Real Life Minimalists: Michele

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.

This week, it’s my pleasure to feature Michele. She shares her minimalist lifestyle with us in wonderful detail, and has even included some lovely photos of her living space!

Michele writes:

The story I have in my head is that my mom asked me to clean up my room when I was very young, and I wanted a way to never have to hear that again! I started to clear everything out of my room, and loved sitting in a totally empty closet. I think I only kept going back to trying to ‘decorate’ and fill up a space because so many convinced me it was what you do, especially when you leave home and have your own space. Ultimately though, it never felt natural to me, and I would get so thrilled when I cleared it all out again. Often now, even having a residence feels unnecessary, but I haven’t figured out a satisfying alternative yet. I’ve considered an rv, van, and being a traveling nomad, but none of these quite fits.

I have always valued relationships (including the one with myself) more than anything else, which in some ways has actually made me feel like I was constantly swimming against the current. Yes, everyone has relationships, but to naturally and actually put them before success, work, achieving, being busy; I haven’t found to be that common. I love the intimacy of hanging out all day with someone, just doing mundane things together and being silly and simply living. I figured that the kind of people who love that too wouldn’t think twice if I wore the same thing everyday, or had no sofa to sit on.

For the past couple years, I have felt like I’ve been in a limbo stage because most of the things that ‘mattered’, or rather that I had filled my time up with, no longer drive me. I’m left with a lot of empty days! I love the freedom of this, but there’s so much time, that I wonder if a passion of some sort will ever emerge again, or a way to be useful. There’s not the urgency there once was to “become something/someone”, etc. It’s possible that I have just grown out of the idea of having a ‘direction,’ but some part of me still hasn’t caught up and is continuing to look for one. Plus maybe the city isn’t the optimal place to meet others who just want to enjoy life simply together?

Practically, at the moment, I live in a tiny room in a city, with a shared bathroom and kitchen. I make a living as a musician and can luckily work sporadically and get by, with very simple living/low overhead. This job is also what keeps me in this particular place. I pay relatively low rent, I don’t use air conditioning. I have a twin 3″ futon mattress on a loft above a built-in desk and one little stool. All my clothes are rolled into one shelf (that hangs off the loft) which bring some splashes of color into the room. I also have several hooks on the doors for the few fancier hanging things. I like the idea of making my every day stuff the decor, and also like having everything I own in view, so I don’t use the closet.

I prefer built-in, efficient sparse furniture so that it’s simple to clean the floor. I eat mainly fruit, and raw salad and nuts, so I just have a little manual orange juicer and one spoon, fork and knife and a cutting surface. Don’t ever have to clean a stove! I distill my water with a little distiller (have looked for simpler options like a great self-filtering water bottle, but nothing yet matches the taste and purity of the distiller). 4 pairs of shoes- boots, flip flops, sneakers and heels for gigs. I don’t use soap on my body (all fruit probably helps with no body odor). 2 plants. A laptop which I feel I am on too much, but which holds episodes of shows I like, music (and music I learn for gigs), movies and books.

Thanks everyone for sharing their stories, as it excites me to read and hear about others who live this way!

{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.}

Related posts:

  1. Real Life Minimalists: Sofia Reddy
  2. Real Life Minimalists: Catherine
  3. Real Life Minimalists: Robert Wringham

50 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Michele

  • I love this posting. You live the life I can only dream of ( being a family woman ). I would love to achieve the ” family ” version of this. The photos are wonderful and your explanation of life is so uplifting. All kudos to you, you have got it down pat :))))

  • Maria Alexander

    inspiring and uplifting…bravo Michelle for keeping it simple….

  • Michele

    Hi Michele,

    Your posting resonated with me (and not because we share the same name :) ) but I feel exactly as you do…swimming against the current. Thank you for being true to yourself. You have inspired me to continue to do the same.

  • Sarah

    I agree with Francesca T and Maria Alexander, I – too – love this posting, and find it inspiring and uplifting!

    If I didn’t have a family, I would also love to live as simply as you Michele do. Your home looks really lovely and as a Virgo I was happy that you share the little details :) I know what you mean by relationships being more important than other achievements in life, as I feel that way too(and have always done). Spending time with myself or with my husband or friends is the best, and living a simple life when it comes to work, money and home suits me wonderfully. I’m lucky to live with an amazing man who’s my best friend as well as my lover, and a true minimalist, as well…

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Michele

      Hi Sarah-
      I agree, I love the details too. When I sat down to write this, I wasn’t sure how to go about it, and thought about what I love to read in minimalist posts. And I get so thrilled at seeing pictures, and reading the little details about where they put their fork, and where they hang their wet towel. :)
      For some reason, I find those things so exciting!
      Your man situation sounds quite lovely!

