Real Life Minimalists: Layla

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 pleased to feature Layla, who addresses an important question: what happens when you finish decluttering?

Layla writes:

When I was younger, I used to make up stories. One of them is about a time-traveling gal who goes back to the past and lives simply for many years, making amazing friends and falling in love. At the end, she comes back to the present and immediately goes through all her old stuff, putting it in boxes to give away.

For most of my life I had too much stuff, too much sugar, and too much wheat. I often chose to escape into imaginary worlds of books and TV rather than accept that I was imperfect and stressed.

I discovered minimalism one spring three years ago, and soon I was making colourful lists of everything I owned. The results were spectacularly fast – my room was organized, nicely decorated, and I went on a trip with only a carry-on bag. I spent my new-found free time going through and itemizing the remainder of my stuff, and imagining how free I was going to feel as soon as I was finished decluttering!

Sometime that fall, I finished decluttering. “Great!” I thought, “I’m finished with my quarter-life crisis, and now I can finally be the person I’ve always wanted to be with nothing to hold me back.” I can finally do whatever I want in my spare time. Hmm… what will I do with my spare time?

What fulfilling, worthwhile thing will I do in my spare time?

Cricket noises: *chirp chirp*

I couldn’t figure out what to do. So my anxiety about food turned into an eating disorder, and felt less free than before. It turns out that when I threw away my unflattering clothes and unused gadgets, I also threw away my self-soothing activity (self-soothing is an activity you use to cope with feelings you can’t describe, understand, or solve: mine used to be organizing.)

Organizing my belongings had protected me from my own mind, in the same way as in chemistry a sacrificial anode protects an important metal from corroding. Once all my stuff was gone, I had to face my unnamed feelings.

This took a while, and was a lot tougher and more frustrating than getting rid of those physical possessions. But it was worth it: I’m more mindful than ever, and would prefer to sit down with teen fiction with chai tea, and not a TV show with sweet caramel popcorn. I explore my feelings rather than shrinking away from them, and I’ve started meditating for at least five minutes every morning.

Miss Minimalist was the first minimalism blog I discovered three years ago, starting my journey to be more mindful and to be the person I want to be.

{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.}

19 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Layla

  • Have recently discovered your blog and am in the process of trying to declutter my own belongings (I have so much stuff!!), in the hope of living a simpler and more minimalist life. Am finding your blog very inspiring so thank you.

  • Ritu

    What a thoughtful post!
    I too have noticed many hidden feelings/frustrations in me since I started de-cluttering (now that the mind and spaces around are clear). This makes me wonder that minimalism is a journey to discover oneself and can be very confronting and even intimidating too.

    Thanks for discussing a new perspective on minimalism and simplicity!

  • Really interesting post about what happens in the space left when the stuff is gone..I’ve noticed that I use decluttering and reorganising stuff as a way to cheer myself up if I am feeling a bit unmotivated…I will need to find some other ways of doing this when the decluttering is done (if decluttering is ever ‘done’, rather than being a constant process!)

  • kathy

    I have just started on my journey to minimalism and have a long way to go, but as I declutter, I too wonder what happens when you’ve decluttered all that you can and find yourself without a “mission.” I have wondered if I will really want the extra time and space that comes with minimalism; I’m almost a little afraid of it. Life circumstances for me are such right now that if I cleared out my whole house in six months and had saved lots of money by not purchasing unnecessary stuff, I still can’t just up and travel the world like so many minimalists seem to be able to do. I still have two children who will be entering college in the next few years, a job that I need, and a husband who worries too much about money to enjoy spending any of it right now. I fear that my life after minimalism may be the same thing as it is now…going to work, watching tv, helping my kids with homework, reading a book, etc…only with less stuff in the house. Because even though minimalism equals less stuff which is supposed to equal more money and more time, real life dictates otherwise.

