Living With Less

Photo by Chocolate Heels

Tara Rasmus

Recently, I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn (my first move in four years), and it went as every move in the history of moving has gone: it was a huge pain in my butt. Deadlines loomed as I found myself buried, literally and figuratively, in the detritus in our new place. There’s something vaguely dehumanizing about having your entire living space upended, moved to a new place, and unceremoniously dumped in piles on the floor. Especially in a city as busy and crowded as New York, your own little corner of real estate is sacred. When you move, there’s a period of time where you feel as if you don’t really belong anywhere, and that lack of roots is unsettling.

Of course, moving was also a perfect opportunity for me to become particularly aghast by how much crap I actually own. Over the past year or so, I’ve become aware of just how cluttered my life is — with both physical things and to-dos that never seem to end — but, the physical act of packing up, hauling, and then unpacking the endless sweaters, unopened bottles of sunscreen (why do I own so many unopened bottles of sunscreen?!) and random Christmas ornaments has made me particularly aware that I need to get a handle on my environment and my schedule before I lose my damn mind.

Of course, finding one’s own version of the minimalist lifestyle is much easier said than done. Organization guru Marie Kondo (champion declutterer and New York Times bestselling author, in the body of a Japanese fairy princess) argues that decluttering is as simple as deciding which of your belongings bring you joy, and tossing all the rest. But, when I read her book, I found it a bit…oversimplified. The reality is, any random pair of black leggings that I own doesn’t necessarily bring me joy, but they are a practical item in my wardrobe that is simply necessary for me to own. It’s a fantastic goal to love everything that you own, but I doubt that the majority of us are able to attain it.

An idea that Kondo touted in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I absolutely can get behind, however, is the idea that minimalism is both a mindset and a lifestyle, not simply a matter of throwing out a bunch of crap or cramming all of your things into clever “storage solutions” (Kondo pointedly suggests that most organization experts are simply hoarders. She kind of has a point.). Kondo’s brand of minimalism is centered around the idea that our environments are inextricably linked to our mindset and mood — and, that ridding ourselves of excess can be literally life-changing. “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming,” Kondo writes.

Spurring on the minimalist lifestyle trend is blogger Erin Boyle, whose blog Reading My Tea Leaves went viral when she started writing about her life in the roughly 250-square-foot apartment that she shared with her husband until last year. An eco-activist as well as a minimalist, Boyle believes that having fewer, better-made (but not necessarily more expensive!) things is better for both us and for the planet — and I’m predicting that her forthcoming book, Simple Matters, will renew the minimalism craze all over again, now that Kondomania has died down a bit. Boyle’s blog is my personal favorite: scrolling through her Instagram feed or doing a deep dive into the archives of her site has become my Xanax alternative. Let’s be real: I will never achieve the level of minimalist awesomeness that Boyle seems to pull off effortlessly, but her insistence that a simpler, more affordable life is possible (yes, even in New York City) reminds me to constantly ask myself if I’m spending my time, money and energy on what really matters to me. Boyle has a very particular personal style that, while gorgeous, isn’t necessarily what I would choose for myself — but, the way that she has carefully and unapologetically crafted the exact lifestyle that works for her is so inspiring. So, thanks to her, I’m learning to say no more often, purge mindfully and often, and carefully consider any new items that I bring into my home. Because, at the end of the day, minimalism isn’t only for those who opt to own only four white button-down shirts or live in a 150-square-foot cottage in the middle of the woods — on the contrary, each and every one of us can achieve the minimalist lifestyle that works for our particular taste, budget and lifestyle.

Meaning: slowly but surely, it’ll be easier to achieve that Kondo-approved dream of being surrounded only by items that bring us joy, and none that are there “just because.” I, for one, am more than ready to embark on a serious purging of the clutter in my life — who’s with me?

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