Minimalism is Unique

I believe that every minimalist’s journey is unique.  Yes, we all have gathered to a community that is dedicated to simplifying life, but there are diverse ways in which we make minimalism our own.

Whether we begin our journey in order to downsize, to conserve our resources, to get out of debt, or to focus on something more important to us than “stuff,” it is important to remember that what works for one person may not be the best thing for another.  This is part of the reason why my blog is first and foremost a way for me to track my own progress becoming a minimalist.

Minimalism will look different for everyone.  The key is to be open to trying different perspectives (see: An Investment of Inspiration) and not giving up if you have not found your niche right away.

Here are my suggestions (based on my own experience) for taking ownership of your quest:

  • Scour the blogs (and mine!):  Blogs are reflections of what has worked or not worked for the writer.  Perhaps one minimalist tried a particular strategy for getting rid of sentimental items but it did not work out for them.  That may be the strategy that does work for you.  Look for ideas in the triumphs and struggles of other minimalists.
  • Find one aspect of minimalism you appreciate and focus on that:  The quest for simplicity may not seem simple at all!  There are many reasons, as I mentioned above, that a person becomes a minimalist. So if you are trying to simplify your strategy to become a minimalist, perhaps narrowing down your list will help you tackle the project.  Start with one point before taking on another.  Divide and conquer!
  • Write a list of reasons why you want to become a minimalist.  Like my own list (see:  Top 10 Reasons to be a Minimalist), you may like a visual to inspire your quest.  Personally, a written note serves as my motivation.
  • Write a journal to track your progress.  I use a bullet journal to organize day-to-day lists, thoughts, and notes (see: Bullet Journaling).  I not only journal about my day, but also reflect on my progress.  Perhaps the more you write or think about minimalism, the more you will remember to put it into practice.
  • Talk about minimalism with others:  Finding an accountability partner who is also seeking similar goals as you may help you stay excited to practice minimalism.  Talking promotes learning and creativity, which comes in handy when figuring out what strategies of minimalism work best for you.

It is important to remember that while one thing may work for you, it may not work for someone else.  Keep an open mind in your journey as a minimalist because all information is valuable.  Learning to dwell on what did worked will help you move forward and accomplish your goals. Pass it on!

My “Water Bottle Challenge” Experiment

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One of my latest endeavors has been a challenge to build a habit (see: 21 days) that will benefit my life:  drinking more water.  Additionally, I am seeking out connections to minimalism through my experiment.

After realizing how much coffee I drink throughout the day – do I dare say how much?! – I decided that I was probably doing my body more harm than good in the long run.  So as I was beginning my minimalism quest, I decided to train myself to build a healthy habit and dispose of my old routine of guzzling at least 4 cups of coffee a day.  In creating this challenge, I would commit myself to doing the following:

  1. Work up to drinking at least 2 full Nalgenes of water every day.  *I use two Nalgene water bottles (approximately 1000ml or 32oz) as my standard to fill  the requirement.  My Nalgenes bottles are easy to tote around, easy to spot, and nearly indestructible – really!  I have dropped them down rocky trails, poured boiling water in them, and stored them in sub-zero temperatures overnight on winter camping trips in Canada.
  2. Carry my bottles everywhere I go to quench my thirst instead of reaching for the coffee pot.
  3. Limit my coffee intake to just 2 cups (if that) in the mornings before work.  (Maybe a third on the weekends if I stayed faithful to my Nalgenes during the week.)

Now I have been consistent for approximately 10 weeks.  There are a few lessons I learned so far:

  1.  Pace yourself.  Drinking one Nalgene everyday to begin was the best I could do the first week I started.  Now I am at 2 Nalgenes, or 2000ml, a day and often more as the spring grows warmer and when I workout.
  2. Do not give up if you fail.  There was one day during my third week that I ended up drinking a few more cups of coffee than I wanted to- a massive fail in my book.  But by persevering, I got over it and moved on to see how I could do better the rest of the week.
  3. Find different ways to motivate yourself.  Usually, my motivation rests simply on the fact that I am challenging myself.  However, there does come times that knowing I created a challenge is not enough.  So I have looked for various ways to motivate the challenge of drinking my Nalgenes everyday.  One never-failing “go-to” is getting a new book.  I love reading, so a new book earned through water bottles is my top motivation if I find myself slowing down.  A close second is trying a new tea in the afternoons if I complete my water bottle challenge by then.