    I think that right now, I’ll just continue to declutter and do my best to not buy anything unnecessary and deal with rest as it happens.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • That’s it exactly. When my “mission” is complete, where does that leave me? I have gotten to the point of being comfortable with my possessions- more than true minimalists, but just right for our family of 6. However, now that I’m not distracted by tossing, donating, contemplating, etc., I find I’m left with kids I don’t know anymore, and sometimes don’t even like. When did this happen? I was supposed to free up more family time, but they got pushed to the side (or in front of the T.V. to keep out of my piles), and don’t have any desire for that time. Neither do I, really. It’s much easier to continue to bum around on minimalist blogs, looking for the next greatest inspiration. The problem is that I don’t need any more inspiration or tips. I have that nailed. I can purge with the best of them. I’m comfortable not having backups. But I’ve neglected real life in order to pursue a real life. Wow… perhaps I should get off this blog and go live. ;)

      • Kathie

        I hope this will be helpful, Sarah. One way to become reacquainted with your children (and to like them again), is to be on the lookout for those times when they talk to you. As soon as one starts telling you something, 1) stop what you’re doing, 2) look them in they eye, 3) listen, 4) casually repeat what they said to you (So, you mean that your boyfriend dumped you because he didn’t like your new haircut and now he’s going with your best friend? Honey, you must be crushed. Did this happen just today? or So, you mean that your teacher made a big deal about how shallow your essay was? Can I read it and give you my thoughts? Etc.). If you do this enough, they’ll get the idea that you sincerely want to rebuild your relationship with them. When that happens, you can plan more family time. Above all–and your most important mission of all–is to see your children succeed in college, career, marriage, and as parents. Your happiness depends on their success and happiness. If your children succeed in business and marriage, they will brings you grandchildren you can love and then send home. But, if your children don’t succeed, then they could abuse drugs, sex, etc, and could have trouble keeping a job and you might end up supporting them for years–in your house (they can be hard to get rid of!); they could have children they don’t really want, which you might end up raising; they could become drunks and addicts and you could end up spending thousands of dollars for their rehab (and lose your mind from worry, sorrow, and frustration). My understanding is that after we finish decluttering, we’re supposed to collect experiences instead of things; build good memories. The best memories of all are to see our children do well in life. Traveling is enriching, but it can ever bring the same joy that comes from seeing our children succeed and be happy. If you want to be happy, do everything you can to give your children all they need (not want) to succeed and be happy. Let that be your mission, and you will succeed!

    • Diane

      I know what you mean as I too have downsized a lot (you can read my post on July 22) and can’t anymore until I retire, sell my stuff and condo, then move to another city. However, what do we do in the meantime? You, Sarah and I sound like we are stuck in limbo. However, I do continue reading the Monday blogs because they are helpful in other ways, i.e. one of the bloggers discovered medidating, so I too have begun meditating. My parents are both in a seniors residence (one with dementia; the other with Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons) and I had promised them that I would not leave our city as long as they are both alive as there is no family here to run their errands and take them on appointments. So, I have found other projects to fill the time I had used decluttering. I’m now meditated twice daily, working on losing my pre-menopausal weight gain, doing physio on a bad knee and reading everything Wayne Dyer has written. I’m now reading The Power of Intention and am working on manifesting a terrific future. I encourage you to find other projects to fill that time; perhaps a new sport, or trying yoga, or a vegetarian cooking glass. There are so many new things to try I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

  • You said the magic word! You are now “mindful”. Most of us have been wandering around like zombies, staying busy just to get away from the reality of the pain in our lives. Well done!

  • Kfu

    Great post! I can relate to your story. I, too, realized that all the accumulation of stuff and trying to control the stuff by organizing them was a way to keep myself busy. It was literally burying myself with stuff so I did not have to deal with my life and emotions. Decluttering has been like a “lifting of the veil” off my emotions and life and I am now more aware and mindful of why I do things and how I feeling. Each day continues to be a challenge as I’m working through my emotions and discovering who I am. Like you, I believe it’s definitely worth the time and efforts as I am slowly but surely becoming who I am deep inside and meant to be. Good luck on your journey, Layla!

