Real Life Minimalists: Heena Modi

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, I’m happy to introduce you to Heena Modi. Heena tells us the various ways she’s introduced minimalism into her life, even when it’s meant going against cultural traditions and norms. Be sure to check out her blog to learn more!

Heena writes:

My name’s Heena Modi. I wasn’t a minimalist in many ways, yet in other areas it came naturally. Over the last few years I’ve been making a conscious effort to apply minimalism to all parts of my life. It’s so empowering and I find it helps de-clutter my mind too.

So let me tell you about my story.

My father passed away in May 2001. Dad was unwell for few months and we knew that he was terminally ill. There were many occasions in which we needed our friends and family to help us out whether it be emotionally or physically, both were equally important. Now this may sound negative but it truly wasn’t. I discovered who we could depend on very quickly. Those who were ‘absent’ didn’t give me a reason to think much but those who, it seemed, went out of their way to make life difficult for us; I lost touch with. This was liberating. I no longer needed to waste my time or energy considering them. I wasn’t mean! I’d be civil, I cared about how they were but it stopped there.

The next big thing…My hubby, Suraj and I went to an event called Mahavir Janma Kalyanak in April 2008. At this event we saw a video about the inhumane treatment of dairy cows. I had no idea that consuming dairy products involved so much violation and pain. This was a huge for us. We went from being vegetarian to vegan. I feel healthier in my mind and conscience. Now although this act was driven by compassion for the animals, it made us become minimalistic. In terms of what we wanted to buy, whole sections of the supermarkets didn’t need to be visited, where to eat out, the options available to us when we went to dine at other people’s homes. It was a great opportunity to be minimal in terms of buying, eating and more. My mind-set changed from ‘why haven’t they catered for us? They know we’re vegan’ to ‘I don’t need to have so many options. One is enough. My body doesn’t really even need this food.’

The spiritual me! For some years I’d craved receiving spiritual guidance that would help make daily living smoother, more harmonious & more peaceful. In 2009 the journey of my spiritual progress took off! Again, being and thinking minimal has been key! The skill is to want less so that we’re more content. To dislike less so we’re calmer. To speak the truth or be silent so that we get in less trouble and cause less problems. To be humble so there are less battles with the ego. It’s great! This focus has made the noise in my mind reduce and it’s helped me be more successful when I’ve applied my mind to positive tasks. It has also made life smoother, calmer and happier.

Our tiny wedding. Suraj and I got married in 2008 and we had a very unusual wedding because we wanted to be minimalist. We wanted to keep it small, we didn’t want lots of family and friends to have to travel, take time off, spend money on outfits etc. AND we wanted to use the money that would have gone into a big wedding into our future. It all turned out well in the end!

Money! I started thinking about whether we could manage with less. I began to question the culture that I’d been raised with! Everyone worked as much as they could. They worked full time and the only time they didn’t work full time was if children or illness came along. For many reasons, including a few whiplash injuries, I started working 4 days a week. My quality of life is better. I feel less stressed and sick leave due to my back health has reduced dramatically.

The other major thing we did which is unheard of in our culture is, we stopped giving and receiving presents. Giving between members of the immediate and extended family is huge! The thing is, reciprocating is as big! We spoke to all our family members and explained that we loved them dearly but we wanted to save them time and money by asking them to stop giving us gifts. We also explained that we were going to stop giving gifts too. This would mean that we could be minimal in terms of things we had in our home and we wouldn’t need to remember who gave us what so that we could return the favour.

We continue to evaluate and evolve but the thread of minimalism is here to stay. Hooray!

{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: Jayralin
  2. Real Life Minimalists: Lindsay
  3. Real Life Minimalists: Caroline Garnet McGraw

47 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Heena Modi

  • laura| move to portugal

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Well done on facing the whole giving and receiving of presents issue…I’m yet to find the courage to do it, although we’ve really cut back, so I’m in awe of anyone that has.

  • SallyGirl

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for sharing Heena!

    It did make me think of something that comes to my mind alot when de-cluttering and reading about minimalism. Here’s the thing: I LOVE to give gifts. Most of the time, I really enjoy receiving gifts too. Yesterday, as I was cleaning and decluttering our bedroom, I came across three different things that I knew immediately could go; each of these things were gifts from immediate family members. Even so, I love the holidays, I love searching for the perfect gift for someone, and I love it when someone gives me something that is so fitting I know they really get me. It seems a little contradictory to want to continue a tradition that frequently adds unwanted items into my home, but its still a tradition I enjoy.

