. As soon as you call yourself a Minimalist, or a Christian for that matter, and you do one thing outside of those values you claim to have, society, and the voice in your head, calls you a hypocrite. As if by some magic, simply calling yourself something transforms you overnight into a perfect super-human that is able to live out their values 100% of the time in every situation.
How can you possibly be a Minimalist if you buy your food in plastic? If you go into a mall? Hypocrite. No. Hypocrisy is not falling short of your values because you are an imperfect human being or even falling short because you are simply unaware of what you don't know yet - hypocrisy is the unwillingness to change yourself to live according to a set of standards or values that you expect everyone else to adhere to. We'd be a lot further along if we understood that distinction as a whole.
So, go ahead - call yourself a Minimalist whenever you want.
Minimalism Isn't About Stuff
While Minimalism certainly does slant towards "stuff" and consciously consuming, the root, or the 'why' at the center of Minimalism is to live a meaningful life. I'd venture to say that most people coming to Minimalism start with their stuff.
They declutter their homes, they streamline their wardrobes, they put systems in place to save their willpower for more important things than, "what am I going to wear today?", they find themselves suddenly drawn to everything black and white because it's beautiful, simple and goes with everything, but why are they doing all of this?
The answer, at least for me, is to take back my life. I don't want to spend my days taking care of my stuff. I want to work on things that matter to me. I want to have time for loved ones [still working on getting better at this one.] I want to be healthy. I want to live meaningfully.
Minimalism often starts with stuff, but it doesn't end there.
You Can Get Obsessed With Decluttering
Oops. I definitely found myself here. Even though I had read Marie Kondo's warning to not get obsessed with the thought of, "What else should I get rid of?" but instead focus on asking yourself, "What should I keep? What brings me joy? What is useful to how I live my life?", I still found myself there.
Thankfully, this obsession didn't last too long. Shortly after my decluttering spree, I caught myself staring into our kitchen cabinets wondering what else to get rid of and suddenly realized I was doing it all wrong.
Just cleaning out your cabinets isn't the point. The point is to only surround yourself with the things you need and love so you can focus on creating a meaningful life that you fully enjoy and work on becoming the best version of yourself so that you can help others.
Obsessing over what to get rid of still has you focused on "stuff" rather than life.
You Can't Expect the People in Your Life to Be in the Same Place as You
Shortly after starting the decluttering process, I was sitting on my studio floor, where I was keeping boxes of childhood memorabilia I had "rescued" from my Mom's basement, feeling completely overwhelmed.
Our friends were coming to visit us and needed to use the guest bed, also in my studio. So, in an effort to clean the place up for them, I was going through said boxes. All I wanted to do in that moment was go spend time with my husband, but there I was, going through my crap. I had gotten to the point of being completely aware of how awful it is to waste your days taking care of your possessions and there I was doing that very thing.
I walked out to the kitchen where my husband was, stopping to look at our sunroom filled to the brim with things we were going to sell, on the way, and said, "Let's just get rid of it all! Let's not waste any more of our time on this crap. I don't want to be going through boxes, I want to be with you. I don't want to have a yard sale, I just want to donate it all! Right now!"
I was sure he would instantly agree with me, but Carl and I were in two different places. I'd had three months to arrive at this particular form of frustration, and for him, he was just beginning, going along with what I wanted to do. He did not share in that same "radical" belief until six months later, when the stuff was still sitting there after he had carefully researched how much each item would bring us on ebay. I think we sold a handful of items. Maybe.
The day we loaded up the Jeep and took all of that crap to The Free Store was a glorious day. I think I danced around in the sunroom for a solid ten minutes, and now, we're both on the same page about simply donating our stuff to get it out of the house and writing it off as a charitable donation.
Be patient with the people in your life. It's very likely that they won't be as "radical" as you are, give them time and let them do their thing at their own pace.
You Might Fall Prey to a Different Form of Consumerism
While decluttering and reducing our needs for excess products, I started thinking things like, "I'm getting rid of all of these toxic lotions I don't use, I should replace them with one eco-friendly lotion instead." But I don't use lotion. "All that's left in our kitchen are these nice white plates, but our coffee mugs are all mismatched. I wish they could all just be white." But I like our coffee mugs.
Minimalists believe in quality over quantity which lead me to start walking around our home eyeing the $50, who-knows-how-old, navy blue couch sitting in the living room from Goodwill with our hand-me-down coffee table that has a broken leg and thinking, our home doesn't look like Minimalists live here. I found myself mentally taking stock of everything we should get rid of and replace with more sustainably sourced, ethically made, high quality, preferably local items.
Soon I was buying things, not a lot of things, but still, for the purpose of simply upgrading. Thankfully I caught myself before it went too far. I had suddenly fallen prey to the very specific form of consumerism targeted towards minimalists, earth-loving hippies, simple // slow livers and zero-waste connoisseurs. The type of marketing that says, 'You don't like plastic bags, so here's a reusable bag instead. You don't like plastic food containers, so here's glass containers instead. You don't like cling wrap, so here's a more sustainable option instead.'
It's easy to fall prey to simply swapping out everything you own for a more sustainable version, and that's good to a degree - but really, a more sustainable option is realizing that you can replace your plastic bags, plastic containers & cling-wrap for mason jars. Three products for one.
Be careful of the beautifully simple products you really don't need.
