Writer’s Hiatus, Social Media, and Overcommitment

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It’s been a while since I’ve published a post. The whirlwind that was summer, all of the current events, work, activities…like everyone else, I had a lot going on. This post is an apology, really, but also a message about how minimalism does not solve all my problems.

There was many points during my hiatus in which I felt overwhelmed. Society expects a lot of us. We are all told to tough it out, put up with it, just deal, just do, grit your teeth and don’t worry about the outcomes. That our resilience will predict our success. Everyone gets through it, eventually, anyway, so why shouldn’t you.

For a while, I was worried that what I was writing was sounding like endless amounts of complaining. Our exposure to the media, which is getting increasingly good at riling us up, has given me an unhealthy dose of anxiety. Every time I log onto my social media accounts, even if it just to check on the status of events I’ve committed to attending or become aware of events I’d like to attend or catch up with friends, I’m blasted with political posts and emotion-mongering clickbait. The more time I spent online, the more dissatisfied I’ve felt with my life – a common problem, in fact. There is a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others, and hardly in a good way. I love talking about the practical benefits of minimalism and how it has saved me a lot of time and given me the time to do what I enjoy most, but when I am using that time saved to browse Reddit, Instagram, or Facebook, the time is still wasted.

Minimalism has freed up my time significantly, freeing me from silly pursuits like mindless shopping. Type A people like me always feel like there is something more to be done to better our lives, whether it’s learning new skills, career development, working out, fixing/upgrading things around the house, or maintaining relationships and friendships. Everything requires time and mental or physical tolls, and unless you are perfectly regimented, it is easy to slack. And then the circle of anxiety continues – slack off, panic about slacking off by mindlessly watching Youtube or browsing social media, repeat. I filled my schedule with activities and commitments, and the constant go-go-go took its toll, and I quit writing the blog for a while.

When you stop doing something that used to be a source of enjoyment, you start to question yourself. Could it be depression? Just personal change? In the end, it was an issue of overcommitment. There was too much to be done, and I couldn’t do it all. I still feel like I am in that mode. I deleted Instagram, going on it only once a day at most (instead of 10 times a day). I created Facebook events, but ignored most others, for my own sake. With the holidays approaching, it was time to slow down and enjoy the closing days of 2017. And with the first snow day yesterday, happy hot chocolate season, and don’t forget to enjoy the wintery merriment.

Signs that Minimalism is Working for You

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I’ve been rocking the minimalist mindset for a few years now. I had gotten myself deep in clutter during my early 20’s and resolved to change it around 24 or so. Growing up, I had picked up my mom’s habit of never throwing away anything for the sake of not being wasteful. A virtuous reason, but not without its consequences. It took me a long time to realize that my time spent cleaning up and organizing my things was also wasteful, and buying more and more stuff was only adding to the pile. Watch The True Cost and you’ll get a not so rosy picture of the hidden tolls behind our consumption habits (the montage of young teenagers showing off their shopping “hauls” on YouTube stuck with me, but here’s an example of what I mean).

Not everything is bad, though. Minimalism when viewed from the outside is criticized as stark, idealistic, and full of sacrifice. When I first heard of tthe  concept, my immediate reaction was defensive. How many things am I allowed to own to be a “minimalist?” How can I be without my things? What if I regret throwing something away? Who would I be without my treasured possessions? So I tip-toed into the journey tentatively, slowly – not quite Marie Kondo style where you go all in, but as the journey has progressed, I’ve noticed quite a few things.

1. Cleaning takes less time. I used to get tremendous joy from the act of cleaning up and organizing. It gave me a sense of accomplishment – as moving around and other forms of exercise usually dies. But it honestly gets old after a while. It’s a bandaid solution to the problem of why does my home get so dirty so easily that it warrants cleaning it so much? Now that there is so little stuff to put away, all it is is some scrubbing and vacuuming of stray bits of dirt and hair every couple weeks and my place is still largely spotless.

