One Year of Minimalism

minimalism: the process of eliminating excess and non-essentials from your life so you can focus on what makes you happy. 

This time in May last year, I began to have a desire within me to eliminate excess. Six months ago, I chronicled this experience. I have six more months of experience now, and would like to take a second look.

At the end of spring semester 2013, I began getting rid of clothing, knick knacks, other things that I had little attachment with. It was easy, it was freeing, it was even fun. My dorm room was like a bomb: it exploded, and suddenly my clothes and possessions flew all over campus, into friend's closets, rooms, and cars. At this point, I was packing up to go home anyway, and it simply felt like an opportunity to trim the edges. Yet by the end of that week at university, I had a new goal: get home and clean my room.

I destroyed my room. I'm going to let pictures speak:

Spring 2013
Summer 2013
These pictures essentially show my state of mind over the past year. Up until Spring 2013, I was living a cluttered, consumeristic lifestyle. It was unhealthy and mentally choking. I'd never seen my room as somewhere to relax or spend time- it was simply a storage closet for things I never touched, and a hotel for a bed that I slept in. 

The mental progression related to this process is interesting. Like a teenage boy who hasn't yet grown into his lanky limbs, I had not yet mentally grown into my minimalism. I started exercising my muscle. I moved things; I donated probably 10 banana boxes of clothing, knick knacks, and toys. I threw out just as much (my one regret through this process; not finding ways to reuse/recycle. I was simply so focused on elimination at this point that I saw no other way), and gave away more to friends. My room was clean by Summer 2013. But it wasn't yet clear, focused, or thoughtfully arranged. Like the awkward teenage boy, I had grown- but I had to catch up my new physical advance. I had created a new room, but it was still awkward to me.

By Fall 2013, after a summer in Europe, I left for university with most of my possessions:

Fall 2013; the remainder of my possessions.
At this point, an existential crisis began. I had spent the past six months reducing, minimizing, and turning myself into an all around radically minimal young man (in comparison to my former lifestyle). But this fall semester at university proved troubling. I was, for the first time, seeing areas where I did have a need for new possessions, and felt comfortable buying and consuming. So much of my wardrobe had been donated that I was in need of new clothes, and at my age, saw the value of beginning the process of developing a young professional's wardrobe. Furthermore, minimalism allowed me to see the advantage of embracing a "buy it for life" mindset- that is, look for quality, not quantity.

But I struggled. I had been so keen to eliminate and seek simplicity. I clung to the concept of removing excess, but hadn't slowed down to think about what it actually does: it allows you to focus on what matters.

Throughout that fall semester at school, I grew into my lifestyle, just like that lanky teenage boy grows into his body. I found substance; my metaphorical muscles filled in, and the awkwardness that accompanies a teenage boy disappeared. I had achieved holistic growth, and I finally understood: Minimalism allows me to handle life well through both reduction and addition.

This existential crisis defeated, I realized I had entered a new realm in my quest for a simple lifestyle. Having conquered this ambivalent issue, I emerged with an understanding of "ecosystemic minimalism". I understood the ebb and flow of physical need in even the most ascetic minimalist's life.

Physically, mentally, and spiritually, I had found a way to live "in the world, but not of it".

Physically, I had found a loophole against the self-defeating consumerism I was born into.

Mentally, I began to find joy in the simple, pure things- a good meal with friends or the beauty of the ocean at dawn. My mind was opened to the idea that the only thing keeping me from being happy was myself. 

Spiritually, my conviction to live a simple life of caring for others came into focus. I gained a better understanding of the "big picture"- how my minimalism effected the large choices I had made in my life over the past year- and helped me to gain a new thankfulness for the blessings in my life.

In this trifecta of identity, I felt that I had found a way to embrace the positives of my culture and environment, while humbly rejecting what hurts myself, others, and our home, the earth.

This clarity of mind led me to the decision that I should quit university and pursue what I was interested in- nonprofit work- so I packed up all of my possessions at university (after giving away another handful, of course), and headed home for a brief while:

My dorm room packed up.

I got home, rearranged my room one more time, reduced some more, and began using my room for reflection, study, relaxation, and lastly, personal storage. This is what my room looks like today. I'll adjust as soon as I am home again, because I am always changing, and am finally comfortable with that.

Winter 2014
After a brief stint at home, I returned to the area where I attended university and began interning at a non profit:

Everything I took to the non-profit (minus bedding and 5 articles of clothing)
And for now, my journey ends here. This summer, I return to Europe, and plan to again take just my 40L backpack for the adventure.

A year ago I decided to try something new. I challenged myself to become a critical thinker. Minimalism started out as a simply a physical aspect of that for me, but this year has proven that minimalism means so much more than that.

As I get older, I may have more possessions. I may have less. It isn't a number contest. I have trouble believing that I will ever blindly consume ever again; that I will take lightly my role in preserving our planet; that happiness can be found through things. But I will certainly continue to change.

I am proud to be maturing in this lifestyle. I feel as if some of my big lessons have been learned. I believe that as other life decisions come along, my minimalistic tendencies will allow me to think critically and be wise.

My life has been transformed. If you have spent much time around me in the past year, I hope you can see how I am noticeably different. 

A fantastic year. Here's to many more. 

6 Months of Minimalism

Six months ago I decided to practice minimalism.

"minimalism: only what lifts you up"

I discovered minimalism six months ago, and I want to share my story.

Minimalism looks different for everyone. Minimalism is probably most accurately defined as the process of eliminating excess and non-essentials from your life so you can focus on what makes you happy. I want to live with only what I love and value, so my time and energy is focused on better understanding those very things that I love. Life is confusing enough, even with focus.