  • Anna

    This is one of the best postings – just brilliant. I have reached the same place now – happy with my dwindling possessions and empty days. I love your little room, Michele.

  • Judith

    I’m a fairly new visitor here but have already read so many fascinating and inspiring posts. This is the best yet! I admit that I am more than a little envious of Michele’s lifestyle. My house, which I share with two daughters (11 and 16) is as far from this as can be imagined – cluttered, untidy and full of stuff nobody uses. I can’t imagine ever being quite as pared down as Michele, but I am actively working on de-cluttering the space and reading posts like this really inspires me to keep going. So wonderful to know that, even in this day and age, it really is possible to live simply and with just enough :-)

  • Ashley

    Love this post!! Thanks for sharing, Michele – your story is so refreshing and positive. I’m inspired by your pictures and your simple, happy life.

  • Heather

    Lovely!!! Such inspiration!!! This would be a perfect set up for my son. I am stealing your idea. : )

  • Anne

    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational post about your minimalist life, Michele. Your living space looks lovely.

  • I love everything you said! I can relate so much to it. I was always confused as a child too because I liked my room minimalist, but that’s not the way “you were supposed” to do it. I always felt so much better when it was clear again too. I haven’t found a suitable alternative yet either, although minimalist living in an old school bus came close. I have always valued the relationship with myself more too, as well as with others. Love the wearing the same clothes every day comment too. Now that’s the kind of people I would like to know. I don’t have the urgency to become something anymore either. With me, I figure it’s a rite of passage as we get older. That is so awesome you can make your living as a musician. Are your songs somewhere online so that I could listen to them? Love the foods you eat too. I love the description and look of your living space. So pretty and I adore the layout. If you’re ever at a point in your life where you can be in the countryside, I’d consider off-the-grid living. I think it’d suit you perfectly.

    • Michele

      Holy crap everyone!
      I am totally surprised and touched by all the responses!
      I had forgotten about sending this to Miss Minimalist, and she reminded me
      that it was up.
      Your comments are all so lovely and thoughtful, and I will do my best to respond.
      I definitely considered and looked into off-grid living a bunch, but
      have always come to a sticking point with wanting to still keep singing somehow
      and living outside of a city, having to drive a lot, etc. I haven’t figured this out yet,
      but it is often on my mind.
      I do have some music and videos up at http://www.myspace.com/michelezayla and
      at youtube.com/michelez4. I would like to get some newer stuff up there, but feel a bit like
      I’m also at a transition point with music as well, so am open to a new direction.

  • Very inspiring post! You are so right about relationships, they matter so much more than anything else, including (maybe even especially) the one with ourselves.
    I dream of a home with no furniture but a mattress on the floor or futon and a table and chair to do my sewing, but I would need a built-in wardrobe/cupboard because I have more stuff than you do and I like it out of sight (I could get rid of more stuff of course, but at this stage I don’t want or feel the need to…) Traditional Japanese homes have always inspired me.
    “One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.” (Francis Jourdain)

  • A

    Absolutely love your home and minimal lifestyle! I am so inspired by your words and images.

  • Wow, you’ve managed to get everything down to the bare essentials, haven’t you? I can see why you might question the need for any residence at all. You mention making a living as a musician; what instrument do you play and where do you store it? Are you able to practice at home?

    • Michele

      luckily, I sing, so don’t have the equipment issue! although at one point I had a very minimal recording setup. I can sing here, but sometimes feel a little restricted, knowing that there are people above and below.

  • K8 art & illustr8

    Very inspiring and love the pix (I wish everyone would photograph their minimal homes)! I too admire your lifestyle however my family is slow to get on board. At least every time I read these examples it spurs another load to Goodwill… Excuse me while I go empty some drawers. :)

  • Thank you for sharing, Michele ~ it was great to get a window into your thoughts and your world. Also, there’s something delightful about seeing others living simply! :)

    My husband and I live in a very small apartment in DC, and yet I’ve found the limited space liberating ~ there’s little to look after, care for and clean. Your post has inspired me to downsize further, and let go of some things (clothes, mainly) I’d been holding on to out of fear.

    Thanks again!

