Real Life Minimalists: Daniel, The Minimalist Kanaka

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 we have a wonderful story from Daniel, The Minimalist Kanaka, who tells us how his Hawaiian heritage inspired his new, pared-down lifestyle. Please visit his blog to read more of his thoughts.

Daniel writes:

Daniel

Daniel

Aloha, Iʻm Daniel. I was born and raised in beautiful Hawaii and currently reside there. I canʻt say exactly when I discovered minimalism. The Hawaii lifestyle is naturally a minimalist culture. I remember when my brothers and I were young, our favorite toys were cardboard boxes. People would bring my family toys, but my parents ended up passing it to our cousins because we’d rather play with our cardboard boxes. Yes, we were and still are easily entertained.

But over the years, things have changed and the culture in Hawaii changed. I went off to college in 2003 in California and wouldnʻt return back to the islands for the next 10 years (other than visits).

During those years, I lost a bit of myself and my identity. I became unsure of what I wanted to do and felt like I was wasting my time in everything I did. In 2011, I came across two blogs that played a large role in my re-discovery and introduction to minimalism: The Minimalists, and Zen Habits.

I rummaged through their archives and read their posts daily. There was something about minimalism that I felt drawn to. The ideas were familiar but yet new to me. I wanted to learn more.

As I began to question the things I owned: objects, thoughts, ideas, relationships, debt, etc. I realized that I am in complete control of the circumstances.

While growing up in Hawaii, I learned the values of my ancestors of what it meant to live a purposeful life. The two main core values I remembered were:

Pono – living righteously

Aloha – the life force of unconditional love

So in 2011, I went through all of my belongings. At that time my wife and I were living apart while she worked in Hawaii and I worked in California. I got rid of the TV, went through all the kitchenware, decluttered my drawers and closets, created a spacious office and living space, and used a bike for my sole purpose of transportation.

The end result? A feeling of freedom.

But getting rid of objects was the easiest part. I didnʻt even second guess myself when I threw out the TV, and I loved watching ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’. The hardest part I had was getting rid of the mental and emotional clutter.

As a young boy I grew up partially deaf with a speech impediment. And being Native Hawaiian, I dealt with the inferiority complex that many Native Hawaiians deal with still today. I had low self-esteem, went through times when I would freeze in anxiety, and was scared to ask questions with the fear of not being understood or made fun of.

I spent hours writing down my thoughts and ways to how I could personally grow and let go of all the negativity I held within. The more I wrote and reflected, the more comfortable I became with who I am. I started to walk Kū Kanaka, which in Hawaii means to stand and walk tall. I saw my transformation mentally and began to see the changes around me as well.

Now that Iʻm back in Hawaii and with my wife, we are living with my parents (the cost of living in Hawaii is crazy!). My wife is not a minimalist and my parents have the tendency of holding on to and accepting objects because they have a hard time letting go and saying ‘no’. But there is an understanding between us and when we talk about minimalism, they are all very interested but respond with, “I could never do that, it seems too hard.”

One of my favorite quotes is by Miyamoto Musashi, “It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.”

So I write to share my story and thoughts about simplifying life in paradise, living pono, and finding Aloha for yourself and in the world around you. It’s a work in progress and I only hope to inspire other minimalists and people in Hawaii to see the beauty behind minimalism.

Minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of things. It’s also about creating a life that is filled with meaning and value.

Aloha and A hui hou. (Good-bye and Until we meet again)

Daniel, The Minimalist Kanaka

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Sophie

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 meet Sophie, who tells us how a simple home improvement project led to a wonderful new lifestyle.

Sophie writes:

It All Started With the Hardwood Floors

In a small photo album on my bookshelf, I keep a picture from 2006: a huge dining room hutch cupboard, every shelf loaded with knickknacks and totchkes. All of them had to be dusted regularly; all (the hutch included) are long gone. But I’m getting ahead of the story . . .

