Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Resolution: Minimalism

One of my new year's resolutions is to embrace minimalism. This isn't a new topic--I'm always thinking about it in the back of my mind. But I decided that instead of it just being a nagging thought or a nebulous "wouldn't that be nice" (or an every-few-months freak-out where the crap literally drives me bonkers and I go into frenzied purging mode), I wanted to finally take some real steps to make it a thoughtful and sustainable model, one that becomes a part of my everyday life (and the family's).

At heart, I am truly a minimalist. When I see pictures online of sparse Scandinavian homes, I want to throw out everything in my house and live in a bright white box with a pretty white table and a white sofa (with a wool gray blanket perfectly draped over it). I want to have nothing. I am also very adversely affected by visual clutter.  At work, if my desk is cluttered or dirty I can't get work done. My coworkers make fun of me for constantly attacking my desk with wet wipes. I often think about my advisor in college, Prof. Rabkin. I loved him as an advisor--the man is brilliant, funny, irreverent--but that man's office was so. cluttered. and. messy. When we had meetings, he would say "come on in!" and then literally knock over a tower of 15 books teetering on a chair so I could sit down. I would sit in our meeting silently in horror, stealing glances at the 15 books now flung all over the floor.

I'm a minimalist when it comes to possessions too. For the longest time, especially as a young working woman, I thought I needed to accessorize with different jewelry every day to look put together, so I'd go online or to the mall and buy fun costume jewelry here and there. But I ended up almost never wearing them. They'd just collect dust on the necklace tree in the corner of the bedroom. Every morning, I would instead default to the same earrings, the same necklace, the same bracelet, the same watch and my wedding ring--and what I really mean by that is I just never took any of it off, because I always sleep with all my jewelry on except the bracelet and watch. None of it was costume jewelry--they were all real gold or silver jewelry. Once I realized this about myself, I stopped buying costume jewelry entirely. I've come to realize that I don't do well with too many choices. I like wearing the same jewelry every day. I have a closet full of clothes but wear the same few sweaters in the winter, and the same t-shirts in the summer. I have about 5 nice bags but I use the same one every day. (Tangent: I also hate going to diners and Cheesecake Factory because the menus have a gajillion items.) Despite knowing this, I buy things. Why? I think it's the fun of the hunt. I think it's retail therapy. I think it's buying into the lie of consumerism. The worst part is the cycle that follows: you have too much stuff, so you go and spend more money on ways to organize the stuff, but the stuff eventually wins and takes over, then you stress about it, then you purge. Rinse and repeat. I read this quote somewhere: "Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly." -- Epictetus. Wuuut. So on point!

The following are some concrete steps I'm taking to to pursue minimalism. None of these are purely my own ideas--I've been doing a lot of reading and writing down tips I find helpful and adding my own thoughts to them.

1. Define your minimalism. Every person has his/her own idea of what minimalism looks like. I'm working on articulating and honing my version of minimalism.
The broad goals (the "what") I have written down so far are:
- to have less stuff of better quality in my house
- to buy less stuff overall
- to spend less money on stuff
The reasons (the "why") are:
- to free up more money and time to spend on people and causes and experiences and travel
- to simplify my life and have better focus on the important things
- to make the house less cluttered, and easier to clean, which means less time spent cleaning too

I'm never going to be the extreme minimalist I describe above, which is ok. But I want to find my happy equilibrium of minimalism.

2. Take inventory. Go through all your stuff, by type. For clothes/shoes/bags/etc., it can be helpful to write down what you have. Sometimes, you have so much crap that the good stuff is buried with the bad stuff and you forget you have it. Keep what you want to keep, declutter and get rid of the stuff you don't want (point 3 below) and make a shopping list of anything you don't have but really, actually need. This helps you to better use the stuff you do keep. I recently heard about an app called Stylebook and I want to try it out. It lets you upload pictures of your clothes, and then it puts together outfits for you. Sometimes I think good outfits are in my closet, I just don't have the mental energy to sit there and figure out what goes well with what.

3. Get rid of it. I've been on a mission getting rid of the clutter around the house. So far, I've done the kids' rooms, the linen closet, the kitchen and my closet. I still have to do the basement (uyyyy), my bedroom and the kids' toys (never ends...). Guidelines are, get rid of it if: a) I haven't used it in a while (other than seasonal items or occasionally-used items like tents or sports gear, unless it's really not getting used at all), b) it doesn't fit (you mean I won't ever again fit into that suit I bought when I was 24?), c) it's not in good shape and can't be easily repaired or d) my tastes have changed and I just don't like it anymore. I sell or donate the items in good condition, and the rest is thrown out. I use the Poshmark app to sell clothes/shoes/bags/accessories (I've made close to $1000 on there, but if I think about how much I spent on those items originally...ugh). If you and your friends are similar sizes, you can do a clothing/shoes swap. Size doesn't matter for accessories and anything else--home wares, kitchen stuff, kids' stuff, even furniture, etc. It's a good way to get more use out of the item and keep things out of landfills. Tip: do not get rid of toys when kids are home or awake. All of a sudden, that toy that was buried at the bottom of the toy chest for 6 months is "my favorite and I have to keep it!" Do it at night...with wine and George Michael.

