Less Stuff, More Focus

I am at a point in my life where I need to focus. Rather than accumulating more things, it’s time that I work toward building a life that I enjoy. This will require dedication and focus.

As usual, stuff is threatening to steal my focus. Just this weekend, I was incredibly tempted to purchase a pair of shoes just because they were on clearance. It’s the never-ending lust for more, more, more. This is the reason that I embraced minimalism anyway — to escape the consumerism that held me captive for so long.

So now it’s time to get my focus straight. My focus is not on accumulating more things (even if they are on clearance). Instead, I will turn my focus to the life that I want to live. That begins with some serious soul-searching, because I do not know what my ideal life looks like. I don’t even know what my purpose in life is. This is where my focus should be, rather than buying yet another pair of shoes.

At this point in my life, I am like a bouncing ball — all over the place. I have some background in Biology, so I am looking for lab jobs. I have some administrative and clerical experience, so I look for administrative jobs. I have a passion for social justice, so I look for jobs at nonprofits. I am looking everywhere, with no real idea of what I want. This has to change.

According to Good to Great, by Jim Collins, I have to focus on doing the thing I do best in the world in order to have great success. I don’t even know what that is! But I do know that rather than bouncing all over the place, I need laser-like precision about what my strengths and priorities are. This will never happen if I am so busy shopping online and in the mall every day. I can’t focus on finding my passion if I am constantly having to maintain and organize an ever-growing mountain of stuff.

And why should stuff occupy such a huge amount of my time and energy? Stuff is not helping me determine my strengths and passions. Stuff is not helping me to be successful in life. Stuff does not make me successful, nor does it indicate that I am successful. Stuff just takes up space.

As I contemplate the type of life I would like to live, I have been consulting some great websites and I would like to share some of them with you:

The Simpler Life

Reading for Your Success

The Art of Non-conformity

Advanced Riskology

Suzannah Scully’s blog

Similarly, If you know of any websites that may be helpful, please leave the link and your thoughts in the comments section.

Minimalist Moving – Hindsight

Last month, I picked up my life and moved 650 miles. My things were packed and I was ready to move. Before packing, I consulted a number of moving websites. Most of them suggested that I go through each room and determine what I didn’t need/want. The rest should be packed room by room.

I followed those directions pretty well. I took about nine bags of stuff to the Goodwill. I packed the rest and put it into storage. For almost two months, I stayed with a friend. Getting ready for the next leg of the move, I went to storage to make sure I had some summer clothes. I packed a small suitcase worth, and I was amazed by how many bins and boxes of clothes I had in storage. Yet, I’ve been living without all these things for nearly two months. Do I really need them at all?

The packing suggestions worked well — for the average lifestyle. Since going minimalist, however, that method left me with too much. Way too much. So, given my recent moving experience, I would drastically change my packing methods. My method would look something like this:

  • Take note of the fire essentials. I’m talking about the things that you would want to have in case of a fire: your computer, your backup drive, important papers/files, anything very sentimental…  Make a list of these things, or even gather them all in one place.
  • Get the necessities. If you were going in vacation for a month in summer, which clothes would you take? What about winter? Gather the essential items from your closet and dressers together. Which books would you take?  Evaluate each room to see which items are necessities. Gather or pack those items.
  • A little comfort. This step is optional. If you’re going radical, you may want to skip this step. But for the rest of us, a little comfort is good. Treat yourself to some small comforts. Perhaps an extra pair of shoes. Maybe an extra jacket. But not twelve jackets. I’m thinking of a few extra things that will make you a little more comfortable.
  • Be practical.  What needs to be saved? If you are a professional student, like me, you may have some textbooks that you need to save. If you are a chef, you probably have kitchen gadgets you need for your business. I am not suggesting that anyone throw away their hard earned money by tossing out things that they really need. I simply suggest evaluating each addition item packed. What do you need the item for? Will you use it in the future?
  • Take a good, hard look at the rest. You have already determined that all the rest is non-essential for survival. The rest is non-essential for a bit of comfort. The things that are impractical to throw away or donate are already gathered. What happens to the rest? Now is the time to go through and determine what needs to be thrown out, what needs to be donated, and what you really can’t part with. If you aren’t sure, you can make a pile for things you’re not sure about. Come back to those later. Donate or toss the rest.

I realize that my moving method is probably a little unorthodox.  It is good for downsizing, though. I wish that I had discovered minimalism before I packed my overstuffed apartment. I would have gone about it in this manner. And I wouldn’t have boxes and bins of stuff that I probably have no use for.