This water bottle challenge has served as an experiment that would not only help me to hydrate more often, but also as an exercise in discipline.  Drinking water is not the only way to build discipline but it was one that I tailored to my specific needs.  I have been able to see how building any habit takes time and effort.  I have also learned to roll with the ups and downs of success and failure.  I learned that with enough motivation, I am capable of achieving my goals.  The same goes for minimalism: I pace myself by limiting how much I start out with – whether that is cleaning out or changing the way I do things.  I will not give up if I run out of ideas; I resort to brainstorming and positive thinking.  I find fun ways to be a minimalist and make the adventure fun.  Pass it on!

 

21 Days

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New to minimalism?  Looking to build a healthy habit of living simply?  It takes 21 days to build a habit, so I suggest this method to be intentional about living simply.

The task is simple.  Spend 21 days focusing on developing a habit, skill, or breaking a bad habit through a positive solution that will support your minimalist lifestyle.

21 days?  That’s a long time!  That may be true in the moment, but 21 days is approximately 6% of a year, which really is not very long.  In perspective, 21 days is the real deal if you stay focused and committed because you are making a powerful investment very efficiently.

Give 21 days a chance.  Whether that is 21 days to break a spending habit, 21 days of eating healthy, or 21 days of cleaning out your office.  Living simply is more than just getting rid of excess clutter.  It is about developing your skills, investing in what you are passionate about, and building a new outlook on life.  21 days can help you find your priorities or fine-tune the journey you have already started.  The choice to approach it is yours.

If you are struggling for creativity, I suggest finding one obstacle, and using it as a basis for your challenge.

For example:

  • For 21 days, focus on why you became a minimalist.  Write down one reason a day.
  • For 21 days, spend time reflecting on what minimalism strategies has worked for you.  After the 21 days are up, move forward with the helpful strategies.
  • 21 days of gratitude.  It seems that personal struggle often arises out of discontentment or frustration.  Spend 21 days focusing on gratitude.  By gaining a sense of thankfulness for what your progress has been, you will become more receptive to creativity and problem solving.  Do not let the struggle define you.  Focus on finding a solution.

If you are new to minimalism but are concerned about starting off too fast, use your 21 days to pace yourself.

For example:

  • For 21 days, get rid of one item a day that does not have a purpose or bring you joy.  Every item is a step.  Remember that minimalism is an ongoing process, so practice disciplining yourself to a steady system that prevents rash decisions or getting off track.
  • 21 days to study.  Spend 21 days before implementing a minimalism to brainstorm ideas, strategies, and reasons for your quest.  Just like we should do our homework before making a significant purchase (like a house, car, or stock), we should do our homework before implementing a lifestyle change.

If you are unsure if 21 days really works, here are some reasons that I discovered to support it.  Note that this list meant that I would proceed with 21 days even if I was not 100% on-board with the idea:

  1.  21 days is a short term commitment.  Like most goals, we divide them into short and long term categories.  It is better to start off small than to jump in unprepared.
  2.  21 days is a testing ground, but holds a lot of value.  Maybe you think 21 days is not difficult at all!  I suggest that you proceed, treating the 21 days as a testing zone for a habit you think you have developed.  You will soon learn if you are on the right track or if you need to make adjustments.
  3.  You will discover your real priorities.  21 days are helpful if you do not know where to begin.  I suggest using it as a tool to discover your priorities, especially if you reached a stalemate in simplifying.   Perhaps you are starting a bullet journal.  If you are trying to define what you want your life to be about, start by using 21 days to narrow down your list (see: bullet journaling).
  4. You will learn about your strengths and weaknesses.  When I started by bullet journal to work my way into minimalism, I discovered that I have a strength in sticking with a consistent habit of reflecting on my experiences.  However, I also discovered that I often over-complicate my day-to-day tasks.  I used 21 days to limit myself, thus simplifying my to-do list and opening up space for much-needed free time.

These are just a few ways to use 21 days to begin or enhance your journey in minimalism.  Feel free to test out my ideas, change them, or come up with a new solution – minimalism is all about ingenuity and infusing your life with creativity.  Pass it on!

Resourceful Simplicity

The instinct when downsizing or simplifying one’s life is to gather up all unnecessary belongings, toss them into plastic bags, and throw everything in the dumpster.  While you may not regret the fast-paced system to get all the clutter out of your living space, it is important to be aware of the many options we have to deal with these items.  Whether you are environmentally-conscious or want to capitalize on sellable items, here is a list of methods we all should consider when clearing clutter from our lives.

