Real Life Minimalists: Em Phoenix

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.

Today we hear from Em Phoenix, who writes about the great joy that minimalism has brought to her life. Want to learn more? Em has a Czech blog, but posts on Twitter in English.

Em writes:

Em Phoenix

Even though most of us carry our inner minimalist inside for years, it seems like there’s always some trigger, a moment in your life when you fall down, facing the ground and feeling like that’s the end of it unless something happens – a miracle that will give you new purpose.

And then something does happen, you hear about minimalism as a philosophy for the first time and you find out that this is it. This has always been it, you just couldn’t see it under all that clutter and crap.

That’s what happened to me, too. My biggest life crisis came in 2010, quite funnily (now when I see it in the perspective) with the most cliché thing of all, a breakup. It obviously wasn’t just that, add years of stress before, uncertainty and failure after failure but this was the last straw and it broke me finally. Even though I was just 22, I couldn’t see any way out and didn’t believe that there could be anything in the world that would bring meaning back in my life, make me hope again, have actual fun (I‘d completely forgotten how to do that), let alone the ability to get back on my feet, regain my control and live a good life again. I became nihilist, there was nothing in the world to make me excited or hopeful.

And then I discovered the world of now and learned how to meditate. Just switching from thinking about the painful past or frightening future to now had a massive impact on my life, but adding meditation, I learned to observe my  thoughts and listen to my own guts. And that was my biggest restart moment ever. I suddenly felt incredibly awake, alive and ready for a change, I could sense better days ahead, the silhouette of something glorious and amazing shaping in front of me, I was so excited about what I learned and how I could immediately apply it to my life and change it a bit by bit. And all the things I’ve ever read about minimalism, simplicity, joy of living in the present, doing what you really want to do and being free from your material possessions – I’ve always liked to read it but now I could actually live it, it became possible and true.

So refreshed with the new positivity I started to purge my stuff, starting with any unfitting clothes that I hated but for some ridiculous whatif reasons I’ve kept it along with other clutter. Suddenly I could quite easily let go of the things I’ve been keeping forever, sometimes it was harder but I loved the challenge and with every single piece of junk that I purged or gave away, I felt more and more free and energized.

It’s been four years now and it has changed me in so many ways. I developed many little minimalistic habits that make my life simpler, whether it’s about organization, mindful shopping or dealing with spam in your mailbox. It’s the little things but they have the biggest impact. It helped me to sort out my priorities, cut off the crap, quit some lousy jobs, come up with a plan for next few years (I used to be the kind of person who never knew what to do next and was always waiting for something or someone) and move to England where I’ve badly wanted to go for years but never had the courage!

And here I am now, I finally do what I want to do and I feel inspired with loads of ideas of what to do next. I think of myself as an aspiring minimalist, always looking for more inspiration on what to do next. I keep on decluttering continuously and it actually became my hobby along with organising, general minimizing and coming up with more ideas on how to simplify. Above all, minimalism taught me to do stuff, not just talk about it, and that feels amazing. I now know how to be happy and I’m not afraid to follow the callings anymore.

I felt like I had nothing back in 2010, I’ve burned out and yet minimalism helped me to get reborn as a brand new person once again. I have a boyfriend now again, I can laugh honestly again and I work constantly on becoming a better person by fighting my ego, developing positive attitude and focusing on the important. It’s a brand new life now and I love it! :)

{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: Em Phoenix

  • You describe the sense of excitement in reading the thoughts of minimalists like here on this blog, and having the words resonate so intimately within you. I experienced that too and felt like someone undersrood thoughts I hadn’t yet been able to articulate! What freedom you have found! Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • Em

      Thank you! :) I had so many moments when I read someone’s post and felt like:”Yes! Exactly!” and then you think “Why wasn’t I able to say it this amaizingly?” :D It’s so good to connect with other people through their writing.

  • How wonderful that you started to figure it out so young! I’m sure I’m not the only one who has some, ah, qualms about how I spent my 20s :-). Good luck with the next phase!

    • Em

      That makes me hopeful, I actually keep on thinking “I wish I had started wayy sooner” :) But it’s something that cannot be rushed, everyone has to flow to their own moment of eyes opening in their own rhytm I guess. Thanks for the comment!

  • Layla

    I always enjoy reading about minimalists and people’s stories. But I’ve seen so many that they’re nice but none really inspire me anymore… but something in your writing or the similarity (and differences) between your story and my personal experiences, makes me inspired again!

