Real Life Minimalists: Lara

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, Lara shares with us the contentment she’s found in letting go of consumerism. Please visit her blog to learn more about how she’s simplifying her life.

Lara writes:

Lara

The Nordstrom sale was an epic, annual event in my childhood. My mother and I would wait expectantly outside the massive department store at 7 am to wait for the doors to open. It really was fun, but after the initial high of wardrobe acquisition wore off, I was still smack in the middle of an adolescence hurt by divorce and emotional pain. I genuinely understand now that was the way my mom tried to make things happier in our house. She felt better after investing in new outfit that made her feel special, why shouldn’t it do the same for her daughter? I love her for doing what she could to ease the pain swirling for both of us, yet to this day shopping makes me feel a bit melancholy. It reminds me of the gaping hole that was never filled despite the shiny, new shoes taking up real estate in my overstuffed closet.

At 43, I’m a mom to clothes-obsessed teens and wife to a wonderful man who loves his toys. I am starting the rather inconvenient process of simplifying. As in Goodwill-bound stacks of bags in the garage & a ruthless paring down of our scheduled activities simplifying. I’m going about it quietly, of course, because I believe this process is not something you can will on someone else. I have had some victories with leading by example. Those bags in the garage? They’re mostly filled with clothes my girls’ were willing to part with. We’ve even pared down the extracurriculars to a sane, manageable number.

As I let go of consumerism (feels so great!), I am finding immense contentment in many things. The relationships with my kids, my career as a teacher, the adoption of a clean diet & running program, dates with my husband, family trips, and meaningful friendships with women I adore. These are all things that have become the fabric of my life and it’s really quite exciting. Sometimes I yearn to take back the years I spent pursuing the wrong things. If I could do it again, I would travel like crazy with minimal baggage and the kids in tow. I do believe that showing your offspring the world is one of the best things you can do for their own pursuit of happiness.

I am clear on the fact that this process will take time, but one of the most wonderful things about simplifying is that it begins where you are. It’s your own journey unique to the life you’ve created so far. It also is an on-going process that changes with each stage of life. I actually feel cleansed and physically lighter with each step I take down the Less is More road. I’m hoping that retirement will find us in a smaller space (with big windows!) and that I will be able to show my girls (and possibly their children one day) that a happy life is defined by who you decide to share your life with, what you decide to do for a living, and how much you give to others.

I’m chronicling our simplifying journey on my blog http://theExtraOrdinarySimpleLife.com. I’d love to hear what others are doing in their own quest.

{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.}

28 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Lara

  • Diane

    Lovely story, Lara, I too wish I had bought less and travelled more. It’s unfortunate that no one told me that back when I was young. Your girls are lucky to have you as an example of how to live better with less and I’m sure they will follow in your footsteps!

    • Isn’t it funny how it seems so illogical that travel didn’t win over all else when life was so simple? In ’95 I was about to leave for Prague to prepare to teach English abroad and I got set up on a blind date at home. As in, he’s my husband now blind date :) Worth staying for sure, but I’ll never know if that gyspy life would’ve panned out! ha!

  • Andrea

    What a refreshing story! Decluttering our lives in many areas is so freeing. We are past that retirement age, and I encourage you to keep up your quest and don’t ever give in to the urge to turn back around to that busy, hectic, consumer-ridden life….I’ve done that myself, multiple times…one hint…stay away from the magazines and books that are all about obtaining…fashion magazines, home interior books, etc. These only put a fresh taste in your mouth for getting out into the consumer world and purchasing a little of this and a little of that and before you know it, you’re back into that cluttering life and it can be so frustrating that you just want to give up. Don’t let the advertising BAIT you. Don’t compare yourself with others…don’t look to Hollywood…this is generally the BAIT used on the teens and with daughters, I’m sure that it can be difficult. I had two boys and we collected so many things….ball cards, comic books, action figures etc….the industries (Mcdonalds, Disney, MLB, Xbox etc.) will never stop making the next edition, the newest model, the 1000th collectible, that they tempt children with….it’s a never ending battle. And, it’s all uphill…more, more, more.
    It sounds like you have your head and heart in the right place….continue the fight…hoping that you get that smaller place with large windows one day and retirement is truly “retirement” in more ways than one….ANDREA (:

    • Em

      Ahh, home magazines, my favorites :) What helped me to fight their appeal was to make my own home an oasis of minimalism, beauty, freshness. A clean space with few details that I love, with the furniture that I love and the colors that make me happy helps me to prevent any moments where I’d go “Ohmy, I want my room to look this cozy!”, ’cause it already does :)

      Now I can browse all the “ideal home” pictures on internet (especially love these on Deviantart) without any urges to twitch my living space because it’s already pretty perfect to me. All they do for me now is that they inspire me with their nice feeling as they are – just pretty pictures to look at. I don’t feel tempted to get the stuff on them anymore.

