I spent nearly 2 years pouring over minimalist blogs, reading about minimalism, and creating minimalist boards on Pinterest before I jumped in with both feet. To be honest, I’m still a work in progress. Of course, minimalism is not a destination that you arrive at but a way of life. It’s an intentionally curated life surrounded only by the things that bring you the most pleasure.
If you’re like I was, a maximalist with hoards of books, clothes, dishes, and what-nots, those first steps towards a minimalist lifestyle are incredibly daunting. Every cupboard, shelf and drawer was stuffed to the max and I had run out of places to store the cast-offs. The garage was full, the attic was full, and the basement was full. When I came across an item I no longer needed, I had no where else to put it. My only option was to jettison some stuff.
I had spent so much time and money accumulating, process of letting go was foreign. Just like learning a new language, I had to start small and slow. One thing at a time. What I found was that when I focused on getting rid of 1 thing, I found 5 to remove. Or when I decided to spend 10 minutes sorting though items, I spent 20 minutes. When I actually started doing it, the time passed before I had realized it. Eventually, I built up the muscle of letting go to the point where I could feel the freedom and calm that goes along with it.
If you’ve been thinking of trying out minimalism but don’t know where to start, I’ve created this quick and easy 10 day challenge. Have fun with it. Take the pressure off and think of it as an experiment. Without a doubt, as you go through some of your possessions, you’ll learn some things about yourself. And that process of learning is just as important as deciding what to keep and what to toss.
Give it a try and let me know in the comments how it went!
It’s July 4th, Independence Day, and 2016 is officially half over. The “year of clearing” has proven to be just that thus far.
My journey toward minimalism is still underway. Although it seems strange and satisfying at the same time that I’ve stuck with it this long. Often new ideas that strike ebb after only a few weeks. Six months have come and gone and I’m still feeling highly motivated.
I have been consistent with my weekly decluttering habits each month. My hired motivation came every Friday to help and we tackled the dragon together.
Some days we scrubbed out cupboards in the kitchen. Some days we vacuumed spiders out of the basement. Other days she only listened to me ramble about memories while I sorted through and released old letters and photographs.
I filled my car almost every week with boxes and bags for donation. I anxiously watched through the window on trash days to see if the garbage men would refuse to take everything I’d put out on the curb.
Week by week, I emptied every square foot of my house of things. I touched every single item and I made a decision about each one.
Trash. Donate. Keep.
With each decision I declared my independence from stuff.
I had to get clear about the truth about me. Who I really am and what I’m really about. I realized with more clarity that much of what I owned was for the sake of a false identity.
Books to prove I was a philosopher, artist, musician.
Photos to prove I’d been here and there or met this person or accomplished that.
Duplicates for “just-in-case.”
Dishes for “if” the occasion arose.
Complete collections of this and that to prove I had it all, even though I never used it.
When I realized none of those things made me anymore of who I am, it was easy to let go of all the stuff that was weighing me down. All that stuff was causing me to believe falsehoods about who I was. A fantasy self.
Now that it’s gone, I can just be me.
Minimalism isn’t about having nothing. Minimalism is about declaring your independence from the lies your stuff tells about you. Creating space where you’re free to be yourself.
Minimalism is also about pledging allegiance to that which is most important to you. People and passions. Suddenly you have time and energy to invest in relationships and meaningful work.
My house isn’t empty by any stretch. We still have plenty. More than enough, even.
I’m much more aware, however, of what we use, what we love, and what really matters. And I’m excited to see what my life will look like when I finish whittling down what doesn’t belong and polish up what remains.
Imagine a home of simplicity, with bright white walls, clean lines, comfy furniture, and a few vibrant green houseplants. Imagine clear counters, one or two beautiful pieces of art, and sun filled rooms. That’s my dream home.
When setting goals, we’re often encouraged to imagine what it would be like to have already achieved that goal. When we visualize the end result, it gives us focus for what direction we need to move in. Is each new step taking you toward or away from your desired result? Having clarity on the goal becomes the best guide.
How would your life be better with less?
I had bought into consumerism. Even though I tried to convince myself it wasn’t true.
I didn’t spend copious amounts of money on shoes, purses, or designer clothes. I was thrifty and hated to pay full price for anything. Yet, when I looked around my house, I could see all the things I had acquired because I thought it would make me feel better.
Books that would make me smarter, even though I couldn’t possibly read everything on my shelves. Wall decor with inspirational sayings to help me feel at peace with my circumstances. Dishes that were never used because they were rare, making me feel like I had something that few other people owned.
