Minimalist Living: Decluttering for Joy, Health, and Creativity

BOOK: Minimalist Living: Decluttering for Joy, Health, and Creativity
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Praise for
Minimalism for Grandparents

 

As one who has recently had to deal with the worldly belongings of my father and my in-laws, I can testify that those who are left behind will appreciate any decluttering that grandparents do before the fact. I liked this book because it gives a philosophical basis for the decluttering process: that meaning does not reside in the items themselves. Re-jiggering one's attitude about things helps tremendously in the process of creating a beautiful, spacious, peaceful space for living.

             
— Susan Adcox,
About.com
guide to Grandparenting

 

I truly enjoyed this book and walked away with a very different, and new, view of decluttering. It honestly made me think of decluttering in a new light and inspired me to act sooner rather than later. And to act in a different way. And with new reasons to act sooner rather than later.

             
— BananaHands

 

This book is a great read for anyone who wants to simplify their life by letting go of clutter. A quick read, yet still comprehensive, Parker Hill walks you through the journey helping you realize how minimalism can improve your life and how to incorporate it yourself in all aspects of your life. Sprinkled with fun, personal anecdotes, this book was a joy to read and an inspiration to downsize the clutter in my life.

             
— AnatomyMedStudent

 

This book provides grandparents, college kids, singles and families practical ways to live a more fulfilling life through our homes. Parker Hill is very sensible and logical yet aware of all the emotions attached to our treasures, junk and heirlooms. She writes with the notion of, "I've been through this and I'll help you through too."

             
— Malexandra

 

I so enjoyed this book. I am not a grandmother...yet. I have a house full of stuff, it is holding me back from enjoying my life at this stage. I saw this book, it seemed comforting and reassuring. Genevieve shows great love and compassion for all her grandparents.

             
— Margaret

 

 

 

 

Minimalist Living

Decluttering for Joy, Health, and Creativity

 

By

 

GENEVIEVE PARKER HILL

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 by Genevieve Parker Hill. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of attributed quotations.

Cover design by Genevieve Parker Hill over photo by Jason (Jasmic
)
www.flickr.com/photos/jasmic/451762257/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those who seek a simple, joyful life.

Introduction

 

In the summer of 2004, I was a rising sophomore in college on my first visit to Paris, and I was jubilant. It was midnight; I was riding the metro with a small group of excited international students when the leader of the group I was with handed me her cell phone.
              “It’s your mother,” she said, sounding casual and unworried as only the French can.

I grabbed the phone. “Hi Mom! Guess where I am -- I’m on the Metro in Paris!”
              “Baby, are you sitting down?” Her tone instantly got my attention. After all, it was midnight in Paris, and she had called the group leader – a number I didn’t even know she had. I sat down. “Our house burned down,” she said calmly.
              “What?”
              “No one was hurt, we’re all okay. Even Lando.” My heart warmed with relief. My family was okay; even our dog was okay. “But, it was a serious fire. Most of the house is damaged.”

That fire was the beginning of my transformation from a dedicated pack rat to a joyful minimalist. Today, my family counts the fire as one of the major blessings to occur in our lives. It showed us the love of our community, and it taught us that valu
e lies in relationships, not in things.

Of course, losing almost everything was bittersweet. I still feel sad over the loss of a shelf full of my childhood and teenage journals, some loving and meaningful letters written to me, the doll cradle my grandpa made for me, and some toys I had treasured and hoped to give to my future children. But even as I feel the loss, I wonder where I would put
those mementos now. I don’t have room in my budget for a storage space, and I’m currently living the life of an international vagabond – and loving how easy it is to travel and move without too much baggage.

The loss of my sentimental things in the fire, and the ensuing years of frequent travel and moves, taught me that value doesn’t live in things –
it lives in our relationship to those things and our relationships with each other.
Relationships are intangible -- bonds built in our hearts and minds, and that is good news. It means we don’t have to hold on to possessions. Rather, we can find ways to value each other, our stories, our memories, and our histories that don’t involve renting mini-storage units or having walk- in closets in every room.

