Minimalism – The Struggle is Real

If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll recall that I have a fondness for the concept of minimalism. I’ve never gone on a rampage and thrown out all of my stuff or anything, but, section by section, I’ve gone through the house and pared down.

The truth is, it’s not that easy to keep it up. I’ll visit Walgreens during my lunch break to pick up more allergy medicine and by the time I leave the store I’ve got a new bottle of lotion, or a new nail polish, and of course a snack to take back to work with me. It’s possible I’ve even forgotten to get the allergy medicine because I was so enamored with all the shiny trinkets in the store.

When I go grocery shopping, I make a list of what we need based on the recipes we plan to make for the week. Yet every time, I end up walking out with at least 5 additional things I hadn’t planned for. Sometimes it’s legitimately a need, and I had just forgotten to put it on my  list. But more often than not, we could have made it through the week without an additional can of diced tomatoes, or another bag of frozen veggies, when we’ve already got a freezer full of them.

The worst is when I’m about to embark on a new life adventure and I get the urge to buy something to prepare myself for it. For example:

  • I’m going to take up running for exercise; I need to buy new running shoes before I can start.
  • I want to eat healthier this year; We should get a Ninja blender with food processor attachment and smoothie cups.
  • I need to write more; Let’s buy 5 notebooks and a 12 pack of pens, just in case the hundreds of pens I have around the house all stop working simultaneously.
  • The seasons are changing; I need new clothes.

I know I’m not the only one who does this, and in re-reading this list, nothing is really too crazy or expensive (besides the Ninja), but it just goes to show how quickly and easily we can fall out of the routine of being a considerate consumer.

What’s something you have a hard time resisting? Have you figured out a way to avoid the temptation? For me, I limit my trips to Walgreens as much as I can. I try to buy everything I’ll need for the week during my weekly shopping trip, because I find that it’s usually those quick little Walgreens trips where I end up with a spontaneous purchase that I didn’t really need.

Oh, and Amazon. I have to make a conscious effort not to buy every little thing I think of on Amazon. It’s just so easy to impulsively search for something and purchase it before your rational mind can catch up and stop you.

What’s your secret compulsive purchase? As you can see by the header image of this post, mine is nail polish. And I don’t even have 10 fingernails to use it on!


Oh, Christmas Tree…

This past week, I’ve been having a debate with myself over whether to buy a new Christmas tree or not.

For the past decade, Dave and I have had this stupid little 3 foot tree that we got for free from our old company when it was closing. It was a cheap thing, and as the years went by, it just kept getting crappier and crappier.

Last year, I had enough. Once the holidays were over, I threw it in the trash. It was very satisfying. I figured I’d worry about getting another tree next Christmas.

Well, next Christmas is here, and we’ve looked at trees at Target, Home Depot, Ocean State Job Lots, Walmart, even Amazon… and I can’t seem to bring myself to pay $25 for another dumb-looking 3 foot fake tree. I’m definitely not paying more for an even larger tree, no matter how nice it looks.

We live in a tiny house – less than 800 square feet. Despite my attempts at minimizing, we still have too much stuff. When Christmastime rolls around, of course it’s nice to put up some decorations to get the place in a holiday mood, but it’s basically adding more clutter.

Not to mention, there are 11 months of the year where the tree and all it’s decor have to sit in a box somewhere, taking up precious space.

Maybe this year we’ll just stick with the old ceramic tree I inherited… It takes about 30 seconds to set up. It’s a gentle reminder of Christmases past, and it adds a festive look to the room, all without the stress of crooked stars and strands of lights that decide to go dark after you put them on the tree.


The old ceramic tree… no fuss, no muss.

We do have plenty of other holiday decor – yards of fake greenery, plenty of lights, families of fake snowmen and a platoon of nutcracker soldiers – we can still be festive without a tree.

Well, I guess that settles it. We’re going treeless this Christmas!

Writing off the Past

Lately I have been working on getting rid of stuff that I no longer love, use, or need. Sometimes, the process is exciting and fun. I love getting rid of clothes. I find it easy to pull uncomfortable or ill-fitting clothes off hangers and toss them in a pile for donation. I take pleasure in pushing old bills and bank statements through the shredder. My kitchen cabinets have been cleared of spare glasses, plates and serving platters that hardly ever saw the light of day.

When it comes to sentimental items, however, the drawstring on my proverbial trash bag cinches right up. I can’t get rid of the letters from my 5th grade best friend! What if I want to re-read them some day? If I get rid of something someone gave me, does it mean I didn’t appreciate it?

There’s a lyric I lived by for a long time; Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements. I found it romantic to picture myself as an old woman, reading through my box of love letters and reminiscing on my youth. Yet I kept that box of friendship and love letters for nearly 20 years without reading a single one of them, or even thinking about them.

