Real Life Minimalists: Mohanalakshmi

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details. (Note: the schedule is now full until June — but if you don’t mind waiting, feel free to send me your submission!)

This week, I’m happy to feature Mohanalakshmi, who writes from Qatar. She tells us about how she gave up shopping in 2009, and what she learned from the experience. Please stop by her blog to read more!

Mohanalakshmi writes:

(Re)Learning the Art of Abundance: No New Clothes

I gave up shopping in 2009 as a way to bring this impulse under control and people were kind enough to read along with my (mis)adventures via my blog. At times I did better than others but in most instances I was confronted by the truth that set me out on this quest: there were many lovely things in my closet I wasn’t wearing through no fault of theirs. I simply couldn’t see many things because they were so crammed onto hangers or in drawers.

Two unexpected things happened from this self-imposed diet: I was much more careful with the items I chose when it was my birthday, anniversary, or other gift giving opportunity. I would identify the one thing I really wanted and when it was given to me, I treasured it like the new possession it was. The second was more inexplicable: trimming back on clothes raised an awareness of the multiples I had of other items such as the twelve bottles of perfume on my dresser that I determinedly worked my way through. I suddenly wanted to use up things to the best of my ability and it also made it much easier to let them go: whether a bottle of mousse or sandwich I couldn’t finish, I realized the value of stopping when you’ve had enough of something. And you’re that much less likely to order with your eyes rather than your appetite if you see how much is leftover on your plate.

The other slightly wonderful aftereffect is that slight tinge of guilt when I wander the racks this holiday season. More often than not, I’m saying no, rather than yes, to most items. The sales tags which used to scream to me $15!! now clearly explain why a certain item was overpriced to begin with.

I set out in 2009 wanting to be content with the things I had and maybe by default, my life. I certainly developed an appreciation for the tried and true items like handbags or shoes.

So imagine my dismay to start 2011 with 5 suitcases from our trip to the U.S. We live overseas and this was the first time we had been home all year since the birth of our son in July 2010. Granted 1 of the 5 suitcases was entirely for the baby. But that still left 3 bags of nothing but clothes for me. I’m not exaggerating.

Have I regressed? Did I learn nothing in 2009? There are no easy answers. But I want to start the year again saying enough is enough. Here’s to hoping it finds me happier, with less things and more time for people.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

30 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Mohanalakshmi

  • Thanks for sharing, Mohanalakshmi.

    It’s interesting what you say about wandering the sale racks during the holiday season. I used to buy things just because they were such a good deal, even if I knew I didn’t really need them. Learning to purchase only what I truly need has been so liberating.

  • I love this quote: “The sales tags which used to scream to me $15!! now clearly explain why a certain item was overpriced to begin with.”

    What a great way to look at it!

  • ElizMcK

    You have progressed merely by being cognizant of your behavior; you have not regressed. There is nothing wrong with taking minimalist steps toward becoming a minimalist, nor is there anything wrong with defining your own minimalist terms. Like the diet analogy, successful weight-loss comes gradually. Keep up the good work. I am sure many people can relate to your practical story. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Brenda

    Thank you for your story! It’s good to know that there are other people out there besides me whose path to minimalism and simpler living is not always easy. Even though I made the determination to follow a “minimalist” lifestyle and get rid of all the things I no longer wanted or needed, I found myself a few months ago compulsively buying things (mostly clothes) online and scouring the blogs of people who discuss their latest fashion finds. I would always convince myself that I needed these things and that after “this purchase” I would stop buying clothes, yet later I would find something else that I *HAD* to have. A few weeks ago, after waiting half an hour in line at a second-hand store in order to try to resell a bag full of my clothes (instead of enjoying the beautiful weather outside!) and in the end only getting $2 for a tank top, I realized that I wouldn’t have been in this situation had I not been buying these clothes in the first place. I knew I had to stop checking out the retail websites, I had to stop reading those fashion blogs (however, I don’t begrudge those who participate in them if being into fashion makes them happy). I realized that I had been shopping compulsively in order to fill a void and to make myself feel better. I need to find a more positive way to do this. I don’t have all the answers yet, but I know that I have to find what truly makes me happy and learn how to just be. Reading others’ stories on blogs (such as this one!) that promote the philosophy and lifestyle that I want to live help me feel a sense of community and motivate me to work towards my personal goals.
    Best of luck on your goals, Mohanalakshmi!

