The Return of the Shoes

About a month ago, I bought a lovely pair of black wedges. A few days later, I found a beautiful pair of gold wedges, so I bought those, too. Neither pair was over $60. I had even gotten the gold pair on sale.

The rush of finding a bargain, and having a sexy new pair of shoes, soon deteriorated into self-loathing because I had fallen off the minimalist wagon once again. I hated the fact that I had succumbed to consumerism so easily. But I loved the shoes.

For weeks, a battle raged within. I had committed to minimalism. That meant that I was supposed to be getting rid of things, not taking on more. But the shoes were just so cute! They looked so good on, and they were so sexy (just in time for vacation, too!). The conflict was such that I kept the shoes in their boxes, unworn, with their receipts for more than two weeks.

Last week, I returned both pairs of shoes. I took them back for a number of reasons. I have no place to store them. The heels were high, so they had limited practicality. But what bothered me was the fact that I was failing as a minimalist.

Having returned them, I do not miss them. I don’t feel that their absence leaves a gaping hole in my wardrobe. Life is going on as usual — even without the shoes. So why did I feel that I needed those shoes in the first place? It makes me wonder about the rest of the crap that I own.

Re-Evaluation

In light of last week’s relapse into consumerism, I’ve decided to re-evaluate my reasons for adopting minimalist lifestyle, and I am re-evaluating my commitment. Do I really want to embrace minimalism? Am I really clear on why I should live simply? How can I prevent future relapses?

I did some reading (which I will discuss an upcoming post) about faith and simplicity. Some of the readings argue that simplicity starts within. Rather than focusing on things, our focus should be on God. Clearly, my focus has been on fashion and not on God. This is the first thing that needs to change.

The second thing that needs to change is this self-centeredness that drives me to want more and more and more. My focus is on me, and what I want. In the heat of the moment (while I’m in the stores), I’m not thinking about anything but me. I’m not even thinking about my future! I’m thinking about what will make me happy right now.

Action: Shift the focus to God, and stop thinking about myself so much.

 

My readings also argue that values play a big role in the minimalist lifestyle. The values that we hold drive our decisions. At this point, I’m not even sure what my values are.

Action: Take an honest inventory of my values. What do I believe about the world, our society, my life? Write it out in black and white.

 

Part of the reason the second action scares me so is that when I come face to face with my values, I know that some things will have to change. As long as I don’t have my values defined, I can remain in denial. Once I have my values in front of me, I have to commit to them, and to the lifestyle changes that are required in order to live by my values.

Maybe that’s what it all boils down to: the fact that I do not want to change. I’ve given mental assent to minimalism, but on the inside, nothing has changed. That’s why I keep relapsing.

Action: Ask God for help to make the changes that I need to.

 

These are the things I’ll be working on over the next several days. Where is your focus? Are you clear on your values? Are there things that need to change? I invite you to join me in this time of reflection. Hopefully, we will all be better for it.

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.

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.

 

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.