Mindfulness – The Key to Minimalism

Sometimes, I get in the way of my own success. I don’t mean to, it happens unintentionally.

For example, one day I was driving by one of my favorite bath and beauty product stores. This is the time of year when my favorite bath and body stores have huge sales on their products — up to 75% off! Usually, I go and stock up. It’s a huge sale, and I love a good sale. I automatically put it on my list of errands for the day.  Thankfully, I was lost in thought about something more important and missed my turn.

In June, I quit eating meat and seriously limited sweets and animal products. Overall, I have been doing well with that. However, one day last month, I had pizza (one of my favorites). For the next four days, I continued to eat pizza and other junk. I’d tell myself: I’ll do it just this once. The problem is, I said that about four times. Of course, I did get back on track, but it took nearly a week.

These are but two recent examples when my actions have been contrary to what I say my goals are. Is the problem that I don’t want to live a simple and healthy life? No, these are two things that are very important to me. So why do I keep messing up?

My slip-ups seem to occur when instead of thinking carefully about what I want to do, I simply do what I have been conditioned to do. They happen because I am not being mindful.

Isn’t mindfulness what minimalism is all about? Isn’t the goal to eliminate the mindless spending and consumption? Isn’t healthy eating about avoiding unhealthy foods and choosing healthier ones instead? Both of these things require mindfulness. They require that I actually think, rather than rely on my default patterns. I have to stop and think before I eat that donut, or make that purchase, about what I really want to achieve.

Truth be told, the moment when I’m standing over the pound cake isn’t the time to make the decision. I need to plan my course of action well in advance. The key word is plan. I need to be mindful about my choices, and make them ahead of time, if possible.

(In my whiny voice) But that will require that I stop and think every time I get ready to eat something, or every time I reach for my wallet. YES!! It will!! That’s exactly what it requires. That is exactly what will have to happen. I am never going to live a healthy life or a simple life without thinking… without being intentional.

Anything worthwhile in life requires effort. Effort requires attention, mindfulness. Mindful about what we eat, mindful about what we spend, and mindful of how we spend our time. To me, this is living simply.

What will you be more mindful of today?

Integrating Minimalism Into Your Life: The Mini-Purge

There are lots of ways to do minimalism. Typically, when I think of minimalism and simplicity, I have images of going through everything I own and spending hours deciding what to keep and what to throw away. This is certainly one approach, and it is appropriate in some situations.

For some, this can be overwhelming. For others, it simply is not practical. With jobs and classes and kids, it may not be possible to dedicate several hours to the task of simplifying.

In order to simplify, you have to determine what is essential and what to eliminate or purge. Purging is absolutely necessary. It must be done. However, it doesn’t have to be done all at once. It can take place over a series of mini-purges.

A mini-purge is simply a focused purge. Perhaps is strictly limited to old paperwork, or shoes, or (gasp) beauty products. It’s not the full-scale purging of everything. It’s a smaller, more manageable examination of a particular set of things.

I did a mini-purge yesterday. Yesterday’s purge was focused on items of clothing that are now too big. I purged shirts and undergarments. I am so proud to report that I tossed a third of my undergarments and I managed to part with a few shirts, too.

How did I accomplish my mini-purge?

  • I had a focus. I specifically set out to purge undergarments and shirts. I didn’t go through pants and skirts (those are next). I didn’t do shoes or books. I only addressed two things. My next mini-purge will be about something else.
  • I had criteria. I decided to donate or toss (in the case of undergarments) anything of a certain size –  no matter how cute or what function it served. Clothes that are too big don’t look cute when worn. I also decided to donate items that I didn’t like or didn’t look right. I want to get to the point where every piece of my wardrobe looks good and fits well. With this in mind, I purged. My criteria were set from the beginning, so there wasn’t much to think about as I went.

These two things kept me focused, so my mini-purging session was over pretty quickly. Focused. Simple. Efficient. Totally doable (for anybody).

I always feel good after a purge, but yesterday’s purge was especially fun because it marked a milestone on my journey to my ideal weight. I said farewell to all clothing items of one size, and that felt great.

