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Becoming a Minimalist


Most Sundays lately, you'll find me digging through my books, clothing and kitchen utensils. I've been on a minimalism mission for a couple of months now. But this newfound passion has been a few years in the making.

As a vegan, I naturally live a more sustainable lifestyle. As a consumer, I am conscientious, buying only cruelty-free, green products, which lends itself to voting with my dollar and giving my money to smaller more conscious companies. And as a spiritualist, I am constantly working on my inner self. I enjoy challenging myself, moving outside my comfort zone, and practicing less attachment to the material world.

A year ago, I wrote a blog post called 25 Tips for Frugal Living. Clearly, the wheels were spinning into live-more-simply-ville. I see that blog post now as an important first step, but it wasn't really pushing me that much. Sure, I could eat out less and cupboard-challenge it. Of course, I could wait for movies to come on Netflix. Yep, I could cut and highlight my own hair. (I really do! Though I'm having second thoughts about this one.) Those changes now seem easy and obvious. Maybe because I've been practicing them. What I gained through that is a greater sense of control and well-being. And I've saved money, too. But lately, I've been ready for the next step. And the next step for me is becoming a minimalist.

Minimalism is a groundswell movement. Can you hear it? It's like the hum of an approaching train. Minimalism has met its time. There was bound to be a backlash to the ostentatious excess of the last 25 years where "more was more." The pendulum is now swinging away from more stuff + bigger houses = happiness, an antiquated equation that only left us broke and spiritually depleted.

There are no set rules for minimalism. From what I've read, it doesn't mean owning only 10 things or living in a tent, it means letting go of the EXCESS in YOUR life. Less stuff means less distraction. Less stuff means more focus and energy. Less stuff means more time, less upkeep, cleaning and maintenance. Less stuff means more money. We think our stuff lifts us up, but the truth is, our stuff weighs us down. Just like physical weight weighs us down. When we lose weight or donate a bag of old clothing, we feel awesome! Lighter! Free! It's a wonderful feeling. And that's how minimalists feel regularly! Yes, please. Life becomes more meaningful when we pare down to what matters: love, relationships, experiences, learning, growing, sharing and being of service.

For some, the difficult part of becoming a minimalist is letting go of stuff, but for me, that's the easy part. Moving as many times as I have forces you into non attachment. (Though getting rid of books has been a tough one. Happy to say, I've donated about 75% of them!) What's hard for me is not the physical letting go, but the mental letting go of old thoughts. Namely, the thought that downsizing means I am stepping backwards in life.

I've worked hard for what I have and the lifestyle I've achieved. I love my new car and my house with a pool. But as a hypnotherapist, I realize how "programmed" I am by the materialist point of view. It's been drilled into our American heads. But many cultures live minimally in modest apartments or small houses; in fact, countries that practice minimalism are rated the happiest! It's only a thought that the bigger the house, the fancier the car, the more designer clothes, the happier you are. And thoughts can be changed.

But changing our thoughts can be a real struggle. My spiritual path is A Course in Miracles and in that path we taught to relinquish our ego (fear) and let spirit (love) guide us. The Course likens us to little babies who scream and cry when scissors are being taken away from them. We don't know what's good for us. The things we think make us happy are the very things that can hurt us. I've been holding tightly to the thought that a certain lifestyle makes me happy (or peaceful or fulfilled or content). And the truth is, I've never been happier. But something tells me that I could find even greater happiness. I figure, if I'm wrong, I can always upsize again!

Isn't it interesting that once you change that thought and make the decision to go a different route, you miraculously see the signs pointing you in that direction? I told my husband Brad that I wanted to live more minimally and he didn't bat an eye. He could live in a one room apartment and be fine. Once I made the commitment to move and get rid of about 30%-50% of what we own, I "coincidentally" ran across more posts, videos and articles about hardcore minimalists. I started reading Leo Baubata's popular blog Zen Habits two years ago. Leo is a family man living in San Francisco and one of the more well-known promoters of minimalism, so I've been familiar with the lifestyle, but lately I was reading about people who were making radical changes, like abruptly quitting Wall Street jobs, selling their houses, and getting rid of everything except the things they used each day. 

I won't be moving to Montana anytime soon, but Brad and I are moving when our lease is up in June. We've only been here for two years, but we feel good about downsizing in order to save more money and live more simply. We've decided that the payoff of less things, less expenses and more financial freedom, and thus greater peace of mind and the ability to go where we want and do what we want is much more of a tremendous gain and reward than a house with a pool filled with stuff in a coveted neighborhood. What I want is to feel and to experience, rather than to own. And I'm excited about where this journey will take us.

Here's what I've been doing to become a minimalist in my life.

1. Join blogs of inspiring minimalists, like Zen Habits.

2. For every piece of clothing you buy, donate one. Even better, stop buying.

3. Start with one room (or one drawer if that is overwhelming) and clear out what you haven't used in a year. Then move on to the next room.

4. Let go of chachkies. Do you really need five vases?

5. Take your name off mail clutter, like catalogs, and go paperless for bills.

6. Don't emotionalize things. Save the emotion for humans, animals and the environment.

7. Shop quality over quantity.

8. Throw away old cosmetics and toiletries.

9. Donate random dishes, pans and mugs.

10. Toss clothes with stains, rips, holes, or missing pieces.

11. Think twice before buying anything. The ol' asking of yourself, "Is this a need or a want?"

12. List something for sale each week on Craigslist or Ebay.

13. Eat more healthfully and simply.

14. Relinquish relationships that complicate your life or no longer feel right.

Becoming a minimalist is a process. And everyone is different. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Do what you can today. Don't wait. There's no better time to start feeling better (and lighter) than now!

And keep in mind, if Mother Theresa can own only a bible and a sweater, we can live without 10 pairs of jeans.

UPDATE: After a long deliberation, we decided not to move but to sign another two year lease on our house. With three months of hindsight, we can see that it was definitely the right decision for us. We compromised and decided to not take any costly vacations this year, nor to make any big purchases, but rather to continue on this path of living with more intention. What the potential move did for us, however, was to kick us in gear about downsizing our stuff. We've let go of so many useless things. There's a saying that you're held accountable to what you know. Now that we know minimalism, we know that we will stay on this path for the rest of our lives.