  • Thank you, Layla, for your honesty in sharing your story! It is a reminder at the sometimes slow progress that gets us to where we want to be. I also take it as a reminder of how I used to meditate in the mornings. I plan to begin that again soon. Thanks again!

  • Very good, one of my favorites :-)

  • MarieG

    Finally someone who addresses this issue! I went through the exact same thing about a year ago after a long journey of decluttering, minimizing, and traveling. I thought, “now what?” but I couldn’t really find anyone else who had gone through it like me. Everyone always talked about all of the free time they had to do all of the important things in their lives. Well, I apparently got rid of myself in the process and had no idea what to do with all of these new feelings. I am not sure if everyone goes through it or if it is just easier for some than others, but I eventually got to the sweet spot everyone talks about. For me it took a lot of journaling, meditation, and self examination to actually unearth myself from underneath all of the physical clutter. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

  • Heather

    I feel like I am getting there and I am both scared and looking forward to it at the same time. I went to some counseling and after several sessions was told I am depressed. Not ready to face that I left and haven’t returned. I’ve always had a desire to live simply with little belongings and want to dig deeper. Life has been so hectic with several unplanned major life events I never got the quiet contemplative time I have always desired. Now as I get closer to my de-cluttering/minimizing goals I am both exhilarated and fearful. I know that it is a path a want to travel down so I keep going. I want to find peace within myself so I can show my children who I really am.

  • Oh, I love this! I feel very similarly about my life of full-time travel. Once I removed all the extra stuff from my life and started living out of a backpack, I was suddenly alone with my feelings and my own mind. And over time I became more mindful and learned that I really do love myself–something I never knew when I was self-soothing with clutter and busy-ness.

  • Lauren

    The same thing happened to me! The “now what?” Feeling you’re referring to. I’ve since bought a house and got married and sort of started accumulating again. However, it’s stuff that we use. At first, I hated that we were accumulating more, but I usually got over it when I realized how useful the item actually was. And must of the items are tucked away in cupboards, so it’s really not clutter. It is kind of hard to find out what to do after, if you don’t have any obvious hobbies. But that led me to try new things! Cooking, knitting, crochet, reading, going to walks, camping, exercise. Most of those things didn’t stick lol but it was nice to try them! I’d still like to revisit them. Maybe try doing something you have always wanted to do!

  • Tina

    I’m late to the party. My kids are 41,38 and 34. They share the good things about their lives with us. Sometimes we baby-sit, or one or two or all three will come for dinner. We wanted independent adults and that’s what we got. I enjoy minimalism because it means there is always space for them to come over. Since I can sew, I am the expert at stuffed animal repair for my grandson. I have volunteered at the grand kids school and so has my husband. Life is full of opportunities to make new friends and go new places.

  • Tina

    I enjoy crafts and volunteer at our local park district teaching crafts to children on school holidays and during the summer. I’ve learned only to get crafts materials second hand or free because a lot of times I don’t finish the project, I only wanted to learn how to do the craft. I usually take craft books out of the library, or the kids will get me a craft book for a gift. I have stopped beading and quilting and only crochet once in a great while. I do paper crafting if there is a special occasion and then I will make a scrapbook using what I have on hand.

  • I have done some community art projects and do a lot of volunteer work. I take classes and go to lectures that interest me. My son came and took 2 big boxes of books to his apt. Now my husband wants to display more of his stuff. Every week more goes and my goal is to eliminate at least one bookcase full of junk. As I come across craft supplies that haven’t been used in a year,I pass them on. I donate magazines and books to the library.

  • At least 100 books are gone and more need to go. I have given away lots of craft items and lots of house plants. My daughter gave me a pair of flip flops so now I have 6 pairs of shoes, more than I’ve ever owned at one time.

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