Thursday, February 16, 2017

How Learning About Minimalism Has Improved My Life

I want to just start by saying I am not trying to be "a minimalist." I don't want the pressure of trying to be something, I just want to implement the strategies and values of minimalism in the parts of my life where it benefits me to implement them. For instance, I can see how aspects of minimalism can help me to reach goals that I have, and it is in those areas that I want to be inspired by minimalism to make changes. Changes in areas such as less time spent cleaning and organizing, less money spent on "stuff," less stress because life is a little bit more simplified. I feel kind of funny talking about this, and I'm not even quite sure why. However, I am so intrigued with minimalism and simplifying at the moment, so I thought I'd write about how learning about it has impacted my life so far.

I don't have any high goals of only owning X amount of items or anything like that. My house looks like any other house - in fact, if you stopped in on me, it would probably be messy because I don't really like cleaning :). I've just become really interested in learning about minimalism, and in doing so have really changed my perspective on stuff and have made small changes in my life that have actually made a really big difference in my overall levels of joy and peace. I feel significantly less overwhelmed and stressed, and even enjoy being in my house more.

I think the word minimalism can come with a lot of various connotations. Maybe white walls and succulents, or some radical person who deprives themselves, or a piece of artwork with a single black dot on a white canvas, or a couple living in a tiny house, or maybe it brings to mind someone who has freed themselves of all their stuff, debt, and clutter, so that they can travel the world and live out of their backpack (after being a wife and mom, this would probably be my second choice for my dream life). For me, the word minimalism held no connotation when I first came across it. I don't think I had ever even heard of it before.

The first time I heard about minimalism was when I came across a blog post written by a lady I find very inspiring, Allie Cassazza. It was called How Getting Rid of 'Stuff' Saved My Motherhood. I wasn't struggling with motherhood (I found the first few weeks really hard, but things went uphill from there!), but have struggled with feeling overwhelmed by cleaning and to-do lists my entire life. It felt like I had finally found something to help me with this struggle I had always had. It seems so obvious but had honestly never occurred to me - if I had less stuff, I would have less stuff to clean. If I had less to clean and less on my to-do list, I would feel less overwhelmed. As I read more and more of Allie Cassazza's blog, I became more and more intrigued and saw how this could really be a positive change I could make in my life.

On top of this, we had recently moved, and twice now have had to take everything we own out of every nook and cranny in our house (to prepare for a pest control company), then put it all back, because we had a pest problem in the townhouse we live in. Luckily that's taken care of now! Those ordeals really made me aware of how much stuff we owned, and I felt like the amount of it was weighing me down. Specifically because of all the work that had to go into packing and unpacking during the move, as well as preparing for the pest control company, but also just in general. I felt like all this 'stuff' was a weight on me. It was all taking more than it gave, in time spent cleaning and maintaining it, organizing it, packing it, and moving it in and out of cupboards and closets. It was a perfectly normal amount of stuff to have, but to me it just felt like too much.

Trying to keep the rain off the stuff when we moved!
Ugh, not fun!

One last reason I am drawn to the idea of clearing away some of the excess in my life is memories of the way if felt to be free from all that stuff while I was traveling. I was actually looking back on some old blog posts I wrote while I was on my trip to Peru, and saw this:

Something I often wonder about is whether they are happier, or we are happier. Them with their simple life and not quite enough, us with our rushed and complicated lives and so much excess. I don't know. Of course there is stress and hardship that comes from being poor that I can't understand. However, there is something so magical about all these families living here in such a simple way - the only thing they've ever known. It seems happy in a genuine way. It's definitely worth some thought, and I have many bus rides to think about these things on.

I remember when I came back from Colombia, I so badly didn't want to start my smartphone plan up again! I loved the freedom of not being tied to a phone constantly, of not having it always calling to me with its constant notifications and the effortless stimulation of scrolling through Instagram - and the freedom of not being tempted to waste so much time on it (I am someone who spends a lot of time on my phone). I loved that nobody expected me to text back instantly, or always be available to answer a phone call (an expectation I'm guilty of putting on everyone else as well, it's just what society expects of us). I felt so free with just a backpack worth of stuff. When I was living in the volunteer house in Peru, I just had my bed and my little bookshelf and a few clothes that I wore over and over again, and I really loved that. Of course it's not going to be like that here, but I knew that if I could even simplify my life a little bit, there would be a lot of reward in that.

I'm not going to "be" a minimalist, but I find people talking about minimalism very inspiring and the blogs and podcasts on minimalism give me so many great ideas for simplifying my life.

What is minimalism?

I guess I should explain what, exactly, minimalism is. Minimalism is the intentional removal of excess, in order to make room for what is most important. This could apply to the clutter in your house, the things on your schedule or on your to-do list, the people you spend your time with, or really, anything. It's being more mindful about what's important, right, good, useful, and needed. When you get the other stuff out of the way, you have more time and energy for what you truly value.