It’s true. I had a shoebox full of old letters, starting with my 5th grade pen pal and ending with my first and last long-distance boyfriend. Last week, I finally sat down to sort through the box and determine if any of these letters were worth keeping.

The discard pile.

As it turns out, what my friends and I wrote about when I was in 5th grade, middle school, and even high school, was pretty lame to look back on. To be honest, I didn’t even read all the letters after the first few. I considered how my 5th grade pen pal and I lost touch after a few years, and how many of the people whose letters I’d kept are no longer part of my life, and I actually don’t miss them. That sounds kind of mean, but I don’t intend it to be. The truth is, people move on.

Of course I did not throw away ALL the letters. I did keep a handful – those from my very best friends, which, just by looking at the envelope, I can recall the excitement of getting a fresh letter in the mail and tearing it open to see what it said. I also kept the love letters, though it was a little weird to read them now, so many years after having parted ways with the writer.

So that’s one less box of “stuff” on the shelf. Now to get sorting through the boxes of get-well cards and birthday cards that I’ve kept since 1986. I plan to scan anything that had truly significant meaning to me and discard the rest.

At one point in life I thought it meant something to hold on to all these items, but the reality is, all this stuff just weighs you down! I just keep telling myself how much better I will feel once I’ve gotten rid of the detritus in my life!

Summertime and the Livin’s Easy

When I was a kid, I had a hard time understanding why I got to have summers off from school but my dad had to keep on going to work every day. I couldn’t get it in my head that grown-ups didn’t get the summer off. It didn’t seem fair.

To this day, it upsets me that I can’t have the whole summer off. There’s so much I want to do! It doesn’t help that I work for a German company, and our German counterparts take off entire months at a time. I don’t know how much vacation time they actually get, but it seems to be way more generous than our US system. Unfair. Maybe I should move to Germany.

Anyway, that’s not what I came here to write about! I wanted to bang out a quick update, as I am soon to be off for one of my two weeks of vacation this summer. We are going to be camping in Maine and I intend to fully unplug. I’m bringing primitive writing tools – pens and paper – in the hopes that I will be inspired to write something deep and inspiring. Or perhaps churn out some interesting zentangle-inspired art. I haven’t drawn a thing in months!

Last weekend we celebrated the 4th of July at my youngest brother’s home in the Boston area. The weather was unbelievably perfect. We spent most of the time lounging by the pool, and of course eating tons of food. On Monday, we got to check out the school where my brother works (he had the right idea being a teacher – he gets summers off!). Then we went up to Newburyport, which was a cute little town on the coast. It was only a two-day visit, but it was like a mini-vacation for us.

Dave and I in Newburyport, MA

Enjoying a jaunt around Newburyport.

Speaking of vacations, Dave and I are finally going to go on a big trip together! We’ve started planning a trip to Costa Rica. We’re reading guidebooks and maps and we’ve been scouring the internet. We don’t have a date set yet, but Dave wants to go before the end of the year. I realize that’s like 5 months away, but the way things go at my job, you just have to blink and the time goes by like nothing.


The trip will be worth it if we see a baby sloth doing pull-ups.

In other news, my minimalism journey kind of hit a wall in the last few months, because I’ve been spending less time inside the house. The piles of crap in the back room are still there. I did take one evening to go through more of my clothes and get rid of some of the things I never wear. I even attempted to fold my shirts in the Konmari way.

Konmari shirt drawer

Folding the shirts this way is supposed to let you see them all in one glance, so you can easily find what you need. It beats my former technique of shoving them in and struggling to shut the drawer.

The Konmari method comes from this book called The life-changing magic of tidying up. You’ve probably heard of it, because everyone makes fun of it. It’s the one where you’re supposed to hold each one of your possessions and ask yourself if it brings you joy. I didn’t even finish reading the book, but since I had already been going through my stuff and clearing things out, I went ahead with the clothes. My parameters were pretty simple: do I actually like this shirt and actively wear it? Then I kept it. If not, out it went.

Morningtime flower

In other news, my garden is looking fabulous these days.

In conclusion, I am very much enjoying the summer so far and I hope you are too. I’m especially looking forward to being unplugged next week, and returning with renewed energy to work on this blog!

Thank you for reading this far. 🙂




Toastmaster Speech – Minimalism – Paring Down to Get More Out of Life

This is the text of the minimalism speech I gave at a Toastmasters meeting in April. I got a lot of good feedback, mostly of people who agreed that they wanted to part with a lot of their crap. A couple of guys insisted that as Connecticut Yankees, they could not part with their stuff because they were sure they’d need it at some future time.

