Where I usually end up

So. Minimalism.

I embraced it enthusiastically. Well, I embraced the idea of it. And I tried to embrace the actual practices. I made many real, significant changes in my life. And yet, I can’t say I’ve succeeded in my quest to truly embrace minimalism.

Truthfully, it feels like I’ve failed.

But I know that’s not an honest, or accurate, way of looking at it. Where I ended up is not definitively in the camp of “failure,” or “success,” but somewhere in the murky, unquantifiable, middle.

Isn’t that where we usually end up?

In so many ways, I’m a complete convert. I really do believe in the philosophy of minimalism. I absolute agree that I would be happier with less stuff. Of course, the practice of getting rid of, and keeping rid off, that stuff, is harder to implement than it is to embrace.

In some ways, I really have changed. I haven’t purchased a book in ages. Maybe one or two for my kids, but very, very few. I don’t buy them many (hardly any, really) toys or clothes. In many of the areas of my life I’ve purged and not let the things back in.

But my closet is still a mess. I just don’t have much desire to get rid of most of my clothes. I like wearing the clothes that I have and if I notice I’m not wearing something I get rid of it, but I haven’t purged my closet down to the number of items I suspect people who are really minimalists have. Same with my shoes. I have more shoes than I need, and yet I wear them all. Could I live with fewer? Sure, but I don’t really want to.

And there are some tenants I can’t quite get behind, like the idea that one is always enough. I’m sorry but one set of sheets is not enough. Actually, I like to have three sets of sheets for every bed that is being used on the reg. There have been countless times when I have needed a third pair of sheets for any one of our beds. The idea of only having one of set is insane to me.

I have two sets of my daughter’s lunch and snack boxes. I’m looking to get a fourth smoothie cup so we have two sets of two and don’t have to wash one set every day to serve two smoothies. Do I need two sets? No. But it makes my life easier.

I still really appreciate my life being easier, and sometimes that means having more than one of something.

So what (physically) does my life look like over a year after I “embraced” minimalism? It may not seem like it’s much different–there are still toys all over the living room floor, and clean laundry toppled about the sofa, and piles of books and other flotsam and jetsam on my bedroom floor, and flurries of crap on my wardrobe and papers on my kitchen cutting board/island. But it feels different. Because none of those messes stress me out the way they used to; I know I can clean them up if I am so inclined. I still KNOW where all the things go and if I start picking up things look substantially neater in just 30 minutes or so. The layer of chaos is still there, but it’s a controlled chaos that I understand and can master. I don’t feel overwhelmed by it in the ways I once did.

I’m still reading lots of minimalist blogs. I nod along, agreeing with them on most points. I recognize that my life is better for having “embraced” minimalism, and I want to keep the ideas alive. Could I improve? Absolutely! Every day I think about committing to the ideals of minimalism a bit more. Sometimes I manage it, most days I don’t. And that’s okay. The seed has sprouted, and even though it’s growing slowly, it would take a lot to uproot. I hope to tend to it more, water it, transfer it to better soil. For now I’m giving it what it needs to survive, even if it can’t thrive. And that is better that nothing.

I wish I could just commit to minimalism full throttle and never look back. I think I would be happier that way. But it’s not how I operate. It’s going to take a lot of years to get me where I want to be. I do believe I’ll arrive at the desired destination, it’s just not going to happen any time soon.

I’m trying to be okay with that. Getting there eventually is better than never getting there at all. I’d rather keep the dream alive despite not having achieved it, because I know that I’ll be better off for it some day.

And I know that as unlikely as it seems at the moment, I will eventually wake up and realize that some day has arrived, that I will be living the minimalist life I always dreamed of.

It will have been worth the wait.

14 Comments

  1. Of the things you are work on, minimalism seems to be the one with the least potential benefits. While I think it is great to be mindful about purchases and possessions, cutting down to the minimum seems unnecessary. Precisely for the reasons you cite.

    I suspect most people have an ideal amount of stuff, and when stuff gets cut below that amount, they go on shopping sprees. So yeah, don’t buy stuff you don’t need, get rid of stuff you don’t use, but it is ridiculous to conform to some arbitrary standard that makes your life harder instead of easier.