Prove the Lifestyle Before Making the Purchase
Expanding on the previous point, make sure you prove to yourself that you need or will use something before you purchase it. For example, if you suddenly find that you have more time on your hands and you want to focus on becoming healthier by exercising more, start with what you have.
Buying those nice new organic cotton yoga pants won't actually make you more fit or more likely to do yoga if you aren't already doing it. Do you even go on walks around the block? Don't worry - I barely ever do that either [working on it.] The point is, before you make a purchase and it winds up in the back of your closet, prove that you need it.
Now that I've been using mason jars in place of plastic bags, plastic containers and cling wrap and have been purchasing my produce loose for over a year, I've proven my commitment to becoming zero waste to myself.
Now that I've been buying dry goods from bulk bins on a regular basis, I've proven to myself that purchasing reusable muslin bags to transport nuts and dried fruit would in fact be a useful purchase and would help me cut back on single-use plastics even more, even if they are recyclable.
While you're changing your habits, use what you have first so that you can determine which purchases will actually be useful to you before you buy something and risk wasting money on something that winds up in the junk drawer.
You'll Likely Have a Breakthrough
Ok - you've decluttered your home, you've simplified your way of life, you've reduced your environmental footprint - now what? You have more time, energy & resources - what do you use them for?
During this year I came face-to-face with that dilemma. I was so focused on getting rid of the things I used to fill this 'void' everyone kept talking about, that when I came to the end of my initial process, I had forgotten about replacing that void with what I found to be most important and was left feeling a kind of emptiness.
But the thing is, I wasn't really aware of what was important to me, so I had to go through a slow, internal kind of rebuilding. The previous year was the worst year of my life. I'd taken on WAY too much, my confidence was basically non-existent and I went through a brief period of depression.
Slowly but surely, I felt God changing my heart and bringing me out of that low point by helping me to realize the issues I had that lead me to that low in the first place. Anxiety. A Deep, hands and feet dripping sweat kind of anxiety.
After becoming aware of my anxiety, I turned to finding ways to cure my symptoms, because after all, anxiety is the result of further issues -it's not the cause of depression, it's the step before depression - anxiety has it's own causes that are different for everyone.
The first thing I did was change my eating habits. Certain foods affect your adrenals in a bad way, disrupt your endocrine system and can cause you to become anxious. The next thing I did was decrease my commitments, but that didn't last long because I have a bad habit of over committing. Next, I tried acupuncture - which had a HUGE impact on my nerves and the sweating. I went every week for a while, then less and less because of my need for it, and now I'm going about once every 4-6 weeks.
Allowing yourself to become uncomfortable, causes you to come face-to face with your issues - and we all have them. Even if you aren't aware of them - I promise, if you start getting rid of all of the distractions in your life - they'll surface.
This process has allowed me to confront my anxiety, treat it's symptoms, change my lifestyle habits to prevent it and get at the root of my anxiety, which I found to be a deep-rooted feeling of 'not being enough.' At the risk of going into another blog post, I'll end it there. Maybe one day I'll write something longer addressing the whole recovery // discovery process I went through, but for now - you can read a little more about it in my Dressed For Freedom Bio.
Because I wasn't strongly connected to my own personal 'Why', it allowed me to confront my issues and do a lot of internal work that would ultimately free me from a lot of pain and allow me to connect with my 'Why' and my purpose.
You'll be able to focus on what's important to you
During the process I talked about above, I went through a transition period. I went from overly committed and full of distractions to void of distractions and unaware of what was truly important to me or why I did the things I did. I grew bored and a little defeated and came face-to-face with discomfort.
If I'm honest, and I try to be, I think I'm still in that process, only much further along now. I'm working towards uncovering the things that really matter to me. Outside of my relationship with God and commitment to my husband Carl, I'm finding that building community as well as environmental and social justice issues keep bubbling up to the top. I'm really enjoying the process and look forward to discovering the ways that I can change and help make this world a better place.
While you're freeing yourself of unwanted distractions, you'll be able to think about and discover your own 'Why' and what sorts of things or activities you'll want to pursue to make your time worthwhile.
You'll Have More Time
Since becoming a Minimalist I've been able to participate in projects I find immensely important like, CreativeMornings & Dressed For Freedom. I've been able to focus on personal projects like #Project136 and #EveryStreetCLT. I've been able to eat healthier, reduce our trash & recycling, learn more about the environment and social issues going on in my community and so much more and all as a result of getting rid of a lot of junk.
Now, instead of an entire weekend - it takes me maybe 1-2 hours to do a thorough house cleaning, and twenty minutes just to 'tidy' the place. I spend less time doing laundry because I have less clothes, which also helps me get dressed and do my hair and makeup in about 15 minutes.
I would say, the time aspect alone would change so many people's lives if they were to adapt a more minimalistic lifestyle. It's definitely own of my favorite benefits.
Freeing yourself of clutter, distractions and negative perspectives like comparison to others gives you peace of mind and TIME - our most valuable resource.
Like I said, I'm only one year in, but there's no way I'm turning back. The benefits far outweigh the inconveniences or discomfort I sometimes encounter along the way. It's causing me to grow spiritually, physically, mentally, financially, empathetically, relationally & more. But most importantly, I'm becoming who I was created to be and pursuing // living a meaningful life.
I look forward to many years ahead.
Love & Blessings,
If you're considering Minimalism or simply deciding to make some changes, what areas in your own life jump out at you? Is it your health? Your finances?
I'd love to hear about things you want to change or even changes you've made already! Feel free to tell me about them in the comments and check out other related posts below. :)