Let’s start by defining minimalism. The definition by Google’s dictionary is: 1. a trend in sculpture and painting that arose in the 1950s and used simple, typically massive, forms 2. an avant-garde movement in music characterized by the repetition of very short phrases which change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect. Yes those things are true but I’m talking about minimalism as it pertains to the lifestyle choice. Minimalism is being deliberate in what, or who, you bring into your home and life. That’s why minimalism isn’t cookie cutter, it looks different for everyone and every situation. The only thing that is consistent between minimalist’s is the ability to say “no” to an object, or person, that doesn’t add value to your life. Marie Kondo has helped introduce the concept without outright pointing it out. If it doesn’t “spark joy,” donate it or get rid of it. I disagree 50% because some people can fool themselves into thinking it sparks joy. Just because an item carries a memory with it, doesn’t mean it’s sparking joy. It’s sparking a memory. Even if the memory is a happy one. You can keep the item and remain bogged down in a household full of “memories”, not making new ones because you’re too busy cleaning, sorting and organizing your old ones. Or! You can take a picture, call the person you shared the memory with to schedule a lunch date, or a whole myriad of other options that don’t involve keeping your ratty tee shirt from WMZQ fest 2006. I’m not speaking from experience. I must say, I have still held on to certain items because I can’t bear the thought of parting with them (for now: my wedding dress). The point of minimalism isn’t to make you sad, despair and uncomfortable. Aching for the item you parted with and wishing you hadn’t bought into this whole “minimalism thing”. If you can honestly say it makes you happy, you can’t live without it and there’s no way to replace it… then keep your Minnie Mouse watch! Keep your First Holy Communion dress!
Minimalism doesn’t just apply to objects. It applies to commitments, relationships and careers. We’ll talk about each of those in turn. No, don’t clear your calendar, dump all your friends and romantic interests and quit your job. All to sit alone in your empty apartment, and checking the time on your Minnie Mouse watch. It applies to commitments you dread, to relationships that drain you and stress you, and careers that are unfulfilling and depressing. I’m not saying you need a career that fills you with “shout from the mountains” joy. I just don’t want you to become ill whenever you think of work, or have nightmares about it that make you sit up and shout (has happened to me). You can find calm and peace in all sorts of careers from the necessary shelf stockers to the high-powered tech CEO’s of the world. If each of those people can say that they “don’t mind their job”, awesome. Relationships should be easy to cull. You’re pretty great (I hope) and deserve someone that enjoys you, puts effort into your relationship and is genuine. A relationship can also be defined as familial! That’s right, if you have an awful terrible no-good family member: CUT IT OUT (complete with hand gestures). Friends that call on you when it’s convenient to them and only them. Friends that are constantly “needing” something (money, favors, handouts, whatever) but never available when you may need them. Negative. Poor life choices. Life choices that don’t align with your values. Disrespectful. Judgemental in an all-consuming sort of way. Don’t waste your time or emotional energy on people like that. Keep things fluffy!
So, let’s discuss relationships first. I had run a “healthy relationships” group with some teenage girls in a previous job of mine. I had them close their eyes and envision an unhealthy romantic relationship. Across the room, smiles dropped away, faces clouded with anxiety, eyebrows cinched together in irritation. I told them to now envision a healthy romantic relationship. “Say out loud words that come to your mind!” They were grinning sheepishly and started saying things like empowering, loving, trustful, fun, exciting, adventurous, growing together, learning together, and so on. They thought the exercise was over but I told them to keep their eyes shut. I said “Now, envision your best friend. Non-romantic, best friend.” This facial change was the most interesting. They all grinned ear to ear, some giggling out loud, shoulders relaxed, postures relaxed and a general calm and ease swept the room. These girls had subconsciously realized something it takes so many people years to maybe learn! Some may never learn it! Here is the big realization: your non-romantic (sorry guys), often female friendships are some of the most important relationships a girl, woman, will ever have. I pointed this out to them. They all looked back and forth at each other, some tearing up. Then started sharing stories of their closest friends. That…. That is minimalism. Only keep the relationships that make you act like that when they’re not around. Only keep the relationships that make you brag about them when they’re not around. I have a handful of amazing female friends, and my husband who is my best friend even if he’s a dude. The rest of the people I occupy my time with, are also amazing people. I have eliminated people from my life that were toxic, and I will always be careful to not allow anymore toxicity into the city… the city. Little System of a Down for yeh. I gave myself permission to “break up with friends” only a few years ago, when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I realized that I didn’t want my children to see me allowing myself to be treated the way these people treated me. I had to set an example for my children that they are worth love and respect from all the people they choose to allow into their lives.
