5 Things I Let Go to Start My Minimalism Journey and 3 Rules I Now Follow.

Olyvia Chac-Nguyen
Jul 5, 2019 · 8 min read
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Both of my parents are Refugees and Immigrants from Vietnam. My dad came to the U.S. in the 1980’s as one of the boat people and my maternal grandma and mom came to the U.S. in the 1990’s. All three came with no suitcases filled with possessions, only the clothes they could wear and a few items like old photos or small keepsakes like an orange comb given to my grandma by her mother. Needless to say, they were the pure example of what true minimalism entailed except they stuck to it in order to survive and flee the communist government of Vietnam at the time.

Being raised in a Vietnamese household, I was constantly reminded with detailed stories (or Freudian slips of war trauma) of how my dad, mom, and maternal grandma came to the U.S. without anything to their name; no money, valuables, golds or riches. The three of them were able to mold a future for my sister and I out of what little they had. They stuck to bare necessities in order to survive in a foreign country as immigrants.

This constant theme of minimalism truly aided them in rebuilding their future. More so, I never took their minimalism as a valuable lesson until I became an adult. And up until recently, a few years ago, I began to feel the constraints and the negative consequences of just owning “a lot of shit” and frivolous, Millennial mentality of excessive spending.

I started my journey of minimalism in 2016 but didn’t really commit to minimalism until late 2018, because, well, getting rid of shit you’re attached to is not easy. But I grinned through it and I information dumped educational YouTube videos into my conscious and subconscious. I watched influential minimalists like Uum from Heal Your Living, Madeleine Olivia, Connie Biesalski, (and a ton more folks) and I even watched the Minimalists, a Netflix documentary that featured interviews from a dozen minimalists who were unhappy with how their lives were going because of their attachment to physical/material items and the capitalistic mindset of “spend more to become more.” Plus, there’s a scene in the documentary that was shot in Portland, Oregon.

My favorite YouTuber/minimalist that I have learned so much from thus far is Matt D’Avella. He’s a filmmaker and podcaster and he actually filmed the Minimalists documentary. He’s also a creative who has used minimalism to increase value to his work and to share his journey of minimalism. Thus, I’ll share with you all my knowledge I’ve learned and adapted on my minimalism journey on 5 things I let go of and 3 rules I use to keep my minimalism path consistent:

5 Things I Let Go Of:

  1. Old sentimental items that came in paper form: As I mentioned earlier, I accumulated so much paper from 22 years of being a student that I didn’t realize I pretty much kept most of it at my parents’ house, just sitting in 56-quart bins. This also included receipts, birthday cards, old high school report cards, some random concert flyer even. If it didn’t serve me a purpose or required by law (old taxes forms), I recycled them. I took photos of really cool projects I did for my Spanish class or that really cute birthday card I got from a good friend. I was sad but knew that I would never use this card or look at it every again. It served no purpose. Nonetheless, I made peace with anything paper form. And to my surprise, I got rid of over ten 56-quart plastic tubs that were collecting dust in my room. I was able to fit all my important paper documents into a 1-gallon file folder. Marie Kondo highlights how to get rid of sentimental items best.
  2. Clothes I bought and never wore: As a plus sized woman, I wanted to feel beautiful, pretty, and just “like the other girls” other there. So I bought the latest and most trendy clothing that came in plus sizes. Anything from the midi skirts, high-low skirts, a leather jacket, cardigans in every knit and color and a ton of pants I never even let touch my body. The more clothes I bought, the more I felt at ease and could be like an average girl but my style was so simple and basic, I was lying to myself that I wasn’t a plain grey v-neck and black jeans kind of girl. And this wasn’t my chosen style because I’m fat and couldn’t fit any clothes but because I felt it was more necessary to just stick to the basics. So I sold all my unwanted clothes to Buffalo Exchange and made over $200 during the summer of 2017. This was my first bout of minimalism and I never felt more liberated. It also taught me how to love my body and dress to respect my level of comfort. Matt talks about his wardrobe and his collection of t-shirts in this video.
  3. Buying designer/brand named wallets and backpacks: As a female, I never really carried a purse because I either left the house with my keys, wallet, and phone only or I was using a backpack to carry all my stuff. But I had a backpack and wallet addiction. I bought Marc Jacobs wallets, Coach or even expensive local artisan wallets from boutiques. For backpacks, I bought the hipster (Chrome, Timbuk2, Patagonia) ones (obviously, because I’m from Portland, Oregon) that cost over $150, easy. My closet was stuffed to the brim with bags and wallets, I had over 8 wallets and 12 backpacks and almost all of them did not bring me joy. So I started getting rid of my inventory of packs and wallets and actually got a lot of money in return for thrifting them. I currently have one small wallet for everyday use and one travel wallet that can fit my passport and larger bills. As for packs, I only have 2, one for everyday carry and the other one is for hiking.
  4. Stationery and office supplies: I’m a sucker for a good pen or a really nice journal. I had an addiction and bought good pens any chance I could get my hands on anyone and they lived scattered all on my desk in 4 separate coffee cups or pencil holders. As for journals, I bought an obnoxious amount that when I actually used them, I kept losing important notes or actual cash in 6 different journals. It was a disorganized mess and I absolutely hated it. I built up a good collection of unused journals that I began giving them away as “just-because” gifts to my friends or leaving them in the supply closet at work. I am currently down to one journal that I use daily to keep me organized and have to refer to only one place for all my important notes. As for pens, I’m downsized to only 1 mechanical pencil, 1 black ink pen, 1 blue ink pen, and only 5 highlighters as opposed to over a hundred pens, pencils, and highlighters (true story, I counted them).
  5. Dust collecting items or books: I needed to get rid of things that collected dust like books, table decor, and collector toys or old posters/hanging things on the walls. I had to get rid of all these items because they were cluttering my space and I realized that I would buy 3 or 4 books a year and would be never even open them or I bought too many Kid Robot toys that just took up space on my desk. I trashed old college posters that were starting to get that old crunchy feel.