I wrote this book because I sense a longing within so many for more. More joy, more space, more time. I want to share what I was lucky enough to accidentally discover - that a life that values relationships and experiences over ownership and consumerism can be
freer and more fulfilling. But how and why is it more fulfilling? And how do we create this life when the idea of decluttering even one room or space can be overwhelming and exhausting to think about?

I wrote this book to help answer those questions. I’ve use
d a lot of my research and ideas from my first book —
Minimalism for Grandparents
, which focused on the decluttering challenges specific to those in their golden years — for this work. I also surveyed dozens of people and conducted new interviews for
Minimalist Living
. In addition, I’ve held dialogues on the Facebook page at
www.facebook.com/mnmlstlvng
(which you are invited to “like.”)
It’s my hope that the collective wisdom of the people I’ve talked to about minimalist living, along with what I’ve gleaned from my research and my post-fire attitude shift, will inspire you and give you practical ways to live a more joyful, minimalist life.

I want to warn you. Simply reading this book won't do anything. You’ve got to take action. But I promise we will make it fun. It'll be fun in a challenging way. It's my job to break down the many steps toward becoming a person who doesn't live with clutter so that you don't feel overwhelmed.
You can simply follow the steps and discover that you have become a joyful minimalist.

First,
we’ll talk about the definitions of minimalism, and what it means for the purposes of this book. Then, we’ll address the major ways minimalist living can bring you more joy, better health, and abundant creativity. Those first four chapters will also give you some practical advice when it comes to making more time in your schedule and creating a more peaceful inner life. Once we’re inspired, we’ll get practical and jump into facing the resistance that can block your path to minimalist living. Next, we’ll get started, with techniques, tips, and strategies for turning your home and your time into a healthy, creative haven and keeping it that way. Finally, we’ll talk about the deeper reasons to be a minimalist including what it has to do with your inner life and your greater purpose here.

 

I’m so excited to take this journey with you. Let’s get started.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Minimalism Is All About You

“We no longer live in a material world. Sorry Madonna.” –
Natalie Sisson

Let’s start by talking about the word behind the phrase “minimalist living.”

Minimalism.

             
The word “minimalism” comes to us from the world of art and design. It’s the less-is-more aesthetic that you’ve experienced if you’ve ever been in an art museum and found yourself pondering a canvas simply painted in one solid color.

I use minimalism here to describe a similar attitude toward our
belongings, our thoughts, and our lives.
When I talk about minimalism, I mean something that is different for each person. Although minimalism in this context isn’t the term used to describe a certain style of art or design, some of the connotations from that world can inform our definitions of minimalism. For example, to some, minimalism means clean lines, white space, simplicity, and a less-is-more mentality. But that conventional definition of minimalism won’t necessarily apply to everyone as they think about what kind of place they want their home to be or what they want their life to look like.

             
Within this context, what do we mean exactly when we say “I’m a minimalist?” Well, the answer varies for each person, but first and foremost, a minimalist lifestyle is about increasing your joy through simplicity. It’s all about what makes
you
happy, and nothing more.

What Minimalism Is and Isn’t

Minimalism is:

  • Letting go of that which does not serve you.
  • Designing your life based on how you want to live it, not the expectations of others.
  • Letting go of negative or obsessive thoughts.
  • Looking around and seeing your personality reflected in your living space.
  • Being surrounded by colors and textures that make you feel good.
  • Putting furniture in rooms to reflect how you really live, instead of how other people live.
  • Creatively using one item for more than one purpose.
  • Borrowing from friends or neighbors, or renting, if you use something rarely.
  • Giving unused things away now, not later.
  • Knowing that you have what you need and it is enough.
  • Spending money on experiences and adventures.