You might notice this is a lot of text for a 5-7 minute speech. I always write more than what I actually say, because I tend to panic and forget half of what I wanted to say once I am in front of the crowd. This was the first speech I presented without using any notes. 

Have you ever stopped to think about how much stuff you own? I recently saw a statistic that stated that the average American household contains over 300,000 items. Our culture places a lot of importance on stuff. There’s a perception that the more stuff you have, the better off you are. The more stuff you have, the wealthier you are. More stuff equals more happiness, right? Our society is constantly encouraged to be buying and acquiring more stuff. Americans have a lot of stuff, yet America ranks #1 in rate of depression the world over. Could it be that we’ve gotten our priorities a bit mixed up?

In my own life, I have fallen into the trap that more is better. As an artist, I was always eager to acquire more art supplies. When I was young, I had basic art supplies. I used them all the time, and I enjoyed them. As a young adult with a job, I enjoyed collecting art supplies, imagining the fun I would have using them. Through the years, I have tried many forms of artistic expression, from drawing to painting to sculpting to jewelry making. As a result, I have boxes and boxes of supplies for each of these activities. You would think this would make me happy, but it doesn’t!

Now I have so much stuff that I don’t know where to start or what project to work on. It’s overwhelming and discouraging. I spend more time trying to organize my stuff than actually enjoying it.

Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps it’s not art supplies, but your children’s toys, or the endless piles of laundry you’re folding and sorting and putting away.

Before I even heard of minimalism, I knew there must be a better way. I wanted a simple life, but I needed a little help figuring out how to get there. There are endless websites and magazine articles out there that tell you how to organize and store all your stuff. But that doesn’t get to the root of the problem – that you just have too much stuff!

That’s where Minimalism comes in. What exactly is Minimalism, you ask? Does it involve running off to live in a cabin in the woods for a year, like Henry David Thoreau? Does it mean you have to get rid of all your stuff?

No! Minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of anything. Minimalism is the intentional focus on the things you value most and the removal of anything that distracts you from that. It’s about taking control of your life and not letting your stuff take control of you. It’s clearing away the physical clutter, but also the mental clutter that comes with it. It’s about living mindfully, being conscious of what you’re choosing to buy and why.

The more stuff you have, the more your stuff controls you. When you have less stuff, you have less to worry about, less to insure, less to clean, less to organize. Imagine being able to find anything right when you need it, because you have just what you need and you know exactly where to find it because everything has a home.

Declutter your home and consequently your mind, and have more space to play, to create and to enjoy the important things in life, like family, friends, relationships. So where on earth do you start?

It can be daunting to look around your home, at the overstuffed bookcases, the attic or garage filled with boxes of old things, your wardrobe overflowing with clothes.

It is suggested that you start by minimizing stuff in a small space or relatively simple area, such as the bathroom. A simple rule of thumb is, if an item is not essential, remove it. If you are trying to decide whether to keep or purge certain items, put them in a box with the date clearly marked. If after a few months you haven’t needed them, it’s likely you can live without them. A handy tip for decluttering your closets is to put all the hangers backwards. After you’ve worn something once, put it back in the closet on a hanger that is facing the right way. At the end of the season whatever is still hanging on the backwards hangers is something you did not wear, meaning you don’t really need or want – so get rid of it.

What do to with all this stuff? You may pass items along to family or friends if it will be useful to them. You can also turn your old stuff into cash. In addition to garage sales, there is Ebay and Craigslist. You may prefer to just donate your old stuff by taking it to the Goodwill, but a local homeless shelter or women’s center would be thrilled to receive quality items. Of course if the items you’re getting rid of are too worn out to resell or give away, there is always recycling or trashing them completely.

Once you complete the challenge of paring down and decluttering, there’s the additional challenge of keeping it that way. It requires some mental effort, but this pays off. Remember, the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you. The fewer things in a home, the easier it is to clean. Personal belongings are not the key to happiness. Learn to enjoy things without owning them by making use of libraries, museums and parks.

When you pare down your possessions, you simplify your life. When life is simple, you are less stressed, and when you are less stressed, you can focus on important things like spending time with people you love instead of spending time organizing or cleaning all your stuff.

If having a clutter-free home doesn’t appeal to you, maybe this will: You can’t take it with you, and so someone else will be going through your stuff after you’re gone. Save them some grief by keeping it simple.

When you go home tonight, take a look around your house. Is it a calm and welcoming place? Or is every day a battle to contain the chaos? If you don’t feel relaxed and peaceful when you arrive home, perhaps it is time to try a minimalistic approach.

Toastmasters International Competentent Communicator book, Speech #9 – Persuade with Power