The first time I heard about minimalism, I thought it was just the new tendency among my Parisians-vegetarians-eco-friendly friends.
Well, that’s true that minimalism is good both for our society and the planet. But let’s be honest, it wasn’t my first motivation when I started to adopt this lifestyle.
What I truly needed was to be as light as possible to embrace traveling.
And with this freedom, came a lot of other advantages.
But in the beginning, I didn’t know that. And when I first decided to embark on the path of minimalism, I had no clue where to start. How to decide what to keep and what to let go? What to do with the things I wouldn’t keep?
Furthermore, I had no idea of the benefits I would reap from this shift in my life.
How I Have Been Kicked Out of My Material Comfort
My journey with minimalism started about two years ago. When I figured out, unintentionally, how it would help me and improve my life.
At that moment, I just moved in with my at-the-time boyfriend in the loveliest apartment. I spent a lot of time and money to create the perfect cozy love nest, buying furniture, filling the rooms with plants, and finally gathering all my books in a single library. I went to my parents’ 700 kilometers away, to take back all the loving things I collected over the years.
And yes, you see it coming, right? I ended this long-term relationship just six months after moving in.
Truth is, I was simply too broken to afford to keep by myself a two-bedroom apartment in Paris. So, I just told my ex-boyfriend to keep everything and I embarked on the journey of subleasing.
Discovering the Benefits of Traveling Light
I first moved to a room in a shared apartment. I was supposed to stay there only for summer, so I was conscious, already, that I had to travel light. I just took with me (many) clothes, my (numerous unnecessary) personal stuff, my most beloved (but heavy) books, and my plants (because come on, they are living beings!).
Eventually, I stayed in this apartment for six months — an eternity. During that time, I knew my life had taken a new turn, and I had to shape it accordingly. Plus, I truly had no desire to settle in a new place.
I was free for the first time and I wanted to take this opportunity to embrace long-time traveling. Which is in absolute conflict with paying rent.
So, here I was, ready to give up most of the things I possessed. At that moment, I really didn’t know how to proceed.
So I did it gradually.
Emptying and Emptying Again, Without Compromising
“Maybe the life you’ve always wanted is buried under everything you own.” ― Joshua Becker
You don’t have to suddenly become a pope of minimalism and methodically empty your house one room after the other. Minimalism is a journey, in which we all proceed at our own pace.
That’s what the author Joshua Becker calls “leveling”, in his book “The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own”. If you can’t let go of things right away, you can start by storing them in another place, away from your look, to see how it feels.
After a while, you might realize you don’t actually need it. That’s the sign that you can discard this item with no remorse.
How to Deal With Gifts
Step by step, you decided to enter the journey of minimalism. Good. Now it’s time to deal with one of the trickiest parts. The kind of objects which can stay forever at the bottom of your closet, but you wouldn’t dare to throw them away: Gifts!
We all have plenty of gifts with which we don’t know what to do. Some have never fit our taste, others are no longer what we want. And there’s this third category: the ones we truly love, but we cannot afford to keep in a minimalist logic. In any case, it feels bad to let them go.
The key is to look at the gift and wonder whether it still provides us joy. It seems silly, but it’s as simple as that.
Is it something that makes you say: “Pleeeeease, don’t take it from me”? If not, and if you don’t feel your heart beating for this item, then it’s time to say goodbye.
That’s one of the core principles that Marie Kondō, the Japanese cleaning consultant, explains in her book: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. “Keep only those things that speak to your heart”, writes Marie Kondō. “Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
I gave up lots of gifts, which I kept for years, only because they were gifts. When I finally let them go, I felt relieved. After all, what was the point of keeping something which doesn’t bring me joy any longer? And none of this change the gratitude I have for the person who offered it to me. As Marie Kondō nicely puts it:
“The true purpose of a present is to be received.”
Bring Back Memories Rather Than Souvenirs
Once you’ve started emptying, you also have to change your consumer’s habits and stop refilling.