    • Michele

      Hi Caroline- I also have enjoyed reading your story at your blog recently. When you said D.C. it clicked who you were. Thank you for putting yourself out there too :)

  • Lorna

    I agree that photos from all the minimalist homes featured would be super! Or better yet, maybe Francine could have some of the other readers submit their minimalist homes? Anyway, I love, love, love your little home, Michele! We are a family of four (five, if you include when my daughter’s fiance visits) and I don’t imagine my home will be that small anytime soon, but I can dream. Simple is so much better in my book.

  • Paul

    Great post and very uplifting.Keep up the good work and living simply Michele.

  • Rebecca R.

    Have you considered a Tumbleweed House? You sound like you would be a perfect match for one. Look at their website. That way you could move around if you wanted.

    • Michele

      I have been following Jay of Tumbleweed Houses for several years and I just love what he’s doing.
      But for some reason, I don’t really want to own a house at this point- even a tiny one.
      And I still am hesitant to commit to anything big with wheels which requires gas.
      The cost of one was also always out of my range. I don’t know where I’d put it!

  • Now that is living light! Isn’t it sad that even though we may have this inner desire for less we sometimes get caught up letting others tell us we need more? Ugh! Glad you moved past that.

    I love that little room, but I couldn’t live there. I’m too claustrophobic — I need space. I love a big, empty room.

  • I’m in the limbo stage too, and I think my new-found minimalism is driving that “emptiness” (for lack of a better word.) Thanks for posting, it made me feel better knowing I’m not the only one in limbo :)

  • I love it Michelle!

    Especially that built-in desk. We’ve got one in the works for our new tiny house and I hope it turns out as lovely as yours. Beautiful space. Beautiful lifestyle!

    • Michele

      A good friend built that desk for me using some recycled wood. It definitely added a great efficiency.

      • Is it made of one plank? It looks like it in the photo. I haven’t found any wood at our local Home Depot that looks deep enough. We’re planning on having our carpenter build ours out of a sheet of plywood with a hardwood floor board top and some edging. I’ve hit up all the local used construction supply spots looking for a piece of wood that would be “just right”. Yours looks perfect!

        • Michele

          Hi Tanja. It is one main piece and then a piece added to the edge.
          He is good about finding random pieces of wood and keeping them for whatever use may come up. I wanted to use a non-toxic oil/finish on it because I eat alot of fruit that can splatter around, and didn’t want to get weird spots, etc.
          We wanted the least amount of visible screws in walls, etc.
          So he used the cut off/discard pieces as little blocks into each corner of the wall, underneath, for it to sit on-
          I can’t remember the technical term for them!

  • I love this too and seeing the photos definitely makes a difference on how I (we) view what has been presented in this post. As many have mentioned it really is so different with a family no matter how much we can relate and desire such beautiful simplicity. It’s so hard to simplify and minimize if everyone isn’t on the same page – unfortunately.

  • Nikol

    I wanted to chime in with Mike and ask what instrument you play. I suppose the most minimal instrument would be your voice. Do you have a music stand? Sheet music? Do you memorize everything or scan it into your computer? Thank you for sharing your story and your pics!

    • Michele

      On gigs, if I need lyrics, I put them into my ipod in a plain text document. Otherwise
      most are memorized.
      I have some scanned sheet music in my computer, but I don’t often need charts.
      I have a mini music stand that clamps onto a microphone stand, which usually will be provided at gigs.

  • Love this! And I so understand the concept of swimming against the stream. We are soon to be empty nesters. Most empty nesters have a larger house with well-paying careers. Well, we have a smaller house that is almost paid for and one of us in employed, and it is at a job he hates. We are looking to move the next phase of life, but it doesn’t involve visiting high dollar resort areas.
    I am intrigued by your room! We are not true minimalists by definition of the word, but working towards it everyday!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Bernice
    4 things to do slowly

  • kaori

    this is just so beautiful – and relaxing!
    i’ve never heard (or read) anyone admit to having “empty days” with such positive and poetic connotations. i grew up in a family of overachievers and had it drummed into me from childhood,
    that the more frenetic and filled-to-the-brim and stressed out your life is, the better. pushing yourself
    to earn a lot, do more, own more and climb higher was the sort of tune taken for granted in our family and did in fact, form the muzak in the living room. this was very hard for me as i seemed to be born into the wrong household – the lone, unambitious low-flyer who would rather (as Michele so eloquently puts it) spend a day with a good friend ‘just doing mundane things together” and “simply living.” i live in Tokyo and a hundred years ago in this city, busyness or getting stuck in the work/spend rut was considered ridiculously un-chic. now for most Tokyoites busy is the highest compliment – to oneself and others. SAD. but Francine’s blog and posts like Michele’s are OJ for the soul – a short, sweet hit of energy and nourishment. thanks so much!

