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?

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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.

Minimalist Hair

My hair is minimalist. Yes, I have minimal hair (about an inch), but that’s not what I mean.  My hair itself is minimalist. And yesterday, it taught me a lesson about beauty.

Recently, I cut all the relaxed hair from my head –  about seven inches. I was left with 1/2 inch of natural hair. It’s cute and it’s very low maintenance. Usually, I wet it, rub in some curl enhancer, add some oil, and go.

Since the “big chop” last month, I have been reading blogs and watching YouTube videos about which products to use on my newly shorn hair. The blogs caution readers against constantly buying more products to try, lest they end up with a collection of things they don’t like. So I read reviews and decided on one product. Yes, I just got one. Don’t look at me like that.

Yesterday I washed my hair before church. I really liked the way it looked after washing – with no products on it. It was curly and cute on its own. I worried that it would get frizzy or nappy when it dried, but I decided to see how it would turn out. I added a little oil for shine and went to work.

The curls held and it wasn’t frizzy for nappy. I was very pleased with the result, and it made me examine my supposed need for all the various hair products I’d like to try. Since everyone else is using hair smoothies, curl enhancers, and hair milks, I assumed that I should, too. I thought that I needed products designed for natural hair for it to look good. I don’t.

I think back on the many hours I spent reading blogs about hair and various product reviews. All this time was wasted. My hair does’t need a million different products. It has minimal needs.

This makes me want to rethink some of my other beauty “necessities.” Do I really need all the makeup I have? All the lotions, creams, and exfoliants? Maybe it’s time to simplify my beauty collection. *cringe*  Maybe it’s time that I stop looking at what everyone else is doing and discover what I need.

What is your beauty routine like? How have you simplified this part of your life? I’d love to hear stories. Feel free to leave comments, suggestions, or inspirational stories for me.

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.

My Latest Downfall

I had good intentions, I really did. I went to Sephora a few days ago to pick up some foundation for my aunt. How nice of me, right?

Of course, once I crossed the threshold of the store, I felt a sense of euphoria. It had been a while since my last trip, and there were so many new things. Yes, I was there for my aunt, but it would be harmless to look around, right? After all, I thought, I’m a minimalist. I won’t buy anything. I’ll just look.

And look I did. Then, I tried on. Then, I’m ashamed to admit, I bought. I bought a lipstick and a lip gloss. And I wanted to buy more! If I had more money, I probably would have bought a bronzer, a blush, and a tube of mascara.

All the way home, I told myself how pathetic I was. I wouldn’t have felt so bad if I had only left with one thing, but I left Sephora with two things. I thought about all the lip products I have in my red bag at home. And I thought about the fact that I had fallen off the wagon. Again.

Once I stopped beating myself up, I found a more balanced perspective. I just ran out of my favorite lipstick, and I am about to use the last bit of the matching gloss. The shades that I bought are unlike anything I have. It really wasn’t a bad purchase. Minimalists do buy lipstick. It’s ok.

While it could have been worse, I also know that it could have been better. I don’t want to make unplanned purchases every time I go to the mall. So how can I avoid this kind of mistake in the future?

  • Never walk into a store casually. Know that stores are full of attractive things, and that those things are showcased so that you will buy them. The displays are intended to entice you to buy – as much as possible. Be aware of this walking in, and make a decision to resist.
  • Know your weaknesses. It’s important to know where you are most likely to slip. In my case, it’s makeup. Avoid the biggest temptations as much as possible.
  • Have a plan. Make a list. Set a budget. Stay on task.
  • Limit browsing. It was a mistake to go browsing in a store like Sephora – if you look long enough, you’re bound to find something you like. Don’t browse for fun. Don’t look at what you don’t need.

I’m hoping that my next trip to the mall is more successful. Though I did give in to temptation this time, I don’t consider myself a failure. I won’t consider myself a failure until I stop trying altogether.

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.