A New Year, A New Lifestyle (maybe)

Recently, while browsing through the many interesting and helpful-hint-laden pages of lifehacker.com, I stumbled upon a lovely little blog written by a lovely little woman who calls herself Miss Minimalist. While minimalism may typically be ascribed to music, design, or other art forms, Miss Minimalist employs the concept in the way she lives her life; she has happily found for herself a minimalist approach to the art of living, you could say.

I don’t remember why Lifehacker was referencing her blog – probably something about utilizing storage space or cutting down on clutter, common features on the website – but I am fascinated by her thoughts on what minimalism can do to transform not just how you live, but how you think about life.

While most of her writing involves practical tips (how to cut down your over-stuffed closet, how to store things efficiently and attractively, etc.), her core ideas wax somewhat philosophically as she explains why she believes in minimalism and what more it has to offer than simply keeping your home tidy.

To me, being a minimalist isn’t only about white walls and empty spaces. It’s about eliminating the distractions that keep us from fully appreciating life.

The less stuff we have cluttering our homes (and the less “to-do’s” cluttering our time), the more energy we can devote to the things that are truly important to us.

My goal is to find that elusive point of “just enough,” whereby I own nothing more than that which meets my needs.

I believe that minimalism isn’t about emptiness for the sake of emptiness — but rather making room to move freely, think clearly, and open ourselves to the beauty and wonder of life.

Through her blogs, Miss Minimalist is slowly convincing me that minimalism could not only provide me with the freedom from on-going to-do lists in the back of my mind, but also that the de-cluttered, stress-free result can lead to greater freedoms.

For instance, I just read a post in which Miss M described how once, when she and her husband were on vacation, their home was burglarized. But, because they simply didn’t own many “big-ticket” items such as a television, fancy stereo equipment, or expensive computers, or excessive jewelry, the thief took nothing but a portable CD player, an empty purse, a tube of lipstick, and a ziploc bag of Canadian coins. So, even though burglary is always a possibility, she and her husband can travel free of the worry that their most “valuable” items will be gone when they get home. What peace of mind!

It was their minimalist lifestyle that allowed Miss and Mr. M to move from the US to the UK in just one month with nothing but a duffle bag each. That’s hard to imagine, but incredible to know it’s possible.

I’m most attracted to Miss M’s recurring theme of something she calls “non-attachment”; as you can infer, it basically means not owning anything that you are too attached to. In other words, don’t buy or own anything that you couldn’t easily leave behind or get over if it was lost or damaged (aside from essentials like wedding bands, financial documents, and the exception of certain sentimental items – just don’t turn everything into a sentimental item). It’s very easy for me to assign emotional value to physical things; it comes naturally. I save postcards, trinkets from childhood, and memorabilia from my relationship with Jordan. Such items are tangible links to people and events that I cherish.

In some sense, complete non-attachment seems impossible. But I think that Miss M’s point is that if we allow ourselves to become attached to too many things, we quickly become weighed down by the burden of every item that has ever had even slight significance in our lives. She gives this example: when she and her husband moved to the UK, they considered buying a pair of beautiful Barcelona chairs for their new living room. They both loved the chairs, but they knew that if they ever moved again it would be too impractical and expensive to ship them, and because they loved them so much they couldn’t bear leaving them behind. So, they opted instead for some less amazing but still lovely chairs that they could manage replacing if the time should come.

I’m beginning to realize that for being a post about minimalism, this is getting a little lengthy. Needless to say, I’m enthralled by Miss Minimalist and her outlook on life, and while I may never be able to become the “bare essentials” minimalist that she is (owning four pairs of shoes, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, eating off of a coffee table), I have been inspired to take action in my own life to trim things down and sort things out. Miss M has some helpful posts about wardrobe minimalism that have given me some great ideas. She also has a book that I’m seriously considering purchasing.

For now, though, I’ll stick to organizing my closet.

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4 thoughts on “A New Year, A New Lifestyle (maybe)

  1. I travel free of worry because I have insurance. But besides that, I think that this sort of “minimalism” is closer to asceticism than anything else. It’s about denial. Do you like that book? Get rid of it, because by liking it you’ve attached yourself to it, and by attaching yourself to it you have cluttered your life with something unnecessary.

    Notice that in the “minimalist” lifestyle there is no room for pets, children or sentiment.

    It is an impressive thing to really condense your life down into what you can carry with you. The movie “127 Hours” has a great moment of taking inventory of your pockets and thinking that those things are all you have. However, it can be a bit extreme. I think the more important lesson is to not let material possessions take control of your life. If you are the kind of person who would make life decisions based on weather or not you could move your favorite chair, I think you need to reevaluate yourself, not the chair.

    I can respect the desire to not accumulate unnecessary things, but this is extreme. How can you hold down a job(a real job) with 6 items of clothing? For that matter, how can you have a job at all, since that’ll tie you down?

    Also, this: http://open.salon.com/blog/zhukov/2010/09/07/thoughts_on_minimalist_blogs

  2. I agree that there is an “extreme minimalism” that I don’t think is ideal. If you are so minimalist that you push away family, friends, certain jobs, or children, you’re not minimalist – you’re just selfish.

    That being said, I don’t think that is what Miss Minimalist is going for. Maybe the chair example was not the best one, but it’s all I could think of off the top of my head. You should probably read her exact words to get a better sense of what she was trying to say: http://www.missminimalist.com/2009/11/minimalist-furniture-the-bare-essentials/

    Re-reading it myself, I realize that I somewhat misquoted her; “we would hate to leave them behind” is different than “couldn’t bear to leave them behind.”

    And for consistency’s sake, here’s the post about the burglary: http://www.missminimalist.com/2010/05/nothing-to-steal/

    And on the Six Items or Less topic, the goal is not to only own six items of clothing; the goal is to push yourself to only own things that you actually wear and that are actually functional, and I think the Six Items or Less challenge can help determine that.

  3. P.S: I meant to add that what I DO think Miss Minimalist is going for is a clutter-free life without unnecessary attachment to zillions of physical items, be they furniture, fancy electronics, excessive clothing or jewelry, etc.

  4. I read her original posts, and I think you summed it up well. Looking at those photos from the robbery and I just wonder, how can you live like that? The problem I have with this basic ethos is that it eschews quality. Buy a beautiful book? Nope, just get the cheap paperback you can toss aside. Have a nice bed? Nope, just a pad on the floor(or a mattress if you’re a big spender). The philosophical problem I have is that quality is cheaper in the long run. A good quality item will last a lifetime if you take care of it. But this assumes that you won’t be keeping it for a lifetime anyway, so you might as well get a disposable one.

    In one sense, it really becomes some sort of ultimate consumerism. You have nothing that lasts, almost everything you “use” is considered temporary. The only real advantage I can see is that you can pack up and leave on a moment’s notice, which is why this is the type of living that you usually see with people who are either homeless or might have a reason for wanting to leave on short notice. Conserving resources can mean accumulating clutter, like old grocery bags to use again, saving jars, etc.

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