As I love to travel, I used to buy souvenirs from each place I visited. But are they the best memories? Magnets on the fridge, really? This Chinese miniature next to a Cuban painting? I bet travelers’ homes are interior designers worst nightmare.
Instead, I now choose to buy products I can consume, such as coffee, spices, etc. For sure, their life span is rather short, but long enough to feed the nostalgia of your trip. And after a few months, when your mind is busy with another destination, they’re gone. Yet, they have stayed long enough to bring back, whenever you want, the memory, and sensations associated with them.
“Your memories are not stored in the object; the memories are in you.” ― Joshua Becker
You Have to Say Goodbye to Some of Your Books
Okay, now, the other hard topic for most people. In particular, Medium readers: Letting go of your books.
I’ve always loved owning books. I even sometimes bought books after reading them at the library because I enjoyed them so much. Having them near me fills me with incomparable joy: I just have to look at the edge of a book and its story comes back to my mind.
Yet, books are heavy. Even pocketbooks, let’s face it. One is okay, but what about ten, twenty, fifty? If you have to move regularly from one place to another, at one point you have to let them go.
Maybe you can afford to keep some, but you have to determine, first, which one adds value to your life. Which one is rare enough to be kept preciously.
In my case, I had to give away of 90% of them. I mainly kept the beautiful and rare editions; often graphic novels. I comforted myself by thinking I could always buy another pocketbook, or even better, borrow it at the library if I felt like reading it again.
Truth is, over the dozens of books I let go, I may only regret one or two.
But You Can Keep As Many Ebooks As You Want
Then, for the next book on your reading list, start looking online rather than at the bookstore (even if bookstores are wonderful places, yes).
Most Medium readers are probably already avid ebooks readers, so there’s no need to make it long: Ebooks give you the freedom to carry your library everywhere with you.
In the beginning, I was also one of these persons claiming that I love paper too much to get used to a screen. Now, I’m grateful that my tablet, and even my smartphone, give me the opportunity to fill any downtime with reading.
With the bonus of being able to underline any sentence I want, without ruining the precious paper!
Be Like Mark Zuckerberg: Wear the Same T-shirt Every Day (or So)
Once you’ve emptied part of your shelves, it’s time to tackle another important issue: your wardrobe.
To be honest, mine has always been quite basic. So, emptying it wasn’t complicated. I simply kept the clothes I knew I could wear on a daily basis.
Not this weird dress I bought five years ago, wore once, and still have hope to wear. It won’t happen. Nor that five-years-old coat, just in case the new one has to be cleaned, is torn apart, or disappears. Only keep the pieces you are really comfortable wearing. And that’s okay.
And whenever you’re struggling knowing you should keep somthing or no, have in mind this advice from Japanese author Fumio Sasaki:
“If it’s not a “hell, yes!” it’s a “no.”
Sure, I now have fewer chances to excel in high society by wearing the same dress every party, but I just figured out it was in accordance with who I am.
I respect women who turn dressing into an art, but it’s not my case. I’m far from being a fashion artist.
If it’s your case, then you probably know the advice we hear every private sale season: if you haven’t worn that clothing over the last few months, then it doesn’t belong to your dressing.
As for jewelry, on the other hand, I confess it’s my weak spot. It’s light and doesn’t occupy much space. So, even if I sometimes feel like I should give away some of them, I haven’t been able to decide.
Any tips from you, readers, are welcome in comments!
Be Minimalist In Your Bathroom Too
If books and clothes accompany you for years, there are other products we keep buying without questioning it: Cosmetics. I believe that adopting a minimalist lifestyle goes with being sufficient with just a few of those.
Advertisements have managed to convince us that we wouldn’t be “clean” if we don’t use numerous useless (and sometimes dangerous) hygienes products (scented tampons, I’m looking at you). Truth is, many of our bathrooms products are at least, useless, and more often, bad for the environment.
An easy shift is to start using solid soaps and shampoos. Any traveler knows that they are better for many reasons: There are smaller, thus more convenient, often cheaper on long-term use, and don’t generate loads of plastic to be recycled.