3 Rules I Now Follow:

  1. Not buying repeat items: This means refraining from buying multiple chapsticks because I couldn’t find the lost one (that I would eventually find later) or multiple water bottles. It wastes money and you only really need one chapstick and one water bottle. I also apply this to buying pharmaceutical medications. I do not buy multiple bottles of Tylenol or chewy vitamins. This was the ultimate rule that decreased the clutter on my creative work desk at home and my desk at work.
  2. Keeping the receipts for anything I buy. Period: I used to make excuses in the past that I couldn’t return an item because I didn’t have the receipt. But, it was because I consciously threw away the receipt to keep the useless piece of clothing or shoes. I now keep my receipts for ANYTHING I buy just in case I need to return something or decided that I made an impulsive buy. I saved so much money by doing this and most of the time it was because I bought a defected item from Target and needed to exchange it for my money back or a new item.
  3. I only carry the necessary items I need daily: I use a lightweight, 30 liter Mountain Hardwear pack and I fill it with the necessary items I need to carry with me on my commute and the items I need to write these stories for Medium. I downsized from a 50-liter pack to a 30-liter pack, carry my one journal, laptop, utility bag with my Bose headphones and chargers, pencil pouch, wallet/keys/phone, glasses, inhaler, and my water bottle. Before I used to be pack what felt like my whole life with me and those “just in case” items that I never even touched into a 50-liter pack; it was heavy as shit. Now, I only carry what I need in order to decrease weight on my back with the mindful intention to use only what I needed in my everyday work and life.

So what have I gained from being a minimalist?

  • My financial situation has improved significantly and I actually have more money to put towards savings and necessary monthly expenses
  • My creative drive to write and create content has slowly returned. I used to feel so unmotivated and I didn’t make the connection that physically seeing clutter affected my creative drive and overall mood. Hence, I’ve been publishing more content on Medium since I have more free headspace with a clean and organized room
  • I don’t feel the urge to impulse spend. I’ll splurge on coffee often but I no longer feel the need to get the latest sneakers or backpack
  • I feel healthier and I have more energy to be physically active and I’ve lost some weight as well
  • Traveling has been much easier with having and taking less stuff with me on my trips
  • Cleaning my room or workspace is no longer something I dread but I enjoy
  • I’ve never felt more organized in my life than my current state

So there you have it. I hope you’re inspired to explore minimalism. I’m fairly new at this so if there is anything you’re curious about, please refer to some of the links I have provided throughout this piece. Definitely check out Matt D’Avella, he’s obviously my favorite and, well, he’s just a cool guy.

Happy thrifting & minimizing.

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Olyvia Chac-Nguyen

Written by

I write about traveling, minimalism, my Vietnamese heritage, life struggles, & sometimes coffee.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

Olyvia Chac-Nguyen

Written by

I write about traveling, minimalism, my Vietnamese heritage, life struggles, & sometimes coffee.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +773K people. Follow to join our community.

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