2. You no longer have a need to “organize” things. Everything has its place. Stuff that gets used is returned to their places. But for a while, I spent a lot of time perusing The Container Store, looking for ways to better organize all of my stuff.

Then it hit me: Silly Meg – You don’t need more organizing solutions. You just need fewer things that need organizing. I think my dad said it best when he exclaimed that it was ridiculous that I was buying containers for things that already came with free containers. Decanting is generally an aesthetic exercise (unless you buy in bulk).

Not that an utter lack of thoughtful design in your home isn’t valuable – because it is very much a way of creating a sanctuary you actually want to be in – but reducing the stuff removes some of the need for it. I haven’t had to organize makeup since I switched to rubbing some argan oil on my face when it gets dry. If I need makeup I can borrow it from someone who uses it more often so I don’t need to blow money on something I only use a few times a year.

3. Less time looking for things. When you know where everything is, and your system prevents stuff from getting misplaced, then you won’t need to look for things as often. Given the ridiculous amount of time and panic we put ourselves through looking for our things, clearing out all of the hiding places will make what we do own more easily accessible.

4. A decreased need, and desire, to go “shopping.” With fewer things comes fewer maintenance tasks, and fewer tools needed for those maintenance tasks. With how much thought I put into purchases these days, and how little desire I have to get into my car and drive, it’s no surprise that I rarely go to the mall these days.

5. …and subsequently, a change in your spending habits. With less stuff needing maintenance and care, my trips to Target whittled down from once every two weeks to once a month. Purchases made on a whim were reduced as I got more thoughtful about what would make the cut to live in my home. The price of maintaining, storing, moving, and disposing of the item and subsequent environmental impacts are all questions I’d ask myself before handing over any cash. What I do spend my money on – classes, books, travel, gifts for others –  is all tied to innate desires and goals rather than buying stuff that I’ll get tired of in a few months.

6. Less bumping into things – less stubbing of toes, accidentally whacking an elbow, stepping on odds and ends, knocking over decorative knickknacks, and other annoyances. Helpful for adults, children, and older adults too. With a clear floor, there isn’t just room to walk, but room to dance!

7. More time to ponder life. Ohh, this one is huge. Somehow, I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I’m getting identity crises on a weekly basis. With less time living life on autopilot mode (cycling through routines without any break), I’ve gotten more and more thoughtful about how I want to live, which leads to me questioning my thoughts, behaviors, and actions more thoroughly. Living with intention has thus become a habit.

8. More space in your brain. This leads to more calmness of mind, as you have fewer things that call for your attention and valuable brain energy. There are only so many things you can deal with at any one time, and Type A personalities like me tend to forget that. You’ll then also be more able to comprehend difficult subjects or run your brain through something mentally challenging.

9. You’re more efficient with your time. I suddenly found that I was spending so much less time doing mindless, unsatisfying tasks, and spending more time on things that have proved fulfilling. The workout equivalent for me would be the mindless 30-minutes-on-a-treadmill workout vs the lifting progressively heavier weights workout, where I can see and feel progress.

10. You’re happier . This is the bottom line, right? All of these enhancements should lead you to become a happier, more fulfilled human being. If it’s not working out this way, then perhaps there is another type of change that needs to happen. Minimalism is just a means to an end.

Passion and Mom’s Closet

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Passion is a curious, paradoxical thing. It has the capability of completely wiping out our energy stores faster than we can replenish them, at the same time endowing us with the energy we need to take action. It is a catalyst for hard work and dedication, breeding elite athletes, scholars, and artists. Passion makes us scream, yell, and cheer at sports games. It makes us cry and hit things when we feel frustrated. Passion keeps us awake at night, mulling over thoughts and kneading them over and over like a lump of dough. It is an emotion that is fraught with intensity to a level that defies logic. And that is why we must keep it in check, lest we careen over the edge of sanity and sensibility, and it turns against us and overdo ourselves to our breaking points. Then we step into the land of Unhealthy Choices.