    • Layla

      PS: What I’m currently struggling with a bit is how to decide exactly what to do next.

      • Em

        Hi Layla, thanks for the lovely comment. When I don’t know what to do, I write lists of stuff that inspires me, I read some minimalist weblogs or I meditate (usually all of that, actually). What I hate the most are the moments when I know exactly what would I advice to myself but I can’t proceed, I just can’t do it! At those moments I take time to go through all my blocks and fears and try to analyze my thinking. But mostly what really feels great is just to do something. Anything that makes you feel closer to your ideal goal. Like decluttering. Is there any particular spot in your house that drives you crazy and you can’t get started? Do it right away, get started and get rid of that task. Things like that usually hugely inspire me to go on because that’s something I deep down really want to do.

  • Susan

    Your joy and freedom are very inspiring! It is wonderful that now you have ideas about where to go and what to do next. 2010 was the year it started for me too. Sitting around all day trying to sell our extra/outgrown stuff in a yard sale with my teenage sons I realized that I felt trapped and burdened by Stuff and wanted a large part of it gone. I also realized I never wanted to have a yard sale ever again. I’ve been shedding my belongings ever since, mostly to Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul and a little bit of Amazon selling. All this shedding is going to allow us to move out of this albatross of an old house and get into an apartment, where I hope to spend my weekends out walking around neighborhood, parks and museums instead of cleaning and repairing things.
    Good luck with your journey!

    • Em

      Good luck with yours as well! Yeah, I couldn’t probably have a yard sale or something, I feel that’s exactly where I’m getting stuck. I know it would probably be better financially to put an effort into selling all my crap and getting the money back at least partialy. But it seems to be such a big task to me that I can’t get started and it’s actually holding me back. I prefer to do things right away, once I’m in the mood, so usually, unless it’s something really valuable, I just leave things on top of the communal bins in our house and it usually disappears until the next day, making me feel that I did it! I’m freeee :D Clothes are going to be a different story, though, those I will need to take to some Goodwill, too, when I’m back home. I tried to do it at various free Giveaways that are happening in Prague in the spring but I almost always end up bringing some other stuff back home :D (try to resist several pretty free skirts…)

  • Great to read your story Em! You mentioned that getting rid of stuff has become sort of a hobby. I find myself doing this as well. But ironically, I’ll read of someone who has only ‘100 things’ or maybe less, and I try to visualize myself getting to that number or figure out a way to “have more-less thing.” Haha. I’ve come to realize that it’s not really a contest. The end goal is to live with purpose and be content with what we already have. Congrats on the move to England!

    • Em

      Thanks for comment! I wouldn’t probably be able to downsize to only 100 things or something like that but it does inspire me to rethink every single item that I own. But I have loads of duplicates, especially pens or shower gels, I guess I would count much higher :D Also I still suck with clothes, I still buy a lot, although I would be perfectly able to reason it, of course :D I’m not very competitive, I just want to know that I don’t have too much baggage – when I’m on the move or just meaning throughout the life – and that everything fits into my drawers. The best thing about downsizing is that it makes it way simpler to get it organized. Ahh, I love organizing…

      England was a great thing to do! It’s good to change surroundings when you feel stuck and it’s beautiful here, though a bit wet :D

  • Lilly

    Em, you have learned and accomplished so much in your 20s! I’m in my 40s and many times feel stuck. Congratulations on your post, it was great!

    • Em

      Thanks, Lilly, I still feel like a very beginner and don’t think I don’t get stuck a lot as well :) I believe, though, that minimalistic approach helps you to get unstuck way easier. Sometimes we have our heads full of thoughts and whatif and whatamigonnado and all you really need is just to think:”Screw it, I don’t need this anymore”. A lot of problems tend to solve themselves even if you don’t eat yourself over them.

  • Diane

    It is so great that you learned all this so young. I got out of a bad relationship at 25 then lost my job and had to move across the country and back in with my parents until I found a job. Unlike you, I just drifted for many years with no sense of direction. How brave you are to have picked up and gone to England. I would love to do the same but can’t get in due to such strict immigration laws. I wish I had know about meditation and minimalism way back then!

    • Em

      Thanks for your comment, Diane, and sorry to hear about that immigration problem. I’m here as an au-pair so never thought about how easy or dificult it is to come and work here but I always supposed it must be easy because there’s so many foreigners here working. Is there any other country that you could try?

