Real Life Minimalists: Ellen

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, Ellen tells us how she went from packrat to minimalist—and the wonderful freedom she enjoys with less stuff!

Ellen writes:

Ellen

My name is Ellen and I’m 27 years old from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I run a fashion and advice blog called Ask Away (www.askawayblog.com) where I post about fashion trends, organizing, building a wardrobe, and living on a budget. Oh, and I’m a self-proclaimed minimalist. When anyone called me that in the past, I would get defensive, as if they were calling me a derogatory name. Now, I take it as a compliment and convince myself that others secretly wish they could feel as happy and free as I do. That’s probably true anyways.

I used to be a packrat. I was always somewhat organized, but it was organized clutter. As a teen, every drawer was stuffed full, every square foot of my room was lined with furniture. I think I got it from my parents. Growing up in my house it was basically a mindset of filling up empty space and keeping everything because we “might need it someday”. It wasn’t until the age of 22 when I got my own apartment that I realized how much of a pack rat I had been. I was overwhelmed in my 2 bedroom apartment, not by the generous size, but by the “STUFF” that filled it. As I was decorating, I noticed it looked juvenile and messy. There was no décor theme. I just used what I already had accrued to fill all corners and drawers and decorate the place.

So I redecorated with uniformed themes and instead of fuzzy blankets all layered on a couch, I bought actual sofa covers. I bought wall hangings and stuck with neutral tones for furniture. When I looked at everything I had removed, I came to the realization that there was no real reason why I had even kept them as long as I had. I purged a good majority of odds and ends and “childhood” things that really had no sentimental value at all. I still kept accruing things though, I just became more organized with it.

After 3 years in my apartment, I began embracing the idea of minimalism when I decided to pack up and move into a friend’s house. As I packed boxes I noticed many things that I couldn’t even explain why I still had. That was when I really purged everything. I listed furniture on Craigslist, sold books and DVDs online, and sold or donated my old clothing. I even downsized my handbag collection to JUST 2 plastic bins. I gave unused beauty products away as gifts.

This made it so much easier to transition when I moved yet again after a year. This time, I moved backed home in an effort to save money to get a house of my own. And this time, I was determined to have even LESS stuff unpacked and set up at my parent’s house. I also took a long hard look at how my style had been more minimalistic when compared to my parent’s. Their walls were lined with furniture and no surface was bare. I sat them down and forced to say Yes or No to random things that were stuffed into drawers and in storage. If they said it had sentimental value, I asked if they were sure. Most of the time, they realized it wasn’t THAT special. Anytime they said they MIGHT use something again, I would ask if they had used it since the last time they said that, and the answer was almost always no. They began to see how the process works.

Over the past few months, I’ve helped them purge, organize, and keep their home more minimalistic, and as for myself…well, I still live a minimalist lifestyle. I only buy what I need, and in my closet, if I buy something new, I get rid of something old that I don’t wear. I don’t accept free samples unless I NEED them. Everything gets purged on a regular basis. My life is very organized and I don’t feel stressed when I walk into my bedroom. Instead I see everything going on around me and everything I own. I never have to rush to find something or feel anxious when I can’t remember where something may be packed away at. Through all of this I learned that I can have less “stuff” and still be happy. I was actually unhappy when I had more. I was overwhelmed. Now I finally feel free and in control! However there is one thing I’ll never purge or downsize…my collection of Chihuahuas!

{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: Christopher
  2. Real Life Minimalists: Jan
  3. Real Life Minimalists: Frances

18 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Ellen

  • Hi Ellen, it’s wonderful that your parents indulged in your minimalism practice. My mother wasn’t open to the idea of purging until this last year. She’ll be 79 in January and realizes that she needs to downsize so she can move closer to me. But it’s hard. This year we worked on clearing/cleaning a few areas but now, a few months later, those lovely open spaces are now all packed again. It’s very disheartening for me to go there because I don’t feel there’s any progress to be made.

    Love the Chihuahuas….so adorable!

  • Diane

    You are so lucky that your parents have been open to this. I have to move my parents to another retirement residence and their suites will be even smaller and I’ve been having difficulties trying to get them to purge what they cannot use in the next place. Even though they’ve been in this residence for two years, they still managed to accumulate more things. I have three more weekends (three more attemps) to downsize them. Love the dogs!