At the end of my spring semester of college, I felt uneasy. Things were good. School was over, I was about to head home, and soon after that, leave the country for Eastern Europe. My school year was fun, informative, and shaping, both academically and spiritually. All things considered, I didn't really have any right to be uneasy- but I was.

The last few weeks of school, I started to have a desire to get rid of my stuff. At that point in time, I had never heard of minimalism, and didn't know I was looking for it. All I knew was that I had more things than I needed or wanted. I started to give away clothing, knick knacks, duplicates of things, odds and ends. I threw out a lot of things. 

The challenge was not at school, however. I left college and returned home and was greeted by ambivalence: a clarification of what I was looking for (good) and facing cleaning up my room and other possessions at home (bad).

I was sitting in my kitchen talking about my possessional purge when my mother mentioned that my desire to simplify sounded very minimal. The word tumbled around in my mind for a bit before I came to a reasonable understanding of minimalism thanks to some literature and websites. This is when I understood that minimalism is different for every disciple of the lifestyle and I could guide my own steps within minimalism.

So I was home. I decided I would test run minimalism for the summer; I was going to be gone for most of it anyway, and I still had a desire to remove excess. I had one month to clean up home and prepare for two months overseas. 

My two first weeks at home consisted of transforming my room. It sounds easy; many of us admit we could give away a lot, but that is because we have a lot of things we don't care about. At some point you have to start giving away things you do care about, and it gets very hard; cards, T-shirts, knickknacks, drawings and video games that all hold immense sentimental value. These items were a mental roadblock for me. Over those two weeks I paired down all sentimental items to a small box.

These photos showed my lifestyle; messy and unorganized. This is where things become personal. I can't tell anyone else their room isn't allowed to look like this- but I can tell myself. It was eye opening to see how I was living. It was too much. I didn't have any purpose for most of the things in my room. So over the first week at home, I sorted, donated, and threw out nearly everything in my room.

The last two weeks at home before Eastern Europe consisted of preparing for my trip. With my newfound desire for minimal living and simplicity, the idea of bringing the bare minimum to Latvia excited me. I started researching minimal travel and immediately found Onebag is all about traveling with just what you need and no more. Thankfully, I had a bit of leeway with personal funds at this point and some good connections, and I found the perfect backpack for my travels. I replenished the basics of my wardrobe. I figured out what else I would need for travel, thanks to onebag, and with time to spare had become as prepared as possible for my time overseas (camping, city living, and everything in-between).

Everything fit in the backpack shown here.

I spent mid-june through early august in Europe. More functional European living contributed to the continuation of my minimalist mindset. In my downtime I found time to read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, which was, in hindsight, quite important in my process of converting to minimalism. Walden promotes simple living and does so both eloquently and succinctly while still retaining identity despite the books age. I do not spend a lot of time being internally cognitive, so the time I spent reading Walden over a busy Latvian city street ranks high in my trip memories.

Similarly, I was living with four other guys. We lived fairly simply and we had common goals for the duration of our time together, which reduced friction between us and our personal choices because we had a more important, more direct purpose. These guys also became great friends, and whether they were aware of it or not, encouraged me in my lifestyle. We also went over material that helped us to step back and take a look at our goals and ambitions in life- something I think everyone should do regularly.

Living abroad as a minimalist was successful. Time away solidified my desire to be a minimalist, and upon my return it was easier to take a second look- do a second 'possession purge'- and again figure out my purpose as a minimalist. My room at home transformed again.

A mattress, a nightstand, a table, a chair, three stacked clothing/storage cubes, a trash can. This is what, as of late August, my room contains. When I return, I'm going to remove the table in favor of an Ikea Lack Sidetable. I'm actually happy with the size of my room (roughly 100 square feet), as anymore would be extra at this point.

I am currently at college, and most of my possessions are with me. I have hit a point where there are still a lot of things I want to get rid of, but it becomes more difficult- some things need to be sold over given away, but are difficult to sell (anyone want a mid 2000's gargantuan beat pad? Yeah, me neither, even though its apparently worth something). My possessions are probably now only a fifth of what they were six months ago and probably five times more valuable to me. This is an excellent question that I keep on asking myself: as I reduce numerically, am I increasing sentimentally?

My room at uni currently looks like this:

Even clutter has purpose in my dorm. I don't claim it's perfect, but I use that clutter to motivate myself to reduce more and more. If I put it all away, I could probably hide it; half of my drawers are empty. But minimalism is about being honest with where you are at and what still needs to be done.

Computers are a big part of uni, for better or worse, and I have seen it as equally important to have a "clean room" within my electronics. I am content with my dumb phone. I don't miss my gaming computer that I sold this summer. I simplified and organized my '08 Macbook.

Minimalism has transcended the physical and become part of the mental and spiritual. Some things are easier than others. That is normal. The point is that my action of reduction has completely changed and renewed how I think and feel about every area of my life. It's funny. Sometimes "just doing it" really does make a difference. It has made a difference in me, and has helped me come to this conclusion.

I think I am officially a minimalist.

No more theoretical testing. I'm living this way now, and I wanted to share.

The intention behind this post was not to convert anyone or rationalize what I am doing; it is simply to show my lifestyle and how I came to be in this situation. I created this blog purely for this post, but I see the rich potential to keep writing. Yet if this is the only post ever make, so be it.

Thank you all for reading and keeping me accountable. I urge each of you to think about your own lifestyle. It is a broad but rewarding question.

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