    So I guess, for me, I have to find some medium ground, especially when it comes to what I ask for for birthdays and holidays. Suggestions?

    • LaRinda

      I use Amazon’s universal wish list. (You can add things from other websites to your list) It allows you to rate the need of each item along with adding a note. I try to get as many used things as possible so I have a note on each item indicating that if they can find it used I would be very happy to receive it second hand. Once a week I go through and mentally place each item in my house and evaluate its purpose. This helps to keep the number of wanted items down! All my friends and family can view the list at any time. This makes it easy for everyone; there is no need to “guess” what I want or need!

      My husband and I just celebrated our 1 year anniversary and in lieu of a present, I asked for help changing over one of our new gardens. We got to spend time together and had the gratification of seeing our end result!

      I have a friend who HATES mowing her yard, for her birthday I mow it for her and take her out to lunch. I also have friends who request baked goods as their present. There are many great ideas to bypass monetary gifts, but most important, I have found that it is necessary to gently introduce the ideas to friends and family!

    • Clare

      About 8 years ago or so, my Mom and her five siblings decided that they would no longer give each other or their nieces and nephews Christmas presents. I was in high school or middle school, but many of my 12 or so cousins were younger, so it was the prime time of life for gifts. But my mother and her sisters and brothers decided it was too much hassle and a monetary strain, especially for some family members. Each Christmas instead we receive a card in the mail with some pictures and an update from most families. And treats! My Mom makes several kinds of Christmas cookies, other relatives have done fruitcake, jams, biscotti, homemade wines, etc. It’s been a great way to show how our families care for one another, and none of it is around very long!

    • Wow!
      Yes I hear you but I don’t know what to suggest. I must admit I also enjoy the feeling that I get when someone gives me a ‘me’ pressie and I know they as you say, ‘get me’. The thing is, the flip side of getting presents where I wasn’t understood made me feel guilty for giving unwanted presents to shop that raise money for charity. Made me feel on edge in case the ‘giver’ asked me where it was or if I’ve worn it/used it etc. The time spent on gathering things, trips to the shops that raise money for worthwhile causes etc.
      Where possible I like things to be simple, clear-cut and consistent so it had to ‘nothing thanks’ for me.
      Sorry if that doesn’t help :(

  • Thank you for sharing this piece about your life. I really enjoyed reading it. F

  • Hi Heena

    Your post was really nice. I loved the concept of minimalistic wedding. :) Actually in my wedding too members from my side was only 20/25 and from DH’s side about 300.
    About giving and receiving gifts; its terrible in India; many times I got thousands of gifts which are of no use to me and lying in my closet and storage just for the emotions. Recently I have gave up almost 90% of such things and very soon hoping to give up remaining 10% as well (10% includes my wedding saree which after marriage I never even touch).

    All the best for future…

  • Hi Heena,

    What a lovely life you and your husband have created together! I love the minimalist wedding idea. It sounds like it was intimate and perfect, something that both of you truly enjoyed. :)

    I’ve been vegetarian for many years, but only went vegan for one year. It’s something I’m still striving to get back to. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • Tanja your message is lovely.
      We hope to continue with our minimalism and increase it further whilst making efforts for our loved ones to understand what we are aiming for and why.
      The wedding was truly amazing! So intimate, needing minimal organisation and heaps to look back at with a huge smile on my face. :)
      It’s funny how we can dip in and out of things. I used to eat meat. Something made me take the view that I wasn’t comfy killing animals for food when I was 11 years old. I can’t recall what triggered the change but I’m glad I did it.
      Then we saw a video about how animals are treated in many diary farms. I cried and haven’t looked back. I’ve been tempted a few times but if I acted on that craving/curiosity I regretted it almost instantly. I think the fact that I’m a visual person caused this. I don’t have to try to recall the images in the video and that’s enough to make me refrain from going back to being veggie.
      Anyway I’m not sure if my ramblings have helped at all.
      Thanks for sharing and good luck with your striving :)

      • Heena,

        I’ve been toying with going full vegan again for about two years. I’ve seen some of those videos you’re talking about and that’s why it sticks in my head. I’m a strict vegetarian for the same reasons, and I know I need to go vegan for my own personal moral code… just struggling with it. I am very light with the dairy products I consume but that’s not quite good enough for me. This is my year to make a lot of big changes and after I get a few other changes settled I’m going to take the plunge again. Take care!

