What is minimalism? It seems obvious, doesn’t it? It’s living with the minimum that one needs. The funny thing is, minimalism is different for every situation and for every person. The trick is finding out what that minimum level is for YOU.
When I started out this journey, I did what comes natural to me: I read about it. I found articles on people who live with just 99 items (or 10 or 333 or 1000 items). I found articles on people who live the most Spartan lives possible. I saw pictures of tiny houses and even watched some of the tiny-house-movement-related TV shows.
Because I like clothes, I was particularly interested in those “capsule wardrobe” photos where 10 individual items become 75 outfits. This is especially useful if one lives in a tiny house with very little closet space. And if one lives like this, does one do laundry every other day? And if there’s no room in the tiny house for a washer and dryer, does one do laundry by hand?
But I digress.
I’ll never know the answers to these questions because that is not the kind of minimalism I am interested in. It’s just not for me, though it certainly might fit someone else. For me, minimalism should not feel like I stripped everything out of my life. I want to feel like Goldilocks: just right. And that takes some thought. The work comes later.
I first became aware of the word minimalism used in reference to one’s lifestyle when I read the book The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. But to be perfectly honest, I’ve been aware of the type of lifestyle since I was a kid because my mother believed in it.
When my mother was growing up, the idea was to hold onto everything because you just never knew when something “might come in handy.” You might be able to repurpose it, a post-World War II idea. When a young couple set up housekeeping, they welcomed used pieces of furniture from friends and neighbors. Just as we brought home leftovers from family meals and used every morsel in some other dish, I wore hand-me-downs from my cousins. New clothes were rare. You just didn’t get rid of things, and certainly not on a large scale.
Unlike many of her friends, my mother was not a “keeper.” She didn’t like the house to be cluttered with a lot of bric-a-brac (my phrase, she would have said “stuff”). She liked the feeling of a clean slate, a new beginning, empty space. While those phrases seem trite today, they were new then.
Because of those prevailing attitudes, and partially because of her own family’s stubbornness, Mom wasn’t always “allowed” to be as complete or thorough as she would have liked. Even so, periodically she would go through the house and get rid of things that were damaged, outdated, or no longer used by anyone in the family. She called it “cleaning house.”
Naturally, the rest of us didn’t like “cleaning house.” We didn’t like having to get rid of things that we held onto forever “just in case” we needed it. Cleaning out was work, annoying and tedious. Keeping everything was comfortable. You didn’t have to think about keeping things. Change is hard to accept. But Mom usually won and we moved on to some new piece of clothing or furniture. And, I might add, we usually didn’t miss the items we eliminated.
Later, the simplicity movement argued for the same sorts of principles. If you became overwhelmed, it was because your life, your schedule, and your space was too crowded and you needed to simplify. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” “Clean out the clutter.” “Just say no.”
Today it’s called minimalism and different styles of minimalism abound. Early in my research, I happened onto the name and website of Joshua Becker, BecomingMinimalist. He refers to what he calls “Rational Minimalism,” in which you “find a style of minimalism that works for you. One that is not cumbersome, but freeing based on your values, desires, passions, and rational thinking.” Or, as I was thinking, “just right.”
What does this mean? It means living with only what you need and that definition is up to you. You can keep your hobbies. You can decorate your house. Your kids can have toys. Your boyfriend can keep his beer bottle collection. Your husband can have his man-cave. You don’t have to throw everything out and be limited to bare walls, a cot to sleep on, and no amenities.
And you cannot, will not, and should not be judged by anyone for the approach you take.
If you feel someone is judging you for your choices, you are within your minimalistic rights to remove them from your list of friends because, in my view, they are not your friend.
You may have read through the prior blog posts here to see how my husband and I minimalized in order to move into a house that was more properly sized to our needs. After living in our previous house for 10 years, we took some time to reassess our lives and our work. We found that we only needed HALF the space we thought we needed when we bought the house. We realized that, without having to maintain the excess, we would be free to do other things including work – and play – we loved.
Once we figured that out, the process of minimalizing truly began for us. We emptied out our old house, sold it, and moved to a new one. The important thing you need to know is that, while it was what WE needed to do, this may not be what YOU need. Everyone’s road to minimalizing is going to look different.
For some people, it will be cleaning out all the antiques that they inherited from loving family members who had no understanding of what style the recipients enjoyed. For others, it will be no longer keeping baby clothes that their children will not want 25 years later when both styles and condition of those garments have changed.Ddownsizing may mean going to one car instead of two, to an apartment instead of a house, or donating a collection of dolls to a hospital for the children being treated there instead of dusting over them, week in and week out, sitting on a shelf or in a cabinet.
Sell. Donate. Throw away. Keep. It’s your decision.
I can’t believe that it was over five months ago that we moved. We love our new house. It’s half the size of the prior one. It’s the exact amount of space we calculated that we used at the previous house and guess what? It is exactly what we need.
Because that’s the other thing you should know about downsizing: it doesn’t end with one big push to clean out. It happens over and over again, in many different ways both large and small. It’s been five months since we moved and just this week, we cleaned out more excess glassware from the kitchen cabinets. We didn’t have to. The extra glasses were not in our way. There was plenty of room in the cabinets. But one morning we looked in there and said, “We don’t use all these glasses.” We pulled out what we haven’t used and what we see we won’t need and donated those glasses to a community re-use center.
I expect that process to go on. It won’t happen regularly or even, perhaps, intentionally. It may happen in response to life changes, or simply because we need to freshen our lives and let new things in. But now that we have gone through minimalizing in a big way, we can see lots of little ways to keep going.
An extra note: Thank you for reading these entries on Downsizing. I hope you enjoyed the journey. I certainly had fun blogging the experience and I look forward to sharing more experiences in the future.
This blog post is part of a series called Downsizing. It is the chronicle of moving from a 2475 square foot home to one approximately half its size during the first six months of 2016. It takes place in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.