Sunday, February 28, 2021

Books on Minimalism & Mindfulness: Part 1

I try to revisit a couple of books on minimalism every year. Rereading a book or two, or all of them, in this category will generally help me renew my purpose. I haven't reviewed a book since grad school, which I left in 2016 to advance my career in IT. Having had this blog for over a year now (despite not posting for a while after changing jobs) I feel it's time to finally actually review some of the books that helped me become the minimalist I am today.

Review 1: New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living
ISBN: 978-1-63217-132-0
Authors: Cary Telander Fortin & Kyle Louise Quilici

I'll be honest and say I don't remember when I bought this book, only that I bought it with the intention of using it to help me design my house around minimalist tendencies. Rereading it this year, it felt more suited to those new to minimalism. It's absolutely great for helping you find a jumping-off point from which you can dive into minimalism. It breaks folx down into four personality types that have their own unique hangups when it comes to decluttering and discarding items. The authors cover common points of failure at the start of minimalist journeys--from discarding too little with the "one in, one out" method, to being too reluctant to part with items when moving in with a partner and being left with too many of each item. They also hit on something I think is especially important: letting each room serve a single purpose. Of course, that's not always possible in small apartments, tiny houses, or family homes, but it's important all the same to let rooms like the kitchen be just a kitchen and the bedroom be just a bedroom. There are also tips on design and decoration for a house that can be magazine-worthy but still feel 100% like home. A minimalist's home still needs personality, and this book can help beginner- and intermediate-level minimalists figure out how to achieve a comfy and clutter-free space.

I didn't get as much out of this book on a reread as I did the first time I read it, but all the same I would highly recommend it to anyone just getting started with minimalism.

Review 2: The Year of Less: How I stopped shopping, gave away my belongings, and discovered life is worth more than anything you can buy in a store
ISBN: 978-1-4019-5351-5
Author: Cait Flanders

It's hard to pass up a book with an actual timeline of how and when habits changed. While the author's goal was not to become a minimalist, but to spend less/save more money, it's still a good read for any minimalist. Rampant consumerism is confronted on a very personal, intimate level. Cait is open and candid about where she came from, how she started, and at which points she experienced failure in following her own plan to live better. While few of the chapters cover decluttering efforts, as a reader I find it helpful to hear about a real person's experience--not just a social-media-worthy, curated snapshot of life. Addiction and breaking bad habits are central focus points for the book, which might especially help budding minimalists understand how they can sever ties with habits that are very non-minimalist. The book follows Cait as she claims her life and her time for herself, instead of living for the material things and materialistic people around her. We all have things we want to change about ourselves, and this inspiring book may well be life-changing for the right reader.

I'm glad I reread this book, as it opened my eyes again to just how many things I still have (including bad habits) even after years of minimalist practice. I recommend it to any minimalist, especially those with bad habits they know they need to break.

I'll have more book reviews coming up as I take time to re-read those still in my little library at home. If you're interested in buying one of the books I review, please consider supporting the author directly where possible, or supporting a smaller bookstore. Happy reading!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Declutter, Donate, Sell: What's Your Time Worth?

Sometimes it can be hard to determine whether an item should be kept, donated, or sold. During your decluttering efforts, you might form a "Maybe" pile of items you think you might want to keep, but would donate or sell if they don't fit you (like clothes) or don't fit your space (like furniture). Donating items takes little time--simply box or bag up items and drop them off at a donation center. Selling items to recupe some money, however, can take valuable time and effort best spent on something more important.

I want to keep this post short, sweet, and to the point for those who try to sell items after decluttering. Ask yourself: What is your time worth?

It might help to reframe the attempted sale of items in terms of how much your time is worth, whether to yourself or your employer. Then weigh the cost in time of selling those items against how much you can get back for them. This is a very cold and transactional view of items, but that's kind of the point. You don't want it, after all, so how much is it really worth? How much is your free time worth? For me, it has taken on average 4-5 days to sell an item on an online marketplace to recupe, say, $100 from an item that cost $300 new. So it took a workweek of my time waiting to "make" $100. For a 40-hour week in the US, that's a bad deal. However, it takes me a grand total of 10 minutes for a round trip to and from a donation center drop-off point. Sure I recupe nothing monetarily unless I wait for a receipt for a tax deduction, but I save days or perhaps weeks worth of free time by choosing to donate items instead of sell them.