  • Thanks for sharing your story.

    I know how challenging it can be to stop giving and receiving presents when you’re raised in a gift giving family. I still haven’t been able to achieve the “no gift” goal, but I’m making minimalist gift choices. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Heather

    Lovely!!! You are beautiful inside and out.

  • Apple

    I love your kind yet strong way of letting people know of your minimalism. I need to learn from you how to voice my minimalist desires amongst non-minimalists.

    • Dear Apple,
      It’s not always welcomed but it definitely is clear. I don’t like the ‘grey’. I like to know where I stand and I want others to feel the same transparency with me. Hence why we chose to talk to family and then blog about it too.
      Good luck with finding the way that works for you :)
      when you do find ‘your’ way feel free to get in touch and let me virtually celebrate with you. :)

  • Diane

    I love the thoughtfulness you have given it all and agree that expectations of gift giving can be redefined as it suits you and not others. I believe in the heart of hearts that most people appreciate the choice to opt out and it sounds like you are leading the way!
    I now give Francine’s book, The Joy of Less as my standard wedding gift. I feel that if I can help anyone see that you can live life differently, then I have succeeded. Following these principles can affect one life to many along the way and I feel passionate enough about it to share the message with others

    • Thanks for sharing Diane. :)
      Being thoughtful was so important. We didn’t want to hurt anyone or seem ungrateful, just clear and supportive of freeing them from giving and us from receiving & then possibly redirecting the gifts we got.
      I’ve not read the book you mention. Which part of the book stands out the most for you?

    • miss minimalist

      Thank you, Diane! I’m so honored that you give my book as a wedding gift. :)

  • “…being and thinking minimal has been key! The skill is to want less so that we’re more content. To dislike less so we’re calmer. To speak the truth or be silent so that we get in less trouble and cause less problems. To be humble so there are less battles with the ego…”

    This entire section really spoke to me. Especially “to dislike less so we’re calmer.” There’s a real take home message for me. Thank you.

    • Carolyn thanks for commenting.
      Please don’t think I’m boasting but as I read what you quoted I was wondering if you’d read any Jain Scriptures because they express the same wisdom that you shared in your comment. I thought you were very wise when I read it. Then I realised you were quoting bits of what I wrote!

      You see, another thing that the wise have imparted is to curb our passions so we’re more in control of our thoughts and actions. I was really passionate when I wrote the post which features above so I didn’t accurately recall the words I used or the way the message was delivered.

      I was inspired by the bits you were also inspired by because it seemed ‘new’ to me.
      Thanks :)

  • Linda H.

    This was a great piece. Yeah, people can be REALLY touchy about the gift thing. I actually lost a friend over suggesting that I did not want to exchange Christmas gifts. It was pretty sad. And my family….forget about it.

  • Mayfair

    I enjoyed reading your post. I, too, am vegan. I have found that it does remove entire categories of products in stores and life in general. I would never purchase/use/wear fur, wool, or leather, so that removes a lot of items that some people may choose. Dairy was easy to give up, too, since there are viable alternatives. What I always find interesting is the people who ask, “Can’t you at least eat chicken?” They say it like I have some terrible disease and I have somehow been given a ‘tragic’ new directive from my physician…”no meat, doctor’s orders…” It makes me laugh. I always say, “I can eat whatever I want. I CHOOSE to avoid all animal products.” They just don’t get it…like why would someone make that choice? I find parallels to the minimalist lifestyle all the time.

    I hate to shop. If I need something, I go online or go directly to a store, buy it and leave. I don’t understand the shopping-as-leisure-activity mentality, and some friends are like, “Can’t you at least go to the mall with us?” (Again its the same tone like someone has somehow denied me permission to do this activity! LOL) I’m like, “I don’t need anything. If I want to just walk around, I’ll go down to the track & run a few miles, but why would I need to go look at bunch of stuff in stores, then buy it and have to bring it home and take care of it? I have enough to take care of right now.”