4. Quality over quantity. When you actually need something, try to get something that's good quality and that will last. This obviously doesn't apply to everything, but clothes and shoes, I'm looking at you. I am as guilty as anyone of loving fast fashion. It's cheap and it's non-committal. It's also wreaking havoc on our environment, taking advantage of/abusing cheap labor and causing our landfills to overflow. I'm actually going to try to keep clothing purchases to a minimum in 2017 (I didn't say shoes right........), but if I do need something, I'm going to try to buy better quality, less quantity. There's a freedom that comes with this point--if you're buying less stuff, you can afford to spend more on each item, instead of constantly feeling the need to search for bargains. I'm also researching brands that are socially and environmentally conscious--if you know of good ones, let me know. Some people are going the "capsule wardrobe" route--which sounds nice but I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet. Maybe one day.

5. Repair and reuse, if possible. Let's be honest. There are certain things in your house that are broken and you KNOW you will not get around to fixing them, or you don't know how to fix them. And so they just sit there in the corner of your basement/kitchen/garage/etc. collecting dust and silently nagging at you. If you know it's not going to get fixed, and it's not worth the money or time to do it, just get rid of it. But. I bought a sewing machine (last year...it's still in the box...) because I want to learn how to sew. If I buy good quality clothes and they need small repairs, I want to be able to repair them myself on the sewing machine (again, once I learn how to use it). If the repair is harder, I can always go to my trusty tailor. For other non-clothing items, sometimes all you need is some superglue. Ask yourself, "can it be fixed?" before throwing it out and buying something new.

6. Don't buy organization items (furniture, bins, baskets, etc.) before you know exactly what you're organizing. Self-explanatory. I read this somewhere and I was like, "ugh why are you staring into my soul." I love organizing. It satisfies a deep need within me. I think it's genetic. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to visit my dad's office. It was, for a budding organization freak, heaven. His desk was spotless. All his paper files were paper clipped in the exact same spot (an inch in from the left), and then perfectly stacked. I would go and take it all in, and sometimes for fun I would reorganize it.

7. If you need something, see if you can borrow it instead of buying it. Ask friends and family if they can lend you an item. If you need it once, and you borrow it and then return it, awesome--you didn't bring an extra item in your house and you didn't spend money. If you find that you need it often and are borrowing it often, it's a good sign that maybe you should buy the item.

8. Don't bring it into the house unless it's actually necessary/be zealous for your home/ask yourself 'do I need it?' multiple times. I read something a while ago that really helped me with this: we call all this collective stuff "clutter"--but it's not like it magically appeared in my house one day. I consciously brought it in. That really re-framed the way I thought about it. Why do we act like we are powerless in the fight against clutter--why are we resigned to it as our certain fate? This includes things we buy, but it can also include gifts and things you were given for free. It's simple, but hard. It does not come in the house unless you actually need it. This stops the cycle of getting and purging before it starts.

Be zealous for your home. Bring in things that are worthy to be in your house and live with you. Set the bar high so you're not buying or bringing home random crap. I think Marie Kondo uses the question "does it spark joy?" This doesn't apply to everything, and every blog post on Kondo inevitably has that commenter: "Does my vegetable peeler or jump cables spark joy for me? No but I need them." (eye roll) It obviously has its limits--apply it as you see fit.

Ask yourself "do I need this?" multiple times before buying something. One way I do this is to go online shopping, fill the cart, and then close the window. I mull over the item for a day or two. If I really think I need it, then I'll buy it. If not, I won't. I read that the act of shopping online and putting items in the virtual cart brings us the same satisfaction as actually buying the item (in other words, it's really about the hunt). I don't know if that's always true, but it makes sense.

9. Remember that minimalism is a means to an end. People embrace minimalism because they need a change in their lives. The worship of stuff is not working out--so they use minimalism as a way out. The funny thing is minimalism can also become a problem, if you end up worshiping it. It is a means to an end, but if you make it the end, you'll still be left stressed out because it won't satisfy you or solve your issues. I realize I do this--it's the classic "create order and gain control of your life when there otherwise isn't any order/control" move. When I'm stressed, I clean the house or I get rid of stuff or I organize or I make to-do lists. My house might be cleaner and neater (and my to-do list done), but I don't feel any different. I'm decluttering my house when I should be decluttering my life (so deep!). Usually, what I really need in that moment is to sit down, take a deep breath, be quiet, think, pray and listen to God. Minimalism won't satisfy you--it is a tool to help you get to a place where you are more satisfied. I think there's a very good reason that convents and monasteries are so sparse. Cut the crap, see the important stuff.

Is anyone else working on minimalism? Help me! Give me your tips and good ideas.

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