Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Simple Life.

In 2015, I spent a summer interning in Portland, Oregon. It was a completely eye-opening experience to me, not only for the displays of truly 'weird Portland' culture, but also because I was forced to live in a very unique way. Being from the Midwest, I would have had to drive nearly 35 hours to get there. So in an attempt to simplify things, I decided to fly instead. It was far easier and much less time consuming, but posed two major problems: one, I would have to spend the summer sans car, and two, I had to fit everything I needed for three months into my suitcase and carry-on. I was nervous, and my parents were hesitant. But...challenge accepted.

I rolled my clothing, packed one spoon, fork, knife, pan, bowl, and plate into my suitcase, and squeezed in a few other essentials where I could (hairdryer, toiletries, etc.). I decided to buy the rest when I arrived, including an air mattress for the unfurnished apartment I'd be renting. To my misfortune, they increased my rent tremendously due to the short 3-month lease I needed (they only offered 6- and 12-month leases), but it was within walking distance from work so the 'no-car' problem was solved. This was an internship for a great company, and I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity. So when the day came, I flew off to Oregon, navigated public transportation from the airport to my apartment, walked over a mile with my Mapquest directions in one hand and suitcase in the other (purse and carry-on over my shoulder), and settled in. I Ubered to Target for the air mattress, found a grocery store within walking distance, and made the best of the situation. While the air mattress didn't work out (I returned it after 2 weeks: as it turns out, the floor is much more comfortable in the long run), and my 'kitchen table' was a drawer from my kitchen I pulled out and flipped upside-down on the floor, it was the experience of a lifetime. I made incredible friends, spent every free moment outside of work making plans and adventuring in the city, and gained an incredible amount of experience on the job. I couldn't imagine the summer having gone any other way.

After my last few posts, I've had a lot of people asking me what it means when I say I "live simply" or that I "have adopted a minimalist lifestyle". To clarify, it is nowhere near as intense as it was when I lived in Portland (thought I would do that again in a heartbeat!). I thought I lived pretty simply in college (mostly because I was vegan and into stereotypically 'crunchy' things), but that couldn't be farther from the truth. My life was packed and often chaotic in college. I had bins of things I never used shoved into corners of my dorm room and kept the rest "stashed" at my parents' house. I had a ridiculous collection of coffee mugs and boxes of tea piled in one of my dresser drawers. But now, I'm trying to simplify. Everything. And while I'm not confining everything I own to a suitcase and carry-on, I have gone through an enormous overhaul of literally everything I own. The change started as one of my weekly cleaning sessions and evolved into an entire afternoon of de-cluttering. Then I got on Pinterest to search for organization/cleaning advice, which soon snowballed into the discovery of this wonderful concept called minimalism
I wouldn't say I was ever a fully-fledged 'pack rat', but I definitely liked my stuff. After working as a barista and sales associate at Target for so many years, I had amassed a lot of unnecessary items. For example, I had nearly 25 coffee mugs (not counting my collectible 'You Are Here' Starbucks mugs, pictured above). There were blankets and towels and bed sheets (oh my!) stacked floor to ceiling in my closet. I had loads of lotion, makeup, and nail polish bottles I hadn't used in years just taking up space in my bathroom. My pans and kitchenware were old and mismatched and chipped. And my wardrobe...don't even get me started. But with the knowledge that I'm going to be moving in the very near future, I thought there couldn't be a better time to really start de-cluttering. So I started by making piles of things to keep, things to sell, things to donate, and things to throw away. It seemed the 'keep' pile was always biggest (I could need that, I might use that again one day, etc.) and the throw-away pile was nearly nonexistent. So I went back to Pinterest and discovered blogs and Youtube channels dedicated to minimalism. I needed help.