    I am just content with less and I don’t feel the need to impress anyone. My car is 21 years old and still runs like a dream. It looks fine, runs great, and I have never had a car payment in my life. Everyone has their own priorities in life:)

    • Hi Mayfair,
      You’re right. People have different priorities and they see things differently.
      I’m glad that the items and aisles you don’t have to look at now means shopping’s more focused, easier and efficient for you.
      Your example about chicken is funny. I’ve not come across that. I have heard ‘what can you eat then?’ or ‘it’s so sad that you can’t eat most of these things’
      I find that, for me, staying silent helps because if my negative energy comes across; my frustration with their response, it doesn’t serve me or anyone else. However, I’m trying to progress spiritually so that I can convey what I need to without the emotion. I think people who want to ‘get you’ respond better to that. Anyway…roll on those days of equanimity!

  • I really liked what you wrote about viewing veganism as a minimalist path – I’m a vegan with strong minimalist tendencies, so that really resonated with me. I do find it frustrating sometimes to have limited choices at restaurants and other such places, but you’re right, in a way it’s also not a problem. At some places, I simply have one favourite dish that I keep coming back to have again and again – and it saves me having to pore over the menu and make a decision every time :)

  • Radka

    Great post about giving & receiving. Thank you for sharing your “minimalist” story.

  • CoCoYoYo

    Oh, the gift giving… Thankfully that has died down within my family and amongst my circle of friends. My bank account thanks me and oh, I am ever so grateful to not have to add to the clutter! I’d much rather spend time with family and friends. That’s the perfect gift!

  • runi

    Heena, congratulations on your decision to go vegan.

    • Cheers Runi.
      When I replied to Tanja above, I was explaining that there really was no other way forward for me. Due to me being a visual learner, I found what I learned about the diary industry very hard to live with or ignore so veganism was the way forward. No resentment though. A happy decision. :)

  • Sandip Kay

    Great post by Heena. Good discussions by everyone. I’m proud, thankful and lucky to have Heena and Suraj as good friends.

  • AussieGirl

    This is the first comment I’ve made on a ‘real life minimalist’ story because I very much felt like you were speaking to me, Heena! :)
    I also come from a background that has strong cultural traditions and it’s very hard to break these, but I am (slowly) succeeding. I really enjoyed your story and I hope your path to minimalism will continue to be a joyous one.

  • Anna

    Heena – I really enjoyed your piece!
    I too made the connection between veganism and minimalism and it works beautifully by minimising our choices and makes things quicker and easier – I just ignore 98% of what’s pushed at me in the world :-) Practically, morally and ethically life is much simpler. And I feel cleaner and leaner in body and mind!
    I am really attracted to Jain philosophy. Have you read Satish Kumar?

    • Good isn’t it? Simple, calmer and happier us.
      My hubby knows more about Satish Kumar than I do. From what I’ve heard of him from my hubby; Chitrabhanu did a similar thing to Satish Kumar. He was a Jain householder who had taken diksha (renounced the world) but he decided to stop being a monk, travel the world, share the content of the scriptures whilst also expressing why it’s good to be vegan.
      Amazing! :)

  • PAULA

    Heena,
    I really enjoyed your story! It takes a lot to commit to change and stick to it but seems like you’ve mastered it! Congrats! good work! Sounds like you are a really wonderful person! Will definitely check your blog!
    Good luck!
    PAULA

    • Thanks Paula.
      Sometimes I find making decisions and sticking to them is effortless. However, at other times I waiver a lot.
      I think the key is desire. If you want to do it enough it’ll be easy so I guess we need to find ‘the thing’ that’ll drive us to WANT to make changes that will benefit us. :)

  • Heena,
    Enjoying your blog right now. I’m raw vegan and I love how it fits in perfectly with a minimalist lifestyle. No pots & pans, no stove, much less kitchen items, no long prep work for meals, easy shopping, less trash, etc. I don’t like eating out, but when I do it’s usually pretty easy. I like sticking with a favorite meal anyhow. I find that because I’m enthusiastic about being raw, that others tend to be more interested than critical. I enjoy teaching others how to be healthier.

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