  1.  Recycling products:  Reduse.  Reuse. Recycle.  Three words many of us chanted during our earth science classes in elementary school, perhaps still ingrained in the back of our mind when we toss scraps of paper, cans, or cardboard.  The list goes beyond consumables.  When we begin to simplify our lives, we often start by pulling out a trash bag or garbage can and designate a spot to chuck all unwanted items and bits of trash we find.  What I often forget is that many items I unceremoniously dump into the “circular file” have the potential to be recycled.  Being aware that every item you throw away still causes damage to the environment should change the way we plan our downsizing; there is bound to be a good many things we will throw out, so we must make an effort to recycle what we can.
  2. Re-purposing products:  Occasionally I discover that I am in need of some item to fill a role in organizing my belongings.  While cleaning out, I often come across something that I assumed I had no use for, only to realize that I can re-purpose it.  For example, my unused pencil bag became a container for hairbands and bobby pins.  We have many items that can be re-purposed instead of thrown away.  We live in a world of manufactured goods that are meant for one thing only: to be used.  Why not creatively re-purpose an item you might throw away into something useful?  The least we can do is to consider a function the item can do instead of throwing it out immediately.  This may come in handy for those of us who do not like waste or feel obligated to keep particular possessions.
  3. Re-selling products:  If we have exhausted our creativity to put an item to use or simply have no space to keep it, we should remember another strategy with multiple benefits: the humble garage sale.  While you may not get rid of a bunch of stuff immediately following cleaning, you will be able to sell items that are in good condition.  It may take more time to officially move items out of the house, especially if you begin cleaning in the winter months, but come garage sale season, you will benefit much more by selling items than ignoring their potential re-sale value.  Another option is to use websites like Craigslist, Amazon, eBay, and your local newspaper.  Throughout college, I used Bookbyte to sell many of my college textbooks.  This was an incredibly convenient option for me since it did not take much time and I made money on books that cost me an arm and a leg to buy for class.
  4. Donating:  If you have items that you no longer need that are in decent condition.  I find this a good options to clear out any left over items from my garage sales.  It not only gives quality items to those who need it, but helps keep me on track with moving boxes of unused stuff out of my house.  Similarly to garage sales, you give the items a chance to be used – as they should be – instead of piling up in a landfill.

Cultivating personal awareness about the impact garbage and unwanted items has on the environment is a good step to take when simplifying your life.  Take time to invest in your environment by recycling, re-purposing, re-selling, or donating your belongings.  Pass it on!

An Investment of Inspiration

Beginning anything takes a recipe of commitment, excitement, and inspiration.  When I began my quest for minimalism, I read several blogs.  I hopped on Google and searched, “minimalism blogs.”  It was that simple.  After reading a few posts, I was curious, but not persuaded that minimalism was right for me.  Give up most of my stuff?  I do not know if I could live on 100 items…  Minimalism seems to be more than what I am cut out for.

Fast forward to a week (or so) later.

I found myself Skyping a friend who lives a minimalist lifestyle and sure enough, after closing our conversation, I went back to Google, typed in “minimalism blogs” again, and scoured the results on and off for a few days.  Each post convinced me that perhaps even I could make this work because what I found was not a single, uniform path I needed to adjust to, but that I could tailor minimalism to my individual needs.

I also picked up a few books to gain different perspectives about minimalism and attempt to give answer to my excuses (see: live simply).  Two in particular that have provided a wealth of inspiration and practical guidance are:  Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas and Off the Grid by Nick Rosen. Some may ask, “Isn’t living in a van extreme?”  I would answer that it depends on your perspective and experience.  The object of reading these stories early on are not to jump ship immediately and start living out of my own van (I do not even own one!), but to assure myself that there are people – ordinary people – who have made the decision to simplify to their preference  and that I could do the same.

Reading books and blogs officially launched my implementation of living a minimalist lifestyle.  I do not assume I have everything planned out to a tee, but rather seek to continue growing through this project.  I believe that we never stop learning, so I challenge myself to study new ideas and add to my bank of knowledge.  We all have to start somewhere, right?  I discovered that my assumptions were right: downsizing to 100 items was too much for a new minimalist like me to handle, and neither would it suit my lifestyle.  Had I simply read the post that advertised living on 100 items or less, I would have sought out a way to live it out – possibly finding myself with more regrets along the way.  Instead, I read that post and let it serve me as excitement.  It inspired me to search for clever and smart strategies to evaluate items I already considered getting rid of.  I put limits on how many items in a particular category I would hold on to and how many I would let go.  Just like my bullet journal is tailored to my needs, so would the entirety of inspiration to my minimalist lifestyle.