    • Ohhh it is SUCH a struggle sometimes still but it did teach me how tolerant i was when i had to be patient with them lol

      • Diane

        My father has dementia and my mother Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s so patience is something I have had to develop. Like the saying goes, be careful of what you wish for — you may get it. So I stopped asking to become more patient!

  • Ellen, I”m from Harrisburg, PA too!!! I got to speak about minimalism on here a few weeks ago. What a fun surprise! I’m thinking about a lot of homes in that area, especially the homes of our parents’ generation. They are all cozy and comfortable … but very full! I love my mom’s home, she has a great sense of space and furniture lay-out. But it’s full. So, I try to take baby steps in making simplifying recommendations. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. Haha. Reagardless, I am excited to go check out your blog!

  • Gil

    Ellen, Very inspirational story. It’s also refreshing to see another Pennsylvanian living the minimalist life! (we live in the York area)

  • Gil

    Ellen I wanted to add that our agency is in the midst of moving. Before, i used to get chided in a friendly way about my lack of stuff in my cubicle, except of course my computer. Guess who doesn’t have any boxes of stuff to carry to the new space? Naturally my computer has to go, but the agency will relocate that. Minimalism IS liberating.

    • yep they criticize us but dont realize how much it doesnt bother us because we are less stressed as it is :)

    • Heather

      Oh Gil!!! I can so relate to this. We are in temporary quarters. My desk is very simple in décor, all organized but chic. People have cubes with stuff hanging down and all over the place. When we move in 6 months, I can put all my personal items in my backpack and a small box for files. Can’t wait!!!

  • Milly

    Although Chihuahuas are tiny ‘dogs’, do you not think they can hold back your minimalism? Do you deny them toys? After all, my experience is that ONE dog wants lots of toys, let alone FOUR!!! Then there’s the food, the bowls, etc. Genuine question! I always find cats less needy and wanting!

    • the beauty of four dogs is that they entertain each other and i dont have to worry about a gazillion toys. they have some toys but they are kept in a little storage bin when not in use :) animals have been my passion forever so I dont think ill ever have enough lol! :)

  • Jeannine

    Such a great testimony and one that is personal for me. I wish I could talk to older people who hang on to excessive amounts of stuff. When my parents became ill at the same time, my brother, sister and I had to prepare their home for sale as they both could never live on their own again. We had the very sad task of combing enough tons of items. My mother had never, ever tossed anything. Sixty years of married life brought wonderful experiences, but one of absolutely no editing. It was a monumental task requiring time, effort and, yes, money. When I returned home I said to my husband that I didn’t want our children to go through this. Presently we live with just the necessities for a comfortable life. I collected all sentimental items and asked our children to take what they wanted. Everything else was sold, donate or tossed.

  • Jeannine

    Such a great testimony and one that is personal for me. I wish I could talk to older people who hang on to excessive amounts of stuff. When my parents became ill at the same time, my brother, sister and I had to prepare their home for sale as they both could never live on their own again. We had the very sad task of combing enough tons of items. My mother had never, ever tossed anything. Sixty years of married life brought wonderful experiences, but one of absolutely no editing. It was a monumental task requiring time, effort and, yes, money. When I returned home I said to my husband that I didn’t want our children to go through this. Presently we live with just the necessities for a comfortable life. I collected all sentimental items and asked our children to take what they wanted. Everything else was sold, donate or tossed.

    Today I feel wonderful knowing our children won’t be burdened with the emotional task of going through heaps of belongings. It’s really a gift to our children.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I love both cats and dogs, but don’t indoor cats require kitty litter and a boxes? My dogs have each other for company, no toys and they use a pet door to go out. All in all having a pet for a lot of people bring comfort and studies have shown are good for stress!

  • Jeannine

    Sorry for the double post everyone. I was interrupted mid post! Apologies.

  • Way to go Ellen! Good work with the question, “Do I actually need this item SOMEDAY?” Someday almost never comes and it’s amazing how little stuff we regularly use. While it’s nice to have a backup item or two, I’ve found that more often than not my slim collection of things is more than enough.

  • Felinia

    I love Chi’s, Ellen! We have five of these precious little dogs – my ‘babies’!

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