      • Diane

        No, England is the only country I would live in other than Canada. I love the countryside, the excitement of London, literature, actors, theatre, etc. Odly enough, immigration is easier for people from Europe and Africa than from Commonwealth countries.

  • Susan

    Beautiful & inspiring!

  • Carolyn

    My first thought was: she’s even minimalised her name! Thank you, Em, for sharing your experiences. I love being inspired by the variety of stories! I like the idea of minimalizing being a “hobby” — I may be heading in that direction myself.

    • Em

      Haha, now when you mention it… it actually happened when I was starting a new weblog and needed a new nickname. I saw a poster that said “M I N I M A L IS M”. I’m not sure if it was on purpose, it was over three lines under each other so it might have been just a coincidence that they split the word like that, but it made me think, how amaizing thought that is, that “M” is actually the most minimalistic letter. It’s so simple, for me it contains the whole word “minimalism”, the whole philosophy and also my name. So I thought why not? It just later turned out to be a tricky nickname for the virtual world, many people use their first letter of a name, so I’ve adopted the Em version.

      I never knew it could be someone’s hobby until I’ve tried it and became so crazily happy about it :D I would happily go to the cellar in the evening (I would never ever go there in the dark before!) to get a cardbox so that I can start putting my old crap in it. And with all the cool, really inspiring e-books and posts that you can read about it (including Francine’s), it just becomes so easy.

  • Kaede

    Hey Em,

    I’m 24 and started shedding my stuff about a year ago. Just like you I slipped into a major existential crisis and I’ve just started to get into the moment. Journalling has helped me loads with this. (I’ve been dealing with depersonalization and dissociation since early childhood.) It’s great to hear from someone across the globe experiencing a similar journey and I hope I’ll also get to the point where I’m engaged and exited about life.

    • Em

      Hi Kaede, thanks for comment, I believe you will get there :) I felt so hopeless and finished and yet this brought me back to life so now I believe minimalism is the true recipe for hapiness for everybody who needs to find it. Just customize it according to what is the most appealing part to you and declutter your life a bit, you’ll feel the difference.

      I think it’s really important to learn how to let go of your baggage, whether it’s sentimentaly kept bits and pieces or people who in fact annoy you. It just uplifts you and shows you that life can actually get easy once again even when you thought it’s the hardest thing. Keep it up and it will get better :)

      • Romana

        Your words are very encouraging for me. I am going to remember your story and look to it and your comments from time to time especially when I feel “hopeless and finished.” Thank you. :)

  • Angela

    Em, this is beautiful to see how you have come out of dispair into a beautiful place! Thank you for sharing your story! When I was in my 20’s, I didn’t realize I was naturally a minimalist. Especially when I was in college, I didn’t have much, kept what I had very neat, and liked it that way. But as I “grew up” I somehow ended up with too much stuff coming in, and since I’d never had so much, I hadn’t learned that when new things come in, something needs to go out too. The funny thing is that with each child I’ve had, I’ve gotten better at getting rid of things. Now I have 3, and I’m finally getting the hang of it. I am not a minimalist again yet, but I’m definitly simplifying and getting closer. So beautiful that you are so aware of what you are doing and what you want already! :) ENJOY! Life to the fullest!

  • Tina

    There are so many varieties of minimalism. It helps us all make choices about what will fill our lives. I have very little stuff, but many family pictures on the walls. I think if I were single, I’d be living in a small studio apartment. But we all wonder about the paths we didn’t take. I wonder who lives in the block after block of Mc Mansions I see all around here and the surrounding suburbs.

  • Tina

    I was talking about buying my husband a few new shirts or 2 new ties every year because he never gets sport coats or dressy slacks. My friend said her husband hadn’t bought anything new at all in over 12 years. Then my son was talking about older bachelors he knows who wear the same clothes for 20 plus years and never get haircuts. I’m not sure if that’s minimalism or just laziness. Even with my small wardrobe, I like to look like I’ve made an effort.

  • Tina

    I’ve always kept an old shirt and old pants for when I do a big messy art project. I did a few this week. I enjoy paper mâché, glue, painting, and large community projects. We all have different interests and being minimal helps us find what we need to keep and what we don’t need or use.

  • Tina

    I have been decluttering continually for years. I have 2 bags and a box for Goodwill. There’s a bag for my grandsons’ art teacher. I would like to get some old night tables replaced with new, narrower night stands. There are still books that belong to my adult children here.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>