Too often, we use stuff as a measure of how much passion we have. To show our passion for others, we shower them with gifts. We don symbolic jewelry and graphic tees. We plaster bumper stickers on our cars. We buy logos and proudly display them. We buy gear and supplies, often hoping that the purchases will guilt us into following through on an activity we’ve been meaning to do. We keep things to display to others who we are and what we represent.

These outward shows, as we know, are just the tip of the iceberg. We can draw some inferences from them, but only just a sliver. We truly get to know people by being with them, not by just looking at them or watching them from afar. By experiencing life with them. By having a two-way conversation with them. By listening, taking in, and comprehending. No need to agree or disagree with them, perhaps – but you know, the beyond-the-stuff and beneath-the-skin difficult and mushy stuff we all keep repressed deep inside.

The journey of sifting through of things and letting them go is a truly personal experience. And this was a journey my mom had to go through when she decluttered her closet. Decades of stuff piled up in boxes and on shelves were confronted and thanked for their service before being passed to another owner. And then the newly found time and energy was redirected to writing about her childhood memories. How awesome is that?! These stories helped me know her better than a pile of things ever would. Stuff has a way of occupying the mind despite not actively interfering with day-to-day life, and confronting it helps us refocus our attention to our passions.

Clean, Organize, or Neither? The Choice is Yours

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Who thinks they never have enough time?

*raises hand*

We always talk about being busy and complain that we don’t have time to spend with one another. Our busy-ness is sabotaging our relationships and making us exhausted and stressed. We’ll talk about decluttering our schedules another time, but one way we can free up some of our precious time at home is reducing the amount of home maintenance we need to do.

The idea of needing to spend a day “preparing the house” for guests is not new to me. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a large family in a very large house, but whenever guests were expected, the kids were responsible for helping Mom wipe everything down, put things away, pretty up all the rooms, weed the garden, polish the wooden floors, vacuum the carpets, shake out the rugs, and organize all the messes – magazines, bathroom products, clothes strewn everywhere, and so on. Because the house was so big, these were whole day affairs. Kudos to Mom and Dad for splitting the labor among us and teaching us home maintenance skills of course, but after doing it over and over again, I developed a strong desire to severely reduce the amount of maintenance I needed to do in my own home.

I was never taught about decluttering. Throughout grade school, classmates would crowd around the kids who owned glitzy cool stuff. Just having a cool thing earned you a ticket to popularity. But no one told me about the burden of ownership, so I thought that having things was equivalent to having friends. Sometimes this mentality leaks into adulthood – being friends with the one person with the cool house or cool car, for example, earned you inclusion into that social group or social standing. At home, my family taught me to conserve and capitalize on the resources available to me and appreciate everything we had. We never threw things away if they were salvageable in some way. The idea of not wasting things and money was drilled into my head, from eating every last scrap of food on my plate to the clothes I owned. Reducing waste is important, no doubt. But not throwing anything away led to a steady accumulation of stuff over the years, and I learned something along the way:

The intention is to save everything to waste nothing. But keeping everything does end up wasting something very very special:

TIME!

Time, our most precious, nonrenewable resource! How can we forget?

Cleaning and organizing are simply maintenance of existing spaces. And when you have to clean and organize over and over again – putting things back in their places day after day after week after week for years and years – every second you’re spending reorganizing is another second of your life gone forever. Sure, we won’t be eliminating it ALL or we will take it too far, but removing anything will still help reduce the constant organizing and reorganizing. Without that need, how many minutes of our lives can we save, I wonder?

Next time you reach over to pick up something to throw out, ask yourself if the time you’re spending is better spent elsewhere. Ideally, you’ll want to reach a state in which your home is guest-friendly within 5 minutes of picking up after yourself.

If no one else has faith in you, I do. Start today. Here’s a list to kickstart your decluttering efforts (and here).