Consider also, unselfishly, the value an item might have to someone in need who doesn't have the monetary resources that you do. If the path of opening up more free time comes in the form of donating an item to a secondhand store or charity organization, consider the improvement of someone else's life in terms of your time vs. its meaning and value to someone else. It might take minimal time (and therefore, minimal money) to immeasurably improve another person's life.

The TL;DR of this short post is: LET THAT SHIT GO. Respect the value of your own time, and do what you can to help others with your discarded items. Recuping monetary cost isn't always worth the time and effort. Recupe the cost by paying it forward with a good deed, and donate the items you no longer need. Go forth, and be good!

Where to Start before You Start

It seems that in the first few months of every year since I embarked on a minimalist path that I pick up a book or two on minimalism that got or kept me going. I give the books another read-through and reflect on how far I've come.

So far this year, I've only picked up one to re-read, and I found that it was much more geared toward me as a budding minimalist and not as an established minimalist. All the same, it still proved to have some value in getting me to reflect on why I became a minimalist in the first place. It reminded me of how I felt before I committed to minimalism--I knew I had too much stuff. I had unclear visions for myself except for one: I wanted to be a less stressed person, and to become that person I would need space to relax. That space at the time was filled with clutterful stuff.

My time spent reflecting, and talking to friends about minimalism, gave me the motivation to come back here and put together a loose guided prompt for people new to minimalism who don't know where to start... or how to start. And by answering the questions that follow, you'll start your journey with a much clearer vision than I did when I started on my own years ago.


Basic though they may be for a line of questions to answer, they're important. One can't master advanced techniques if they never give the basics the time of day. Grab a piece of scrap paper or a well-loved journal and answer the following questions. Introspection will lead to the best results of anyone's minimalist journey.

WHO: Who do you want to be? Is that person different from who you are now? Describe in a few sentences who you want to be once your space is decluttered. Maybe at the end of decluttering, you're the party host and entertainer you always wanted to be; or maybe you're a tidy bookworm finally living for yourself in a happier space.

WHAT: What is getting in the way of your ideal you? Is there a space or a category of thing that makes you feel drained or unhappy? What kinds of things do you need to prosper and feel successful for yourself? Think of your material world, and write about what you find joyful and what you find stressful.

WHEN: When did your interest in minimalism start? Was there an event, something in popular media, or just a moment of introspection that made you realize your surroundings aren't making you happy?  Consider times when living with fewer things would be to your advantage.

WHY: Why do you want to change your lifestyle? This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the who questions, but abstract your thinking a bit. Are there other people motivating you to live with less? Do you want to develop new habits that make the planet healthier? Think outside of yourself and consider the people, places, and things around you, and why you want to change because of them.

HOW: How do you want to approach minimalism? Perhaps you want to just declutter, to give each room in your house or apartment more space to breathe. Or maybe you want to be true to yourself and pursue only the hobbies and interests that speak to you as a person, and get rid of everything else. Or even more to the extreme, you want to get rid of everything and start over with a much more ascetic approach to life, living only with the bare minimum.

Answer all of these questions to figure out what kind of minimalism is right for you. There are infinite varieties of minimalism, from ascetic minimalists who have few, if any possessions, to cozy minimalists who have "just enough" and then a wee bit more that makes them get the warm fuzzies every time they walk into their homes from outside. There are also infinite reasons to want to become a minimalist, from needing to downsize from a large home to a small one, to just wanting to have a simpler and cleaner space to maintain. There are no wrong answers to the questions above. And once you've answered all of them, you can start to embark on a path toward whichever version of minimalism is right for you. Happy writing!

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Mental Health and Minimalism

 No doubt, 2020 was a rough year for so many of us the world over. Lockdown, isolation, and quarantine brought to the forefront just how important mental health, self-care, and mental health awareness are. I have struggled with anxiety disorders and monopolar depression my entire life, and lockdown only served to make them worse.

As everything in the world became less personable and more distant, I did what I've done best my whole life and have looked inward. Except I decided to use the depths of my depression in a positive way, by letting my inner critic become an outward one to pare down my belongings. 