What I've done so far

I definitely have not radically changed my life, or even done anything that would be noticeable to an outside party. I've really just decluttered and gone through my stuff (getting rid of what I don't need or want), which is a perfectly normal thing to do. I think what has really changed by learning about the idea of minimalism is my outlook. Before, I thought more was always better. The more things I had in my home, the more likely I would have what I needed if a random situation popped up. The "just in case" mentality, basically. The more useful gadgets I took advantage of, the easier my life would be. I didn't see the correlation between more stuff and more cleaning. More stuff and more spending. More stuff and more overwhelm. I think that now I see that if I remove the things I don't need or want, there is so much more time and space for what actually matters to me.

To get specific about a few things I've done to implement these values into my life, one thing I did is I got rid of half my clothes. Not because I wanted to reach a specific number of clothes, but because I actually did not like (or really wear) half my clothes. I realized that having too many choices is just slightly more overwhelming, and choosing what you wear is something you do every day so I think that simplifying the decision-making process (for what to wear) actually made a difference. It sounds a little hokey but I think starting the day off with a simple and easy decision sets a better tone for the day than the slightly overwhelming decision that I would have to make, sifting through a bunch of clothes that didn't flatter me or that don't match anything. Simple is best for me :)

Other things I did include throwing out a drawer of makeup that I'd had since high school (kind of gross). I also went through my treasure chest and just kept the most special sentimental items, not every piece of paper I ever wrote a word on (I'm sentimental now, but was extremely sentimental as a kid, so I kept everything). I realized that when there are a whole bunch of sentimental items all piled up, I don't ever take the time to even look through them because it's just overwhelming. I think if I just keep the most special things, I will be much more likely to look through them or even find ways to use or display them. For the things I did get rid of (and even some things I kept), I took pictures and put the pictures on google drive, so if I ever did want to look back on those things I still could.

Inside my "treasure chest"

I also just go through my days noticing all my stuff and asking myself if I actually need or like the items I'm looking at each day. I did some big purges of certain areas, but I mostly just gave unneeded things away slowly as I noticed them. Oh, as a little side note, I never touch Matt's stuff unless I ask him because obviously, that would be rude. I just give away unneeded things that are mine or Rose's (sorry Rose, haha, you can't talk yet, though). If it sounds bad that I'm giving away Rose's stuff, I'm meaning I gave away half of her twenty swaddling blankets, things like that. So don't get all shocked and think I'm a heartless mom ;). I also try to simplify other areas of life, such as my to-do lists that are mainly things I've fabricated and tell myself are so urgent but really aren't.

How has learning about minimalism has improved my life?

I feel kind of nervous writing this post because I really don't want to sound preachy, or like I am at all good at "minimalism." I also don't want anyone to think I am saying that other people should adopt these simplifying principles because some people might not have a need for them. I did have a need for them, and that's why I'm so glad I happened upon the idea of minimalism and that it could inspire me to make some changes.

I have definitely noticed a change in my life for the better since learning about minimalism and, as a result, decluttering and simplifying various aspects of my life. I feel much less overwhelmed when it comes to cleaning my house, my to-do list and schedule, and just in general. I feel more peaceful and like I have more control over the overwhelm I feel. I feel happier in my house because I don't feel overwhelmed by the million things I should be cleaning. I feel like I have more time for what's important to me.

Thinking about all these positive outcomes, I'm surprised at them given that I don't think I have made any radical changes. I mean, yes, I have a much easier decision of deciding what to wear in the morning because I don't have to sift through a bunch of shirts I don't like. I have less to clean up because I got rid of a lot. I stare at less clutter because of what I've given away and gotten rid of. I feel much more peaceful in my home because I know that it is not stuffed full of "things," and for some reason that gives me a sense of lightness and freedom. I have lightened up on my expectations in regards to my productivity, so that has taken away some stress. I think it also helps me to know that if I get to a place where I feel very overwhelmed about keeping my house clean and organized again, I now know a solution - getting rid of stuff. Each one of these things is fairly small but together have surprisingly made a difference. I hope they continue to do so!

If you're interested in reading about minimalism and simplifying, here are some blog posts that I enjoyed reading that explain things much better than I can! I found these to be very inspiring and encouraging reads :)

7 Reasons Moms Need Minimalism - Motherly

The 10 Steps I Took to De-Clutter My Entire House - Allie Casazza

Curate Your Life, and the Rest Will Follow - Afford Anything

The 10 Most Important Things to Simplify in Your Life - Becoming Minimalist

I also really like the blog posts on The Minimalists (they're a bit more extreme with minimalism) and No Sidebar (these posts are so inspiring for simplifying in every area of life, not just with stuff).


  1. I really loved this post, I think it is one of my favourites you've written. It was so interesting to read about what you've done, I loved how you tagged so many different articles (your own and others!) to reference back to.

    It inspired me to look at minimalism a little more closely. I'm so glad it's been so beneficial for you!

    1. Really? Thanks! That's so nice :) I felt a little weird publishing cause it's not something I really talk to people about.