Do not simply settle for the first piece of advice you find.  It is better to do your homework than to jump ship and find yourself in over your head.  Every beginning needs a bit of inspiration to start out, so treat it as an investment!

Bullet Journaling

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One of the first steps I took after launching my commitment to pursue a minimalist lifestyle was to start a bullet journal.

What is a bullet journal?  How does it work?

A bullet journal is a means to sorting the various notes, lists, and reflections you make over time, all condensed into one place.  Like a personal planner, just less rigid.

The following is how I specifically constructed and use my bullet journal.  If this method works for you, great!  Otherwise, remember this:  You are not limited to one method of bullet journaling!  

This is the outline of my bullet journal, which consists of three primary elements.  Feel free to construct your journal in the same way:

  1. A definition of myself.  I took the first two pages of my journal (any journal lined or unlined will do, large enough to carry around comfortably) and assigned specific tasks to each.
    1. The first page is a list of goals.  The key for this one is to determine your top goals.   Long term or short term does not matter, but you should not clutter the list with too many goals.  The only thing more leads to is more…and more…and more.  That becomes overwhelming.  Keep the list no more than 10 points.  Use bullet points to write your goals.
    2. The second page is a spider chart.  This exercise will help you sort your priorities in a easy to see format.  Draw a circle in the middle of the page and write your name in it.  Now add a line projecting out from your circle.  Add another circle.  Do this up to 5 times around your name.  These circles are now your top priorities in life.  Of course they are bound to change, but we will get to that soon.  Write the word or two that are your top priorities.  Examples are: adventure, study, faith, or a characteristic you want to build.  Now repeat the same process for each of the priority bubbles, giving 1 to 5 very short thoughts, elaboration, or examples of how you will act on that priority.  Congratulations!  You completed your chart.  You will refer back to this chart for reference, reflection, or progress reports throughout your use of the journal.
  2. Lists.  The next few pages are designated for the most frequent information you find yourself writing notes for.  Need help?  Gather all of your sticky notes, scraps of paper, etc. and see what shows up.  My lists fall into these categories:  books to read, songs to purchase, and movies to watch.  Designate a single page to each list and transfer each little note to it’s respective place.  Whenever you need to write something down that fits into those categories, you have a place to go!
  3. Daily Pages.  This category is really 3-in-1.
    1. Part One:  At the top of the next blank page, write the date.  The next line down, make an asterisk (*) and write, “Today I will…”  This space is used for creative planning.  Consider your goals.  What ways might one simple thought help you take one step closer to your goals?  How can you act on your priorities?  For example:  One of my goals is to explore.  Similarly, one of my priorities is adventure.  So, one day, my answer is, “Today I will do one thing outside my comfort zone.”  It may be a broad answer like that.  But for the rest of the day, I will seek out some way to achieve that.
    2. Part Two:  The To Do List.  Unlike most to-do lists we write, this one is a list with the end in sight.  Limit yourself to a few things each day.  Remember:  simple is key.  The more you write, the more you commit yourself to complete.  The last thing we need is to spread ourselves thin like butter on toast.  Keep your list from 1 to 5 tasks, big or small.  Write these on the next lines using bullet points.
    3. Part Three:  Reflections.  Skip a line and write, “Reflections.”  The rest of the space you need is to make reflections throughout the day.  Note that these are not “end of the day” reflections.  They are meant to be recorded any time!  I like to put asterisks in the margins if I write something that should be acted on.  If you are ever in need of a task for your To Do list, you can refer to these.  Finally, I like to write a “Progress Report” at the end of the week.  This is simply a tool to look back at the tasks you accomplished, check your reflections against your goals and priorities, and to gather your thoughts for the coming week.  Did you do something to take a step closer to a goal?  Did you commit to your creative plan each day?  Were there items you did not complete?  By writing a Progress Report, you create an action plan for the next week, along with reminding yourself to tie up loose ends.Daily Page

During the first week of bullet journaling, I found that I was more productive with my time.  I found free time I did not have before (thanks to limiting my tasks) and uncluttered  the miscellaneous papers piling up on my desk.