I found the best advice from Muchelle B, Pick Up Limes, and Rachel Aust. In their videos, they talk about necessity, joy, and simplicity: the pursuit of a simpler life with fewer material things and more meaning. Their content ranges from determining wants and needs to decluttering your mind, your time, and your habits in addition to your possessions. I watched a documentary on Netflix (Minimalism, go figure) and gained some insight on the controversy of it and why it's so hard for people to just let go of the junk. "The Minimalists" (aka Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus) talked about our consumerist culture, 'fast fashion', and the harm its all inflicting on the environment. They shared their stories behind going minimal and as I watched, things just started to click. Before I knew it, I was going through not just my closet, but also my memory box, throwing out old birthday cards (from when I turned 5!). I took pictures out of picture frames, gutted my wardrobe, and even did a massive overhaul of my DVD collection. Not even my books were safe. My giant pink penguin stuffed animal (named Edwin) that I had bought one day on my lunch break for no particular reason was given away, along with a giant Rubbermaid bin full of Beanie Babies I'd been hanging onto since childhood. All in all, I finished with 12 bags of trash, 5 carloads to the donation center, and one very large box of gently used movies and books for the library. I sold quite a few of my other books, DVDs (mostly TV series), and old electronics, using services such as Decluttr and local garage sale pages on Facebook. My apartment emptied out quickly, and I was surprised at the relief I felt seeing everything I never used going to a better cause. Rather than feeling regret for giving away/throwing out/selling my old things, I felt somehow lighter. I followed these Youtubers' advice and focused on what I was keeping rather than what was going out the door. Out of nowhere, I started to have an incredible amount of gratitude for the things I did want to hang on to, realizing their worth and value. I kept a few precious memories but got rid of the rest. I can't (yet) part with my Starbucks mug collection (a shelf full of 38 unused coffee mugs from around the world....not very functional). But everything feels so much more open and clear, and I'm realizing how little 'things' actually mean. I was even able to part with my 12-cup Mr. Coffee pot that I've had since college, swapping it out for a much smaller, simpler French press. (Side note: if you want your coffee to taste good I would highly recommend you do the same.)
The Memory Box, pictured above. Once overflowing, now 'tidied up'.
 Bathroom took the longest...down to just two bins!
 Christmas tree tucked away on the left, and those are all of my books, movies, and Christmas decorations in the bins - packed up for when I move. The empty one is reserved for my Starbucks mugs!
Half of the gray and purple cubes are now empty, once full of clothes I never wore.
I'm still working on fully adapting the minimalist lifestyle. I don't think I'll ever get down to the point of living in a 'tiny house' or sleeping on the floor again (I love my comfy bed!), but I'm learning to live with a lot less and focus more on the important things. Even when I go shopping, I have a new mindset: I appreciate things for what they are, but if I don't need them, I don't buy them! (That adorable coffee mug at TJ Maxx with a French bulldog on it saying 'Oui oui'? And it's only $3.99? STOP, SAM. Self control here.) 

Another benefit of de-cluttering everything in my apartment is that I am now aware of everything I have. It sounds pathetic, but think of it: how many times have you bought something because you weren't sure you already had it, or you bought it 'just in case'? These purchases are a waste of money and just add to the clutter. It's amazing how much I forgot I had. Going through each and every item in my apartment was eye-opening. I found a few old shirts I used to love, re-discovered my books to study German, and started wearing some of the jewelry I forgot I owned. I created an "important documents" file case and tucked away the papers that I actually need to keep rather than having a drawer full of random packets and records. The concept of need vs. want has become so much clearer to me, and I've learned to let go of a lot of things I never thought I could. It's liberating.

My family doesn't quite understand, and neither do many of my friends, but then again neither did I until I actually started going through it myself. It's one of those things that you read about, watch a documentary on, and think 'that might be nice, for the right person', and never fully understand. It's like yoga, veganism, or golfing: you either get it or you don't. I'm not going to try and convince everyone to adopt a minimalist lifestyle - you do you. But this is me, doing me, and I'm loving it. There really is beauty in simplicity.

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