A version of this post was originally published on the blog, She is Fierce.
Twenty-nine days ago, I decided to embark on The Minimalists’ 30-day challenge. The idea is this: on the first day, you get rid of one thing, on the second day, you get rid of two things, on the third day, three things, etc. So on the 30th day, after you’ve gotten rid of 30 things, you’ve purged a total of 465 objects from your life.
I was already pretty minimal when it came to my clothing and possessions, so I was surprised by my many epiphanies as I continuously pared down to what was absolutely essential. Here’s what I learned.
1) Most of my belongings don’t mean that much to me.
One of Buddha’s most famous teachings is to feel open to anything but attached to nothing. In the most literal sense, this can apply to physical things.
Each day, I would make tick marks in my planner to keep track of how many things I'd gotten rid of so far. It was nice to see objects represented to plainly; it reminded me of their superficiality and lack of emotional depth.
2) The things that do matter to me matter for a good reason.
I have two pairs of pants (one blue and one black) that I wear all the time. They’re well-made and fit me perfectly, and I didn’t mind that they were an investment because I knew they’d be staples.
When I was stumped on whether or not to get rid of something, I imagined what my life would be like without it. For one of my two favorite pairs of pants, it would be negatively impacted (relatively speaking—definitely checking my privilege here). But for most things in my closet, I wouldn't even notice. That made it easy to say goodbye.
On the other hand, I have a shoebox stuffed with cards, notes, and letters that are meaningful to me. Every now and then I’ll riffle through to remind myself that I am loved by some remarkable people. I wouldn’t part with that box for anything.
3) I learned what I don’t need to spend money on in the future.
Last year, I tried to buy my clothing only from ethical brands or second-hand shops. I’m incredibly grateful for the awareness that brought me, but it also made me sloppy with my spending. I would order a few tops from an online thrift store and keep them even if they didn’t look amazing; they were only 5 bucks and it was better than wasting money on return shipping.
I felt a little relieved to get rid of these. I assuaged my guilt for spending the money by reminding myself of the lesson I’ve learned.
Now when I decide to spend money on something, I think more carefully about it, about the physical space I’ll "spend" as well as the money.
(An update on my ethical clothing venture: I’m not quite there yet. Someday when I have more disposable income to be able to shop high-end ethical brands, and/or more time to spend hunting at second-hand shops, I’ll try it again. In the meantime, I shop ethically / second-hand when I can, and I’ve become much more aware of where my clothing comes from, but I don’t beat myself up when I need a new sports bra and make a stop at Target. I’m still a starving artist, after all.)
4) I started a ‘do without’ list.
In the back of my planner, I have a running list of things I’m doing without. At the top of the page it reads:
“In the interest of…
...collecting experiences instead of things.
...loving people and using objects, not the other way around.”
When I have the urge to spend money on something that isn’t necessary, I jot it down along with the amount of money I’m saving by not purchasing it. For instance, I was obsessed with those lovely glass boxes that are everywhere right now, the ones with the gold or copper metal framing. I looked at them online and thought about what size and shape I’d want for storing my jewelry. I even bought one, but when I took it home, I saw that it didn’t really de-clutter my jewelry, it just put my jewelry clutter in a beautiful clear box. I didn't need it. I returned it and saved myself $25 bucks!
This list isn’t about depriving myself of things I need or would put to good use, it just reminds me that not everything I want I need, and it celebrates when I remember that buying stuff won’t make me happy.
5) I found the most meaningful practice I can do with my stuff: give it away.
I love making things, namely cards and candles. For me, the process of making is therapeutic, but I don’t need all of the finished products. I found that giving these homemade lovelies as gifts brings them new meaning.
I got the therapeutic benefit of crafting them, and now I can give someone a thoughtful homemade gift and feel great about it. I can’t wait to do this challenge again and see what else I can learn!
Instead of a glass box, I have a simple blush dish for bobby pins and rings and a gold cup I think is intended to be a candle holder for bracelets. My earrings and necklaces hang from a set of hooks I attached to driftwood (we just moved and I haven't hung them up yet). I found the brass mirror at Goodwill!
(Disclaimer: One of my clients is a fair trade jewelry company, so my accessory collection is definitely not minimal. 😬)