  • Campy

    I totally am in that mode right now. My favorite Canadian made, designed in Canada Store, which is the only store I shop at has a sale every spring. I just go usually but really had to keep telling myself when I thought of going “you don’t need anything, you just want it”. So I never went – instead I went through my spring clothes again to get rid of stuff I don’t wear. The road to Minimalism I find tough but slowly I am chipping away. I also am doing the same with perfumes etc (plus Perfumes are REALLY BAD toxins) and going through to finish what I have but not buying more. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Mayfair

    I agree with the ideas about checking out sales racks. I often wonder what the real worth/value of something is, if its on clearance for $7.99, marked down from an original price of $50. IF it was ever truly “worth” $50, how could the store let it go for $7.99? The answer–it was probably worth $1.99 to begin with. Some child in a 3rd-world country probably earned 25 cents to make it and 100 others like it that day.

    Thankfully, I am totally burned-out on shopping. I am really tall & very picky about what I will wear, so shopping for clothes has never been something I would call a “pleasure.” Things rarely fit just right off the rack, so even bargains lose their appeal to me:) That’s alright..I have 2 closets full of clothes from various stages of my life in the last 20 years, and I can go “shopping” in there any time I want a new or different look from last week. Of course, there are things in there that I will probably never wear again, and they are routinely carted off to the Salvation Army every other Saturday. I keep combing through the stuff, culling more & more. Its more fun emptying the closet than filling it:)

    I also have the routine of using up every drop of perfume, lotion, bath products, cosmetics, & hair products before buying one more replacement item. This cuts down on impulse buys, as I probably won’t need any of the above for several more years. I did make the exception when my brand of mascara was discontinued a few months ago—I have about 5 of them to use until I find a true replacement.

  • Delores

    I’ve been pondering the issue of gifts. It has become difficult to impossible to gift someone, especially close relatives. People buy whatever they want and if they have a list for their birthday or Christmas and they don’t get something on it they really want, then they just go buy it. Also, people are more choosy about what they want. If it isn’t perfect, they will exchange it. Homemade items seldom get used or worn. There is no more wishing and hoping for something and then finally getting it because a loved one knows it’s just right for you. Not to say never, but it has become much more the case that the person you would like to find a gift for doesn’t really need a thing.

    • Karen T.

      Delores, you are absolutely right. I don’t know of any relatives (including my children) who really NEED anything, and most of what they want they buy for themselves as soon as they decide they want it. The only person I know who keeps a list of things she might be interested in acquiring (and almost always crosses items off the list before a 30 day “cool off” time has been reached) is ME! Of course, this is fairly new behavior for me — only in the last year or so have I really become turned-off to amassing more things. It’s truly a process that doesn’t happen overnight.

      So now when I “need” to get a gift for someone, I try to give an experience: tickets to something they like, a special meal out, etc. The other thing I like to give is personal care items made without toxins or chemicals — hopefully this is something they will use that will be better for their health.

    • My adult daughter and I were having a conversation about this. Her children (she has 6, 4 in school) are invited to a lot of birthday parties. Most of the partied are big affairs with lots of gifts. My daughter struggles with buying gifts. two of her children were recently invited to a birthday party for a fairly well off family. The invitations stated that in lieu of gifts, please bring canned goods to help restock the local food pantry.
      On one hand, I thought that this was an awesome idea. But on the other, these kids already had an overabundance of stuff provided by their parents.
      As far as gift giving within our family, we try to give experiences, or needed tools of their craft or hobby.
      Getting more work done in less time

  • Thanks for sharing :) I rarely shop, for a combination of factors: Lack of money, concern about human rights issues/environmental impacts of the corporations that make the stuff, and learning that I have way too much clutter to deal with as it is. Decluttering has really turned me off to shopping; it’s hard to justify the extra “stuff” anymore, because I know I will be having to make decisions about it somewhere down the line.

  • Stuff can creep back in to your life if your not careful. I purged this house in 07 and am in need of doing it again in 11. THis time though I am sticking strictly to the rule that if something comes in something too must go out. I like space so much better than stuff.

  • Pamela C.

    I admire the idea of using items up first before going out to buy more. I think I will apply this when it comes to my toiletries. I’m inspired to systematically work through my multiples of perfumes, lotions, soaps, and cleansers until it’s all used up. In the end I can see myself with having: 1 soap + 1 facial cleanser + 1 shampoo & conditioner combo + 1 perfume + 1 lotion. Just imagine how much space I shall have!

    • Karen T.

      Pamela, I think Miss Minimalist has a post about “The Power of One.” What a great goal to have only one of each thing that you need and use! Good luck.