All things. Things with no real purpose. But things that I had somehow entangled my emotions in.
With an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia in my own home, a visualization of my dream home, and a burning question, “How would my life be better with less?” I set out to make a change.
The Minimalists have a game they play to help people ease into minimalism. It starts at the beginning of a month and on the first day, the participant gets rid of 1 item. On the second day, the participant gets rid of 2 items and so on through the month. By the end of the month, nearly 500 items have been removed from the home.
That sounded good to me, but I wanted to jump in with both feet. So I did the challenge backwards. On day one, I got rid of 31 items. On day two, I got rid of 30 items and so on.
The challenge was freeing. It was hard. And it was strangely emotional.
I found I could justify keeping just about everything. Which is what I had been doing all along. There were feelings of guilt, anxiety, and loss along the way.
I felt guilty about getting rid of things that were barely used or gifts that didn’t fit in my dream home.
I felt anxiety over wondering if I’d regret getting rid of some things or wondering if I’d ever need it again.
And mostly, I felt a great loss over my identity that I’d wrapped up in those things.
Most of the items were donated to the local thrift shop. Some items went into the trash. And a few went into the attic until I could decide if I really wanted to let go and sell them.
At the end of the challenge, I felt lighter and more spacious. The house looked tidier. And the process of decluttering things was only just beginning, as my eye had been trained to pick out things that didn’t serve a purpose or add value.
The More of Less
The funny thing about this process is, as I’m clearing out more spaces in my home, I’m discovering that I am living in my dream home. Even if the architecture, building materials, or structure aren’t exactly what I would chose.
However, I am uncovering bright white walls, clearing counters, and letting the sunshine in. I can relax and enjoy the few pieces of art that are really meaningful and get value from the items that are used in daily tasks.
Perhaps your goals of living a more meaningful and contented life aren’t so distant. Perhaps they’re buried under the clutter you’ve been sitting in for so long. Maybe all it takes is removing the useless to find the valuable.
As creatives who want to make a difference with our lives, we’re often confronted by a bully on the playground. It’s the voice that tells you you’re not worth anything and you’ll never make it. And it always shows up at the wrong time.
Bullies are the tough guys with all the attitude and put downs. Their strategy is to make you feel inadequate and look stupid in front of your peers. He knows if he can keep you intimidated, he’s safe to continue his heinous behavior without repercussion.
Bullying is a real problem in today’s culture. Hurtful words, name calling, and public humiliation cause depression and hopelessness. Hundreds of thousands of suicides in young people every year are a direct result, making suicide the second leading cause of death of individuals ages 15-24.
Overcoming bullying is difficult for two main reasons.
The victim feels ashamed about being the target of other’s harassment and therefore doesn’t reach out for help or intervention.
The victim starts to believe the accusations on their character are true because the constant barrage of negativity begins to influence their own thoughts about themselves.
The Creative Bully
So, what do you do when YOU are the bully on the playground of your MIND?
Creatives each have their own personal bully inside their head. It’s Fear.
Fear is a bully. Fear has a big mouth. Fear wants you to feel inadequate and make you think you look stupid. Fear says you have nothing to offer and you’re better off fading into the background of life. Fear says someone else is more qualified.
Fear gains control of our lives for the same reason bullying dominates the minds of susceptible young people. Shame and constant negativity.
You can do it!
The good news is that, just like bullying, fear can be overcome. Employing a few simple tactics can help you find the support you need to keep moving forward and equip you with enough confidence to stand tall.
Surround yourself with supportive people. You know at least 2-3 people who are going to support you no matter what. When you start hearing the negative voices in your head, get on the phone with your support group. Your supporters will be happy to walk with you through the negativity and help you build your confidence.
Learn from those who are succeeding. Someone out there is successfully doing what you want to do. Find out where they started from, what adversities they had to overcome, and what steps they took to achieve success. You’ll find out that they are just regular people who battled the bully daily but didn’t give up.
DON’T GIVE UP! Too often people give up on their dream just before it’s about to become a reality. They feel uncomfortable and out of their comfort zone. They allow the negative voices to convince them that the discomfort is a result of not being good enough. When in reality, it’s normal to feel squeezed when things are about to bust wide open. Growing pains are a normal result of progress. Instead of giving in to the uneasy feelings and backing away, consider restructuring your approach to keep yourself aligned with your goals.