Lockdown early on meant that decluttering efforts were not necessarily effective. Boxes full of unwanted items piled up as businesses deemed non-essential, such as thrift stores and charity shops, had to close. By the time the first round of lockdowns lightened and businesses could open back up, I damn near had a pallet's worth of gently-loved clothing, home goods that no longer sparked joy, and other items ready to be piled in to the back of my car and taken to a donation center. Being limited to shopping online, and poor ability to cope due to mental health centers being closed to in-person visits meant that more items were coming into my home to fill an emotional void. Now that vaccine distribution has started and lockdown restrictions are lifting, it's getting easier to remove a year of clutter from the home, and lighten spirits while lightening the load of stuff on the home.

How I used Depression Constructively with Minimalist Habits (and vice-versa)

Mind, Body, and Closet: Tired of fighting negative self-talk that worsened with isolation, I turned the critique onto the items in my home. Instead of saying "I don't look good in this dress anymore," I started saying "This dress no longer looks good on me." My inner critic got new targets that helped me keep negative self-talk at bay. As a result, my closet was pared down to dresses and blouses that unconditionally flatter me and make me feel good when wearing them.

Sustenance: The early months of lockdown had me working from home, which left me with no commute and consequently more time to cook each meal. I tracked which utensils, pots, pans, and appliances we were using the most, and paid careful attention to which were languishing in a cabinet going unused. Knowing how it felt to not get to reach my full potential when it came to supporting my end-users (I'm a systems administrator), I sympathized with the ice cream machine, stovetop coffee maker, and small vintage crock pot and decided to let them go where someone else could make the best use of them.

The Pile-Up from Supporting Others: When restrictions were lighter, I would take advantage and go to shops that sold local artists' work. When restrictions intensified again, I'd order posters from artists online. Ultimately, I was left with a pile-up of poster tubes and canvases that were taking up space on the floor. Getting sick of the mess, I decided to scrounge around for hardware to just hang the damn things in fit of being inexplicably and suddenly mad at an easily-tidied mess. The simple act of putting a piece of art in its place was one that sparked a joy that is renewed every time I walk by--whether it's a comic poster in the living room or a canvas in the hallway. After all, they were pieces purchased for a purpose--to spark joy. A little smile here and there helps to keep negative feelings away.

Tidy the Home, Tidy the Mind: Having a strong inner critic meant I heard, "This place is a mess. Why are you so messy?" more times than I can reasonably count. Once I started working back at my office instead of from home, it seemed the pile-up of dishes and general house mess got out of hand. It was hard, but I ultimately convinced myself to just suck it up and deal with messes on weekends when I'd normally have 48 hours of uninterrupted time at home for myself. I now tidy my home as much as I can, setting aside 20 or 30 minutes here and there to tackle specific areas. When something gets tidied and stays that way for weeks, my inner critic fades. The "maintenance" categories like dishes and laundry no longer stress me out like they did at the start of being back at work. Now, I use the act of loading the dishwasher or folding towels to tell my critic, "I'm not messy. I am just a busy person and devoted to my job during the week." When I shut my critic down, tasks take less time to catch up on and the house stays tidier for longer as a result.

Open Up (Space & Self): Minimalist habits tend to make spaces open and so much more breathable. I couldn't see a therapist in-person during lockdown, so I had to make do with phone calls. I opened up about how, having a commute again, I felt like I was losing time to myself, and losing time to give to my home. The calming voice on the other end of the calls told me to set a timer for 30-60 minutes, at least twice a week, to do things just for myself. I followed through, knowing the bi-weekly calls would keep me accountable. Opening up and baring my inner thoughts to another person I wouldn't get to see helped me open up some spaces at home, even if others wouldn't get to see the progress. I started by making my craft room a space specifically for me and my creativity. Although I eventually morphed my "me-time" into time to take care of myself OR my home, whichever needs it more, I realized that an open mind led to open spaces, which has led to a more open and free feeling for myself.

Dealing with all sorts of isolation and lockdown has affected us all. Mental health issues have become more apparent (and sadly, sometimes harder to get adequate help for amidst lockdowns), and some of us have spent more time at home than we ever anticipated. It seems a weird combination, but minimalism and mental health disorders can actually benefit each other when we're left with fewer outlets for our stresses. The hardest part is to find a way to mesh minimalism with depression and anxiety in constructive ways, but hopefully my example has been at least a little bit of an inspiration. Turning an inner critic on to inanimate objects helped me in two ways: I was less the focus of my own personal attacks, and my home was rid of objects that no longer worked for it (or me). Isolation won't be forever, but better habits for a healthier home and healthier mental state can be. Praise yourself for what you can accomplish, and don't beat yourself up for what you can't. Everything will get better.