      • Diane

        I know what you mean about the magazines. My mother and I both became addicted to the decorating tv shows as well and finally stopped watching because they only make you hate the things you have and want to change everything. When I moved into my condo, I was looking for colours for walls and turned to Architectural Digest online magazine, which features many celebrity homes. I didn’t like one of them – they were so cluttered with stuff everywhere, I’ve never looked again.

  • AussieGirl

    I don’t use the word ‘inspiring’ freely, but this post is without a doubt.. inspiring.

    “I will be able to show my girls (and possibly their children one day) that a happy life is defined by who you decide to share your life with, what you decide to do for a living, and how much you give to others.”

    Beautiful. Well done! I wish you much luck on your journey in life.

  • Andrea, You are SO RIGHT about magazines and books (blogs too) being bait toward for slipping back into consumer-land. It’s been a struggle to whittle them all down as they flow in here like a rushing river! I’m so glad that you have found contentment in retirement…free of the stuff and collections that filled your parenting years. I hope to do the same. Best to you!

  • Thank you, AussieGirl…so appreciated. :)

  • Em

    Very lovely post! Anytime I’m feeling like I should be somewhere else, doing something else, because people expect me to, anytime I’m in doubt, I love to read stuff like this, reassuring me that being where you are and doing what you do is important and if it makes you happy, there’s no other place you should be.

    How good it feels to discover this amaizingly simple way of getting that fulfillment that you were expecting to find in shopping for new things. I still do love to shop for new things but only when they are needed and I know they’ll be immediately used and loved. It’s really something else to shop for your life’s quality to go better or for just shopping.

    • Em, I think that’s why I’m so in love with reading other people’s stories—it validates my own journey and helps me to believe I can get there. Thanks for reading mine.

  • Congratulations Lara! It takes a lot of courage to stand up to the oh-so-common lifestyle of consumerism today! My favorite part of what you wrote:…”that a happy life is defined by who you decide to share your life with, what you decide to do for a living, and how much you give to others.” SO TRUE. I always try to approach things with a mindset of what will people remember about me, the brand of watch I wore, or how I treated them and spent time with them?

    • You’re dead on…it’s all about how much time (and presence) we devote to people we care about. I teach 3rd grade and my kids are such a beautiful example of giving you all their attention when you’re focused on them. I also love seeing them disregard any perceived social class based on stuff—thankfully, they’re just not there yet. How wonderful to be eight :) Thanks for your kind words. I look forward to reading your blog–looks very interesting.

  • Lara, loved reading your story! It’s tough getting a whole family on board with decluttering and simplifying life, but as you’re finding, not impossible. :) Look forward to reading your blog.

    • I’m enjoying your blog as well! That’s one of my favorite quotes–Mae was a pistol, wasn’t she? Yes, thankfully simplifying is beooming a “mission possible” around our house lately….I just wanna gain more speed in the process! :) Best to you-

  • Aloha Lara! Fancy meeting you here. Nice to see a good shot of you, you are gorgeous with a great smile.

    We grew up with a similar sale day at Liberty House, which was a regional department store in primarily Hawaii that got swallowed up with Macy’s acquisition spree in the 90s. I used to work there and everyone used to line up outside the door for the “Zooper Sale”. It was crazy and people looked forward to it but many of the items on sale were actually special purchased for Zooper so not really a deal per se.

    You know my story, I’m trying to step away from retail therapy and I live alone so it is a bit easier but I agree leading by example has inspired other loved ones and friends to do the same. I’m looking very forward to meeting soon too btw!

    • Alooooha, Tania~ I remember Liberty House! Funny enough, that was my mom’s haunt when we would go to the islands. It was an expensive trip, as I remember. The retail pull-back has been hard for me too. I love well-made shoes…fancy cowboy boots to be exact. It’s a sickness! I had to limit myself to two and promise to wear them the rest of my life b/c they were such an investment. The good news is the shoe thing stopped cold turkey after the-happy-40th-to-me boots were acquired :) Thanks for your kind words…I’ll be smiling the whole time we’re visiting my favorite place on the planet in just a short week. Looking forward to seeing you in person!

