Early Minimalist Realizations

We moved! We had a little under a month to make it happen, less than three full weeks to pack, and a weekend to make it all happen. But we did it! As I discussed in a previous post, our change was prompted by my company moving to a new office that created an uneconomical commute, which we initially met with the outlook that this was happening to us–not with us as part of our plan. But as we started analyzing our lifestyle and considering our goals as part of this process, we settled into a new perspective that downsizing would help us accomplish a few goals, such as saving more money, allowing us to restructure our lives to live more intentionally, and kicking us into gear to go through our possessions from a minimalist standpoint. Once we altered our paradigm, it became much easier to see the positive side of our situation, and we were able to adjust more smoothly. The timing was a little difficult with us taking a week’s cruise in the middle of it all, but it worked out nonetheless. In the process of downsizing, we’ve had several realizations that are letting us readjust our lifestyle and see the benefits of the process.

We started with a lot of stuff

First, despite downsizing last year when we moved into our current apartment complex, we still had a lot of stuff. Three sleeping bags we didn’t use. A full, seven-foot Christmas tree-worth of decorations despite only having a three-foot tree. Pots and pans we didn’t use. Decor we had nowhere to hang. Clothes that didn’t fit. Closets full of sentimental items we never pulled out to use. Somehow we had accumulated more stuff all over again in less than a year. So we diligently went back through our belongings, and I was rather proud of how much we let go of this time around–over two full car loads of donations! And I mean packed from the front seat to the back hatch with barely enough room to close the doors.

As we are still setting up how we want items to be stored or used, I am realizing again that we still have a lot of items.

A smaller closet is much easier to utilize.

We also donated two black trash sacks full of clothes to a nearly new used clothing store while my mom carted our more expensive clothes to a vo-tech back in Oklahoma that sells business clothing to students very cheaply for interviews. Add in my grandmother taking our cold weather gear and linens to donate through her church to the homeless, and we gave away a lot of clothing and reduced our needed closet space drastically. This was a good thing because we hadn’t realized just how much closet space we were losing until we started hanging up the clothes that we kept. Our bedroom closet was cut in half but now has three half-height bars and one full-height bar, which is literally just enough for all of our clothes including our coats and odd-weather items (like my partner’s wet suit).

Most of my space is for my work clothes, which outnumber my casuals by almost three to one, while nearly all of my partner’s items are t-shirts, which she is lucky enough to wear to work every day. But it wasn’t until we finished hanging it all up that I realized how many clothes we had let go of. My partner was especially thorough in this aspect, as much as she disliked it, because she cut her t-shirt collection in half, tossing those that she didn’t wear anymore or that were too small or just worn out. In the end, we got rid of loads of stuff and I only need to open the closet to remind myself of how much we actually had to start with.

We weren’t ready to part with everything.

Some people take minimalism to the extreme of keeping only the absolutes, the things they need to survive and at most a handful of non-essentials for entertainment value. We quickly knew that we didn’t want to go to that extreme. While we let go of some items that we had kept in case we wanted to use them for entertainment–the camping gear always comes up in my examples–we did keep some stuff beyond the necessities simply because it made us happy. Books are a primary example. We are both sometimes downright passionate about our books, as I described in an earlier post, and I’m sure my English degree only furthered my romanticization of the written word; however, we knew we had too many books despite our pride at constantly needing more bookshelf space. So we analyzed our books and why we had them, and we kept the ones that were functional and would be reread or those that just made us happy to discuss with people who come over, selling or donating the rest.

But that technique simply doesn’t work with everything for us. Last October, after nearly a year of trying treatments to cure her symptoms, we made the tough decision to euthanize our older cat. It was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. She was my baby, the one who was with me through all of graduate school when it was just the two of us, and I still struggle with losing her, having a good cry every now and then when I think of her. And until this move I hadn’t gotten rid of much of her stuff. Some of her old medication was still in the cabinet. Her toys were still in the box that we use to store our younger cat’s toys. When I considered what those things meant to me, I knew they kept the sadness palpable because I could see and touch them, so I let them go. But I couldn’t discard everything: I kept her first and favorite toy from when she was a six-week old kitten as well as a handful of pictures my partner had printed for me after she passed. The toy is a happy memory but doesn’t serve a function every day aside from making me remember her in happy ways, but that’s good enough for me. That’s a positive effect on my life, which is the primary goal.

IMG_2726
One my grandfather’s woodcarved fisherman statues that keeps our shelves comical.

Extreme minimalists, such as The Minimalists who have helped catapult the lifestyle in the past few years, argue that you shouldn’t hang on to sentimental items if they aren’t functional because they do little outside of taking up storage. To a degree, I agree–we let go of a lot of items that we received as gifts or hand-me-downs and had held on to out of guilt. But some things we weren’t ready to part with, and no amount of thinking it over made us feel any better about letting go of them: our cat’s toy, a scrapbook, some pictures, a few books from our childhoods, my grandmother’s Bible, a fisherman woodcarving that sat on my grandparents’ mantle during my childhood. They are little things that make us feel happy every time we re-experience them, and that is worth finding the space to store them. In that way, we realized we are not extreme minimalists. We are more like minimal minimalists, which works well for us.

There are some things we’ve always wanted to do but literally didn’t have the space to do.

I took piano lessons as a small child but didn’t continue them, and my partner and I both learned to play acoustic guitar as teenagers. We both brought guitars into the relationship along with my synthesizer that I have had since high school and used to record simple piano but never truly used to its potential. I had wanted to let go of the synthesizer when we first moved in together, but my partner convinced me to keep it so we could learn to play piano, something that we both wanted to do. But we never had the space to set it up. Instead, it stayed wrapped in bubble wrap with every move, stored in the back of a closet or under the bed along with its stand. When we went through our possessions as we prepared for this move, we once again decided to keep the synthesizer with one condition: we had to set it up. If we didn’t set it up or use it regularly, we wouldn’t keep it.

After just a few days, we set it up in our new apartment, and we’ve used it more in the past three weeks than I have in the past ten years. My partner is using a free iPad app to learn piano and I’ve rediscovered how cool my Korg really is. Learning piano is something we’ve talked about for three years and we finally have the space to set it up–in the smallest apartment we’ve lived in together! After getting rid of everything we didn’t need, we finally have the space and time to start doing the things we’ve always wanted to do.

We are really still learning how to simplify our lives and how to live more intentionally; some aspects are easier than others, but we can already identify ways in which these choices have impacted us positively. More space. Better eating. Opportunities to do things we want to do. They are little changes that have a big influence on how we see our lives now, something that we want to continue.

What are some postive benefits you have seen by introducing minimalism into your life?

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