Our Journey Towards Minimalism

It’s been almost a year (September 2015) since I shared with you in this blog.  In September 2015 my husband and I were on the verge of minimizing our world by moving to a smaller house nearer the city center and closer to my husband’s office and our favorite activities.  It was a move that would allow us to experiment with living a life more closely aligned with our emerging values of a healthier lifestyle, simplicity, a smaller carbon footprint and a more minimalistic existence.

I read a lot about simplicity and minimalism while contemplating this move and even more about it after we identified the house we’d be moving to, which was half the size of the house we were leaving. The articles and books I read confirmed for me that minimalism isn’t an absolute and is actually defined by the individual doing the minimizing. I read about folks like James Altucher who minimized themselves down to 15 items (much too minimal for us). I read the book by and blog postings of The Minimalists whose road to minimalism was a little too drastic for us.  I was intrigued by the minimizing journey of Courtney Carver but knew we weren’t ready to minimize that much, yet.  The version of minimalism we most closely connected with is that of Joshua Becker and his family. He terms it rational minimalism, which means finding a style of minimalism that works for you and your family.

As 49-year-old aspiring minimalists, my husband and I knew we wanted significantly less space which would translate to significantly less stuff. What we didn’t want it to translate into was significantly less living.  We wanted our home to support activities important to us:  Space for me to work from, space for family & friends to stay and feel welcome, space for us to enjoy and store items related to our favorite activities of reading, cooking, creating, exercising, gardening and traveling.  As such, our version of rational minimalism would mean having what we needed to support us in those endeavors.

Over a period of six months we released what we estimate to be approximately 60% of our belongings.  Even though we were doing this voluntarily and as a professional organizer I had spent thousands of hours over the years helping others release possessions, minimizing was more challenging than I ever anticipated and ended up being a three-phase process.

Phase One:

We historically kept our home free of excess and regularly released what we no longer used.  Therefore there wasn’t much of what I call “low hanging fruit” when it came time to pare down our belongings.  As such we initially tried a different route to reducing: identifying and focusing on our favorite belongings that would make the trip to the new house.  My husband identified his favorites from his huge book and music collections and gave away or sold hundreds items that didn’t make the cut. I identified my favorite creative supplies and the rest were donated to a local youth group and preschool.  We selected our favorite pieces of furniture that would make the move to the new digs and found homes for the rest of it with friends, relatives or through donation.  We repeated this process over and over again, with clothes, with games, with decorative items, with bedding, with cleaning supplies, with lawn and garden supplies, with kitchen items, etc.

By the end of this phase we had released maybe 40% of what we owned, but we knew we still had a long way to go and unfortunately what was left was mostly stuff we really liked.  As you can imagine, releasing what you really like kicks up the difficulty of minimizing a couple of notches.

Phase Two:

We began our next phase of releasing by painting a clearer picture of our own rational minimalism, focused on owning what we most value and having on hand what we need to connect to what’s most important.  As such, we have at least six bookcases in our new home which house hundreds of books and a cabinet dedicated to art supplies. We also dedicate the space under the guest room’s Ikea storage bed to storing suitcases and other travel supplies. We pared down the items in each of these categories but because we value reading, creativity, and travel at this point in time we feel we’ve pared them enough.

Items released during phase two included our crystal and china – beautiful but rarely used, a multitude of pictures, frames, dishes and decorative items I had considered favorites, but knew in my heart were not supporting us in getting closer to the lifestyle we were seeking.  As this phase concluded we found ourselves with a large pile of items to be sold on eBay.

Toughest to release during phase two were more treasured items like my piano, which I kept magically envisioning a space for in our new house. This was my childhood piano and the piano my son had first displayed his musical talent on at age six. But, the truth was I rarely played it anymore, my son didn’t want it and there was absolutely no place for it in the new house. Finding a good home for it with a colleague of my husband’s helped ease the pain of releasing it.

Phase Three:

Phase three of our journey towards minimalism is ongoing.   As we continue to transition into our new home and a simpler lifestyle we’re becoming more attuned to stuff and the power it has to gobble up our space and our time.  Because we’ve been undergoing unanticipated and significant renovations at the new house for many months (another story for another day) the vast majority of our belongings were in storage or packed up for a long period of time.  As we’ve unpacked it’s been amazing how much more stuff we’ve released because it honestly wasn’t missed.

Looking back over the journey we’ve been on, my biggest surprise is how much of an ongoing process minimizing is. Each day we continue to examine what we’ve brought into our space and we continue to release. It’s fascinating to me how many of the “favorites” we brought with us are no longer making the cut and how things I once thought I couldn’t live without don’t even end up being missed. Each day we are honing and honoring our own version of minimalism and my husband and I both look forward to seeing where we’ll end up.