All of this crap was moved and stored along with my furniture (I have not reached the stage of downsizing furniture-wise). My next move will be much, much smaller, not only because I have a new packing method, but because I will have a lot less stuff.  That’s my two cents.

EARTH DAY 2011

I am looking forward to celebrating Earth Day this year. I try to be environmentally conscious all year long, but Earth Day serves as an annual reminder that the Earth is our home and that we should care for it.

Earth Day is important because, as humans, caring for the Earth is our job. God created humankind and placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Adam’s job was to care for his habitat. He gave humankind dominion of over the animals and all the Earth (Genesis 1:26). It is our responsibility to care for our planet.

The good news is that caring for the planet is something that everyone can do. We can all seek to reuse things and waste less. I love using reusable shopping bags. Every time I use them, I think of the plastic bags that have been saved. Using reusable bags is a simple way that everyone can care for the Earth. We can all strive to want less, buy less, and consume less. Less consumption, less packaging to be thrown away. We can also try to recycle whenever possible. Of course, not everyone has curbside recycling, but we can all try to recycle when at the stores. Did you know that The Body Shop recycles empty containers from their store? Did you know that Origins recycles skincare and body care containers from any company? Opportunities also exist for recycling plastic grocery bags at certain grocery stores.

My focus this year is reducing the amount of goods that I purchase and consume. For me, less consumption is not just about packaging. It’s also about storage, maintenance, and saving money. Less consumption is also about less waste. I seldom think about what happens after I throw something away. If I purchase less and consume less, then I throw away less. So I will concentrate on having and using less as a way to honor the earth as well as my commitment to simple living.

How do you celebrate Earth Day?

Minimalism And Depression

Times like this I want to shop. I want to jump in the car, drive to one of Chicago’s great malls, and shop like there’s no tomorrow. I think it will make me feel better.

Oh yeah. I’m depressed. Really down in the dumps. The job that I interviewed for this past weekend turned me down. I think it will make me feel so much better to have a new perfume, or some outrageous new shoes. Or some sparkly new jewelry.

And it will. Shopping always lifts my mood. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt. And there are all the new purchases that make me feel so good.

As much fun as it is, shopping is only a temporary fix.  After the initial high, then reality sets in once more. The depression smothers.

Thus far on my minimalist journey, I have no good substitute for a good shopping outing. Thoughts about how much money and time I am saving aren’t helping my mood. Knowing that I don’t have any new purchases to store and maintain isn’t putting a smile on my face. Minimalism isn’t delivering the kind of instant gratification that shopping does.

Minimalism delivers something totally different. Minimalism delivers a chance to break the cycle. Minimalism offers solutions to long-term problems of excess: too much debt, too much stuff, too much chaos. Instead of the short-lived shopping endorphins, minimalism is a step toward a sustainable future for myself.

A new pair of shoes still sounds good. But being an aspiring minimalist has at least enabled me to see my shopping habit for what it is: an attempt to use things to change my emotions. And it works for some length of time. But the negative feelings always return. Minimalism has helped me to step back from the cash register long enough to think about what is happening. I guess minimalism does deliver some instant gratification, after all.

The Urge To Splurge

You have to understand: if shopping were an Olympic sport, I would definitely be a gold medalist. Shopping is in my genes! I was brought up shopping, learning the finer techniques from my mother and my grandmother. I was born to shop.

Or so I thought. I was shocked out of this mindset by two things. First, I had to move. When I had all my stuff out of the hiding places, and had to find ways to pack it, then I realized just how much I had accumulated. It was scary.

Then I came across a blog called The Simpler Life. I was intrigued, and so I started looking at other blogs. My thinking was radically changed. I made a commitment to change my lifestyle.

My first decision was to use up everything that I have. It makes no sense to keep buying deep cleansing face masks when I already have three at home. Have I done this? Yes! Why? Because I find the latest and greatest skin mask and I have to have it. But I now see the result of all these purchases: I am bogged down with way too much crap.

For years, I didn’t see a problem with this. That’s how I was raised. It never mattered how much I had at home. The only thing that mattered was the urge to purchase that new item. And since we used shopping as a recreational activity, there were lots of splurges.

Looking back, I regret that we spent so much time in the malls. We could have saved money. We could have spent time volunteering. These are the things that the consumerist lifestyle steals from you.