    • Michele

      Hi Kaori-
      this idea of not being ‘productive’ took some digging, looking back. It felt uncomfortable at times,
      and I would edge on getting sensitive about being placed in the ‘slacker generation’ box.
      I am actually surprised at how many people have seen such positivity in the post.
      There have certainly been times of feeling lost, and bewildered, and a bit isolated.
      I think much of it has come from being in relation to opposites.
      And having to really ask honest questions about what I thought being ‘productive’ was, and
      if the standards in place really made sense to me. I sometimes feel it even in terms of not being a woman who really dresses up, and uses products, and is ‘in’ the world in that way.
      Other people ultimately made up the rules about what is seen as productive, and when i really look, I don’t actually agree with their definitions.
      It’s an interesting area though because I still live in this world and relate daily with people who do believe in these ideas.
      And some can be off put, or not comfortable with what looks different.
      But it’s too tiring to fight what makes sense to me, so that usually wins out, even if it’s sometimes misunderstood.

  • Oh, my, I loved your story Michele! I also love your home, thanks for including pictures. It is inspiring to see others thriving on minimalism.

    This sounds so much like me, except I have a husband and a daughter. We live very simply in a 600 sf apartment (could be even smaller, I am an artist and take care of my daughter at home and plan to do so to unforseeable future. I like to spend time with family and friends and read a lot of whatever interests me at the moment, spend time outside, and I have never had trouble being by myself doing nothing special. I am not ambitious at all and don’t dream of becoming “someone/something”.
    And I recently started eating mostly raw foods as well:)

  • Acorn

    What a lovely post. I sometimes think if we would all put as much effort into our relationships rather than material goods the world would be a better place. I don’t think it is intentional, but rather subconscious. It’s much too easy to get swept along with the crowd earning and acquiring blindly. When you choose to opt out of the consuming lifestyle it can be hard to find people to connect with – so rare that we are!

  • maryann

    Beautiful and simple. And full of light (physical & metaphorical). You inspire me.

  • Wrytoasts

    This was really beautiful :) Thank you!

  • PAULA

    Michele,
    I love your story! Beautiful post and pictures. This so sounds like the way i live! I have very little needs and i’m looking to downsize my place even more. i live with a roommate who owns way too much stuff and we pay a much too excesive rent for my taste. Would love to live in a place of my own with little to no furniture at all but that would be way too expensive in a city like NY. oh, well, maybe one day!
    Thanks again for sharing your story!
    PAULA

  • ElizMcK

    I thought you and your readers might find this interesting. http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-hm-randy-franks-photos,0,1313455.photogallery [Randy Franks wanted to make his dream home out of a 670-square-foot condominium in the coastal community of Montecito, near Santa Barbara, so the interior designer called on his experience restoring a clipper ship for financier E.F. Hutton. "Living in a tiny space is a lot like living on a yacht: Every square inch is important."]

    There may be more items in this space than many of you would own, but keep in mind that this is his residence AND office. I think it is quite impressive.

    • Lorna

      I’m glad you clarified it was also being used as his office. LOL I was thinking there was way too much stuff in that home. Otherwise, I’d love to have a cute little home like that.

  • tordis

    i am deeply inspired by your story, michele. (like all the others are :) )

    francine, i really like your real life minimalists series and i would, too, love to see a series about the homes of real life minimalists! :)

    • I cast a third vote for that Francine. I tried to get a series like that started on my blog, but it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction (two submissions from two wonderful people). But I bet if you did a series on real life minimalist homes you’d be full immediately for the next year. It would be awesome and so fun to see everyone’s spaces! (That was my naughty reason for trying to set up a series like that. So I could see along with everyone else). :)

  • Ana London

    Great post Michele,
    Allways a fan of people who stay true to themselfs…..I can identify like many with swimming against the current…. I still think 5% of me is living to please others, not only materialistically but socially and culturally… buy hey im getting there…

    Im a city minimalist and student, so my uni books/folders arent that minimalist at the moment!!

    Raw Food Rocks… Keep it up…oh and I adore the pics..

    Ana London

  • [...] great examples of minimalist decor in a small space at MissMinimalist.com.  And another great example at her [...]

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