Out of the Shadows – Living with Less

I realize that I had been trying to pare down longer than I can remember and years prior to this “minimalism” movement became a thing in the media.

I have memories of glimpses into this life way back in the 1990’s when I went to the Dominican Republic to volunteer in an orphanage, seeing how little brought these children joy and how little they needed to live to be happy. When I came back to the US, I was disgusted with consumerism and the mass consumption we take for granted as part of our lives every day.

In 2007 when I went to back to school in Phoenix (after being a nurse practitioner for a few years and feeling like I needed few more tricks in my bag) to do massage therapy is when I feel like this quest officially began for me. Because I was taking night class, I had to be in Phoenix most of the week to attend classes so I rented an apartment. Well, the beautiful little apartment was literally empty. I had a blow up mattress that halfway during this year started with a slow leak. I purchased and assembled an IKEA dining set. I had one other lounge chair – my “study” chair – that was also an assembly-required gadget from IKEA. That was it. A few clothes. One or two old plates. Utensils. A mug and coffee maker. I loved it. It was refreshing and clean and uncluttered, and I was able to keep distractions at bay while I was studying and practicing massage techniques. Win!

When I would go home on the weekends, I would be subconsciously (because I loved leaving the chaos behind at the end of the weekend to go to my uncluttered place) and consciously bothered by all the things in my house and got rid of a few things. At the time I was in a relationship so going full force into getting rid of things was not on the radar, but I always felt relieved when I came back to the apartment. Relieved to have less despite coming home to the familiar. But I was slowly starting to get rid of a few things, sort of inconspicuously. Overall, the cleaning out was a bigger symptom of what I was beginning. Isn’t it always?

I was fortunate enough to be chosen for a few contract military assignments in which we were housed in local hotel rooms or long-term furnished living spaces. In these settings, I was separated from my “stuff” and truly reveled in how little I needed and how I did not miss any of my things. Don’t get me wrong, I loved coming home and seeing my stuff and felt some comfort with it, but it was becoming less and less so. The meaning of the items changed. The concepts of living in the moment, the experiences I was having, and the memories I was making were starting to take the forefront, something which I had seemingly forgotten through the years of accumulating stuff and belongings and the status symbols that seemingly define us while we are in a fog or duped by the influences of the media and society.

In 2009 when my relationship dissolved, I went on what I thought was binge with cleaning out my house. I needed to get rid of things that were weighing me down. A few books (this was the hardest to get rid of as I am a booklover). A few items in the kitchen. Old papers. Always the clothes. A few knick-knacks. Cards and letters that I had been holding on to. I stopped cable. And so it began.

I attended a documentary showing in Peoria, AZ some years after I started “the process” when the Minimalists made their debut. It was held with a question-and-answer session afterwards with Joshua Becker and his wife, and there were a few like-minded people there who “got it.” The scenes and topics and ideas seemed so familiar to me, and I knew I was on the right track.

When I hiked the Camino De Santiago in Spain in 2015 and 2016, again I was reminded how little I really need. With the backpack of 13 pounds on my back, having a roof over my head every night, and having newly made friends from all over the world in hostels and on the trail – that was enough. It allowed me to see again what is important and what is valued – the daily interactions and experiences and memories we create. The “why” of living.

Every few months through today, I re-evaluate the usefulness, joy, or presence of a piece of something in my home. I think about the last time I used it, wore it, read it, or otherwise obtained some pleasure from it. If something doesn’t “make the cut” at the time, I say, “If I haven’t used you in another month, you’re out.” It’s such an interesting concept that we keep things for the “what if” or “just in case” reasons. Most things will never be used…they are really just taking up valuable space, cluttering up the house and our lives when most of us are yearning for clarity and simplicity.

On an aside, does this holding on come from a standpoint of fear or of a mindset of lack? It’s something to consider when you have come from a family who did a lot of things based in fear, based in growing up in a war-torn Germany, and from a historical cultural imperative of living frugally and saving everything. Another blog post, I am sure of it.

Back to the point at hand….Some weeks I have daily rampages during which I pick up to 20 items which make it to the trash or Goodwill. I feel like Goodwill is a trusty friend to be receiving my old or gently-used belonging, but things that will make it into someone else’s home and be reused and enjoyed by the next person. I revel in driving up to the place and giving things away. Up to recently, I have never sold anything because that would be just one more obstacle to getting rid of stuff because it would end up just being stored in the garage or a closet until someone decided to buy it or until I decided to do a garage sale which has never happened. Of late, though, I have discovered the easy process of EBay, and so some of the more valuable items have graduated to online status for a defined period of time. If they don’t sell or if the prospect of online selling (collecting money, mailing, possibly having to deal with returns, reviews etc.) becomes too tedious or time-consuming, I will also give them away.

Remember that we are always trading valuable time for our efforts. What are you really wanting to give your efforts to when time is so limited and precious?

I have not stopped, and every day, I get rid of more despite now having been in the process for years. The more I get rid of, the more I want to get rid of.

My cupboards, drawers, and closets are becoming clear. I know where things are. I feel lighter. I have no attachment to anything, really. I have a few sentimental items that I am holding on to, but even these may eventually lose their luster or value since the emotion of the item or the person related to the item is always in my mind or my heart, not in a “thing.” Even as a photographer and having taking photos since I was 6 with my first camera, my albums and boxes of photos seem to have lost their importance or relevance. I think about what I might need to do with these next, but that will be a little bit of a process as this is nearly a half century of memories.

But what are memories anyway? They are in our heads and our hearts. They provide us with a level of comfort and fill our soul that no object can ever do.  

Another thing that this whole process has allowed me to do is to evaluate relationships, activities, and commitments that no longer serve me. Letting go has allowed me to make room for other things I highly value and has created immeasurably valuable and treasured space. Space to create more. Space to develop a business that allows me some freedom. Space to learn. Space to invest in what is important to me.

And I am not done.

So while I am “getting rid” of things, the process has added to my life in tremendous ways that cannot be calculated or seen…it is a feeling.

A feeling of confidence and comfort that I am worth more than my stuff. A knowing that I am ok without the encumbrances of having more. A certainty that less continues to define my life, allowing me more time, freedom, and focus on what is important and valuable to me. A clearing of the chaos, confusion, and overwhelm of stuff and worry about keeping the stuff. A clearing of the mind of the dependency on outside stuff to make the inside feel good. A knowledge that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone by keeping up with crazy spending and keeping up with the neighbors or friends who are in so much debt.  

People are quite judgmental about wanting my motivations or reasons for living with less. They think I’ve become a tree hugger or have given up on life. They think I am broke. A tree hugger I am — in a way — but not in the way one might think. When we consume, we contribute to waste which ultimately hurts the environment in the production process of the thing but also in the ultimate landfill status of the thing. Why not think about what we really need and think about reusing or repurposing? Also, when we consume and keep buying, we are giving away our hard-earned money to people whose dreams we’re supporting while we’re giving up our own dreams. For stuff? Think about it.

I challenge people to give it a try. Live with less. Make better choices about what you’re spending your time and money on. Better choices about what you own which is really something that owns you unless it gives you value and joy. Better choices about who and what is in your life.

It matters.

I journey on. With less. But with so much more.

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