    Right now for the year we’re living pretty minimalist because we’re going back to our fully stocked home in less than a year and don’t want to spend extra money on things we don’t need. But man is it irritating to only have one big pot. If pots weren’t so pricey I would so get a second even though we don’t need it. Having to repackage and wash before cooking does not improve our quality of life, even if it may be ideal from a minimalist perspective. Not having extra results in sore feet if you don’t replace your shoes quickly enough. It causes you to wear damp clothing when the laundry didn’t completely dry. Or a kid to sleep on an uncovered mattress after an accident. Minimalism requires the kind of time and flexibility that minimalist bloggers seem to have.

    I should totally write an ode to having stuff. And maybe just give up and see if I can find a cheap spaghetti pot. Maybe a different city’s goodwill since ours sucks.

  2. agree completely with N&M. I think you either ARE a minimalist or you aren’t. Some people really really really feel more comfortable/happy with less stuff. And some people like bustle and knick knacks and that cozy lots-of-stuff feeling.
    I’m definitely in the middle on this trait. I think the key is to hit the sweet spot of enough-but-not-too-much which is different for everyone! If you have the right amount of clothes to always be able to find something to wear without stressing about doing laundry too frequently then I say you’re in good shape. Not too many women can say they actually wear every item in their closet (I definitely need to work on that!). I definitely don’t think one set of sheets is enough. that’s insane! So you have to wash them immediately when you change them? What if your kid throws up on them at 2am or has an accident?
    I feel really peaceful when we have the right amount of stuff. For some things (toys/my clothes) that means I need to get rid of stuff. But for other things (re-usable water bottles, my kids’ school uniform) I think we need to buy more, so if one gets left at school or clothes get spilled on early in the morning we don’t have to stress.
    I think you’re good on this. Call it a win.

  3. In summary, I’m not a minimalist, and I don’t think its necessarily a “better” thing to be or a “worse” thing to be. You don’t have to be one.

  4. Yes, totally what Ana said! I feel like I have too much stuff for the house I live in, which is very small. But overall, I like my stuff. If I got rid of all of it, I would feel like I was losing something. And like you alluded to, part of that thing would be convenience (the other parts, I guess, are memories, enjoyment, variety, etc). With small children, 1 set of sheets is never going to be enough! And I like to have enough cups, plates, bowls to fill the dishwasher without running out. I think that’s valid. For me (should I really admit this??), we’ve crossed the line when I cannot walk freely around rooms without stepping over/around things. Less than that, I’m okay.

    You know, part of my job involves inspecting apartments. I was recently in a beautiful apartment, like showroom quality, and I found myself feeling bad for the people because they didnt’ have any stuff. It didn’t seem like a price I wanted to pay for that kind of beautiful apartment (clearly for them, it is worth it, but it wouldn’t be for me).

    So in short, I think it’s okay to be happy with some stuff and not none. The key is, is it working for you? It sounds like your efforts toward minimalism have improved your quality of life. So don’t beat yourself up for not going further! It’s not an all-or-nothing issue.

  5. Minimalism is a journey not a final destination no matter what some bloggers say about what they are doing or what it means to them.
    YOU get to write your own script for how you are being a minimalist today, and when ever you choose you can rewrite your definition.
    Your definition for today … reading your post you are winning.
    Happy weekend to all!

  6. I am constantly striving to be more minimalist, but it makes me feel better to have less clutter and be able to find things quickly. I like having fewer clothes and shoes so I can pick outfits easier. I like minimalist decor, which I know will seem too “cold” for many people. In other words, I’m doing it because it aligns with my natural tendencies (though not of my spouse!) Like every type of -isms, it’s okay to pick and choose what works for you.

  7. So I want to write one comment in response to all of them because I feel like everyone is saying basically the same thing. While I totally understand that minimalism is not for everyone, I really do think it’s something that would benefit me immensely. I tend to fall on the direct opposite side of the spectrum from minimalism. I buy, buy, buy. Things are my answer to EVERYTHING. I am always getting something that I think will solve a problem. I am also HORRIBLE at managing my stuff. Like, really, really bad. It quickly takes over my space and makes things unmanageable. It’s a pretty rotten combination.