The result of my mini-purge is that I have more room and less clutter. I feel better. And someone is going to get some new shirts. Everybody wins when you eliminate clutter. And eliminating clutter step by step is how you integrate minimalism into your everyday life.

A Fresh Perspective on Stuff

My thought for the day is courtesy of my pastor. He talked a lot about stewardship, and I will be writing more about this later. In the meantime, though, I’ll share my thoughts for today.

In a recent sermon, my pastor said something that really struck me: everything we have is God’s. Everything we have is given to us to steward, not for ourselves. This impacts me in three ways:

  • It makes no sense to constantly accumulate more stuff for myself. What I think I own, is his.
  • I have to think more carefully about money (that’s his, too). Would God really want me to buy those five bottles of shower gel, especially when I have three at home already?
  • When I see everything as belonging to God, it is much harder to be stingy. God would want me to share what I have. So I need to keep this in mind, and be generous with what I have. God would let my cousin eat the ice cream. God would let my relatives use my favorite soap. He would let my friends take all my blue pens. He would have me hold on to things very lightly.

Minimalism is about breaking my attachment to things, and pursuing the things in life that really matter. This fresh perspective on stuff should really help me on this journey.

One Year of Minimalism

So much has happened since I started Minimalist Believer last April. In the last year, I have changed tremendously. I can see places where I still need to improve. I could stand to purge a little more. I still fall off the wagon from time to time. But I’m making progress, and that’s what it’s about at this point.

In the last year, I have examined my life and my relationship with stuff. I have a whole new perspective on consumerism, and I’ve come face to face with the overconsumption in my own life. I’ve learned that I don’t need as much as I thought.

While I still consider myself new to this, I am already enjoying the benefits of less:

  • Less stuff.I have fewer things than I had this time last year. I have thrown things away, given things away, and donated some of my things. The result is a lot less stuff to wash, dry, store, and clean.
  • Less shopping. I still shop – probably more than I should. Even so, I shop less than I did a year ago. At one time, it was normal for me to spend every Saturday at the mall. These days, it’s rare for me to go to the to the mall at all. I try to stay away from the mall so that I’m not tempted.
  • Less guilt and stress. Given my employment situation, I watch every penny. Because I want to use my money wisely, I often find myself choosing not to purchase. As a result, I have less of the guilt and stress associated with money.
  • Less stockpiling. I’ve written in a previous post about my tendency to stockpile, and how this habit is borne out of fear. I would stockpile soap, body products, food, and anything else I feared running out of. This past year of minimalism has helped me to break away from the habit of stockpiling (and the constant problem of finding places to keep all my crap).
  • Less deliberation. It doesn’t take long for me to decide what to wear each day. I don’t deliberate over which purse to carry, or which jacket to wear. There aren’t that many options. I know exactly what’s in my wardrobe, and which pieces work together. Gone are the days of trying on five different outfits, trying to figure out what fits and what looks good. I’ve streamlined to the point where I only have clothes that fit well and look good.
  • Less Pressure. I don’t feel like I need to rush out and fill my closet with the latest fashion trends. I don’t need to wear what everyone else is wearing. I don’t have to try to keep up with anybody or impress anybody. The pressure is off.

Though I am enjoying having less, I also feel that minimalism has helped to to enjoy more:

  • More time for things that feed the soul. Since I haven’t been spending as much time buying, cleaning, and organizing my stuff, I have more time. I have had more time to read, write, study, exercise, and spend time with my family.
  • More use of what I already have. In the last year, I have made several trips to my storage unit. I wear shoes and purses from previous years instead of buying new. I am using the soaps and lotions that I stockpiled in years past. I am using what I already have, and I’m finding that I have enough.
  • More awareness. Since my introduction to minimalism, I have learned a lot about myself and the culture in which I live. I am aware of my own struggles with materialism, fear, and destructive habits.

One year later I still feel that I made the right decision. My life is much simpler, and I have resisted complicating it with extra stuff and more commitments. My goals have changed. I feel like I have a much healthier relationship with stuff.