It all started with the hardwood floors. In 2006, a relative died and left my mother a small inheritance. Since money had been tight since my father died in 2004, we had not had the means to do some necessary repairs and renovations on our 60 year old house. Now we were able to sit down and decide on our priorities. One of these was tearing up the old, funky wall-to-wall carpeting and renovating the hardwood floors. The hardest part? No, not stripping, sanding, polishing and sealing the floors; oh, no, it was moving all of our STUFF to actually get at the floors. Bookcases, tables, a sofa, a loveseat, more bookcases (a total of four, all stuffed with books), um, more tables, assorted statues and, well, more STUFF that had to be moved from one room to the next in order to get to the floor. And then the light bulb went on over my head. Instead of having to move all this STUFF back, why not just . . .get rid of it? Go through it, keep the best and give away the rest. And that was what we did. Every drawer, every bookshelf, every closet, every dark, cluttered corner was searched and cleaned. Relatives and friends who stopped by were happy to receive items that they had long admired; various charities received donations of furniture, books, clothing, unopened sheet sets, and other useful items. Slowly, our house took on a more open, spacious and light-filled atmosphere. I could literally feel fresh air, light and energy flowing through our now-uncluttered rooms. And we could see our beautiful floors! Phase One of the Great Purge was over.

Nothing succeeds like success, and my family and I found additional ways to declutter and simplify our lives. As time went on, we went from owning four cars to owning two (and my background as a transportation analyst became very useful.) The clotheslines my father had installed in the backyard sixty years ago suddenly had a new lease on life as I discovered how energy-efficient and pleasant it was to hang the laundry out to dry. My sister’s long-neglected raised garden beds also had a new life as my family learned to grow vegetables (we were defeated by the eggplant, however.)

As we conclude the eighth year of our ongoing minimalist journey, we are continually discovering new ways to simplify our lives. That is the beauty of a minimalist lifestyle: it is fluid, flexible and adaptable. We have kept some practices, jettisoned others, and tried new ones. That is the core of minimalism and simple living: it can (and will) change as needed. And most of all, it is so liberating and fun! By eliminating the unnecessary and superfluous from my life, I now have the time to appreciate and enjoy what I have. I have found that my family and I can do regular decluttering of our house to keep it open and clean and this has become one of the most enjoyable aspects of our journey. And this is a journey – destination unknown, but we’re having a lot of fun getting there. I might even try growing those eggplants again next summer.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Rine

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, we have a wonderful contribution from Rine, who writes about the benefits of minimizing consumption, from a personal to a global scale. Please visit her blog to read more of her writing.

Rine writes:

I started practicing minimalism about seven years ago when my partner and I were newlyweds. A variety of factors led to my desire to simplify our way of life. When my partner and I moved into our first apartment, we were lucky to have the generous support of our family and friends who—with a free hand—bought us everything we needed from our wedding registry and even sorted through their dusty attics and dingy basements to give us their spare furniture and appliances. Unfortunately, after my partner and I merged our belongings and organized our gifts, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by copious amounts of stuff, including duplicates and even triplicates of things—we had three televisions, two CD players, two crock pots, too many lamps, furniture with nowhere to put it, et cetera.

At that time, I was also deeply enmeshed in international human rights theory, which I was studying in graduate school. Initially, I mostly focused on human rights issues overall, but as time went by, I became more and more interested in how political, economic, and societal systems and norms lead to things like inequality and poverty. I began to focus my studies on political economic theory and the effects of globalization on both economics and culture in order to better understand why over half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 per day. The fact that we haven’t found a solution to these problems in our modern times really baffled me and still does even now. I also focused on how consumerism and over-consumption negatively affect not only people, but also the environment, and I began looking into alternative economic systems, as well as more personal changes that I could make in my own life that could reduce my so-called “carbon footprint” and any other affects my consumption might have on the world. Some of the books that helped me to work through these issues and that I highly recommend reading were Mindfulness in the Marketplace: Compassionate Responses to Consumerism edited by Allan Hunt Badiner, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher, and Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton.

Fortunately, both my partner and I decided to minimize our lifestyle and so we slowly began the process. First, I went on Craigslist to sell our two televisions, two CD players, multiple pieces of furniture, and old bicycles. I sold clothing, board games, video game consoles, and other gaming paraphernalia on Ebay, and I used Amazon to sell books, CDs, and DVDs. Eventually, I sold our third television, and my partner and I turned our desktop computer into our primary entertainment center. We stopped buying things like books, movies, and games throughout the year and designated Christmastime as the only time we could purchase something new. We adopted a “one in, one out” policy for new purchases, and any purchase of something that wasn’t a necessity had to fit within our very limited monthly budget. We gave our car, which we were actually borrowing from our family, to one of our brothers, and we started walking, cycling, and taking public transportation to wherever we needed to go. We ended up buying a Honda Metropolitan scooter for quick trips around town, like to the grocery store or for places that were inaccessible by public transportation or cycling, and luckily, the Honda was a very good investment—it got 90 miles to the gallon, and we drove it for almost 10,000 miles.

