Unless you get bitten by a radioactive spider and turn into a superhero overnight, change happens slowly. Even if change seems to happen quickly, there are typically several steps or shifts that lead up to the bigger ((poof!)) transformation.
FYI: The photo above is not the clearest but it is of my apartment last year. It was mid-morning and I loved the way the light was filling the main room (kitchen/living). It wasn’t the tidiest but I felt so calm and happy!
Here’s the story of how I’ve come to embrace minimalism.
It started with a love for organization that started as a kid. Ohhhh how I loved to sort things into piles and put like things together in bins, in drawers, and on shelves. Delicious. I had this set of wicker drawers that I just loved going through and re-sorting. It was a totally weird exercise but I loved it.
Then came the show Clean Sweep. I just looked it up to write this post and I totally forgot about the big design reveal at the end and the fact that many people on the show were living in really rough situations, bordering on hoarding. I mostly remember the sorting part of the show, where people would agonize over items that were given to them, or that they thought they may have some use for “someday.” I especially enjoyed how the host, Peter Walsh was very kind while he dolled out his advice about separating emotions and memories from things.
During college I tried to keep his ideas in mind, but my closet and dresser was always over-stuffed. I tried to keep things neat and tidy, but my stuff was overflowing. Let’s jump ahead to my life a few years out of college and a few too many trips to fast-fashion stores. I first heard the term minimalism referring to the minimalist aesthetic. I loved it, I aspired to it whole-heartedly. Yet it felt totally unachievable to a young couple living in a tiny apartment that hadn’t been renovated since 1971. Our (non-functioning) dishwasher had a classy wooden veneer, and our counters were a lovely shade of mustardy yellow-beige. While I didn’t say it out loud at the time, I was pretty much thinking: Why even try to move towards minimalism until we are super rich, super successful and living in a shiny white apartment in New York?
In the following years I started to realize the mind-environment connection. When I had a clean, organized space, I felt more energized and the anxiety I battled for many years diminished. I turned again to my love of organizing – to make sure everything had a place. Usually in a box or bin that I purchased at The Container Store (aka, Mecca). I knew that my boyfriend (now husband) and I weren’t the most naturally clean or organized people (possibly because we had so. much. stuff) but I tried to create systems that would be easy for us to maintain. Bins with lids instead of open baskets to hide our clutter and piles of papers.
I had the right idea, but I was basically trying to out-organize my piles and piles of clutter.
When I heard about a site called LifeEdited.com, something started to wake up inside me. In some ways it was the anti- Clean Sweep. This wasn’t a tour of “everyday people’s” homes. It was all beautiful white spaces and fancy products. I loved reading the posts and learning more about multi-functional items and living with less. But could real people live this way, without the sleek apartment to showcase it all in? At this point, while I would sometimes get the urge to organize and purge, I still didn’t quite “get” how to apply the principles of minimalism to my life in a practical way.
Around this same time, I was trying to tackle my anxiety in other ways – with exercise and a new-found love for cooking healthy food thanks to the Whole 30.
When my husband and I moved across the country from Chicago, IL to Burlington, Vermont, we were confronted with paying to move all of our belongings 1,000 miles. So I got down to brass tacks and tried to ruthlessly go through everything we had crammed into our small one-bedroom apartment (and the sizeable storage unit that came with the apartment.) We got rid of quite a few things, mostly duplicates of smaller items and clothing, and bulky furniture that we weren’t attached to and didn’t really
want need to move across the country. However, we were still left with quite a bit of…stuff.
We used ABF to move because it’s pretty cost effective and we’d done it before (during our 2009 move from Seattle to Chicago) so we trusted the system and liked the company. You pay based on the number of feet of truck you use, so you’d think we would’ve been more careful about what earned a spot. Apparently I really really needed those 5-6 boxes of clothing. And 5-6 boxes labelled “miscellaneous.”
When we arrived in Vermont, we only unpacked a few boxes at first. You’ve probably heard a similar story from others. We lived with WAY less of our stuff …and really liked it. We lived happily with a drastically limited wardrobe and other items. To be fair, we were both working from home at first so our day-to-day clothing needs were quite different than they were in IL.
Fast forward to actually unpacking all of our dozens and dozens of boxes. As we unpacked we tried to be ruthless and get rid of many items that we know we didn’t need or like. It was interesting – and sometimes frustrating – to see the stuff the we paid dearly to be shipped across the U.S. go immediately into the donation bin. Even after all of this, we still had shelves that were a little too crammed for my rapidly growing minimalist taste.
