My journey towards minimalism started in May of 2009, I just didn’t know that’s where I was headed. My husband had just been accepted into a foreign medical school, which would require us to move out of the United States for two years to a small island in the Atlantic. By small, I mean 16 square miles. If it had been just he and I, I would have felt a bit more adventurous, but we would also have our three children, ages 3, 5 and 7 coming along as well. We were living in Arizona at the time, in a modest, four bedroom home, drove two vehicles, had a yard with a trampoline and were well on our way to accumulating what we thought every family was supposed to own.
We priced the move to the island, as well as what storage would cost over the two years to house all of our belongings, and quickly realized that we would need to sell our stuff to 1) help fund our move and 2) avoid having to pay $500 a month to store all of it while we were gone. It was a very difficult decision for me to make, my husband has always been an ‘easy come easy go’ type of guy, so it didn’t bother him much to get rid of most of our belongings. We planned a BIG garage sale day, and had high hopes of making a lot of money. We sold our camping equipment, yard tools, flat-screen TV, couches, kitchen table and chairs, the kid’s toys and all the rest of the odds and ends located throughout the house.
To say we made even a fraction of our money back on what we originally spent on all those things would be an exaggeration. I remember becoming extremely upset when my husband sold a very nice, artificial houseplant that I had just purchased for $75 a mere two months prior, for $3 to some lucky Saturday morning garage sale shopper. I’m not sure which one of us was more upset, me about the $3, or him over the fact that I had spent that much on a fake plant to begin with! This was my first introduction towards minimalism, even though it was ‘forced’, it dawned on me for a few minutes that accumulating ‘stuff’ cost a lot, and it definitely was worth different amounts of money to different people, and that amount had more to do with emotions towards the object than anything else. After the sale, we still had enough belongings to rent a smaller storage unit to house some of the items we decided we didn’t want to repurchase when we came back, our beds, my piano, and our high-quality kitchen items.
Fast forward two years, and we were done with life on the island and the first part of medical school, it was time to leave. This time, it wasn’t nearly as difficult, since we had moved to the island and set up house in a 2-bedroom apartment for the five of us. I had bought what I felt were just the essentials, knowing that we would not be bringing any of it back with us. We sold almost everything to incoming medical students, and it was pretty near painless. Once again, I realized our things only have power over us if we get emotionally attached to them. Because I knew we would be leaving, I never let myself get attached to any of my new kitchen items, bedding, or other household items, and selling them was a piece of cake.
Back in the states, it was time to move to New York City for my husband’s medical rotations. I was looking forward to setting up house in an actual home, with a yard again for the kids, and getting back to ‘normal’ life. But, it just wasn’t going to happen. We ended up renting a 1,000 square foot small 3-bedroom apartment (or, family home, as they like to call it), with one kitchen drawer, and a balcony, on the third floor of a complex. When we got there, and the ABF truck showed up with all of our belongings from our storage unit in Arizona, we realized it was going to be a tight fit. Adding to that, we purchased new couches, a table and chairs, a large flat-screen TV and more odds and ends to fill up our little home to make it more comfortable.
The problem was, we weren’t more comfortable, at least I wasn’t. We had our camping equipment shoved under our beds, every single closet packed tight from top to bottom with everything from extra bedding, to bulk food to dirty clothes hampers. We were cramped. After about a year of living in the apartment this way, I had become interested in mindful living through other sources, and one day as I was browsing the Internet reading about it, I came across the sites ZenHabits by Leo Babauta, and Joshua Becker’s site, BecomingMinimalist. The information they shared about minimalism struck me deep inside, and I realized that that type of mindful living was what I was craving. I devoured both of their blogs, read every book I could download on my Kindle about simplifying and minimalism. I found other sites like The Art of Simple and Courtney Carver’s blog, Be More With Less. I read everything I could find, until I was overflowing with the excitement and courage to put it into practice.
My first 3 months of going through every single thing in our apartment, resulted in donating twenty-seven, 13 gallon garbage bags full of ‘stuff’ to the Salvation Army in our area. That number still amazes me even today, after numerous other trips to donation centers since that first time. I went through literally everything. Every piece of clothing (except my husband’s), every kitchen item, pulled out everything under all of our beds, pet supplies, extra blankets and towels, pictures on the walls, canned foods that were almost expired. You name it, I looked at it, if we hadn’t used it in the past 3-6 months I asked myself if it was seasonal and worth keeping, if not, I put it in the donate pile. I was lucky enough that my husband and children eventually caught the excitement and were willing to get rid of some of their own items as well. As I cleared off our counters, then our end tables, our kitchen table, our cupboards, an amazing thing started to happen. I felt lighter, free and more energized! I had more personal space to move around in, to be more creative. I didn’t have so much ‘stuff’ in my line of vision all the time, which seemed to somehow give my brain a break from being over stimulated just by having so many items in constant view.
It has been over a year since that initial frenzy of removing all of our excess, and I am still excited about how much my life and thinking has changed. It seems we have come full circle as we have now moved out of New York to Georgia, for my husband’s residency. We are back living in a four-bedroom house, with a yard. However, I’m happy to say we have only purchased two chairs and a carpet for the wooden floor since moving in, at least in terms of additional household furniture items. After having gotten rid of so much of what we had, many of our walls are bare, we have nooks that are meant to house decorations that sit empty, and every single one of our closets is maybe a quarter full. The space is so liberating and calm, I love it. I love my countertops that have next to nothing on them; our kitchen drawers with only a few items in each one, my bedroom that has zero pictures on the walls and my desktop that is so clean some people might wonder if I even really do any work. When I shop for anything now, including food, I ask myself if the item is something that will be used, eaten and/or bring joy into our lives? Will the time I spend using it, preparing it, eating it enhance my life or take away from it? I have found that as I think about these things, I am much more likely to not purchase unneeded items, or that I will wait longer to think about the purchase before deciding.
Minimalism seems to be a continual process, since what I use today, I may not be using next year. People change, needs change and it takes an intentional, mindful lifestyle to continually detach us from items we no longer need and let them go. Just yesterday I took a large box to the Goodwill filled with items that I still thought I needed just 6 months ago, but haven’t used, thought about or worn since then. I haven’t regretted anything I’ve parted with so far, and honestly, I don’t even remember what most of it was at this point, at least not specifically. Minimalism and living mindfully has brought so much more time, clarity and peace to my life, I couldn’t imagine living any other way, I trust the process and hope you will too!