For about 2 1/2 years now I’ve been wearing pretty much the same outfit everyday. I have about four plain, green, long sleeve shirts and about four brown pairs of pants. In the summer I have four plain, green, short sleeve shirts. In addition to my regular garb I have some work clothes I keep around for gardening or changing the oil in my car, pajamas, a few layering items for when it’s really cold out, and a small handful of other clothing items. I own three pairs of shoes: my brown crocs that I wear about 75-80% of the year, a pair of snow boots, and my motorcycle boots. I don’t have a lot of clothing and I have all I need.
Yesterday I met with a friend for lunch who wanted to ask me about minimalism. She’s starting a monthly group on the subject in a couple of weeks and wanted to chat about how I personally apply the concepts of minimalism in my own life. While I had never thought of myself as a minimalist, per say, as we talked more about it and she asked me some questions I realized that I did fit the “profile” (of course there are many ways to practice minimalism and it can be adapted in different ways for different lifestyles). Her first question was about how I limit the amount of belongings we have. I responded by saying that my husband and I had a leg up, so to speak, in that our house is under 600 square feet with no basement and no attic, thereby naturally limiting the amount of space we have to collect things we don’t really need. When you have a small house you have to use the space you do have creatively and efficiently, there’s simply no room for useless belongings and clutter. The bigger your house is the more likely you will feel drawn to filling it up with stuff.
We talked about how we deal with paperwork, mementos, having overnight guests, hosting get togethers, receiving gifts, our kids’ stuff, and more. It was a great conversation and I appreciated her questions, as they gave me the opportunity to connect with the importance of keeping things simple and get in touch with my gratitude of having a small house. The size of our dwelling really makes the biggest impact on how much stuff we collect and have around. I’ve gotten use to scaling down our belongings and spending our money on organic food and attending mindfulness retreats instead of buying more stuff. I’ve gotten use to the ease of not having to labor over what the heck to wear every morning. I’ve gotten use to having a place for everything and decorating simply with the natural beauty of wood and bark, rocks, feathers, leaves, and sage. We have a warm, humble home and we live a pretty simple, happy life. It was nice to be reminded of that today.
Having and consistently nurturing a mindfulness practice is a large part of the equation when it comes to how I personally live my life. With diligent practice many of us will find that in using the tools that mindfulness offers our lives will shift gears and we’ll slow down and take pleasure in simpler and simpler things. Where our attention is there we are. When our attention is on watering the seeds of mindful living the path of minimalism is almost sure to be interwoven with the one already unfolding beneath our steps. Mindfulness and minimalism are natural partners. They complement one another and make good sense together. Cultivating one is also cultivating the other.
My friend and I talked about our kids yesterday and shared stories about how we engage the concepts of minimalism with them. I told her how since my step-son was young I’ve made it a point to go through his room with him once a year and help him get rid of things he no longer plays with, reads, or wants around. This process is somewhat easy with kids I think because as they grow up their tastes naturally change and mature. I mean really, my son isn’t going to want toy dinosaurs around forever. So about once a year he and I take the time to sort through his books and other belongings. He’s gotten pretty efficient with it and it doesn’t take us very long. I’ll hold up an item and ask him to tell me whether it’s a keeper or something to add to our donation pile (and we also have a trash can nearby for anything not fitting our other two sorting piles). I think it’s important to do this together as a family and not just tell him to do it on his own, which at 15 years old now he is certainly capable of. Helping him facilitate making the decisions of what to keep and what to let go of is assisting him with applying mindfulness to what he has around. Sometimes he gets stumped and isn’t sure whether something is a keeper or not so I’ll ask some probing questions about how often he uses it and when the last time it was that he interacted with it. Usually after a couple of simple questions he knows just what to do.
In helping a few others de-clutter as well I’ve found that simply having someone else around to support the process can enable the other person to let go of more stuff. When left to our own devices we can tend to hold onto things more and rationalize keeping things that have already gone untouched for months or even years. Having someone else around to help tends to open up our perspective of things, rather than remaining trapped in our own box of self and personal possessions. And really, doing anything together with loved ones is often a great support, and it’s usually a lot more fun that way too :)
There are many ways to incorporate the elements of downsizing and simplifying in our daily lives. I love that my friend will be starting an open group to have those conversations about what that looks like and to spark new ideas from others. I look forward to attending and connecting with others interested in this minimalism movement. I think our small, progressive, diverse, mountain, university town is a prime location to host a group on this subject.
My friend told me about these two guys called The Minimalists. After she sent me a link I discovered they have a TED talk and have been featured on different mainstream outlets. They’ve also recently moved here to Missoula, MT. I look forward to checking out the TED talk and reading more about these guys and what their philosophy is. And if you’re interested as well here’s their site: http://www.theminimalists.com/
And last week at our sangha meeting a friend shared about a book she’s been really enjoying called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of De-cluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I haven’t read it but it sounds like a good book if you’re looking for a new one to read :)
P.S Oh, and if you live in the Missoula area and are inspired to get rid of some stuff we’re currently collecting items for our annual yard sale fundraiser at the Open Way Mindfulness Center :) We’d be happy to take it off your hands!