We all face negativity. We are always our own worst critic. Thankfully, the voice of fear is all bark and no bite. You can overcome fear by fighting negative thoughts with positive actions. Gather faithfully supportive people around you, learn from those who are succeeding, and keep moving forward.
I knew that 2016 would be a year of clearing. I had too much to do, too much stuff, too much mental clutter. I felt suffocated. Something had to change.
I had an idea floating around in my mind of intentionally setting time aside to devote to clearing. A set amount of hours each week, on a set day, where the only focus was getting rid of stuff.
I mentioned the idea to an online group when the topic of the new year, goals and resolutions came up. Someone in the group offered me the title of a book that she said helped her.
I’m all about books. And a recommended book, to me, is a piece of gold. It’s been tried and someone deems it worthy to offer to someone else.
The book was called Your Spacious Self by Stephanie Bennett Vogt. I bought the digital copy right away. (Already trying to reduce clutter.)
The book started with the author talking about her morning routine of putting her clean dishes away.
She said the act of placing each item where it belongs first thing in the morning gives her the feeling of spaciousness. Each plate is stacked in it’s place. Each glass has it’s own space in the cabinet. And after everything is put away, her counter is clear and clean.
I can relate. I also have a morning routine of emptying the dish drainer and putting all the clean dishes away. I often feel I can’t really start my day until the dishes are put away and the counters wiped down.
However, the thought had never occurred to me before reading the book of making the task a mindful practice of clearing. I didn’t use the time spent in appreciation of the items or the space devoted to each one. I was often distracted by swirling thoughts of the past, plans for the day, and the constant to-do list. Cramming utensils into already full drawers while wondering how I was going to make space for all the things I should be doing that day.
Mindfully Washing Dishes
There’s a lot of talk of mindfulness these days. Some find it a bit woo-woo. Perhaps too much on the spiritual side. Is it meditation? Do you have to chant or repeat some list of affirmations?
I think of mindfulness as simply being fully present in the moment. Being consciously aware of what I’m doing and walking with the thoughts that are associated with it.
Sometimes mindfulness can lead to epiphanies and new perspectives.
Washing Dishes and a Perspective on Business
Rowena shared with me how applying mindfulness to the act of hand washing dishes led to an epiphany in how she approaches her business life.
Rowena starts by equating washing silverware to the mundane, monotony, and tedious tasks that she must tend to daily in her work. These tasks don’t seem to move the needle much but tend to take up an inordinate amount of valuable time. It’s the daily grind. All work. No play.
Rowena appreciates washing plates and bowls the most. They open up more counter space when cleaned and don’t have any tiny places for food to get stuck. They’re like the fun and creative portions of projects. They move quickly, create the feeling of accomplishment and show obvious progress.
Cups and glasses are similar to the occasional awkward project that requires a bit of extra attention or perhaps a special tool. Rowena says that the usefulness of these projects balance the slight annoyance of the spending the extra time to care for them.
Big projects, daunting tasks, and procrastination remind Rowena of washing pots and pans. They’re bigger than anything else. They take the most time and are often the dirtiest. In the long run, these are the utensils that we use over and over again. They bring the most value to us as we nourish our bodies. The best way to deal with them is to get to them right away. Add a bit of soap and water immediately and allow them to soak if necessary.
In business, these are the biggest and most valuable clients. Perhaps the work is daunting. Perhaps it will take a long time to complete. However, procrastinating only prolongs the time needed, makes relations sticky, and dirties more water to see it through to completion. Yet, with a little forethought, planning, and immediate action, these tasks can be broken down into more manageable pieces.
From Mindless to Mindful
Mindfulness takes the mundane and transforms it into something profound. It allows you to step back from simple, seemingly mindless acts and helps you make space for gratitude without judgment. There are some things in life that we just have to take care of. There’s no way around it. But instead of feeling stuck in the situation, just be in the situation. Take part. Be an active participant in your life.
The next time you’re washing your dishes, clearing the counters or making your bed, be mindful. Appreciate the moment and be intentional with your actions. You’ll never know what new insights you might gain in the process.
When I realized that I didn’t have to have some life-changing goal to propel me into the new year, I decided I would just go about doing little things that were in my best interest. Things like spring cleaning, decluttering, reading more, building better relationships, and contributing to others. These activities would bring more space and calm to my life.
One of the first things I did to begin the process of making space in my life was to go through my closet. I think, comparatively speaking, I had fewer clothes than most women, however, I still had more than I had the space for. I also had many items that I didn’t wear regularly, if at all. It seemed like the easiest place to start clearing excess.