In the coming year(s) I hope to simplify even more. I think I’m on the right path, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

Minimalism, A Rich Young Man, and Me

I love Luke’s story of The Rich Young Man. It is a relatively short passage, but it contains great insight. In this story, a young man approaches Jesus, asking how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus responds that the rich young man already knows the commandments. The young man acknowledges that he has observed the commandments all his life. Jesus then instructs this man to sell all that he has, give to the poor, and follow him. The young man went away sad because he had great wealth.

Our pastor spoke on this passage recently, and he pointed out that the rich young man valued his stuff more than he valued eternal life. He could not part with his wealth, not even to obtain eternal life. It’s frightening to think of the power stuff — over him and over us.

This story has particular significance to me at this point in my life. Jesus instructs the man to part with his stuff, selling it all. He further instructs him to give to the poor. His final instruction to the young man is to follow him.

As scary as it sounds, I think that Jesus is saying the same thing to me. It has been unfolding for a long time, but the message seemed to emerge as I began to type this blog post. I will explain:

In April, I graduated with my Master’s in Biblical Literature. I wrote my thesis on Jesus and his mission of Social Justice. I referred to Luke’s story of the Rich Young Man, discussing the importance of giving to the poor and not accumulating wealth for ourselves. I had not yet discovered minimalism.

About nine months ago, I stumbled upon a minimalist blog, and decided that I needed to pursue this lifestyle. I buy less, and I am in the process of selling, donating, or throwing away much of what I already have. I see how hard it is. Looking back over the last 18 months, I wonder if God has been preparing me for this realization, at this moment, as I type. Maybe my thesis topic and my discovery of the minimalist lifestyle are not random occurrences, but steps along a path. I believe that Jesus’ message to me is the same as it was to the rich young man: get rid of your stuff, give to the poor, and follow me.

Having written my thesis, and subsequently learning about the minimalist lifestyle, I can now see what this means, and it is a scary thing. Giving to the poor doesn’t scare me that much. I wholeheartedly believe in giving to the poor and caring for the most vulnerable members of society. I am even getting more comfortable with the idea of getting rid of my stuff. The thought of parting with some things, like my house, is still kind of scary for me. I’m making progress, though.

The last part, however, terrifies me. The very thought of following Jesus makes my stomach turn and my mouth go dry. It is soooo scary for me to even think about. It’s scary because I don’t really know what it means. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what it entails. What if he leads me down a path that I hate? I’ll be stuck! That scares me more than anything: that Jesus will lead me down a path of pain and misery. That does not interest me at all.

As scary as it sounds, though, I’m not sure I have a choice. I don’t know where I stand on issues like God’s plan vs. our own free will. Once we commit to God’s plan, do we have the option to change our mind later? Will it be too late? I am concerned about all of these things as I consider following Jesus.

One thing is clear, though: I need some time to wrestle with these ideas, and to explore what following Jesus might look like for me. I don’t expect to know everything right away. It will take some time, and probably some prayer, for me to get a better understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

It’s hard to be on the receiving end of that kind of challenge. I can really sympathize with the Rich Young Man, who went away sad. Jesus told him what he needed to do, but he wasn’t up to the task. Am I any different? In the end, will my response be the same as his? I can only hope that I will be strong enough, and brave enough, to not walk away.

If you have any thoughts on anything I have said, please, please leave comments below. I would love to hear other perspectives.

The Next Level

Over the last several months, I’ve been simplifying my life. In addition to purging unused shoes, clothes, books, and makeup, I’ve also been working on not buying more stuff. It is definitely a journey, but I am making progress.

However, it’s time to take it to the next level. When I discovered minimalism, I was staying with a friend temporarily. Most of my stuff was in storage. I had only what I would need from day to day. I have since relocated to my grandparents’ house. The vast majority of my stuff remains in storage.

I’m proud of the progress that I’ve made, but I want to go deeper. I want to commit to going through my storage units and selling, donating, or throwing out everything that I do not absolutely need.

Yes, it will be quite an undertaking. It will take weeks. It will require moving things, going into boxes and most likely, several trips to Goodwill. But it must be done.

