The Best of 2011

2011 has been a difficult year. I will not be sad to see it go. There have been some major changes in my life. In the past year, I have moved across the country, taken a major standardized test, launched a blog, adopted a new way of life, and found a great church community.

It has also been a dark year. I have come face to face with unemployment, depression, frustration, and utter despair. Though it was fraught with crisis, disappointment, and misfortune,  2011 has not been without its bright spots. Even in the darkest of times, there are glimmers of light. So, here on Minimalist Believer, I would like to share some of the bright spots of 2011.

  • Graduation. At the end of April, I received my Master’s degree. It was a time to celebrate my hard work and achievement. It was also a time for my family to have a taste of what I experienced in my university’s unique atmosphere.
  • The launch of Minimalist Believer. I started Minimalist Believer in April. I was really excited to start this blog and to share my journey in minimalism. I looked forward to meeting and creating a community of like minded people.
  • Mexico. In July, I went to Mexico with my family. It was very low-key; mostly relaxing on the beach. I took a digital sabbatical. I wrote every day. I left all my worries behind, and truly lived in the moment. From reading on the beach to being serenaded by a mariachi band, my time in Mexico was simply amazing.
  • The Minimalists Meet-up. Last night, I went to Rock It Bar and Grill in downtown Chicago to meet The Minimalists, Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, on their 33 city tour. It was a chance to meet people traveling the same path, hear their stories, and to learn from them. It left me feeling inspired. It confirmed that I am on the right path. More importantly, it gave me great hope. Two years ago, both Joshua and Ryan were unhappily employed, and unhappy in general. Their lives have changed radically in the last two years. Meeting them and hearing their stories gave me hope that things could change for me, too. Joshua and I talked briefly about some of the changes they made in the last two years. I’ll be discussing their approach a bit more in a future post.

2011 was tough. I’m really glad it’s over. But I have life lessons and good memories to carry into the future. More than anything, I have hope going into 2012.

I sincerely hope that you have a happy and prosperous New Year!

Through The Many Winters

Through The Many Winters

Oh, wondrous hope that love can bring

Like a shimmering promise only found in the Spring…

But when the shadows reach through the Autumn light

When one constant star can fill the lonely night

CHORUS

Through the many winters, 

Your light brings me comfort

Your hope lifts me up and carries me to Spring…

Through all the tears to come

All my many trials

Till the end of my longest night

I will search for you

‘Cause there I find my light. My light.

In the fading hours,

Sea and sky become one

We must sail on, though fearful,

And track one star back home

In my heart I get, 

In my search to find

The place where peace and life meet

But trust in heaven’s sign

CHORUS

Through the many winters, 

Your light brings me comfort

Your hope lifts me up and carries me to Spring…

For all the tears to come

When I cannot see the heavens

Till the end of my longest hour

Still I’ll search for you

I’ll always find my light.

Always find my light

I’ll always find my light

Find my light

I’ll always search for you


Michael McDonald

Call me crazy, but I’ve had a secret crush on Michael McDonald for a few years. I love his soulful, husky voice. I love his piercing blue eyes. And I love his white hair (Michael has aged well, wouldn’t you agree?).

I listened to Christmas music today as I got dressed, and I paused when Through The Many Winters started to play. I feel that is one of the most contemplative Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not about the presents and the parties, but it’s about the inner meaning of Christmas. It’s about peace and hope.

The current series at my church is called “A Hope That Changes Everything.” The premise is that Christ came to bring us hope. Hope of salvation, and the hope to be found in the promises of God. Hope for the future.

Perhaps because of the craziness that is my life, I can really appreciate this song. It acknowledges that dark nights come, and that there are tears and difficulties in in life. But in all of that, we continue to seek the light. In life, as in the Nativity, the light leads us to Jesus.