By limiting our consumption, my partner and I were able to pay off his student loan debt and save money. This enabled us to do a number of things over the last couple of years, including living abroad in two different countries. We still have a lot of minimal and simple living goals to reach, including paying off my student loan debt, as well as continuing to minimize the amount of stuff we own. In the coming years, I think our focus will be on the quality of what we own rather than the quantity. My own personal beliefs regarding my relationship with stuff has come full circle since becoming a minimalist. I think that some minimalists like to believe that objects are not important, and I think that I felt similarly in the beginning; however, as a trained anthropologist and archaeologist, I recognize the importance of material culture to humankind—creating and using material objects is part of being human. For me, the objects we own and use in our daily life should be respected and valued for their utility and aesthetic nature rather than simply for the status they may supposedly endow us with.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Pamela

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, I’m pleased to bring you this lovely story from Pamela. She started decluttering over a decade ago, and shares with us the inspiration behind her minimalist journey.

Pamela writes:

Ever since I was a little girl, I have maintained all my belongings in a neat and tidy way. On the surface, everything had its place, from my dolls and books to my school notes. As I grew up, those “neat and tidy” habits stayed with me as I continued to “organize my clutter”. College books and notes filed away in bankers boxes; my doll collection as a child stored neatly away in 5 large plastic bins; books that I had accumulated (my prized possessions!) lined bookshelves and filled yet even more boxes in the basement of my family home. The more schooling I completed, the more boxes I accumulated and filled with all the notes and text books that were acquired through my schooling years. By the time I was in my 20’s, I had so many boxes, bins and possessions lining the basement of my home!

So while it was neatly organized, it was still overwhelming and took up a LOT of space. Despite my attempts to use pretty storage boxes, I was still just “organizing my clutter!”, as Miss Minimalist likes to call it! I remember the first moment I decided it was all too much. I was about 21 when the young man I had a crush on left for a one month holiday. He inspired me so much and made me want to improve my life in so many ways. Upon his departure for vacation, I thought to myself, what will I do with the spare time I will have while he is away? How can I use this time in an inspired way, to make my life better? I decided that decluttering the possessions I had amassed but no longer had any use for would be a good use of my time. While he was away, I filled over 10 garbage bags full of clothes, old toys, trinkets and books to donate to charity. In addition, I recycled my elementary and high school notes. That cleared out a ton of space! It felt so good and it was so amazing to see some empty spaces on my shelves and in my closets, where all that old stuff was just sitting idly and not being used. In that moment, a minimalist was born!

That was over 10 years ago and was just the beginning of my decluttering and minimalist journey! Since then, I have pared down hundreds of books, clothing, kitchen stuff (including glasses, vases, mugs and plates), DVDs, CDs and much, much more. Books are always a little tough to part with, because I love to read so much! But I remind myself that if I need to read them again, I can always borrow them from the library. I also keep in mind that someone else may really need that book even more than I do, which is one reason I love donating them! The staff at the local charity always sends a smile and thanks my way when they see me coming with my big bins full of stuff. Not only has it felt good for my soul to give to a charity that benefits my community, but my home is clean, spacious and very easy to maintain! I have also saved lots of hard-earned money by not making those purchases that promise the world but deliver very little in terms of true happiness. The time I save on cleaning, sorting and shuffling all that old stuff around, I spend with my friends, family and pets. The love and fulfillment I get from focusing on those life experiences can never be replaced by any of that stuff! It has been a truly liberating experience and it all started with the inspiration I received thanks to a little crush.

I am so grateful to Miss Minimalist for posting all her inspiring articles and for you, fellow Miss Minimalist readers and writers, for all your inspiring stories. They keep me going on this exciting journey! And although I may never own just “100 things”, my life is so much better thanks to living with less stuff. Best of luck to you all!

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists Update: Regina

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 we have an update from Regina, whose original feature appeared two years ago. She has some wonderful (and inspiring) news for us! If you’d like to learn more, you can follow her journey on her blog.

Regina writes:

Photo by Regina

Photo by Regina

Since I embraced simple living and minimalism and started this blog two years ago, a post on ‘I am debt-free’ has been at the top of my list. I still can’t believe that I am finally in a position to write such a post: I am debt-free and I have money in the bank. It feels rather surreal and after two months, it has yet to fully sink in.