Have you ever considered a more minimalistic lifestyle?  What would your version of minimalism look like? How might a more minimalistic lifestyle benefit you?

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9 Responses to “Our Journey Towards Minimalism”

  1. Janet Barclay August 11, 2016 6:59 am #

    Wow, thanks for sharing this peek into your home life! I totally admire what you guys have done and are doing, and can only imagine how difficult it must have been to let go of dearly loved books, music, and even your childhood piano.

    We downsized from a house to an apartment about 14 years ago, and went through a similar process. Before moving, I got rid of a lot of books, but once we arrived in the new home I realized I still had too many and got rid of more. When I look at those I kept, I think I could probably get rid of even more, but it’s hard when there are sets – do you keep a couple of favorites, or let go of all of them?

    • Andrea Sharb August 11, 2016 9:07 am #

      Janet, it was high time I explained why I had “disappeared”, hence the posting. ; ) Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Books are surprisingly hard to deal with. They can represent so many different things: memories, opportunities for learning, an avenue for escape to another place & time, etc. I didn’t have many sets of books in my collection. I did tend to keep the sets intact though. My husband on the other hand had a number of sets of books. Many that he had collected when he was a very young man. When releasing, he sometimes kept the entire set intact, like with some Isaac Asimov non-fiction texts he had collected over a number of years. With fiction sets, like his collection of David Eddings or Stephen King books, he was often able to release all but his favorites. For him the decision to release often had to do with how hard something might be to replace or if one particular book in a set was “special” – like a signed first edition. He’s become quite the fan of reading on his iPad over the years and has reacquired many of the easier to obtain titles in digital format.

  2. Janet Greene August 11, 2016 10:59 am #

    I certainly enjoyed reading your blog today. Nice overview of the process. You know that we are undergoing the same process (at your urging and with your help), but over a much longer time frame. Can’t wait to read your blog on the renovation!

    • Andrea Sharb August 11, 2016 11:03 am #

      Thanks for commenting. You’ll get there and at your own pace. As for the blog on the renovations – it’s much more likely to be a book – in the horror genre. ; )

  3. Kathy O'Neill August 11, 2016 6:40 pm #

    I loved your blog! My niece just returned the other day from a year of backpacking in Australia and Far East. Yep, just a backpack for one year. She came home and told my sister the house was too big and that they had too much stuff. Then my niece went to her closet and starting purging. I wonder how long it will last?

    • Andrea Sharb August 12, 2016 9:46 am #

      Interesting point you raise Kathy. As for how long it will last for your niece, it could be a good long while. My kids are in their twenties and are definitely into traveling / living light. Both of my sons studied abroad in the last 12 months, taking with them only what they could fit into a large duffle bag and a book bag. One returned to OSU this past week, taking half of what he took to school with him a year ago. His living abroad from one suitcase totally changed the way he wants to live his life. It was also interesting that when he was home for a few days before heading back to school he went through his boxes of possessions and let go of more items even though he had just released a lot of stuff before we moved. I think it’s awesome these young adults aren’t burdening themselves with excess and are instead focusing on what they really need to have the life they want. I wish I had been so insightful when I was their age. In 1997 I traveled to England for 14 days. I took a suitcase large enough for a family of four. I lugged that monster around and I still worried that I didn’t everything that I would need with me. Fast forward twenty years – I now take a carry on. ; ) Here’s to change!

  4. Olive Wagar August 17, 2016 4:57 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your journey!! It really is a process and it starts with changing how you think. We have to be willing to look at things differently and to be more aware of how many “you need to buy me” messages we encounter every day!! I’ve been working my way through my house one room at a time over the past year and am so happy with having less. 🙂

    • Andrea Sharb August 17, 2016 9:19 pm #

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Olive and congratulations on what you’ve achieved! You raise a good point. Not only is it a process to divest ourselves of what we already have, but it is a constant process to foster the mindset of less. I can tell you it has been really nice to not have to rush out and buy things to outfit this house, as I’ve done previously when we’ve moved. Instead, purchases are being fueled by necessity, like the new shower curtain I purchased and the new couch we’ll purchase eventually when we pass along our current family room furniture to our son. I caught myself a few months back making a couple of impulse type purchases at Home Depot: a new soft close toilet seat and a new entry way rug. Not using them immediately was a big clue to me that they weren’t necessities and back they went. Like you, I’m so happy having less. Please keep me updated on your progress!

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