More, More, More!

More!

It’s not quite the word you’d expect to see on a blog about simplifying.

But I think that it’s a core concept of what I’m trying to do here. I started to simplify when I noticed a lack of space, a lack of time, a lack of joy both in my possessions and in my lifestyle.

I needed more.

Do we always need more?

Of course not. It’s extremely important to know what to seek more of and what to avoid.

Seeking more quality, rewarding relationships is great, but seeking more acquaintances or “contacts” isn’t always best. Although if you love to network, then that’s perfect.

Adding more kitchen appliances for the sake of having a world-class kitchen isn’t productive, but adding more because you are pursuing your passion for cooking is a good start.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: more for the sake of more is what gets us into trouble. Intentionally choosing more (usually not physical, but sometimes it can be) is the sweet spot.

More vs. minimal

It’s time that we stop thinking of more and minimal as mutually exclusive.

Seeking more in a meaningful, intentional way is a recipe for an abundant life. The aim of minimalism and simple living is to get more of the good stuff: the stuff that isn’t necessarily stuff at all.

minimalism means more

It’s a simple opportunity cost: less of one thing means more of another, and vice versa.

So what do you want more of?

Quick practice: making a More List

Here’s a quick way to get your mind moving in the right direction. Grab a piece of paper and jot down ten things you want more of.

There are no bad ideas or wrong answers here – you might want more free time or more exercise, but it’s also okay too see things like more shoes or more ice cream. Just make sure that your list is an honest portrayal of what you want more of.

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.

Swedish proverb

Next, consider each item. Why do you want more of each one? I always find that being honest with myself about my motive helps put things into perspective. You might cross off a few here if you realize your motives don’t match your current values.

Finally, break the list down even further.

What do you need less of in order to get more of each item? The obvious answer for most physical things or experiences is money. Is it worth it?

You’ll also see things that cost space, time, or energy. I’m not saying that spending these things is a bad idea, just be sure weigh the costs and benefits and work out what’s best for you.

Redefining minimalism

I’ve been thinking about this idea – of minimalism being about more – lately, and I was happy to hear that others who share my sentiment.

Brooke McAlary interviewed James Wallman on her Slow Home Podcast, and they discussed this issue of minimalism’s “branding problem” among other things. Minimalism is so commonly perceived in the negative light of denial and subtracting things from our lives that it can be unappealing and exhausting.

It doesn’t have to be!

So here’s my challenge to you: find what you want more of and start working towards it. Think about that process of having less of something in order to get more of what you want.

That’s how you define your minimalism.

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Six Doors to a Simpler Life

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? It helps you see where someone’s values are and what motivates them.

You can read my simple-living origin story here, but here’s a quick recap for new readers:

After I graduated college, I was drowning in 22 years worth of clutter. I was chronically stressed and depressed. I moved four times that year, and the final move nearly broke me. I remember carrying 50-gallon trashbags full of clothes that I never wore downstairs to the moving truck and holding back tears under the literal and figurative weight of it all.

So when I began my life in a new city, I started to get rid of anything I didn’t need (which was no small feat). It started with clothes and slowly expanded into my other possessions and other areas of my life. So basically, my origin story is based on stuff, and lots of it.

But that’s not the only entry point into minimalism, so if you’ve been struggling with the “stuff” part of it all, there might be another way to start simplifying. What’s most important is that you do what feels right!

Other fascinating origin stories

There are others who have shared their origin stories. Some are similar to mine and some are very, very different.

Courtney Carver started with her diet after a medical diagnosis, then proceeded to simplify the rest of her belongings and her lifestyle. Joshua Becker started with his stuff after spending more time than he wanted to cleaning out his garage. Joshua Fields Millburn wasn’t a minimalist until life-changing events sparked him to approach the emotional weight of the stuff around him. Ryan Nicodemus, alongside Joshua Fields Millburn, decided to switch his pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of an intentional, good life.

The six doors to a simpler life.

Photo credit: Andrew Beeston

The Six Doors to Simplifying

I’ll go into each in more depth below, but here are the six entry points into simplifying and minimalism that I’ve observed throughout the years:

  1. Clutter
  2. Money
  3. Diet
  4. Schedule
  5. Relationships
  6. Digital distractions

Let’s dive in!