 

Minimalism is not:

  • Saying “yes” to every request of your time.
  • Keeping things out of guilt or a sense of loyalty to someone.
  • Making sure your home looks like it could be in a décor magazine (unless that’s truly your passion).
  • Having a couch and a TV just because everyone else does.
  • Having a gadget for every possible whim you might have.
  • Filling an attic, garage, or basement with things for the kids in case they ever want them.
  • Keeping something because it’s easier than recycling it or giving it away.
  • Keeping something only because it’s worth a lot of money.
  • Renting a personal storage unit.
  • Spending money on possessions that require maintenance or management.

 

 

A Consumer Culture

In the U.S. and many developed nations, we live in a culture that is defined by consuming. It doesn’t have to be that way for individuals, b
ut it takes tremendous effort not to be influenced by the culture, and most of us are influenced in ways that we don’t even realize. Being influenced by our culture is normal and acceptable – except in cases where a cultural attitude is damaging. Consumerism is one of those attitudes that can be very damaging.

Consuming in itself is normal, something that all humans have done since the beginning of time. We consume food and we create tools and art for our use and enjoyment. These things don’t last forever, so we create more. In that way, we’ve always been consumers and we always will be consumers. However, the concept of a consumer culture is one
that every person aiming to enjoy a simpler and richer lifestyle must question.

In the 1930
s and ‘40s, the Great Depression and World War II made a consumer-based lifestyle much more difficult and less common than it is today. Belongings were handmade, or if store-bought, were carefully maintained and repaired so that they could be of use for years. These careful measures were both a necessity as well as a patriotic duty during wartime. After World War II, we entered what Lizabeth Cohen in her book
A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America
calls “an economy, culture, and politics built around the promises of mass consumption.” She argues that the current consumer culture in the U.S., and the idea that consuming could be a patriotic duty, is a product of the complex political soup of postwar America and had deep and far-reaching consequences. The consuming part of the American Dream – the buying of more and more part – continues today, aided by the advertising industry.

One beloved American pastime, watching television, has historically been a conduit for fueling our desire to consume. Today, advertising is moving to the internet, but television advertising remains an important shaper of the collective American – and global – consciousness.

The television industry developed over time as a platform to sell advertising space. TV broadcasts are selected and scheduled by how many viewers will tune in to watch each show. Advertisers pay millions of dollars to have their messages seen and heard alongside popular broadcasts. The reason that companies are willing to invest so much in television advertisements is that these commercials are extremely influential. They begin influencing us almost from birth. When my sister and I were little girls, around five and seven years old, we started seeing TV commercials for a doll called California Roller Baby. We begged my mom for the doll, but she said no, instantly sensing that Roller Baby was not a high quality product. But the ads were so colorful, and Roller Baby really skated. She had little knee pads, a skimpy helmet that showed most of her platinum blond hair, an equally skimpy early ‘90s Santa Monica skater outfit, and the body and face of a toddler. Her life was a carefree and perfect blend of childhood fun and adult freedom. We begged. Mom still didn’t want to buy the dolls, but when my grandmother heard about our wishes, she bought us each a California Roller Baby for Christmas. We were thrilled when we opened them, and then disappointed. Roller Baby was smaller than she’d seemed on TV, and her skating ability was jerky and mechanical. She began falling apart within weeks. Mom said that our grandmother had given us the Roller Baby dolls to teach us a lesson about TV advertising. It worked.

What is the message of most ads? The typical message is not, “Buy this product,” but rather, “Someone like you – maybe someone slightly happier, hipper, and thinner – enjoys this product. In fact, it makes his or her whole life perfect.” The message is about your identity, and what it requires for you to think of yourself in a certain way. The mind games and manipulations of advertisers are often so clever that we are largely unaware of the ways that they affect us. Fifteen years after seeing the commercial for California Roller Baby, I moved to Santa Monica and jogged alongside the California skating babes on the famous beach-side pave way, although I could never bring myself to buy skates. Who knows, but maybe my move to Santa Monica was partly because somewhere in my brain, something had been telling me for fifteen years that the California roller babies had the good life.

