I follow a primal way of living as much as possible – eating as closely to the way our Paleo ancestors did, focusing on my sleep, exercise, and stress management to improve my well-being. I adamantly believe that living in a minimalistic way is another aspect of this lifestyle, one which some people in the paleo-sphere might overlook.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines minimalism as “a style … that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” This viewpoint turn off most people. Two of the more iconic leaders of the minimalism movement (The Minimalists) define it this way:
Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.
This is what I have experienced in my own life. I wanted to use my blog post this month to write about my journey in this realm.
I come from a family of pack rats. My paternal grandfather is an immigrant from Italy. His family had to hide in the mountains when the Nazis came through his small village. He would sneak back into his own home at night to grab food and other necessities and return to the cave where he, his mother, and his two siblings would hide out. When my grandfather moved to the United States, he would save everything – empty plastic containers, boxes, anything that might serve another purpose in the future. Even now, at 89 years of age, my grandfather still saves tons of empty plastic containers, and other things, “just in case”.
These traits, and some from other family members, were passed onto me.
As a teen, I couldn’t get rid of anything. I had postcards from friends on vacation and pictures from summer camp underneath the glass on my desk. All kinds of tchotchkes from my own travels decorated my bookshelves, in between my beloved books. I started becoming interested in pop culture and would buy all of the teen magazines with the latest movie/television stars’ posters. I would carefully rip each one out and stick them to my bi-fold closet doors. The doors were literally wallpapered with these posters, to the extent that if I wanted to get into my closet, I would have to carefully take down the posters covering the hinges to open them. My closet was stuffed to the gills with clothes, as were my two large dressers.
When I was a young adult in college, the mentality of clothes hoarding took over my psyche. I would live for buying a new outfit to go out in and, after wearing it 2-3 times, it was no longer deemed “new”. The thrill was gone. It would hang in my closet or get shoved in my dresser, almost to be never worn again.
When I was a special education teacher in my early 30s, I would save all kinds of empty containers, even enlisting my friends to save their containers on my behalf. As a teacher of students with unique learning abilities, I had to make a lot of materials for my students and handcraft the curriculum. Pinterest served as a source of a plethora of homemade ideas.
Guess how many of those ideas I followed through on? Maybe two.
By the time I was in my late twenties, I was tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, thanks to a move across the country and joining a social group made up of singletons. We were very active – always going out to eat, the movies, something. Soon I would have trouble sleeping at night because I was worried about whether or not I would ever get my credit debt paid off because I was just barely able to make the minimum payments on a maxed out account. I would feel physically sick when I would think about my debt.
I was so overwhelmed and tired of doing laundry. I probably could have gone three months without doing any laundry at the peak of my clothes hoarding. I realized I wasn’t wearing most of the items. Once I counted how many pink items of clothing I had. Fifty-five items. Just pink. No other color. I didn’t fit into a lot of the clothing any more. Or it didn’t hang right. Or it was from the previous millenium. I began to get rid of things. It was freeing. After I had gotten rid of the bulk of my clothing, I realized that doing laundry was much more manageable. Since paring back, I have learned about Pareto’s principle – that a person only uses about 20% of what he/she owns 80% of the time – whether it’s clothes, books or something else. Completely true.
Then I met the man I would marry. He a very few belongings. A few pieces of furniture, some books, and his computer work station. I couldn’t believe that someone could live simply like that. When we got married and combined households, I had to condense my belongings, especially my clothes even more. We ripped out the large closet that was in the master bedroom and installed a wardrobe from Ikea, each having about two feet of closet space. We also bought new dressers. I had a total of four drawers. It forced me to pare down even more. I still had a considerable amount of clothing in the spare room closet, mainly offseason items. I finally started to part with those items as well. I could not even tell your how many scores of jammed-packed trash bags full of clothing I donated to Goodwill. So. Many. Dozens of carloads full. It’s so much easier to do laundry now. And guess what – Pareto’s principle is still true. I still only wear about 20% of what I have 80% of the time. Which means now it’s like the same 5-6 shirts.
I was a special education teacher for 9 years. That job was very stressful. There was little that I could control. Nothing, actually, outside of my own behavior. And that’s hard. I could not control the home lives of my students, if they ate breakfast before school or if they even ate dinner the night before. I couldn’t control if they went to to bed or got up on time. So every day was a challenge, depending on the mood of each tiny being as they arrived in my classroom each morning, ready or not to face the academic demands I would place on them that day. I would arrive home completely drained. I didn’t realize it for a long time, but especially after I got married, I felt like my house was always a mess. I didn’t feel that way when I was single and lived alone. It didn’t bother me then. But that changed when I got married. I felt more pressure to kept the house as clean as possible for my husband. Especially since I knew he didn’t like a lot of junk around. But there were so many nights where I was just too drained to deal with any of it. And there were a lot of nights where I was so anxious about the state of the house that I would work myself up over it.
I slowly started getting rid of things. I realized if I had less junk, there was less to get upset about. And then several moths on this journey, as I was looking for a philosophy to describe this, my sister told me about this documentary she had just watched on Netflix called “Minimalism”. I watched it and immediately I knew; this was what I had been searching for. I had a name for my ideals. I had people I could turn to for guidance down this new path.
I found out that the Minimalists had a podcast and started listening to all of the episodes. Most of my conversations with my husband started off, “I was listening to the Minimalists today and they said…” I am sure he got so sick of hearing those those words every day for at least a month.
I started parting with many more household and personal items. I was on a mission to clear out as much junk as possible. I found that getting rid of material things that I don’t really care about helped ease my anxiety. It was less visual clutter, less that I had to clean up and deal with, more over which I could gain control. I loved it.
As I listened more to the podcast, I learned that minimalism is not about a certain number of items that you own. It is not about deprivation. It is about you using the items that you do possess with intentionality and not letting your things possess you. I started making more conscientious decisions at the store – Will I get value out of this? Do I already own something that serves a similar purpose? What do I need to give up in order to obtain this item?
I have followed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace program and have gotten myself out of debt, actually paying off my old credit card a couple of years ago. I do not use a credit card any longer and I do not miss it.
Minimalism does not just pertain to controlling physical clutter, but can also be extrapolated to other areas of life.
It’s all about simplifying life and getting back to basics. Cutting out all the crap that is not important or even damaging to our psyches and our bodies. I have learned so much from the Minimalists over the course of following them. Not just about managing my possessions but about living a more meaningful life in all aspects.
I found a part time job this year where I can help people liberate themselves from their abundance of possessions, become more organized, and regain order in their homes. I always leave each session with a client feeling like I have truly made a difference. (Blantant plug for Major Organizers!! https://www.majororganizers.com/location/san-antonio-tx/ If you are feeling overwhelmed by the state of your house, we can do a free estimate and discuss how we can help you gain order in your own household – that does not necessarily mean getting rid of ALL of your possesions, but our team can help you with letting go of items that no longer add value while organizing the items that do.)
For a lot of my possessions, I realized that I was holding on to an ideal of who I wanted to be. I don’t even know who that person was supposed to be. Mainly what the media or society made me feel like I had to attain. Once I cut out the constant barrage of media influence (dropping cable and subscribing to satellite radio mainly), I can decide what is important to me independently and make my own decisions.
In the past two years of my life, I feel like I am truly becoming the person I am supposed to be. Trying to get better everyday and trying to help others along the way. I know I am by no means perfect. NowI can focus on living a more meaningful, simpler, and hopefully happier, life now that I have eliminated so much of the non-essential in my life.