Clutter

This one is the most evident, and is the most obvious place to start. You can identify this as a problem when you start running out of places to put stuff, find yourself cleaning too often, or spend an inordinate amount of time on finding the perfect storage solution.

Starting with clutter is a great way to get the ball rolling and you will soon see the effects of simplifying your stuff in your life. A clear space is a clear mind.

However, it’s not always a comfortable place for everyone to start based on emotional ties to stuff or time or health constraints.

Money

I think we’re all trying to simplify this with varying degrees of success. This category is hard. Unexpected things pop up that make this area of our lives difficult to control completely.

However, starting here will give you more time for other areas of your life (because time is money and money is time). It can be as drastic as you want – you can aim for early retirement like Mr. Money Mustache or you can just cut out most extraneous expenses and get debt-free a little sooner.

Diet

There’s a pattern here – most of these entry points deal heavily with emotion, and this one is no exception. Your food choices are highly personal and the are the most directly connected to your actual human life.

Food determines our energy levels, our immunity and our overall health. This is one area that you can actually add to instead of taking away from – start by adding in an extra serving of veggies or an apple snack to remind your body what these nutrients can do for you. This is the change that you can make right now, while the other changes will take a little more time.

Schedule

Even though this one seems so impossible, trust me: there’s always room. Simplifying anything in your life means that you have to learn to say “no” to things, and what better way to get practice in?

We’re bombarded by invitations, requests and meaningless to-do’s, so start small. What is one thing that you can say no to today? Saying no to things that don’t add value to your life means that you can say yes to more things like spending time with loved ones, going on walks and taking care of yourself.

Relationships

This one is difficult – are there relationships in your life that do not bring joy or value? Are you surrounding yourself with people who motivate you or are you surrounded by people who bring you down?

Breaking off romantic relationships and friendships is complicated, but sometimes both need to be done.But by saying “no” to certain relationships, your truly meaningful relationships will have the space they deserve to flourish.

Digital distractions

If you have an internet connection, you probably have this problem. Notifications, requests and updates are constantly pinging on our desktops and our phones. Even though it takes up little physical space, these distractions take up a massive amount of emotional and mental space.

This category includes social media, files like word documents and photographs, email, and our cloud-based calendars. Start by removing push notifications from your phone as much as possible, then explore each space individually after that.

How to find which one is right for you

Take a moment to think about where most of your stress lies.

If you’re stressed about being busy, then look into your schedule. If there’s too much buzz in your mind and on your phone, start with digital distractions. Always frustrated about the clutter on your desk? Start with stuff.

If you can’t think of it right away, observe yourself for a couple of days. When and where do your stress levels spike, and when are they the lowest?

They’re all connected

If you’re worried that you just have to choose one, fear not. Once you start simplifying and streamlining one part of your life, you’ll start to see how it can be applied to other areas.

I felt like it was no stretch to change my eating habits after my closet was manageable. I began to value my time more after those two changes, so I then switched my focus to my digital life – particularly cutting down on Facebook.

Whatever you choose, know that your path to simplifying is entirely your own. Read others’ stories and take what you feel is relevant to yourself from them. If you try to copy someone exactly, you’ll end up in an unsustainable, frustrating and ultimately, complicated lifestyle.

Where did you start simplifying, or where do you think you’ll focus next?

My Path Towards Minimalism

Everyone has a reason behind why they’re removing unwanted distractions and possessions from their lives. I realized I haven’t yet shared that here on my blog, so I figured it’s about time to let you in on it.

The Three C’s

Minimalism, for me, is about clarity, control, and concentration. These things were either lacking or failing in my life a couple of years ago, and I realized I needed to change. A lot of it had to do with my massive intake of nothing other than coffee, coffee creamer, and spaghetti with marinara sauce. I wasn’t in a healthy place, and my mind was suffering. It took a few eye openers before I actually started treating myself better with a proper diet and exercise. I noticed improvement.

Then, about a year and a half ago, I started my moving spree. I lived in massive apartment with friends, then a small house (where the bedrooms were 8’x10′), then a small and ancient one bedroom apartment, and then I moved to Indianapolis where I am today. Each time I moved, I realized it was more difficult than the last time – it required toting several loads across town in my tiny car and my parent’s truck. I started feeling, in a weird way, like this stuff was wearing on my like my poor diet had been. And it was.