Why now? Because I want more from minimalism, and from life in general. I believe that I will be in a better position to move into the life I want if I have less stuff.

I am also thinking ahead. I know that I won’t live with my grandparents forever. I will take those things out of storage at some point. Rather than having to go through this process when I move out, I would rather purge little by little now, so that I will only be moving the essentials.

I think that I am also settling into minimalism. I have gotten more comfortable with the idea of living with less. I have been doing this for about nine months now, and I see that it’s not so bad. I think I can take it a step further. I can get rid of those old clothes. I can put that furniture on Craigslist. I can do this.

So far, my encounter with minimalism has been pretty superficial. Now it’s time to fully engage. I find this prospect both terrifying and exciting. Can I really do it? Will I regret it later? Only time will tell, but I will never know if I never try.

Wish me luck!

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.

Kitchen Sink

I have an embarrassing confession to make. If you took a look in my purse, you would never know that I am a minimalist. Twice this week, people commented on how much I have stuffed into my purse. People ask how I can carry it without back and/or shoulder pain. According to my coworker, I have everything in there but the kitchen sink.

Of course, I never intended to have a purse with a jungle inside. It just happened… very gradually. And that’s the way it tends to be: you add a little something here, drop a couple of items in there, and soon enough your purse weighs as much as a small child.

Just so you can get an idea of what’s in my purse, I’ll list some of the contents:

  • wallet
  • sunglasses w/ case
  • makeup bag, which contains an embarrassing array of products: 4 lip liners, 5 lipsticks, 4 lip glosses, 1 lip balm, and 1 lip brush
  • car key
  • house key
  • coin purse
  • iPod touch
  • hand lotion
  • mirror
  • a bottle of Aleve (nearly empty)
  • a bottle of prescription naproxen
  • comb
  • gum
  • tissue
  • hair ties (3)
  • mini jewelry catalogues (10)
  • powder (to remove excess oil from my face)
  • facial blotting papers (also to remove excess oil from my face)
  • library card
  • samples of Elizabeth Arden facial moisturizer and anti-aging serum
  • miscellaneous mail
  • gift cards: Cheesecake Factory, Target, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks
  • feminine products (4)
  • business cards (2)
  • assorted pieces of jewelry
  • 1 fiber bar
  • 4 pens, 1 highlighter
  • assorted receipts
  • a plastic water bottle

I know, I know, it’s ridiculous — even for a non-minimalist. But for a minimalist, the state of my purse is an abomination.

In examining the contents of my purse, I realize four things:

  1. that I have trouble differentiating what I need from what I want
  2. that I have not yet conquered the fear that “I may need it later”
  3. that I will use the “just in case” rationale to justify just about anything
  4. that I don’t know how to make do with what I have on hand

I knew that I had lots of room for improvement as I pursue simplicity in my life, but I had no idea that my consumerist/hoarding tendencies were this severe. I read about people who have simplified their lives to the point where they can fit everything they own into a backpack. They own little, and they carry even less. What kind of minimalist am I when I carry all this crap with me everywhere I go?

This is ridiculous. If I can’t simplify my purse, how can I simplify my life? If  I can’t sensibly determine the things that I need to have with me at all times, how can I hope to determine the things I need in my life overall?

Though I am very discouraged by my lack of progress, I am committed to steady improvement. I have decided to challenge myself with these immediate changes:

  • where I have multiples, I will reduce to just one
  • seriously reevaluate what I need to have with me. Do I really need a mirror all the time? When is the last time I have been to the Cheesecake Factory? (perhaps I need to take a trip there and use these gift cards)
  • clear the clutter. It’s time to remove the mail, the receipts, the fiber bar, the water bottle…

The real challenge will be long term: learning what it is that I truly need, and sticking with that.

Can I Really Be A Minimalist?

I have to face the truth: I enjoy getting new things. I get a rush when I walk out of the store with my purchases. I wait with eager anticipation for FedEx or UPS or whoever is bringing me a package that day. I love showing people what I got. I love to use my newly purchased item(s). I just love everything about getting something new.

