Minimalism: The Act of Letting Go

I consider myself a minimalist, even though I still have way too many pairs of shoes and my closet is still a bit full.  Our house still gets cluttered, but the reason I consider myself a minimalist is because today I am more conscious of what I buy, how I use my time and what I choose to do.  Perhaps, it's reaching 30 and being a little bit more mature.  Perhaps, it's feeling like I don't want the rest of my 30's to be one big chaotic run around.  I want to enjoy people, things and experiences. 

This didn't happen overnight.  In fact, looking back, I was the ultimate consumer.  My weekends would be spent at the mall buying stuff I didn't really need.  My weeknights would be attending events that I didn't want to be at.  It was a lot of saying "YES" for fearing of missing out, for not wanting to offend people, for not wanting to be antisocial, for wanting to be liked.  Over time, I felt all of this was making me tired and utterly fatigued.  I began to slowly let go of things, of unfulfilling relationships, of old habits, and of old perspectives. 

This is a two-part series on what minimalism has meant for me. 

 

Things

This is by far the easiest way to start the minimalism journey.  It's just stuff right?  But ask people to get rid of their things and the emotions automatically come rushing in.  This teddy bear (which has been in a box and in my closet for the past 5 years) was from my first boyfriend, this sweater (that I have not been able to fit in for 10 years) was given to me by my grandma, this book (that hasn't been opened or read since college) was from a class I loved.  We hold on to these because they remind us of people, of specific emotions, of the past.  It's hard to let these go, so my suggestion and my strategy is to let go of items that you are not attached to yet.

Start with items that still have tags, that still have receipts, that have never been opened and used.  You can deny it, but if you look into your closets, cupboards and cabinets right now, I will fully guarantee that you have items in there that are brand spanking new.  These items may have been bought out of impulse, excitement or gifted, but if they have not been opened and used within the past 3 months, it's time to let them go.  Marie Kondo from "The Magic of Tidying Up" believes these items may have fulfilled a thrill when first purchased and that their purpose is complete.  Kind of sad when you think about all of the items sitting in dark closets not being used. 

If the item still has a tag or a receipt, see if it's possible to return these to the store.  Do these returns in one go.  Have one bag specifically for each store and bring them all at once.  My husband once had two pairs of brand new shoes sitting in their boxes with their receipts on top of the closet for one year.  Apparently, it was a good deal.  After one year of not using them, I asked him if they had any future.  He ended up returning them and getting a credit for those shoes.  This saved money and reduced two pairs of unnecessary shoes.

Similarly, my husband and I had a registry when we got married back in 2012.  Now, we already lived together for one year prior and were able to get what we needed for our apartment.  We were working adults and could afford our own pots and pans at that time.  We still proceeded to sign-up, select and add items to a registry.  Nothing frivolous like garlic peelers (sorry, my sister has 3 of these, not sure why), but we received a significant number of gifts from very generous family and friends.  After two years, we still didn't use a lot of these items.  They sat in a shelf collecting dust.  So we decided to see if we could return them.  Thankfully, we still had receipts and Macy's in this case was able to pull our old registry as a reference for the items.  We received a significant credit and put that money to buy one large ticket item, an espresso machine, that gets used and appreciated everyday of the week. 

Alternatively, if the item is unused, sell it!  By the time you use it, it will either be expired, out of fashion or not your style.  Let someone enjoy it now.  This was the case for me for bottles of Bath and Body body mist.  Those 5 for $20 deals really get you.  I had a ton of these sitting in our bathroom cabinets again collecting dust.  I no longer fancied the smell and seriously it takes me a year to finish off a bottle.  So I went to good old eBay and sold them.  They were unused, unopened and going to hopefully someone who could use them today. 

This can be done for so many other items from unopened makeup, old cell phones, cameras, books, clothing, etc., etc.  The excuse may be it's too time consuming to put these on eBay, but my counter argument for that would be 'if you can spend time getting lost on your Instagram feed or taking multiple selfies, you can find time to take and post pictures on eBay.'  The app makes it so easy, it's a real no brainer.  Additionally,  spending a few minutes to let go today means you don't have to spend the time to organize it, clean it or get rid of it in the future.  If your argument is I won't be able to recoup the amount I purchased it for, think about that object sitting in a drawer or on a shelf, do you think it's appreciating in value?  Absolutely not.  Most likely it's depreciating and each day you wait, you lose money. 

There's an opportunity cost to keeping these things.  It's a burden to you, your family, your peace of mind and your wallet.  By letting of of these things first, you can feel a little more confident that you are reclaiming some of your time, money and space without a lot of the emotional grief.

 

Habits

We all have our own personal status quo.  It's why we have done things in the past, but the reality is you are a living, breathing human being that grows.  Your mind, your body changes and your old habits should not be keeping you from growing. 

Minimalism for me was letting go of old habits.  This included excessive spending on clothes and alcohol, grabbing fast food late at night, watching too much tv, ordering too much food and using my phone in bed.  Yes, these are very specific but all of these habits caused me to over consume food, information, money and time.  The complete opposite of minimalism.  So I too started slowly and began to correct some of these old habits, not overnight, but over a long period of time.

I canceled cable.  Probably the easiest and most straightforward thing to do.  I no longer sit hours at a time browsing the tv looking for a show to watch.  We still have a tv, but we are not glued to it so at night we have time to do other things instead of passively getting engulfed into a show.

Knowing that I still had tagged clothes in my closet lessened my need to go shopping.  This was a big shift because now I needed to fill a hole in my weekend.  Where I would be at the mall for a few hours on Saturday,  I now had time to myself.  This gave me the opportunity to volunteer, shifting my time shopping to one of teaching and learning.

The extra time and money I was able to save made room for a gym membership and an introduction to the paleo and whole30 lifestyle where I learned to eat and cook better food.  I was no longer over consuming junk food, though I still have the occasionally cookie (can't resist if they are warm), and I was re-learning that food should be savored and enjoyed.  I remember so many days mindlessly eating food in front of my computer at work or in front of the tv just gulping down bite after bite without really tasting the food and questioning if it was even worth eating.  Minimizing taught me to slow down and appreciate good food.  My husband and I now spend a lot of time cooking and prepping food.  This allows us to spend time with each other and ensures we eat well into our old age.

Lastly, whether we care to admit it or not, we are drowning in information.  I had a wrist issue and had to wear a brace at one point because I was over stretching my thumb scrolling through my phone.  Yes, that actually happened.  My days were constantly on the phone checking email to a point where I would get anxiety as I waited for my work inbox to refresh on my phone.  I slept with my phone under my pillow.  It was the first and last thing I saw when I woke up.  Sadly, not my husband.   I eventually stopped sleeping with my phone next to me and no longer check it the minute I get up.  I have it in a separate room, set to "Do Not Disturb" for a certain period of time and set to only ring if certain people call me during those times. I consciously set it aside so that I spent at least one hour not looking at it at night and try to not reach it until I have finished getting ready and ate my breakfast in the morning.  This gave me some peace and gave me some time back. 

Minimalism to me has meant growing out of old consumption habits and into more focused living. 

Minimalism continues to be a journey as I assess and re-assess what's important.  In the next part of this series, I share how minimalism affected my relationships and my perspectives.

 

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