For the first time since I left university, I am totally free of debt. Debt-free: two words that seem so innocuous yet whose attainment can bestow so much freedom, lightness, and control. The freedom to explore options, make choices and pursue dreams. The lightness that comes with not owing a single penny and of owning every single pound, beholden to no one but myself. The control that I have regained over finances and my time and how I want to spend it. The realisation that I fully own every one of my possessions and assets. That feeling is rather indescribable.

Many of us have debts in one form or another and in varying amounts once we reached adulthood. University debts, credit card debts, car loans and mortgages are all part of being grown up and getting ahead. We are mortgaging our future for a better present which we can’t presently afford; in the hope that our future would be able to cough up the payments. Then that opportunity arises for that nicer suit, that newer car model and that bigger house–and we fall deeper into the debt hole. One would hope that job promotions and pay rises would make our lives a little easier, our debt pile a little smaller. Easier said than done. With more money, we yearn for that even nicer car and bigger house to keep up with our newly elevated status. Oh dear, we just have to stay in that crappy job for a little while longer to keep up with the payments. Having money can make us poorer and more indebted–sad but true. It is like buying bigger size pants to accommodate our bigger waistline but ending up eating more because we now have more room to fill!

We all consume in one way or another and I am not saying consumption is bad. We all need shelter, food, clothing and a few other things to make our lives civilised, comfortable, enjoyable and efficient. But mindless consumerism where we consume impulsively and with the vain hope that in some way or other it will give us the happiness and purpose that we crave for is self-defeating. It is likely to make us more reliant on the jobs we loathe and leave us further from our true happiness and purpose.

I followed a similar trajectory after university. I had good jobs earning good pay with good companies in exchange for long hours, stress and diminishing personal time and self-fulfillment. Weekends were sacred as I sought to spend those precious hours in doing things I like and spending money on things I wanted in order to assuage the misery that piled up during the work week and dull the dread of heading back into the grind on Monday. Sunday night blues is not just a myth; it was very real and tangible in my case. Each new job and promotion delivered more money into my bank account but there never seemed to be enough for me to feel ‘rich’. I was buying stuff; of not only things I needed but also of things I thought I needed and that I wanted. I used to think that if I were to leave the house, I needed to bring something back, anything, even a copy of the day’s papers to make it worthwhile, even though I know I didn’t have the desire nor time to read it. I was buying stuff on my holidays, on my work trips, and each overseas posting added more to my possessions. Anyone walking into my flat would find it nice and tidy and nowhere near cluttered. But clutter can be a rather subjective term. I had a lot more stuff than I actually needed or wanted and they were draining my finances and robbing me of my time and clogging up my living space. I was buying stuff with my hard-earned money and credit cards, hoping to numb the misery of my cubicle existence and make myself happier, staying in the job so that I can fund my purchases and pay off my bills, getting the next bigger job with a bigger pay cheque, consuming more to numb the bigger dose of misery and dullness that came with it. The cycle repeats. But the happiness remained ephemeral and I spent more money and had less time and control over my life.

I was staying in jobs that paid me good money, paid my bills and indulged me with the little luxuries in life but left me empty. With time, the misery grew deeper and the emptiness reverberated stronger. I finally took the plunge and left the corporate world to spend my time working on projects that I am passionate about and that give me happiness, purpose and delivers value. I felt a lot happier, freer and more fulfilled. But I still carried the burden of having to pay the bills and think about ‘making a living’. Then I chanced upon this article and I was blown away. It was as if the scales dropped from my eyes and a stone was lifted off my back. I was filled with hope, excitement and lightness–clichéd but true. This is the carefree state I want to be in: debt free. Saying is much easier than doing and it has been quite a long-drawn out process with tough decisions and uncertainty aplenty. But I finally made it and I am truly embracing the freedom and lightness that came with the disentanglement.

I am writing this post in one of my favourite local cafes. A light-filled space staffed by friendly baristas and serves great coffee and Eccles cakes by St. John (the best ever!). I paid for my coffee and cake with cash as I do with the bulk of my purchases–I seldom use my debit card nowadays; my two credit cards have not left my wallet in the past two months and have become seemingly redundant. Cold hard cash gives me better control over my spending and prompts me to buy and consume more mindfully. I also tend to ask myself if a purchase is going to add value to my life and worth that amount of money to my freedom and time. I glance through the list of properties that are up for sale. The London property boom has thrown up a a slew of properties that are way overpriced; waiting for desperate buyers rushed by the limited supply to take the bait. I believe that I will find my dream home; one that is right for me, when the time is right. I guess one can’t rush such things; magic happens when you are least expecting it. When that dream abode turns up, I will be paying for it in cash–no more mortgages, no more debt. Being debt free has opened me up to choices and options and I am free to choose and pick the road I want to travel on. There is nothing to hold me back except myself.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Wild Poppy

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, I’m happy to feature Wild Poppy from London, who describes her joyful decluttering as “retail therapy in reverse.” Love it!