I think of this because I just got new jewelry for my business. I stalked the UPS website to see where my package was. When it arrived, I had to open every box, tag each piece, and put it away. Then I had to model each piece (I was obligated, right?). And I loved every minute of it.

So how can I be a minimalist when I love getting new things? What will take the place of the rush that I get from new purchases? Or worse, how do I replace the rush of getting free stuff (as the jewelry was)?

A friend suggested that I satisfy my craving for new things at the thrift store. It’s cheaper and it’s greener than shopping in the malls. She also suggests that I have a strict rotation policy. For every thing I bring in from the thrift store, I have to take one item to the thrift store.

I think this may be a short term solution. Thrift shopping is a better way to get my rush. But why do I seek the rush? The rush is only temporary. Sooner or later I’ll need another one. Perhaps that’s why I have so many shopping setbacks.

I think the problem lies in the rush, and the fact that I seek and enjoy the rush. What if I sought peace instead? What if instead of the excitement and eager anticipation of new things, I learned to enjoy the tranquility of having enough? What if, instead of the thrill of new stuff, I was refreshed by some time of solitude and reflection?

See, I think the problem is that I get refreshment, happiness, and gratification in the wrong places. I should be seeking peace and tranquility. I should derive pleasure and refreshment from calm and serenity.

How do I make this switch? I am not sure. Part of the problem is that I don’t have much experience with peace and tranquility. I don’t know how to meditate, or even how to slow down and enjoy the rhythms of my life.

My first step will be to slow down, and to look for little pockets of tranquility in my day. Maybe it will be as simple as enjoying a cup of tea. Or a short walk outside. Or even just sitting still for five minutes. Or writing.

I will also learn to meditate. I don’t necessarily mean the chanting kind where you leave your body. But just the act of being still and quieting my mind. Past attempts at meditation usually resulted in snoring. It will take some work and some research, but I am committed to learning to meditate (in some form).

The third thing that I will focus on is learning to enjoy the life that I have. I sometimes fall prey to advertising, which makes me dissatisfied with what I already have. It makes me want more and more and more. Really, my life is good. I have enough. I will nurture contentment. The best way that I can think of to do this is to practice gratitude. Maybe at the end of each day, I can think of reasons to give thanks. This will remind me that I have a great life already, and that I do not need more stuff to make it better.

Maybe if I shift my focus from getting a rush to experiencing peace, I can be a better minimalist.

Setbacks on the Path to Minimalism

Recently I had a setback on my journey to minimalism. I had an upcoming interview, and I purchased three interview suits. I only need two. So why did I purchase three? I purchased three with the intention to return one. I don’t know which one. But my consumerist family  urges me to keep all three. They don’t know about my decision to pursue minimalism just yet. That is a discussion I am not ready to have. Anyway, I failed as a minimalist that day.

Part of me felt like I had no options. I had to have two looks for my two day interview. While this is true, I did have some options:

  • Get only one suit and change the shirt. In theory, I could have worn the same suit on both days and used a different shirt to make it look like two suits. God forbid that anything should happen to that one suit (like a ketchup stain, or whatever).
  • Make a decision. I could determine which suits I would actually need for the interview and return the other.
  • Check alternate sources.I could have checked the thrift stores, or consignment boutiques for a suit to wear.

In my defense, I had NO suits that I could wear to the interview. I need at least one suit. But do I need three? Probably not. Not now, at least.

What to do when you genuinely need something?

  • Focus. What is it that you really need? Don’t get caught up in indecision. Think carefully about what you need and how much. Make purchasing decisions based on this.
  • Don’t get caught up in cute. Part of the reason that I got three suits is that I got all caught in how cute I looked in all of them. I need to remember that I will look cute in lots of things. Cute is not need. Not all cute items should be purchased.
  • Ignore the sales associates. Of course they will encourage you to buy more, more, more. That’s their job. We must ignore their messages, and stick to what we really need.

Hopefully we will all learn from this failure today.

*I did have a small victory today, though. I returned one suit. I also did not make any purchases from the Lancome counter, even though they have a gift with purchase. I was temped, but I kept on going. I guess today wasn’t a total failure…