Since I am so new to simple living and minimalism, I am still feeling the shock of not shopping for leisure. Before, I knew what I was doing every Saturday. Now I have to sit and figure out how to spend my day. It’s great because I have more time to cook, write, read, exercise… But it’s also a challenge. Old habits die hard. Just because I discovered simple living doesn’t mean that I no longer feel the urge to splurge. There’s this constant struggle between simplicity and splurging. I have to confront it several times a week.

And it really is a struggle. I still want to shop to relieve stress. I still want to buy makeup and perfume to lift my mood. The shopping habit has not died yet. But when the urge comes on, I fight it. And sometimes, I win.

Spring Cleaning

I have long been a fan of spring cleaning. I love the idea of giving the house a good, deep cleaning and clearing out clutter. Of course, this does not mean that I actually did these things. But I have always liked the idea.

Minimalism takes spring cleaning to a whole new level. Yes, I am actually going to do spring cleaning this year. It will be more than vacuuming, scrubbing, and polishing. My spring cleaning will be more mindful. Instead of automatically storing everything, I am taking time to evaluate things to see if they really belong in my life. Some of the things I did:

  • Wash, wash, wash. I have already washed all my clothes — even my coat. I put the heavy clothes away, and brought our the summer stuff. But this is Chicago, so I’m not sure if Spring is here to stay, or if Winter wants to return.
  • Clear Clutter. There is a pile of miscellaneous stuff next to my bed. I hadn’t tackled it because most of the stuff does not belong to me. However, today I went through those things to return them to their proper homes. I’m even de-cluttering my purse (which I am constantly having to do).
  • Organize. Finally, I went through bath products and threw out anything that was old, looked bad, or smelled off. I organized and straightened up what remained. Then I organized my papers, to make sure I’m not saving anything I no longer need.

I am off to a great start. I feel lighter and more organized already. It has inspired me to take it a bit further. Some things that I will do next:

  • Clean the Car. I tend to leave my car out of spring cleaning. Not only is her exterior dirty, I have all manner of stuff in my trunk (no pun intended). What better time to remedy my trunk situation?
  • Detox. I spring clean the house, why not spring clean my body? A couple of weeks of fruits and vegetables will serve to clear the toxins from my body.

Rather than a chore, I now see spring cleaning as an opportunity. I see spring cleaning as an opportunity to reinforce my minimalist values. If any clutter has crept back into my life, this is my chance to banish it. This is a chance for me to consciously take a look at what I have, and how it fits my life. It’s also a chance to envision life as I would like it to be. I envision a life with less clutter and more freedom. I envision a life with more focus and more clarity. I envision a life that is filled with new people and experiences. So today, I cleaned with these ideas in mind. Now hopefully, I when spring does arrive, I’ll be ready to frolic and play.

Packing Light

I remember the first time I went to Europe. My grandparents, who had been there before, stressed the fact that we should only bring one small suitcase per person. I was skeptical because I had always been a two suitcase kinda girl. Since they insisted, though, we each took only one suitcase. Once I got there, I was soooo glad that I followed their advice. There was so much walking and sightseeing, that more luggage would have been impossible to manage. And we had all the clothes we needed.

 

Since that trip, I have always found one bag to be sufficient. I really don’t need a ton of stuff. The lighter I pack, the more mobile I am.

 

I think of the directions that Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out two by two to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” And they were to do these things freely, as they had received freely.  Jesus went on to give them packing instructions. The disciples were to travel light:

“Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”

Matthew 10:9-10

This isn’t just minimalism, this is radical minimalism. Jesus sends the disciples out with only the clothes on their backs.

I find it interesting that he instructs the disciples not to accumulate things along the way. As humans, we have the tendency to accumulate things. Jesus explicitly told the disciples not to. Yet, many Christians collect and accumulate and hoard goods in massive amounts. There are probably many reasons for this, but couple of reasons come to mind:

If one is good, two is better. For some reason, we have been trained to believe that more is better. Sometimes this holds true: it’s better to have more love in your heart, more faith, more patience. But we often apply this same reasoning to things, where more is not necessarily better.

It’s something that will be useful later. That may be true, but Jesus did not say to avoid accumulating things unless they were useful. Surely, a second pair of sandals would have been useful considering that they were traveling by foot. Likewise, a second shirt would have been useful (and probably more hygienic) for an itinerant preacher.