Next, let’s talk about commitments. Think of a few things, commitments, you regularly have that you dread. Not things you absolutely have to do, like bath occasionally or pick up dog poop. The spin class you signed up for that you really don’t enjoy. The time you volunteered to walk your neighbor’s dog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For free. The over-time you agreed to work once a month but frankly, you’re sick of it and it’s only been 3 months. I give you permission to stop. If you’re not interested in getting fit, don’t. I’m not going to sit here on my high horse and tell you that you should eat healthy, exercise 3x a week, volunteer regularly and whatever other saintly things I can think of. Yes, you should take care of yourself but if you don’t enjoy the things you’re pursuing, that’s not taking care of yourself. I go for occasional, very occasional, walks at a super slow pace with my kids. I eat something that is bad for me every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I’m about 10 pounds overweight but I’m happy. That’s it. If you find a commitment that adds value to your life, commit! The second it stops adding value and starts adding negative feelings of stress and dread: Quit! The only time this rule doesn’t apply is when friends and/or family need you. You are never allowed to quit them unless it’s a toxic relationship (hit rewind and listen to my bit on relationships). You are to work your tush off for them because you love them and they love you. Don’t be a jerk to them ever. Or they may quit you! *gasp!* I make sure to let my friends and family know that I’m 100% ok with “no” or “I don’t feel like it today”. I hope they understand that I don’t take that as an abandonment of our relationship. They just chose to take care of themselves on that day and time. I’m totally ok with that because that means, the next time we get together, they’ll be rested, happy and eager to visit. In summation: say NO to things you really don’t want to do! It’s ok, I promise.
Before I discuss “stuff”, let’s go over careers. It’ll be pretty short, don’t worry. I’m a nurse but I only work PRN which means “as needed”. The nice thing is, it’s not when the hospital needs, it’s when they have a need AND I want to work. So, I only work when my husband is home (he’s a high school teacher) to take care of the kids. I am also to pick up extra shifts when we have a vacation coming up we’d like some spending cash for or some home renovations we need funds for. I’m very lucky that my husband has a career that allows me to stay home most of the time so we’re able to avoid day care, which is financially crippling in this area. Really anywhere, I think. I’m also lucky I was interested in nursing as a career because it also allows for this flexibility. I am also interested in writing, but I’m able to pursue that as a hobby. Our lifestyle preferences and tastes aren’t expensive, either. Our careers provide the exact amount of money we need and want because we don’t believe self-worth is tied to what we own. We enjoy our home and property, our Amazon brand underwear and Target brand jeans, and our Casio watches from Wal-Mart. We order Mexican food from our local El Fresco (can’t go out right now, darn you Covid-19) and are satisfied even without an expensive bottle of whatever alcohol. We’re genuinely happy without designer shoes, purses, furniture and whatever else can carry a designer label. Our careers are fulfilling enough (yes, we both have complaints at times) and provide all that we need. But, if you’re working a job that you hate just to fund a lifestyle that doesn’t provide genuine happiness: that’s on you. Your unfulfilling life can change, if you’re willing to change to achieve it. My favorite minimalists, The Minimalists (please, listen to their podcast and check out their website theminimalists.com), worked high powered corporate careers for some cell phone tycoon (they never reveal details). They had tons of money and tons of STUFF. Outwardly, they looked successful but inside they were miserable. They took the steps to change that. They quit their jobs, started to take a searching moral inventory, put in the work and I’m sure it was hard and uncomfortable. But, guess what?! They’re happy. They’re fulfilled. Because clearing the crap allowed them to focus on what was truly important. To gain mental clarity. And now they spend their time sharing that message with us. It honestly sounds like a cult pitch, or a pyramid scheme. It’s the most laid back cult I’ve ever been in.