Often, when people start exploring minimalism they immediately go to the things that will be the hardest to let go. Things like books, photographs, or heirlooms. That’s a great way to stop before you ever get started.
Clothing, however, is simple. Either you wear a garment or you don’t. Either they fit of they don’t. Either you like it or you don’t. Sentimentality rarely shows up in your wardrobe. At least in the majority of it. And we know that, on average, we wear only 20-30% of the garments we own. The rest is just baggage.
The 333 Challenge
I had come across this thing called the 333 Challenge. It’s a challenge to pair down your wardrobe to 33 items for 3 months. You donate or box up the rest. Even if you don’t get rid of them, you box it up and store it away. After three months you pull out the items you missed and donate the rest.
33 is an arbitrary number, however, it’s small enough to cause you to be very selective about what you choose to keep in your wardrobe. It forces you to pull out a capsule wardrobe. A few multi-functional garments that you can wear over and over at a variety of events and in many kinds of weather.
Items like undergarments, loungewear, and workout clothes aren’t counted. Although, you can include them in the count if you decide you want the extra challenge.
Soon after starting the challenge, I realized that I wasn’t even wearing all the clothes I had kept out. So I continued to weed out during the challenge. I was also very disciplined about not buying anything new unless it was to replace something that had worn out. (How often do we actually wear out an article of clothing?)
At the end of three months, I pulled out three or four items to add back into my wardrobe and donated several garments I had originally thought I’d miss for sure.
Number one was having so much space! My hanging clothes had plenty of air flow in my closet. No more crammed, wrinkled clothes. My drawers were mostly empty.
The second benefit was picking out an outfit was super easy and stress free. I didn’t have to worry about what matched or how I looked. The clothes I’d kept in my wardrobe were all my favorites. I knew they fit well, were comfortable, and flattering.
The third benefit of clearing my wardrobe was having less laundry. A lot less. Many of my sweaters and skirts I was able to wear several times before they needed to be laundered. Folding and putting away took no time at all.
Not only did I get more space but I got my time back and had less stress. Those are some highly valuable advantages to living with less. It also got the ball rolling on doing some more clearing in other areas of my home and life.
I learned that clearing and letting go doesn’t have to be painful. It can be freeing, spacious, and refreshing. The alternative of being cramped, stuck, and stressed is not an option. I want so much more from life. How about you?
I started 2016 without any goals. No New Year’s resolutions. No plans for the future.
Toward the end of 2015 I found myself in a downward spiral of obsession and claustrophobia. Each day was a chore to get through. I never seemed to have enough time to do what needed to be done, so I did a lot of nothing.
It seemed foreign to me to not have any goals for the new year. It’s out of character but I just couldn’t focus on anything outside of the immediate. I couldn’t even imagine what the next year would bring because I couldn’t see past tomorrow.
I happened to be sitting in my sister’s kitchen on January 1st. We have always have tried to get together on New Year, whether in person or online, because we’re planners and goal setters. However, this year we didn’t make any plans. It was only a last minute decision to drive the 3 hours to visit her.
Instead of planning, we chatted about our current struggles and the feelings of lethargy that we were apparently both dealing with. We took the time to reconnect and sympathize. Honestly, we didn’t have any great words of encouragement for each other. Only that we could understand what the other was going through.
I mentioned to my husband on the ride home that night, how neither my sister nor myself had been able to come up with any great goals for the new year. We felt stuck.
That’s when he said something that was a complete paradigm shift for me.
He said, “Not all goals have to be life changing.”
I realized then that I had been looking for something that was going to completely revolutionize my life. I wanted THE GOAL that would pull me out of the doldrums and shine a light on a bright new future.
But those words set me on a new path. A path of simplicity, instead of enormity. A path to be taken one step at a time. A path to be strolled for the sheer pleasure and not for some extravagant destination at the end.
What has happened since January 1st has been a series of deliberate steps that have, in the course of few short months, altered the course of my life in a very “life-changing” way. I didn’t plan it. I just walked it.
I want to share with you those deliberate steps and somehow help you walk out of the mire of overwhelm and into the spaciousness of balance. What you see is not what you get. You can change your perspective, open up, and get more out of life.
P.S. Part of this change is giving Coffee & Confidence an overhaul. I appreciate your patience as I work out the kinks and think out the quirks to bring you something fresh and new.