We confuse possessions with provision. When I read about Jesus’ instructions to the disciples, I cringe. I think to myself: How could he send them out with no provisions? But that’s not the case, it it? He is not sending out without provision. God provides for us (Matthew 6: 25-34). Jesus had already explained that. Jesus was not sending the disciples to serve without provision. God would provide for them. He did, however, send them without possessions. There’s a big difference.

I think that Jesus’ warning about accumulation of goods is still valid. We may not be itinerant ministers, but God does have a purpose for each of us. Like the disciples, we should travel light.

 

Caterpillars Welcome

I am embarking on the journey to change my life. There are so many things that need changing that I do not have to time, space, or desire to enumerate them. From adopting the minimalist lifestyle to adopting better health habits, I need changes to be made.

Change tends to be difficult and uncomfortable — even if you know what you are doing. Change can be overwhelming if you’re in unfamiliar territory. Even more so if the change is beyond your control.

So often I feel that people are only interested in the finished product. They don’t seem to want the struggling minimalist, or the vegan who keeps faltering. They prefer the ones that have it all together. They prefer the butterflies.

However, each butterfly is born as a caterpillar. They all have had to pass through the caterpillar stage before transforming into beautiful butterflies. Everyone welcomes the butterflies, but not everyone welcomes the caterpillars.

I am a caterpillar. I am learning and growing and it is painful. My life is in transition. I have more questions than answers. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. Usually it is. When it comes to living simply, I am just a beginner. I come from generations of consumerism. I am so new to this that I am still feeling the shock of being immersed into the minimalist culture.

I admire those that have integrated minimalism in multiple areas of their lives. I appreciate the butterflies. I appreciate their words of wisdom and encouragement. However, I also feel that caterpillars need a place to feel at home, a place to be welcomed. I want to make this such a place.

If you are a caterpillar, observe the butterflies. Hear their words of wisdom. Learn from them. But find other caterpillars travel the path with you. Find others who understand your struggles and who will encourage you along the way.

I am a caterpillar. I will one day be the butterfly. Other caterpillars welcome.

Minimalist On A Mission

I am all fired up. I’ve been reading some of my favorite minimalist blogs and they’ve pushed me to unleash my passion.

This is who I am. I am a med school dropout. I am a believer in Jesus. I am an aspiring minimalist. I am in transition. I am out of work, and hoping to start living the life I love. I am off to a late start (I’m 34 – better late than never). I am hopeful.

I am a woman on a mission. Here on this blog, I am documenting my metamorphosis from a consumerist queen to a life of simplicity. I am also sharing my thoughts about how living simply can be, and should be, implicit in every Christian’s life. This is my mission.

I want to be helpful to you, my readers. I want to see lives improved, because that what this is all about, right? What good is it to be the top blogger if I’m not improving peoples’ lives in a big way? So I’m laying down the goals right now: I want to improve. your. life.

It’s not about numbers. I would rather make a huge impact on 100 readers than make a minimal impact on 10,000 readers.

So this is my mission: I will lay bare the struggle to simplify. I will to offer information, suggestions, and references that you can use. I will make you laugh. I will reflect on the teachings of Jesus, and how they relate to simple living and social justice (which go hand in hand). I will challenge you.

You will be my inspiration.

Why Do I Write?

Very simple: I write because I believe.

I believe that my life needs a change. I have been a consumerist queen my whole life. I have tons of stuff, and I am in debt. My life is cluttered. My lifestyle is not sustainable. I do not want this to be my future.

I believe that the world needs a change. We live in a consumerist culture where people buy and buy and buy. Then we have to work long hours to pay for all the stuff. I do not want this to be my fate, and I do not want to see others continue to live that this way.

Perhaps most importantly, I believe in Jesus and the simplicity of the Christian lifestyle. I believe that Jesus lived a very simple lifestyle. As he lived, so should believers in Jesus should live.

I have made my choice. I believe that simple living is the best choice for myself and for the world. For this reason, I write about simple living. Because I am a Christian, I write from a Christian perspective.

Minimalism or Simple Living?

Am I becoming minimalist or am I living a simpler life? Both! I am becoming a minimalist and I am living simply. I am not counting items, but I am careful not to accumulate. I am downsizing my life. For me, simple living and minimalism are synonymous. I use these terms interchangeably.

I am excited about the freedom that minimalism will bring to my life. I am looking forward to having less stuff and more time. I am looking forward to having less clutter, stress, and debt.

I write to chronicle my journey. I write to help others. I write because I believe.