Wild Poppy writes:

As a child I didn’t have a lot of possessions, but I would find a pretty pebble, a shell or a marble and with naive appreciation would revel in the luxury of my find. I accumulated a small store of these treasures. My young life was not cluttered with more material things.

I was gifted to have a mother whose focus was not on acquiring either money or possessions. We lived a simple, contented, happy life and enjoyed our vast garden, the Yorkshire Dales.

As I got older I never did develop a desire for more material things, thanks to the guidance in my formative years. However with the passing of time, it was difficult not to acquire more. I would not avidly seek to expand my store of possessions yet clothes, books, crockery, furniture etc. would still find their way into my home.

At one point I was living in a tiny London bedsit, containing only a sofa bed, a very narrow set of drawers and a wardrobe. My total living space (not including communal bathroom and kitchen) was 8′ x 9′. This had to be kept clean, neat and tidy in order to serve as a study, a lounge, a dining room, a craft room and a bedroom. So the one-in-one-out philosophy enabled me to keep my little home functional.

After five years of living in a veritable cupboard I was given the opportunity to move into a larger room, and I confess the prospect of sleeping in a real bed was tempting due to issues with my back. So I cleaned and painted and bought additional furniture for my new place… and now had added space to stash unnecessary items. I had under-bed storage and more surfaces to display pictures and trinkets.

Yet the more I owned, the less I enjoyed what I had. Ironic, I know.

One day I stumbled across The Joy of Less by Francine Jay and immediately the concept of minimalism she presented made perfect sense. I determined to put into practice the ‘streamline method’ and began to recycle, give to charity or simply bin all those items that no longer had any practical value.

The more I disposed of, the better it felt… Retail therapy in reverse. Shopping drained me, decluttering invigorated me. So much so that I threw ‘err on the side of caution’ out with the rubbish, and enjoyed the vast amounts of space I could see on shelves and in drawers and on every visible surface.

Space equals potential… Potential to create, to craft, to paint, to write, to entertain, to relax.

This age of technology enables us to become free of much physical clutter. We now have virtual forms of music, books, magazines, photographs, movies. This doesn’t mean we can become complacent. Minimalism is a progressive endeavour. Virtual items can surreptitiously collect. Therefore my laptop and tablet are also subject to my regular declutter frenzy.

My card craft supplies make up a fair percentage of my total possessions, so that too is submitted to a regular streamlining. If I buy a pack of pretty papers and know I’ll only use 8 of the 12 sheets, I won’t hold on to the extra 4. If I buy die cut shapes in assorted colours, there will be shades that I am unlikely to use, so they also get pared down. If I buy a collection pack, there will be items I will never use, so they too must go. The resulting selection offers a lot less indecision and heaps more inspiration.

So I relish the simple act of opening a wardrobe door to find, not the magical land of Narnia, but a spacious rail of neat and tidy clothing, colour coordinated and ready to wear. Or pulling open a drawer to see underwear arranged in a manner closely resembling the order of a filing system.

My journey to a more minimalist self did not begin with an overindulged childhood, nor did I ever find myself desirous of a great quantity of possessions, rather I was set on the right road, and though there have been twists and turns along the way, I am continuing to perfect the art with each passing day.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Matt

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 we hear from Matt, who shares with us the life changes that inspired his minimalist journey, and his happiness with his new, pared-down lifestyle.

Matt writes:

Matt

Matt

My minimalism started nearly two years ago and was born as a result of growing disquiet in my life. It was Christmas day, my four year old daughter was ripping through the umpteenth present, my wife at the time was admiring her newest addition to the clothes collection that would join its predecessors in the wardrobe never to see the light of the day. It was while sitting there, an unnecessarily large pile of presents in front of me that I realised I wasn’t happy, wasn’t happy with my relationship, wasn’t happy with the direction my life was taking and certainly wasn’t happy with the feeling that I was drowning in my house from all the things my family was acquiring.