This was my 8'x10' bedroom where I kept most of my things - and my rabbits.

This was my 8’x10′ bedroom where I kept most of my things – and my rabbits.

I started getting to the point where my bags of clothing weighed several times what I do. Every drawer was a junk drawer, and was getting worse. I found no joy in cleaning or in getting rid of things I no longer needed. So, I started to make some changes.

For Clarity

When I began to realize how much I and others around me truly had, I felt a panic settling in. What if this stuff prevents me from doing what I want? What if I’m missing out right now because I can’t let it go?

I hadn’t been creative in months, and it was difficult for me to do so if things were cluttered or if I didn’t have an adequate workspace. If I had a desk, it was covered up with papers and old coffee mugs. If I had a chair, it was piled high with clean and dirty clothes that needed a home. My work was often frustrating and my mind was waving a white flag.

Once I started to get rid of things, I was able to see more clearly both figuratively and literally – my space became easier to clean and more visually pleasing. I felt lighter and was excited about sharing what I had discovered with others.

This was a common sight in my room before I left for college. It's been a tough habit to break.

This was a common sight in my room before I left for college. It’s been a tough habit to break.

For Control

Another one of my nasty habits is to let things go wild, although are well within my control. While I’ve got a pretty good game face when it comes to every day interaction, I often feel as if everything is spinning out of my grasp and running away without me. My mind, my time, my aspirations…

Since I’ve become more deliberate about what I buy, what I keep, and what I eliminate from my life, I’ve noticed a greater sense of control. There’s not too many physical possessions in my life anymore that shouldn’t be, and that’s been doing wonders for me. I still slip up once in a while but learning how to talk to myself about mistakes and opportunities moving forward has been one of my unique challenges/opportunities as I head down this path.

For Concentration

I think this one is my most prized reason for eliminating things I don’t need. I get distracted and frustrated easily, and when things are in my way or aren’t where they should be, I’m thrown off. The less interruption, the more I’m able to focus on what’s really important. Like relationships, taking time to be creative, and taking care of myself.

Even this blog has been a product of what I’ve been working towards for the past couple of years – it’s a way for me to practice the discipline of writing (heh, although I’ve been terrible about keeping up with posts lately) and expressing myself for the betterment of others. The more I work on myself, the more I have to share with you all. It’s a beautiful circle.

So, what’s your reason for making the switch? I’m curious to know where you all have come from, and where you want this journey to take you. What are your “three C’s”?

Reorganizing vs. Eliminating

After the chaos of the last few weeks, I finally had time this weekend to clean house. My “donate” bag was notably smaller than it’s been in the past, and I finally feel like I’m getting closer to only owning the essentials.

But there was still an overload of stuff. My fiancé recently moved in and doubled the amount of stuff we have in the apartment, so this weekend I took the time to cleverly reorganize. But how should you balance reorganizing and eliminating? What’s the point in setting aside time to do each separately?

Eliminating

This should be done first. Eliminate waste, old possessions, things that no longer bring you joy, or that the cost of owning far outweighs the benefit. Mentally block off spaces in your home and take them one at a time, removing anything that isn’t useful or beautiful.

This process requires you to identify your own why. Are you getting rid of things because of a move? Because you’re feeling overwhelmed? Because you have memories you no longer wish to carry with you? For me, I felt that my possessions were weighing me down unnecessarily and I decided to make a change. This process also comes with a need to identify next steps: are you going to continue purchasing new things, or are you going to move forward with only what you have?

Having a reason and outlining next steps will help make the process easier.

Reorganizing

This should be done after you’ve been through at least one round of elimination. Imagine eliminating possessions as a warm shower, and reorganizing is the process of drying your hair, picking out an outfit and getting all dolled up. Reorganizing possessions is an excellent way to catalog what you still own and give everything a home.

Reorganizing physical things actually helps my mind put everything in its place as well: I find it easier to schedule time to relax, cook dinner, pay bills, etc. It’s a way to reduce the distraction and train yourself to give everything, even thoughts and emotions, it’s proper space and time.