I feel more fulfilled when I use my bullet journal (daily) because I have time for family, to relax, and to pursue my priorities.  I recommend at least trying a bullet journaling method for 21 days, though I would guess that if you are like me, you would love it immediately and not stop!

Do you see value in bullet journaling?  Pass it on!

Live Simply

20160410_145300_edited.jpgLive simply.  It is a phrase I would assume we use at some point in our life, though its origins derive from different inspiration.  Living simply has been tossed around from season to season of my life – when I was an ambitious elementary-schooler, “organizing” my room to make space for the latest and greatest of whatever collecting phase I was on…usually cool rocks…to trying to make each new semester as a college undergraduate as easy to unpack as possible.  However, when facing reality, none of my methods worked out in favor of my belongings. I identified the theory of simplicity, but lacked the correct method to put it into practice…

That is, before I found minimalism.  Until very recently, I had only a vague, misconstrued idea of what minimalism really is.  When first asked, my perspective would involve whitewashed walls and a quiet ascetic hanging out on a meditation pillow for long stretches of time.  Quiet.  Alone.  Empty.

With the help of research skills curated over time, I discovered that being a minimalist and embracing the -ism, is not about living a stark, stoic existence in a hospital-white room but rather a vibrant array enabling the individual to express their lives through creative means.

The minimalist seeks growth, not a stale existence.  To live simply is to embrace a limit of things in order to invest in a bigger picture.  Maybe it is growing spiritually or investing in relationships.  Maybe it is developing a healthy habit or learning a new skill.  Either way, the minimalist is not on a journey for self-deprivation.  On the contrary, the minimalist is seeking life.  And how do they do that?  They spend time growing and investing in the categories that are the most important to them.  Growth is life-giving; over-accumulation of stuff is life-burdening.  That is not to say that all stuff is bad – there is need for certain items in our lives, but the more we accumulate, the more chains we attach to ourselves.

So what did I do wrong as a third grader?  It boils down to this:  I did not seek to minimize but to continue to consume.  Rock after mineral, marble after marble, I found new ways to expand my collections. I resorted to piling items in feats of organizational prowess (I thought) until there was simply no more space to fit anything else.  I, in both a literal and figurative sense, hit rock bottom.  (Go ahead and laugh, I know I punned.)

The same scenario played out as a college student trying to pack my “near and dear” belongings to and from campus for 16 semesters.  Every August, I was faced with the endless task of sorting clothes from textbooks, decorations from accessories, attempting to make “this semester the simplest, since I really do not need to bring everything with me.”  Right.  The loads of containers spoke for themselves.

I stewed at rock bottom, unhappy, but complacent in my situation.  I had a list of excuses not to begin:

  • What if I need that writing portfolio from high school?  It could come in handy…
  • I might get around to using that [fill in the blank] eventually…
  • “So and so” gave that to me; I do not want to hurt their feelings if I get rid of it…
  • I already organized my stuff.  Is that not enough?
  • I’ll start tomorrow…

Those excuses kept me in a bubble until now.  I graduated last May and I am inspired to begin a true quest towards the less-daunting minimalist lifestyle I discovered it to be.

This blog serves two purposes.  As a newcomer to the world of minimalism, I plan to use this blog to express joy and progress in my journey.  I also hope to provide value – whether that is encouragement, strategy, or inspiration to my readers in their own quest to reclaim simplicity and embrace minimalism as a meaningful lifestyle.

If you see value in my blog, by all means, pass it on! 

 

 

 

Top 10 Reasons to be a Minimalist

When I first started my bullet journal (see: bullet journaling), I knew I wanted to write down on paper why I was going to pursue a minimalist lifestyle.  I figured it was a smart way to stay motivated by having the constant reminder in front of me.  Plus, everything seems more official in pen and ink.

So here are my top 10 reasons to be a minimalist:

  1. A simple life = A stress free life
  2. I will be more productive with my time.
  3. I can pay off my financial obligations without the distraction of consumerism.
  4. I am free from unnecessary “stuff” – more flexible.
  5. Being a minimalist adds value to all aspects of my life.
  6. I have time to make more informed choices (for my lifestyle, opinions, etc).
  7. I will save more money.
  8. I will embrace a lifestyle that is not about achieving the status-quo…say no to the ‘quo!
  9. I will learn creativity and minimize waste.
  10. I will make a positive impact on my environment- the earth and the people around me.