Fast forward six months and after many discussions, counselling and attempts to fix the problems both my wife and I had decided that enough was enough and we both wanted out. We separated and it was at this point I saw that life had presented me an opportunity, a chance to start again with a clean slate. I packed up a single suitcase with clothes and another with treasured possessions and told her that she could do what she wanted with the rest as I didn’t need them.

As I got in my car and began the drive to my mother’s house I knew that I had turned a corner, that I would never allow myself to be seduced by the power of consumerism and its desire for me to have more. Over a year down the line and my house is in the words of anyone who comes over “sparse”. My friends ask me where my stuff is and I say “it’s all here” at which point they pirouette on the spot and reply “Where? There’s nothing here!”

I don’t have nothing, I have everything I need (and probably more) I simply don’t have stuff. I have a TV, Computer, Sofa (New addition as per my other half), one of every utensil I need in a kitchen and even a fully stocked bookshelf of DVD’s and books. If a new one is purchased then something must go to make room, it’s become an interesting experience having to decide if the new addition is worth the loss of an old favourite.

Not everyone in my life has fully grasped the principles of my minimalist life, people will still attempt to buy me or persuade me to have the latest “must have” and I struggle at times to resist but overall I’m happy with the place I have reached.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Jo Bennett

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, Jo Bennett, a Canadian minimalist with a life coaching and organizing practice in Toronto, offers us a deep look into the psychological benefits of simplifying. Visit her blog to learn more.

Jo writes:

Jo Bennett

Jo Bennett

Taking charge

It was about fifteen years ago when I felt the first shift toward simplifying my life. A primary relationship that was proving to be a drain on my personal resources required new boundaries. Like with any change, there was a sudden dip in energy as I coped with my decision but very quickly it revealed that I am the guardian of my contentment. This was an important lesson about standing up for what I need and discovering freedom by saying “No”.

Simplify and all will be well?

From then on I slowly restructured my life with a ‘quality over quantity’ mantra in reference to friendships, diet, hobbies and possessions. Every year I would make changes in my work: I improved time management, went paperless, made better use of technology and streamlined information processing. However, no matter how much I focused my life, encounters with mild depression were increasing and I developed what I call an anxiety ‘habit’.

Reduction is just one side of the minimalist coin

There was something cathartic about this reorganizing yet I found myself sometimes feeling bereft of joy and magic. I could breathe when I looked at the clean uncluttered surface of a table for example but it did not make me smile. I started to notice that I was not noticing my life! With few barriers to block my view, I could see that I had further work to do. It was at this point, about four years ago, that I started sharing my journey via my blog Minimalist Self.

Giving myself permission to soar

A message I glean from the design world is that minimalism is not about reducing expression. Rather than just appreciate that a space is empty, I can also contemplate what beauty has been revealed as a result. Through mindfulness I have found ways to pause and grab a hold of such wonder. On a tangible level, we have a rule in the house that when one thing comes in, something goes out. This is a conscious way to welcome inspiring objects that contribute to a soothing environment. For mental relief I created an exercise called ‘No Gadget Night’ that allows me to sit in visual and auditory quiet so I can relax, have wonderful conversations with my husband and we sleep much better! To connect with my soul I follow a daily routine I call ‘Four Joy’; this is when I register deep observation of tiny moments that make me laugh and feel happy. Overall I am experiencing more optimism. Essentially, I am letting in more light.

A new outlook

Especially as a self employed person, it is through the lens of minimalism that I contemplate my ‘life work’: this refers to my money making activities but also my efforts to give back to my professions and contribute to my communities. But most of all it guides me when taking care of loved ones and myself. Through coaching and my studies in positive psychology, I have explored empathy and compassion, and have forged resiliency through courage and action. All of this instils a stronger sense of self worth. Not everything goes my way and I still feel blue sometimes but the perspective of ‘less is more’ does make things easier. I can honestly say I love my life!

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: The Chasse Family

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, we have a wonderful contribution from The Chasse Family. They began their minimalist journey over a decade ago, and are still finding ways to simplify. Please visit their blog to read more!

Larry writes:

The Chasse Family

The Chasse Family

My name is Larry Chasse and I blog about simple living at my blog: http://www.cagefreeology.com/. We have been on this journey now for over 11 years and we are still learning.

The first thing I usually like to read is the why. Why did we begin our journey into simple living? We began our journey as a family way back when my son was first born.