  • Hi Lara,

    I get the points you share, thank you for sharing your story with us… that how and why shopping give a melancholy, how our journey to minimalism or simplifying is begin from where we are in our life journey, to better understand our inner mind in a big world. I would share your post in my facebook.

  • Lara, I was struck by the insight of this point you made: “I’m going about it quietly, of course, because I believe this process is not something you can will on someone else.” That is very smart, to realize you can’t force others to change, and not easy to do when one is passionate about a particular direction. But I suspect being “quiet” about it will bring about more change in the long-term.

    • I have to laugh because my husband might not says I’m “quiet” about the process all the time :) I can get a little excited when I’m going through his many unworn shirts and feel sheepish as he walks in the closet! Ha! I do realize a clutter-free house that everyone seems to enjoy is a good enough argument in favor of simplicity. We seem to be on our way, even though it seems a sloth pace sometimes. Patience with end product in mind, right? Best to you-

  • Judy

    Thank you for sharing your story Lara. I have also been slowly paring down my belongings, one trip to Goodwill at a time. Just yesterday the guy at Goodwill asked if I’m almost done minimalizing. :) I also occasionally get a bag of clothes from my 14 year old daughter, which she ALWAYS wants to replace with a shopping trip. My house is nearly empty, but I can still look around and see things that need to go.

    As I was walking in downtown Austin yesterday, I saw a guy carrying a duffle bag containing what I assume to be all his belongings. As I watched him walk, I was jealous; I can’t wait until I can fit all my belongings into a backpack and travel the world.

    • Judy,
      I have wanderlust myself. A backpack, plane tickets and a dream, right? Sounds so lovely to me, but I have to remember that those days will come at some point, but I need to enjoy the packed family life I have in front of me now. ‘Trying so hard to practice contentment because I’ve been blessed with such a wonderful life—I don’t want to wish it away!

      Funny, I ended up knowing the coffee drinks of the Goodwill guys in my town! They always gave me a hearty, “Hello, Lara!” when I walked in. What does that say?!
      Thanks for sharing your story, Judy. Best to you-

  • Lara, thanks for sharing. I’m so impressed that you’re able to go about your own de-cluttering and lifestyle switches and not feel like you have to force your kids or family into it. Good for you to lead by example. That’s so hard for me b/c I feel like my way is so right and free and that everyone would be happier! Even if in my head I know that you can’t force a horse to drink, it’s hard for me to put this into action. So good for you! Journey on!

    • Em

      True story, as soon as I started to purge my stuff and becoming a happier person, I couldn’t help but trying to force my mum to declutter, too, because our home is sooo cluttered! But I obviously failed, she’s incredibly stubborn when it comes to changes, even if she sometimes talks about how it all brings her down and how she can’t get through it, can’t find anything, “oh, this is still here?”, “I haven’t seen that for five years now!” and so. It drives me crazy! :D And I often feel very desperate that she won’t let me help her because I know it would help. But as you are saying, you can’t force people, you can only lead the example and offer them hand. And if they still don’t get the message and decline your help and then continue complaining, it’s really their fight, isn’t it.

  • Tina

    Been giving a big bag to Goodwill every week. Still have more to go. Always travel with 1 small carry on bag and a tote. Went on a cruise and saw people with huge suitcases and more than 1 large suitcase. We wondered where they fitted all the luggage in their cabins. Need to remember some people are still maxing out credit cards and not saving enough. Liked your idea about leading by example. When I want to read a fashion magazine or a home decorating magazine I check one out of the library. Usually people look like they have too much stuff, outfits look too complicated, rooms look overdone.

  • Tina

    My friend told me a story about someone recently maximizing out a credit card at Nordstrom’s and I thought of this minimalist posting. Not everyone has caught the downsizing bug yet. I
    Had been carrying around a gift card for 2 years looking for a certain sweater in gray. Finally found it today so I only had to use $4 of my own money. I only wear blue, black, and gray with occasional touches of other colors.

  • Tina

    I have this week’s Goodwill bag ready to go and I know what to work on for next week. There is so much yet to get rid of. I will never be a true minimalist because there is much I need. However, growing up with a hoarder and having so many hoarders in the family makes me vigilant. When I visit a relative and see a floor to ceiling hoard of pop bottles, or baskets full of newspapers I know I have made the right choice.

  • Tina

    Thinking about a relative buying souvenirs at every possible place. Not small ones, either. I have a few foreign coins, some small maps, and some bookmarks.

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