The Not-So-Vicious Circle

Once you do these things once, schedule out time in the following week to do it again. You may find yourself spending less time deciding which items to eliminate and which to just reorganize, and you’ll notice that it gets easier and easier to give your possessions away. Let the circle continue: someday, you may find yourself with nothing left but the essentials. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Minimalism for Beginners

When many people hear the word “minimalist” when it refers to a lifestyle, they immediately think of someone who eats only rice and owns only a toothbrush and the clothes on his or her back (of course, though, in some cases this can be close to the truth). However, minimalism can be adapted in varying degrees in everyone’s life. And, in my opinion, it should be.

This is not what my minimalism looks like.

This is not what my minimalism looks like.

Everyone’s Minimalism Looks Different: Here’s Mine

I’ve embarked on my personal journey towards a more minimal lifestyle in recent months, and have felt a great weight lifted off of me. I look at possessions as an extension of my weight as I move through this life, and I discovered I was much too heavy to navigate effortlessly like I wanted to. I took a look at different areas in my home that overwhelmed me and took action. I started off by designating a “get rid of 100 things” weekend, and it continued from there. It gets easier! Here are a few of the areas I’ve cut down:

  • Clothes. I’ve reduced the amount of clothing and shoes that I own by 50%, and I’m still going. By focusing on quality secondhand items, I’ve been able to look like a million bucks while spending 10-25% of what I’d pay for brand new outfits.  (Want a pantsuit for interviews from Express for under $50? Try ebay!) Saving money isn’t the primary goal of this, but it’s a definite perk.
  • Personal care products. I don’t buy shampoo or fancy body wash (I use Castile soap, baking soda, and vinegar and I’ve yet to be called out for looking or smelling strange). I make my own toothpaste and hairspray, and I have gathered enough body sprays over the years that I’m set. (Think about the concept of having multiple perfumes/colognes at your disposal. Isn’t that weird to anyone else?) My makeup collection gets smaller every day. I really only use mascara daily, but I have foundation, eyeliner, blush and a bit of eyeshadow on hand just in case.
  • Food. Now, I will not admit to reducing my spending on food, but I’ve begun to simplify my diet. No boxed foods, pre-made meals, and I purchase canned foods sparingly. The cost is a bit higher, but there’s unlimited creative potential when you limit yourself to fruits, veggies, beans and rice (I’ve even started saying goodbye to pasta! Whaaaaat?)
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication--do you agree?

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication–do you agree?

Get Started

To get started on your own minimalist-inspired lifestyle, make a list of your pain points at home. Contemplate what needs to go, and what needs to be upgraded (or downgraded). I found myself getting rid of automated things that cluttered my space, such my random quesadilla maker, old half-working blender, and even my auto-drip coffee maker! I spend a bit more time making better coffee in a french press and I’m enjoying the extra counter space.

Once you’ve identified your pain points, you can start making a list of what’s needed and what’s not, or you can do it like I did: dig in. Designate one bag for donations and one for trash, and take everything out of it’s hiding place. Is it necessary? Beautiful? Put it back on the shelf. If it’s neither of those things, toss it into the appropriate bag.

As you remove clutter one piece at a time, reflect on the fact that you’re losing weight! It’s stuck with you for this long, and it’s finally time to shed those pounds you’ve carried around since high school. (Why did I still have body spray from 7 years ago? Gross! But let’s note that I didn’t dump it, I just used it primarily for a few weeks to knock it out. It smelled just as good as the day I bought it!)

I’m finding that there are more and more facets to minimalism, such as getting rid of mental and emotional clutter (hello, more efficient workdays), and leading a more healthy and generous life, but we’ll cover that in later posts. Minimalism doesn’t have to be scary–it’s actually quite fun, and if you start by getting rid of some possessions, you’ll find yourself focusing on what’s truly important and necessary. I love William Morris’s quote:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

I enjoy weeding out knick-knacks in dusty junk drawers with those wonderful words ringing in my head. I challenge you to get rid of 100 things this week, and let me know how it goes!

Need more inspiration? Check out Becoming Minimalist. It’s refreshing and encouraging, and I love hearing about people are using minimalism to increase their happiness and improve their lives.