Now, stuff. Let’s talk about junk. Clutter. Tchotchkes. Shelf shit, as my husband calls it. Please know that if items bring you joy and you really do love them, keep it. Also know, that I’m just sharing my lifestyle choice with you and in no way expect you to try it out. No! Again… do what you want. Do what makes you genuinely happy. Because all I really want is everyone to be happy. If you’re a happy little family of hoarders, shine on you shiney hoarder. But, I guarantee, someone in your hoarding household is a very unhappy minimalist screaming to get out. When it comes to thinning out your hoard, there are tons of online resources to help you along the way. Help you make choices, games to play, ways to donate, etc. The Minimalists have tons of essays to get you started. Some of their methods are too time consuming and intense for me: i.e. the packing party (you literally pack up everything you own in boxes and over time, only unpack what you need, want and use. The rest will stay in boxes, and be taken to Goodwill or whatever donation tycoon you choose). I have slowly, over the course of 5-6 years, been thinning out my stuff. And my husband’s stuff. At first, he resisted and was very upset which he had ever right to be: I was literally throwing away his stuff. That wasn’t fair to him. I pulled back and just thinned out my stuff. He saw how easy it was to get rid of meaningless clutter and started to follow suit. He’s more ruthless now, but nowhere near what I want him to be. And that’s ok. Of course I have dreams of living in a tiny house, on a sprawling and empty landscape, with the bare minimum in my possession. But, for now, that just isn’t feasible. I have two children (with hopes to have more), two cats, a dog and a husband. My three year old daughter understands the idea of giving toys away to other people. Toys she isn’t interested in anymore. Same goes for books. Our house is relatively small (the only closet is in the master bedroom) as it was built in the 1930s. They didn’t account for storage back then. So all the girls’ toys and things are confined to the living room. The craft-like things are confined to the computer room, with all our office supplies and reference books. The kitchen has all things kitchen (think obvious pots/pans, plates, food, etc) including Ella’s play kitchen (the only instance a toy item is not in the living room). The girls’ bedrooms hold only their clothes and some books (besides bed, dresser, nightstand and diaper changing table). I try to keep the item in the location it’s meant for. My husband has a ton of tools and things for house repair and updating, so I deal with all that if/when it comes into the house. Which it always does. The items we have the biggest battles over are “sentimental” items. I’m all for scanning things into the computer and ditching them. Or taking pictures and ditching them. He is not a fan. So, we’ve found a middle ground of selling or offering to other family members. He has a display case of items he cannot bear to part with. Tons of antique tools, engineering books, his Grandfather’s glasses, etc. I’ve recently started battling with the “decorating” itch. I want our home to have the “industrial farmhouse” appeal and if you look that up online, comes with tons of shelf shit. So, I’ve tried to make decorations functional. Pretty Mason jars with colored tops on display BUT full of snacks. An antique GE fan on a shelf that my husband rewired so it actually works. An old antique sewing machine that serves as the table for our functioning sewing machine. It’s a challenge sometimes but has mostly worked out. I have to be very thoughtful about what I put on the wall. I don’t want to junk up our small walls. I’ve also made an effort to keep the furniture handed down to us as an upgrade to something we already have. We received two marble top nightstands that were his father’s and late mother’s. They are now our nightstands instead of two generic tables from Home Goods. I sold my giant IKEA bookshelf to take on one of his dad’s beautiful German schrank. Think: giant ornate wooden display cabinet shelf thing. Gorgeous and way better than anything IKEA could produce. It’s still tough and I have to say no a lot which family has gotten way better about accepting. All my friends also know that I’d prefer a gift card or an experience, not an item as a gift. I still get gifts occasionally, but they’re super thoughtful and are always put to good use.
Let’s talk about some item “traps”. The just in case, items. You don’t need 6-7 sets of sheets for every bed you have. You need 2: 1 for the bed while the other is washing. When they wear out: replace them. Same for towels. 2 towels per person in the house. So one set will be out, while the other is washing. We also don’t use paper towels too much because we have a milk crate of white rags that we constantly use. When they’re soiled, they go in the dirty crate and once that crate is full, it runs through a bleach wash. I own too many tee shirts, let me confess. I tried to get onto the “uniform” train, but it’s too hard for me. So it’s ok. I’m allowing myself too many t shirts, but I make a conscious effort to not buy any more. I’ll keep what I have but don’t add to it. I am constantly drawn to buying more dresses, too. If you know me, you know I barely ever wear dresses so I’m not sure what that’s about. “Dress for the life you have, not the life you want”. I changed that around a little from the quote, I think it goes like this: “Dress for the career you want”. I refuse. I want to be comfortable. That’s the only career I’m interested in. Hair accessories! What a deep dark hole that can become. I’ve only mastered a few hairstyles: french braid, reverse french braid, and messy bun. Which means, I only need some bobby pins, a few hair ties (They always come in a pack), and maybe 2-3 different clips (plastic “jaws” to clip my hair up). I don’t need anything else! And you probably don’t either! Products. Makeup, toiletries, etc. I’m 31. I’ve pretty much nailed down my bathroom routine and don’t need to be exploring other complicated avenues. I’ve never been into makeup so I don’t plan on starting. If you like tons of products, go ahead, girl! Or guy! But, me, myself, nah. 1 shampoo, 1 conditioner, 1 bar of soap, 1 face wash, 1 face lotion, 1 body lotion, and a modest collection of makeup. I have various other random products that have found their way into my bathroom through impulse buys or presents. I plan on using them up, and not replacing them. I recently dug myself out of a chapstick addiction. I threw everything away and bought 1 stick of Dr. Bronners. It cured me. I used chapstick maybe once a week. Cleaning supplies have also gotten out of hand at my house but I’m working on using up what we have and not replacing them.
All in all, use up what you have, and don’t replace it! Be intentional about what you purchase and/or bring into your home. Don’t be afraid to say no, thank you and don’t be afraid to move on from unhealthy situations, careers and relationships! Minimalism is about you. That’s it.
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