My wife wanted to be home for our son, so we took a hard look at our current level of spending and possessions. What could we cut from our budget and get rid of in order for our family to live on one income?

The process of simplifying and paying off debt had begun for us. Along the way we had job and life changes that were made easier by having a simpler life. The road was still long and we certainly had some setbacks here and there with regard to Murphy expenses.

When you get to the point of having an emergency fund, fewer debts and fewer possessions, Murphy does not have the same impact as he once did. We noticed our stress levels decreased as we removed debt and clutter from our home.

Here we are 12 years later and we are still finding ways to simplify our lives. We have moved from a 2,000 square foot home into a 900 square foot home.

Remember there is a real cost to everything we own. Homes, cars, lawn mowers, and other items all have maintenance and upkeep costs associated with them. If you add those costs up and divide by your hourly pay, you get the number of hours you have to work have these things. Remember to take into account your government taxes when calculating your true hourly rate.

Why the smaller home? Simple, you have less to clean, less to maintain, it is cheaper to heat and cool and honestly it is enough room. We took a very close look at the rooms we actually use on a daily basis in our home and concluded we did not need all that extra space.

Simplifying your life or minimalism is all about the journey. We are constantly learning about ourselves and finding out if we can be happier with changes in life. Some people like the bigger homes or automobiles. You need to find where you happiness lies and then make every effort to get there.

For my wife and I, we have found the simpler we live, our happiness has increased. We would rather have the money to go on family trips or creating memories than in our stuff.

{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.}

Real Life Minimalists: Kate

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, I’m pleased to feature Kate, who shares how a simple decluttering session led her family to a more mindful, minimalist lifestyle.

Kate writes:

We started out having a pre-Christmas clear out. Our little one was 18months old, and we were anticipating an influx of gifts. Well meaning, given with love, wonderful gifts. But lots of them.

We knew we didn’t want more children, so sorting through things outgrown was a habit acquired early. Partly I wanted to pay forward the generosity of all the hand-me downs we had received. Also there was a consciousness of space, in our two bed flat.

Probably the first thing I thought about was what to do with the wonderful scribbles, drawings, and paintings. I didn’t want to end up with cupboards full of ‘her first painting’ etc. So I set up this: www.toddlerartgallery.co.uk. Things she made go on display, get photographed. And then recycled. One or two have made it into the keepsake cupboard- more on that later.

About the same time I became interested in Montessori principles of education. One revelation was that a toybox meant a child couldn’t see and get to what they had. I looked at my daughter on tiptoes trying to open the lid and realised there was no way she could see or know what she had. So an idea formed; if I could fit what she had on a shelf or two that she could reach, she could see and choose her toys.

It worked, and she didn’t miss what had gone. She played more imaginatively, I cleared up faster. I moved her clothes to where she could reach and chose them, and pared them down as I did it. I learnt how to involve her in the process, and she has surprised me by understanding and taking part in it willingly.

As we watched the pleasure her de-cluttered room brought her, we re-did the pre-Christmas clear out. How could we bring this joy of knowing what you have and using it to its full potential to our lives too?

It’s been nearly a year now. We must have given away 10 car loads. And then we sold the car.

The keepsake cupboard is no longer a space things go and never return from. Things have come out, on display where they can be enjoyed. Many, many things have been recycled, as I realised I couldn’t remember why I kept them. As with all things in our home it has become a flexible space. Something can be loved, treasured and saved. And then re-evaluated. We put the TV in the cupboard this week; re-evaluation pending.

The things we like are multi-functional, easy to use, maintain and clean. The distinction between ‘adults’; ‘kids’; ‘toys’ and ‘tools’ is blurred, messy and fun. A 2.5 year old can play with a scrabble set; an hour spend preparing a meal together is brilliant family play.

We are starting to think about stuff in the wider context- how to be less busy; have space for ourselves, alone and together. How to use wisely the increased time and money we have. We rush about less, we do one thing a day, when we can. Have one play date, see one friend.

I realise I’m switching between ‘we’ and ‘I’. My husband has been very much with me, and has supported, encouraged and surprised me. Some things it has felt like ‘we’  have done, some ‘I’. It’s confusing to read, but feels more honest, to write it like that.

I have read a lot, learnt a lot, and thought a lot about many of the issues this rich, Western, consumerist life presents us with. What do we really need? What is life about? What matters? I don’t have the answers but I’m enjoying the challenging questions.

{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.}