This year, Christmas finds me dangerously low on hope. Life has not turned out as I’d hoped. I’ve tried to do so many things, pursued so many trails, and they’ve led me to the  middle of a dark forest. Every direction looks the same: palpable darkness. I couldn’t even begin to find my way out.

Through the Many Winters speaks of persevering though the darkness, carried along by hope, searching for the light. The light brings comfort. The light brings hope. The light guides us home.

Life is hard. HARD. Horrible things happen. Disaster strikes. The Unknown looms ahead of us. Our best laid plans crumble around us… again and again. As the harsh cold and deep darkness of winter give way to spring, perhaps the hard times will be followed by better days ahead.

The key, though, is to keep searching — in the darkness and the fear and the confusion and the tears — for the light.

 

Fear Exposed – The Root Of It All

I’ll admit it: I have a problem with bath products. I can’t even begin to describe the stash of bath products under my bed. To say that I collect various products in various scents is a gross understatement.

But it’s not all about smelling good (though part of it is about that). It’s not even all about the sales (though that’s part of it, too). Part of it is about the fear of not having it when I need it. This is at the root of it all.

It started when I was in college, and I didn’t have a car. So the summer before my first year I stockpiled all kinds of things that I didn’t want to run out of, from soap to ketchup packets. It was so bad that at the end of the year, I had a huge bin of bath products. There was enough to sustain my mother and me for six months.

As ridiculous as it may be, that same fear still lives in me. It’s the reason that I get a new stick of deodorant the minute my current stick reaches the halfway mark. It’s the reason I that I have three extra toothbrushes. It’s the reason that I go crazy when the Body Shop has a sale. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to physically run out of something because I somehow think that it will be catastrophic (like deodorant). Sometimes, it’s about buying it now because I’m not sure I will be able to buy it later. Either way, it’s the fear of running out that causes me to buy and buy and buy.

Committing to live simply has forced me to deal with this fear head on. I can’t just go to The Body Shop and mindlessly buy body butters. No, I have to deal with it for what it is: fear. I’ve been shopping based on fear for years. It’s interesting that no matter how much I bought, it didn’t make the fear go away. Sure, it would temporarily mitigate it, but the fear always came roaring back, and I would dutifully go and shop.

Now, when I start feeling anxious about my reserves, I have to work through the fear of running out. I have to remind myself of my ridiculous stash, and tell myself that I will not run out. I have to remind myself of my commitment to minimalism, and that shopping will not be consistent with my new lifestyle. I have to remind myself that I already have more than what I need. Usually, I have to think back to the root of the fear and address it.

Once again, it comes down to trusting God’s provision (see this blog post). Will I/Can I trust God to make sure that I have deodorant? It sounds silly, but this is what it’s about. For me, this is part of what minimalism is about: trusting God. Yes, clearing clutter is part of it. Yes, being free to live the life of my dreams is part of it. Saving money, unplugging from consumerism, downsizing, are all facets of minimalism. But for me, part of it is learning to trust God and his provision.

In less than a year, minimalism has improved my life. It has saved me money and helped me to clear clutter. I has helped me to unplug from the consumerist culture, and to give more thought to what I really need. It has given me a different focus. And it has forced me to confront one of my deepest fears. It has impacted me more than I thought it would, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

One At A Time

What am I doing? Sitting in Barnes & Noble, listening to Frank Sinatra, and trying to resist the urge to buy more books than I can read. Perhaps I should explain.

I have a renewed interest in reading, and the sound of Frank Sinatra’s melodies only makes me want to curl up with a wonderful blanket, a good book, and glass of wine.  But I digress… Two days ago, I finished a wonderful book, called Insatiable, and I am now ready to start a new book. But what to read? I did some research on new and interesting fantasy novels last night. I found lots of great candidates, among them: A Game of Thrones, Blood of Requiem, and The Name of the Wind. There’s also the newly released Inheritance, the fourth and final installment of the Eragon series.