…Oh, and we had a baby! Since we were more seriously attempting to minimize our possessions and declutter, we were totally freaked out by the sheer amount of stuff that a baby could bring to our lives. We were grateful to find theminimalistmom.com and other resources online to help us determine our realistic needs versus what all the stores and bloggers and marketers wanted us to buy. There’s really no wrong way to be first time parents, but we took a minimal approach to baby stuff and were grateful to family and friends who helped us by gifting the practical things that were on our registry. (I’m working on a post on our minimal, eco-friendly baby registry now, so stay tuned.)
Anyway, we were lucky to move into a space in Vermont that was full of light. Our apartment served as a backdrop to help us move further along in our minimalist journey. I am not a fan of saying that “once _____ is in place, _____ will fall into place” but in this case, our living space inspired us to further pare down. It was easy to eliminate multiples and say goodbye to things that no longer fit with our tastes or lifestyle. At this time we were also exploring the idea of reducing our environmental footprint and pulling back on buying new things.
For example, I was really proud that instead of buying a new dresser for our bedroom (we didn’t move with ours from Chicago), I used a shelving unit we already had and pretty boxes/bins we already had to store all of my clothing, with the exception of a few dresses that were hanging in the closet. This step – having all the clothing, jewelry, accessories I owned fit onto one set of shelves felt like a real accomplishment. Items weren’t spilling out of the bins, I even had room for some office things like files and pens/paper. I felt I had really streamlined my belongings to the cream of the crop.
Fast forward a year. My husband and I committed to “officially” creating capsule wardrobes for each season, following the Project 333 guidelines. We really thought it would be a simple step because we had already drastically cut back our belongings in the previous year(s). Or so I thought.
I’m not kidding I think I actually heard the … click … click … click of things FINALLY falling into place. Gears were turning. Angels were singing.
Forcing ourselves to look at perfectly good items that we don’t ever use was a huge turning point. It’s easier to get rid of things you don’t like and/or don’t fit you/your lifestyle. It’s harder – well, less obvious – to start parting with things that are nice, fit and yet still don’t ever get used.
Pretty much everything my husband and I were still holding on to for various reasons went OUT THE DOOR.
…That included the entire shelving unit that I was so proud of. Turns out, once I went through each item with even more scrutiny, everything I was keeping to wear regularly could easily fit into the closet next to my husbands’ (now very pared-down) wardrobe with a few seasonal items in a under-bed bag.
I now love that blank wall and empty space the lack of shelving unit revealed. I love that blank wall more than any piece of decor or organizational box or bin or system I’d ever spent my hard-earned money on.
Yes, a blank wall brought me joy. Going into my room felt like a breath of fresh air. Because there was more air in there. I was finally getting to the place that so many people who had found minimalism before me were talking about.
Finally, I got when people said that MAKING SPACE was the goal. I’d read it many times before but now it truly settled in my brain and my heart. Yes, having stuff you like is good, but you can still have an overflowing house filled with things you like. Once I got rid of things that were perfectly good, nice and in good condition but that I didn’t have any use for, I felt free. I donated or sold items and created more and more blank spaces.
The truth is, I didn’t need white shiny walls or expensive murphy beds or a fancy apartment in New York to be a minimalist. I needed to pare down things in my own real life to create a space that works for me and my family. I don’t need to be an architect or a designer to achieve that blank space freedom.
Now even if there’s a huge (huuuuuuge) pile of clean laundry waiting to be sorted and folded on a chair in my living room, it doesn’t stress me out because everything around it is calm. What used to make me feel trapped or overwhelmed or anxious is now a manageable task.
I don’t mind if my daughter’s toys end up exploded everywhere during a vigorous play session because its easy for me to pick them up. She helps. I think she has her mom’s penchant for putting things away in boxes. Good or bad? Only time will tell! 😉
We are moving to our new house soon (!exciting!stuff!) so we’ll likely sell, give away or donate a few more
stragglers things as we tackle packing up every. single. one. of our belongings. Again.
One of my inspirations for being mindful during our move even though I know we’ve made so much progress is the Uncluttered course I’m currently enrolled in, hosted by Becoming Minimalist’s Joshua Becker. I just finished his new book The More of Less and will be posting a review soon.
I’m feeling good about the place I’m in mentally now that I’ve truly embraced the empty open spaces left behind by minimizing and streamlining my life and my possessions. I have a long way to go in embracing other areas of minimalism such as cutting back on using my smartphone all the time (whoops), but I’m glad I am this far along on the journey.
What do you think about the minimalism movement? Are you interested in paring down, de-cluttering and streamlining?