For women, I couldn’t praise more the menstrual cup which is a life-changer: no need to worry about buying a new one every month, to carry enough with you, or generate tons of waste. Menstrual cups are the essence of the minimalism: it makes your life so much easier while benefiting the environment.
It’s Easier Than You Think
Most of the things you possess, from the mess in your bathroom to the more-or-less sophisticated kitchen utensils, follows the same logic.
How often do you use them? Do you have them just in case you intend to make your own yogourts one day? Do you keep this product which ruins your hair, just because it’s a waste to throw it away?
I’m not saying life is easier without many of these gadgets and products. But it’s not that hard either. And the benefits of emptying your closet is worth using a knife to slice your pizza and other vegetables.
The Specific Case of Plants ❤
As I mentioned earlier, while preventing myself to burst into tears, I also had to let go of my plants. I even named them, so it was serious business. But I gave them to another plant lover, so my heart was a bit lighter.
Contrary to the items mentioned earlier, I believe that plants can be part of a minimalist life. They are living beings. Thus, contrary to any kind of belonging, they require your love and attention to live. They cannot be forgotten in a closet.
In exchange, plants also give you something. Not only do they eliminate harmful toxins in the air, but studies have also proven that they improve your concentration and productivity while reducing stress and boosting your mood!
So, if you can keep your lovely green leaves, just do it.
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” — Cicero
How to Let Go of Things the Right Way
One thing that motivated me to clear things out, was knowing that my belongings will have a second life.
Even the broken ones, this old cassette player from your teenage years, can be useful in someone else’s hands.
And there are plenty of solutions to help you to avoid throwing anything to the trash.
Give Your Belongings a Second Life
First, think about which friends around you would be glad to have this shirt you’re not wearing any longer. Which other would fancy this mug, or use this cosmetic?
If you have no clue, it’s more than common to use Facebook and Instagram to organize online or in-real-life “vide dressing”. Big cities often have cafes and places which organize such events themselves monthly.
Odds are you can even make some money out of your old stuff. Second-hands shops can also buy some of your pieces, but they might be picky.
If you can’t sell it, give it! There exist charity shops which are happy to sell at a low price the goods you give them for free. It helps those establishments to raise money for their social activities.
If too damaged to be given, fabrics and often shoes, can be collected in order to be recycled. More interestingly, some charity shops also collect damaged objects, in order to repair them. When it’s not possible, they keep various parts to use them later on other products.
You Don’t Remember Things You Don’t Need
Slowly, you will let go most of your non-essential belongings. The more you empty your closet, the more you will want to continue this pleasant cleaning spree. It truly is a virtuous circle.
Not only you realize that you don’t even remember what you let go, but also you come to value more the things you possess.
The Benefits of Possessing Less
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life” — Marie Kondō
Over the past two years, I’ve managed to hold my life in a single suitcase, and I’m pretty proud of it. Well, a suitcase plus a closet at my parents’ would be more honest. But, what’s inside that closet doesn’t matter that much.
What does matter is that by adopting this lifestyle, I now feel like home wherever I put my suitcase. In ten minutes, it’s my home.
I can hardly recall how many places I lived in — and felt totally comfortable in — those past two years. I just need my clothes, some basic cosmetics, my laptop, and my bullet journal. And life goes on.
Having no material ties bring me mental freedom because there are fewer things to plan. It allows me to unexpectedly take the next flight or on the opposite, to stay longer in a place I was just supposed to pass by.
It also changed my attitude toward consumerism, looking for quality rather than quantity, and pondering each shopping impulse. Which is good both for my budget and for the environment.
Recently though, I’ve been staying at the same place for about six months, which didn’t happen since my first subleased apartment. And I sometimes feel the temptation to fill it with more things, buying lovely heavy books, plants, and some cute decorations.
But as the time to pack my suitcase approaches, I know that my freedom is worth any of these belongings, and lightness fills me with happiness.