  • Bonglecat

    I’m going on vacation for 1 week with my mother next month, I have my wardrobe planned out minimalist style. One pair of shorts several, T-shirts, a sun dress and linen trousers with a jean jacket to travel. However, she is insisting on our going shopping to buy things for our holiday. She goes to the same place at the same time every year, so I can’t understand why she needs a new wardrobe every time? Unlike Mohanalakshmi,I haven’t made it a rule not to buy new things I just really, really think about it first.

  • Pascale

    Hi Francine,
    I love your blog. It’s one of my favorites because you give practical tips we can implement in our daily routine. In your book The Joy of Les, you talk about packing cubes. Since reading this, I’ve purchased a few packing cubes because my husband and I are traveling back and forth from Canada to the US. I use your idea of living in a suitcase even when I’m at home. In doing so, it’s a lot quicker when I have to leave to go to Detroit or to visit our families. I’d like to have more packing cubes, but I find it difficult to choose a style and a size that would fit personal belongings. There are so many to choose from that I get overwhelmed and move on to something else. Because of that, I often use ziplock bags. Do you have any pratical tips to offer?

  • Mrs Brady Old Lady


    I SWEAR by Eagle Creek’s packing cubes. Never travel anywhere without them. You can buy them online or in outdoor shops.

  • Pascale

    Thanks for the info Mrs. Brady.

  • Carly

    Totally agree. I think when you’ve experienced having a lot, you realize it’s actually just as stressful as not having enough. If that makes sense (it made sense in my head). Make room for the few things you value and love, and it will make you appreciate and love them even more because they’ll actually be used and not forgotten!

  • Mrs Brady Old Lady

    I got rid of about 15 polo shirts because they were absolutely threadbare. They went to a clothes recycling unit. I was absolutely DREADING having to traipse through the shops to buy replacements (I’m one of those girlies who HATE clothes shopping and guess what gents – I’m not the only one). I was so happy to find out I managed perfectly well with the remaining stuff and didn’t need anything new. Just to iron more frequently….

  • susan

    Carly, I LOVE your quote “I think when you’ve experienced having alot, you realize it’s actually just as stressful as not having enough.” I agree with you — it speaks to the fact of our True Needs, as well as the importance of balance in our lives.

  • […] seems unbreakable: you buy, so you work, you work so you can buy. Yet no matter how much we buy, we don’t seem any happier. One year I gave up buying new clothes in a effort to see if I could break the addict like hold […]

  • anet

    i too have aquired too many clothes..on multiple occassions, they were most often from thrift shops but even at $4/shirt…I had TOO many shirts, and when I thinned them out…getting rid of the ones that 1)needed to be ironed (I just dont iron and am not going to start) 2) shirts that I have some reservation about wearing (too tight in bust, print didn’t go w/ many other items closet, didn’t like the way it buttoned…a whole host of tiny things that can make a shirt ill fitting)….I got rid of LOADS of shirts and HONESTLY its like I have MORE…because everything I have, I LIKE to wear, and its not buried in things I won’t wear…still I’m a work in progress…I;ll find a shirt I really like…and darn if I won’t want one in another color…when I’ll have my FAVORITE color

  • anet

    oh and regarding packing cubes…I swear by ziplocs…can see through them! less bulky than the ‘cubes’ from Eagle creek, and you can compress them by squeezing all the extra air out and zip/folding them

  • Tina

    We are going on a cruise next month. Another opportunity to see huge suitcases and people taking loads of “runway” fashions on a vacation. We travel with a carry-on each and a tote each. I am taking a crushable sunhat, and an umbrella just in case.

  • Tina

    We each took a carry on and a tote bag and we were gone for 11 days. The cruise was 8 days. I really believe some people think they are walking the runway or appearing on television. There were a lot of elaborate gowns and tuxedos. Totally unnecessary.

  • Tina

    I was thinking of the gowns and tuxedos. One of my friends buys really uncomfortable shoes she can hardly walk in because she likes to make an entrance at a fancy event. I just don’t want to look out of place at a gala event. I find a black dress and pearls are always good. And I’m comfortable, too.

  • Tina

    Another 3 bags went to Goodwill. I think I will give away another jacket I got from my son. That will start another bag. Once I start a bag, it quickly fills up. My great niece and nephews were here, they got boxes of crayons, books, and Matchbox cars. My great niece also got some junk jewelry from my mom. I think a new box of crayons is a great gift.

  • I got rid of a stack of books I don’t want to reread. I have a lot more stuff to give away. I have some plants to pass on,too.

  • Every so often, I fill a shoebox with plant cuttings in used styrofoam cups. I don’t need huge plants and I give them away. I also have a stack of books to give away and more craft materials. I like my house half empty. It seems more spacious that way.

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