So I came over to Barnes & Noble, gift card in hand, ready to purchase Inheritance. But I was in for a surprise: the book is the full $27.99! I thought it would be discounted, as popular new fiction is often reduced. I wasn’t about to pay $27.99 for one book (unless it’s a textbook). So I pulled out my laptop and ordered the same book from Amazon for $15.10. Yes, I ordered from Amazon while sitting in Barnes & Noble. Yes, I am aware of how wrong that is.

So I still have the Barnes & Noble gift card. My first thought was to get a book to read once I finished Inheritance. I have no shortage of options, but do I really need to get the next book right now? Inheritance is not a small book (860 pages!), it will probably take me 7-10 days to read it. Maybe more, depending on my schedule. Why should I have my next book sitting while I read my current one? To be truthful, I contemplated buying the first three of the Game of Thrones series. I know, I know, it’s crazy, but it’s cheaper that way.

Whether it’s one book or three, why do I feel the need to have the next book(s) right now? Why am I concerned about any book other than the one that I am currently reading, or in this case, the one I will be reading when it arrives tomorrow? This is how I wind up stockpiling food, books, bath products or anything else (more on this in an upcoming post). My mind is constantly trying to anticipate everything I’ll need in the future, or just in case. Even when it comes to recreational reading, I’m concerned about what comes next.

Lately, I’ve been trying to live life differently. I’m changing what I buy. I’m changing the way I think about possessions. Maybe it’s time I changed the way I think altogether. Maybe I should think about taking things one at a time. One pair of shoes, one shower gel, and yes, one book at a time.

So I now leave Barnes & Noble, empty handed, but with a new perspective. I will read Inheritance, and I will love it. Then I’ll think about the next book. But for now, I’m going to enjoy these 860 pages as if they are the only ones on the planet.

Ciao.

The Shopping Monster

She attacks just about every time I walk into a store. She wants everything she sees. She never has enough. She’s a genius when it comes to rationalizing any purchase. She’s the Shopping Monster and I battled her again today.

Today, I allowed myself to shop. And there I encountered the shopping monster. She tried to steer me toward all kinds of purchases, using crafty lines like:

“You’ll save more if you buy the gift set. It’s a better deal.”

“This is a limited edition. If you don’t get it now, you won’t be able to get it later.”

“It’s just a few dollars.”

“You may as well get the matching soap.”

“This is a good price. You’d better stock up”

She’s pretty convincing, that Shopping Monster. She nearly talked me into spending another $40 on things I don’t really need!

For the most part, I was able to fend her off, though I did get an extra hand soap. Nothing major.

Though I am leaving the mall with new purchases, I did shop with purpose. So often I walk into a store with no real expectations, no real concept of what I want. I just stroll around, going from store to store, waiting for inspiration to strike.

That’s exactly what the store managers and sales associates want you to do. That’s where the Shopping Monster works her evil magic. Because inspiration will strike, and it will get you to buy way more than you need.

One way to guard against this is to know ahead of time exactly what you need. Consult your closet and inventory before going to the store so you don’t duplicate.

Another way is to set a budget. Knowing exactly how much you want to spend helps to curb add-on purchases.

It’s hard, but it is possible to keep the Shopping Monster under control. It takes determination and some self talk (in my case, a lot f self talk… out loud), but it can be done. I had to argue it out with the Shopping Monster today:

“I don’t really need the matching soap”

“Two is enough. I really don’t need more than that”

“This is not my last ever shopping opportunity. There will be other deals and other shopping trips.”

So at the end of my shopping trip, I left with:

  • body cream (2)*
  • body cream, unscented (2)*
  • aromatherapy body lotion
  • hand soaps (3)
  • socks (1)
  • foundation **

* 1 was for my aunt

** purchased on behalf of my aunt

This shopping trip was successful because I didn’t stockpile, even though I was getting a great deal. I knew what I wanted to buy, and I pretty much stuck to those items.

Take that, Shopping Monster!