Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Minimalist in a Sea of More

I get occasional requests (both online and in person) from people who want to learn more about my minimalist journey, so I thought it might be fun to do a series. Today in my email inbox was the No Sidebar newsletter, with the Headline, "50 Simple Things You Need to Hear."

I really enjoyed reading the collection of 50 quotations, many of which I could relate to, and most of which were written by my favorite bloggers.

Yep, I get all fangirl about minimalists, not movie stars.

Francine Jay, Joshua Becker, Leo Babauta, Courtney Carver, Brian Gardner, and Joshua Fields Millburn are quoted in the article. I've started exploring the new-to-me names as well, including Alysa Bajenaru, whose quote is on the card below. Click the card to visit her website.

I thought perhaps this would be an interesting jumping-off point for a series. I'm sure I'll have more to say about some of the quotations than I will about others. Maybe you'll have questions or comments as we go along.

To avoid me getting confused, we'll talk about each quote in the order they are listed. So...number one:

Yes! This was me, too. I remember, probably in the mid 1980s, dragging my husband into one of those stores that sells containers. I have no doubt there are lots more stores that sell containers than existed then, and probably websites dedicated to providing the newest, coolest things to put your things into.

On the face of it, organization of possessions makes sense. But now I can see that it encouraged and enabled the storage of unneeded, and unwanted items. And I know it led to additional purchases; unnecessary expenditures of hard-earned money. When those "extras" are put into snazzy storage boxes, we might forget we already have one (or two, or three).

There's a reason the saying, Out of sight, out of mind exists. Because it's true. 

I've done it. I've even--gasp--done it after moving from a 3,000-ish square foot house into a 500-ish square foot studio apartment with a very, very pared-down collection of stuff. Minimalist Me bought a useful item without realizing that I owned something almost like it. Sigh. And of course enough time had passed that it was impossible to return the new thing for a refund.

But...back to the store full of empty boxes.

I think we eventually bought one thing. I've forgotten what it was, but I remember it looked cool and seemed just perfect for storing whatever was particularly on my mind that day. But you know what? In our 30 years of marriage, I never got a handle on organization and storage. There was simply too much to begin with, and it kept coming in. If I had purchased nifty storage containers for all of it, the cost would have been astronomical.

We had prior generations' belongings, and added our own. Maybe you already know that my husband died over a period of several years. When he had to go to an assisted living facility, because we couldn't take care of him at home, I was faced with a preview of my future as a widow.

Living alone. The day was coming. What would it look like? Staying in the big house made no sense, for a variety of reasons. So when I wasn't working full-time or visiting my husband, I began the project that had been building up for more years than I'd been alive.

Clearing out the house, for its next occupants.

I'm not sure how I managed to make what now seems like a million decisions, touching each item in that house filled with memories and memorabilia.

What will I keep? What gets donated? What do I intentionally re-home with a family member or close friend?

My son and his fiancee helped when they could, and chose things they wanted to keep. Others pitched in after the decisions were made. They cleaned items for auction, helped haul discards to the city truck parked in our backyard over a weekend so we could fill it with items for the landfill.

It was a massive undertaking, but necessary, 
if we were going to move forward after the inevitable happened.

I've been in the apartment now for nearly five years, and I won't lie to you. There are times I've wished I had kept something(s). I've wished the massive auction had brought in more money. But all in all, I think my son, daughter-in-law, and I did the right thing. I think we generally chose well.

Organizing didn't make my husband happy; he was fine with the status quo. It didn't make me happy, because the task was too big, and was impossible to finish.

When my husband was nearing death, 
there wasn't a single physical item he cared about. 
People, yes. Music, yes. 
Possessions, however, became meaningless to him. 

I think there's a lesson in that. The old saying about the winner being the person who dies with the most toys?

So. Very. Wrong.

Even if those toys are very neatly categorized and organized. 

I wrote a story in 2015 called Emily's Dreams. Only by letting go of the items that were holding her back, could Emily step into her future. 

I couldn't have written that story without living a version of it myself. And I wouldn't have written it, if I'd decided to keep the house. Do you know why? Because I would be working full-time at a job, in order to support the house. In my spare time, I would be trying to organize its contents.

I wouldn't be writing novels. I know this without a doubt, because I know my energy levels, and how exhausting the curation of belongings is. 

Minimalist living makes my writing life possible, gives me options, opens up opportunities.

If you have questions or comments about today's topic, please post them in the comments below.

Until next time,
Happy reading! --Magdalena


  1. This is a really profound essay that resonates with me. It seems that Americans are given the message to buy things, buy containers to store things, get a storage unit to free up space, to buy more things. I've been shifting to the minimalist lifestyle for about ten years now. I did a major purge when I relocated across country, and I still am diligent about getting rid of things I don't use. If I buy new jeans, an old pair needs to get donated and/or rehomed. It is the most freeing thing I have ever done! Looking forward to more essays, Magdalena. Cheers to minimalism!

    1. Terry, thank you so very much for reading, and I appreciate you joining in the conversation. You sound like a pro at minimalism, and you're doing way better on the clothing side than I am. The daily diligence is so worthwhile, though!

  2. Magdalena...oh my gosh! This is beautiful on so many levels! Your writing is inspiring and you are right. Consumerism surrounds us and it's overwhelming. We don't need it because it's not what's truly important.

    1. Josie, thank you for visiting the blog, and for your kind, encouraging words. I'm always glad to find a kindred spirit on this journey. Many folks just don't understand--yet--what consumerism is doing to all of us.

  3. Beautiful blog, Magdalena. I'm in the process of letting go. I opened up a drawer yesterday and wondered why I was hanging on to something that had no meaning to me. It's in a drawer, because I have nowhere to display it. I didn't like it when it was given to me and I still don't like it, yet here it is many years later, still in the same drawer. I happily placed it in a growing giveaway pile. Hopefully it will find a loving home with someone else.

    1. Thank you so much, Tina. I'm glad the blog resonated with you. I hope the re-homing process of unwanted items continues to be a joy!

  4. Your story is one of inspiration in the face of heartbreak and loss. And we will always have regrets along with the choices we know have to be made. I am at that place where I have too much stuff and yet when I look at it, I am unable to divest myself of it. Baby steps, I guess. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Grace! Baby steps can work. ;)