    I really do think I would be MUCH HAPPIER with less stuff. Like, significantly happier. I have not missed hardly anything that I have given away. I’m sure if I did get rid of a lot of clothes I wouldn’t be any less happier for not having them. I really do have too many at this point, especially since a friend gave me a lot, and they are pieces I never would have gotten for myself.

    I understand that not everyone needs to own a minimal number of things, but I think I would happier for it. I think a lot about why I love to go to my parents’ house or to a hotel or to house sit and one of the reasons I love being in those spaces is because there isn’t much around. I LOVE that feeling of space that only comes when there isn’t stuff everywhere. I personally cannot create that space if I have a lot of stuff. I know other people can, but I cannot. Organization is NOT my strong suit. It’s probably my biggest weakness. I need to own less to manage my stuff.

    Having said that, I doubt that the place I eventually get to is not going to look like the place a lot of minimalist inhabit. I will always have more than one pot, and more shoes than I really NEED and two pairs of jeans. I just will. And that’s okay. My version of minimalism will be what works for me, and even if it’s not what others think of as minimalism, it will be what makes me happy.

    1. You say you would be happy with less stuff but having one set of sheets would actually be really annoying to you. And you like all your shoes and wear them! So, now that you have gotten rid of the chaos and you feel more in control, what do you think you would gain by having less stuff?

      If you really want a clearer space (which I get, I’m terrible at organizing my stuff), I would slowly continue to get rid of stuff. Now that you’ve done several enormous purges, it may be harder to get rid of stuff. Maybe your goal can be to get rid of a few items a month.

  8. I have been reading you for a while and I think that you are definitely an “all or nothing” type of person. If you don’t do something and follow every single rule to the T then you aren’t doing it right. I simply don’t think that this is the case. You got rid of a bunch of stuff from your house, stuff that you are not missing at all- that’s great! But if having extra sheets or an extra cup makes your life easier, then that’s okay too. I think that minimalism probably looks different based on kid’s ages and a whole host of other factors. If your current messes stress you out a lot less than they used to then I call it a win!

    I know that money is tight but maybe you could save up for a personal organizer? I don’t think that they are super expensive, but there are actual people that will organize a room or your entire house.

  9. I totally get this. Buying too many shoes when you don’t need or won’t wear them is totally different from having maybe a few more than you need (not Imelda Marcos). I totally understand being frugal but to me that’s different from minimalism. I have maybe 20 “work” shirts that I rotate thru. Sure, I could wear the same 5 every week, but there would be laundry issues, plus some are long sleeve, some short, etc; not all my shirts go with all my pant and skirt suits; etc., plus, people would notice (not a huge deal, but still.) plus I’ve accumulated them over maybe 7 years. My shirts generally last about that long and I might get a few a year. Probably blasphemy to a minimalist.

  10. I feel like there isn’t a “success” line out there, that it would be hard to say you had been successful no matter what you did because the line is different for everyone and unless you set one ahead of time, there’s no way to know you’ve arrived. Even knowing that we downsized by at least 30% when we moved, it doesn’t feel like we have less stuff yet. Eventually I imagine it will, when there are no more boxes of stuff around and when my kid starts using the dresser instead of giving it dirty looks and leaving her clothes in laundry baskets all around. So don’t give up just because you aren’t done yet. Some progress is great! More to come, I imagine. Have you started repurposing things to solve problems yet? It’s a great feeling to discover you don’t need a new thing, or if a new thing is needed, to dispose of 3 old ones to make room for it.

  11. I don’t have much to say, other than “one set of sheets?” No. You don’t want to go to that extreme. Do you? I think minimalism can be adapted to suit us all – there must be degrees of minimalism that are right for each of us?

    My SIL, who lives the life of an expat, jokes that she’d like to get all her possessions down to just one suitcase. She can’t. She knows that. And she knows she doesn’t really want to. But I can understand the desire.

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