THE FREEDOM OF MINIMALISM

Friday, May 13, 2016 Gabrielle Bill 0 Comments



I'm an avid YouTube watcher. It's part of the reason I stopped paying for cable, because frankly, I was watching way more hours of YouTube videos each week than I was of network TV. This made for fascinating scenarios when my friends would talk about the latest episode of Parks & Recreation or Modern Family or whatever, and I'd be like, well Zoella's latest favorites video was just....no one? Just me? Ok.

I mention this because sometimes the channels I subscribe to don't upload fast enough, and it results in me aimlessly trolling my list of recommended videos. It was this very act of trolling that led me to discover LightbyCoco last year. Coco is a minimalist, or as she calls it, someone who ascribes to the principles of "living light." I watched a few of her videos and, this is going to sound totally hippie dippie, but I felt a sort of calling. 

When I was a child, I loved to collect things -- stickers, keychains, postcards, Beanie Babies -- but as I've gotten older, I've noticed that all of these "things" started to weigh me down. I found myself going to not one, not two, but THREE grand openings of The Container Store and relishing all of their amazing storage solutions, only to realize that the way I was approaching organizing was just finding creative ways to hide my excess shit, which at the end of the day, meant I still owned way too much stuff.

I really started to notice just how much I had amassed when I moved to Philadelphia and went from a 1,100 square foot Florida apartment with 1.5 baths, a walk-in closet, coat closet, linen closet, pantry and about 15 cabinets and cupboards to a 700 square foot box with less than half the storage. When I moved I found that every single nook and cranny where I could possibly hide a "thing" was quickly full, and maybe for some people that works, but for me, it just made me stressed.

My best friend doesn't understand this, because in her world, as long as everything has a place she's cool, but I was consistently reminded of how full every space was and it weighed me down mentally. When I watched Coco's minimalist house tour or capsule wardrobe, the idea really resonated with me, and so I started decluttering.

This was months before Marie Kondo's now famous book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up came into fashion. By the time that book caught fire, I had already made four trips to Goodwill with full carloads of stuff I no longer wanted or needed. I started calling myself a minimalist. 

And then this happened:

I was on a girls' trip to New York City with three of my best friends from high school, and naturally because it's a topic that inspires me, I started talking about my journey to minimalism and how it had begun to change my life. And one of my friends called me out. She took one look at my weekend makeup bag, which was filled with probably 12 products and said, "Umm, look at that," (pointing to the bag), "You're no minimalist."

And that's when I realized just how misunderstood minimalism was. Sure, if you're going by the traditional definition from the dictionary, minimalism is the art of "extreme" spareness and simplicity. But in reality, 1) minimalism need not be extreme if that doesn't work for you, and 2) you make your own rules!

The root of the minimalism movement is in the concept of keeping items and possessions that have a purpose. I think Marie Kondo's principle of things "sparking joy" takes it a bit far, because my whisk in my kitchen rarely sparks joy, but rather it has a use, and I frequently take it out of its drawer to stir up baking mixes or scramble my eggs. This is in contrast to the three pairs of kitchen tongs that I owned at the beginning of my journey or the "spare" coffee maker that I kept in my hall closet "just in case my Keurig ever breaks." 

Let's face it, if my Keurig ever breaks, am I going to whip out the 3-year-old KitchenAid or am I going to go out and buy another Keurig?

Creating a minimalist home is about evaluating the possessions that add value to your life in one way or another and then surrounding yourself with only those possessions. But YOU get to define what value means and which possessions fall into that category. For me, I love beauty products, and YES, I use 12 products every single day. So having these things in my possession actually supports my minimalism, rather than refuting it. Someone who maintains a makeup bag of 8 items, on the other hand, but only uses 2 of them daily, is actually less of a minimalist than me. 

The journey of getting to minimalism is fun and challenging. It sounds hokey, but I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders every time I made a donation or realized I could pass an item along to someone who would enjoy it more than me. I had a party a few months ago, and I put out about 10 items I no longer wanted. I felt more joy in seeing them pass into new hands than I ever would have with those things sitting unused in my drawers. And oh -- giving myself permission to throw away photos that brought up bad memories? That may have been the most cathartic decluttering session of them all.

As I just moved into an even smaller apartment, minimalism has been on my mind again, and I continue to go through my belongings and pull out things I can pass along. Those old chargers, plates and napkins that I had on my tiny kitchen table? I realized that because they're old, sort of faded and chipped that every time I looked at them, I felt a knot in my stomach. I got rid of them. And frankly, I kind of liked the look of the bare table more, because it showed off the wood grain and shifted the focus to the beautiful, cream-colored chairs that flanked it. Those gorgeous pillows on my couch that are crazy uncomfortable because the ends of the feathers stick into your back every time you try to lay on them? Those went too, to a household where "show" pillows are necessary and comfort doesn't matter.

I still have two trunks full of stuff from my childhood that I'm not ready to let go of. Old yearbooks, my baby blanket, a few stuffed animals, my grandfather's Gator hat. I still have 10 nail polishes (down from 40!) and 10 coffee mugs (all varieties of nerdy!). But these items are additive to my life, rather than subtractive, so minimalism is still achieved for me.

You might be wondering what in the heck any of this has to do with careers, and I'll admit that the relationship is tangential. But I think the moral of the story is that surrounding yourself with things, experiences, people and the like that ADD to your life can be massively powerful. And along those same lines, removing the things that DETRACT from your life can be even more so. 

What might happen if you cleared off your desk at work today? What if you removed those piles of papers you've been meaning to attend to (but never find the time to look at)? I challenge you to clear away the useless office supplies that you reach for once every six months (like tape! Who really needs tape on their desk?). Think about what might happen if you replace your twelve knick knacks with two framed photos of loved ones that remind you of serene, peaceful or truly happy moments? How would you feel if you kept out the one award that's most meaningful to you and hid those that don't make you feel proud?

You can choose to apply the principles of minimalism to anything in your life, really, from the physical space around you to the mental chatter that clutters your thoughts and inhibits focus. Apply it to your email inbox (Hi Christine!) or streamline your notes by using a single notebook. Maybe create a work "uniform" that helps you get dressed in the morning with ease. Do whatever feels right to you and go slow. Make small changes that you try out for a few weeks to see how you feel. 

I know for me, both the journey and the end result have proven to be powerful in shifting not only my mindset, but my finances (I buy less and am more careful about what I do buy). I'm significantly more relaxed, and instead of looking out into my space and seeing stress and clutter, I see peace. It's been transformational. 

Now it's your turn. Have you heard of minimalism, and do you think it's absolutely nuts? Have you tried it and loved it, too? What are your best tips for helping others achieve minimalism in their life or work? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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