As a less far-fetched example of how far advertisers’ manipulations of our concepts of identity go, think about clothing. We can purchase clothes that have brands emblazoned on them. It’s free advertising for the brands – advertising that we pay for by purchasing the clothes and becoming walking billboards. This phenomenon proves that people aren’t only buying things for the quality or usefulness, or even the beauty of the clothes, but because they want to be associated with a certain sensibility, an adventurous spirit, elegance, or sex-appeal, for example. Whatever brand they choose fits into the self-identity they desire. Brands work very hard and spend millions to cultivate these associations through advertising.

Marketing companies go so far as to invent needs that the average person perhaps
doesn’t even know he or she has
.
This is not limited to the U.S. In India, marketing messages for a feminine wash (which many gynecologists recommend women avoid) tell women they can be “fairer” by using the wash on their intimate areas.
[1]
It strikes me that many women may never consider that they want to change the color of their private parts, much less need to do so in the face of the health risks that come from using feminine washes, until they see advertisements like these.

Advertisements in any medium are illusions. Sometimes they are beautiful, artistically-created illusions that we can enjoy just like we enjoy seeing a good movie. But our subconscious may not be able to recognize that they are illusions. Even though we know that there was a director, set designer, actors, maybe even a composer, and various artists involved in making a TV commercial, the messages can still get in. And we may get a prompt from our subconscious when we are out shopping to buy a certain brand, or even to buy a product that we didn’t know we wanted before we saw the
ad

We are also primed to purchase simply by the experience of shopping in super stores. This may not be something we always
notice, but it has an effect on us. My husband and I moved to a 3
rd
world country where shops are small and poorly stocked. We eventually got used to shopping in many different stores, and not always being able to purchase exactly what we wanted. Then we returned to the US. The experience of walking the aisles of a US grocery store after living abroad is overwhelming. It feels like on onslaught, and the heightened experience makes me buy either too much, or simply want to give up and leave the store. This tells me that we are psychologically affected by our superstores and that affects our buying habits.

Rest assured, we are the captains of our own ships. It simply takes focused effort and intentional living to defy the consumer culture in which we live and
to pursue life as we truly desire on a deep soul level. Resistance of the consumer-based lifestyle that is the norm in the U.S. began to take hold of the popular imagination in the ‘60s, as people rejected consumerism and a host of other conventional ways of thinking. Living a more minimal life has been in vogue on and off over the years and has been called “downsizing,” “simple living,” “de-cluttering,” and, more recently, “minimalism.”

We can build fulfilling, meaningful, joyful lives without filling our homes with junk. What is more, we can bless other people with cast-offs while still remembering the important place those belongings had for us. We can also use the newfound space in our lives to have more joy, better health, more creativity, and to fulfill our purpose. The way to do this is to embrace minimalism – as you define it.

 

The Life You Want

Throughout your reading of this book, and as you go about simplifying your life for more joy, don’t hold to anyone’s definition of minimalism but your own. For one person, minimalism is selling off a second home or investment properties that take time and money to manage. For another, a minimalist life could mean selling a home and living in an RV while traveling the country.

Your task as you read this book and simplify your life is to identify what purpose each item, thought, and commitment serves for you. You can design your life, manage your own time, and create your ideal living environment.

 

Design it Now

Let’s think about what we want now in our homes, our days, and our inner lives. Spend five minutes journaling or sketching what you want your home to look and feel like.

It could be a clean, spare space that will best show off your collection of modern art. It could be a serene escape full of meditation cushions and hammocks perfect for afternoon
naps by the sea. It could be a cozy apartment with everything in its place and nothing extra. It could be a home with a photography backdrop instead of a formal dining room. You are limited only by your imagination. Define what you need your home to be for you, and then stick to it. Don’t feel guilty about how you choose to design your space.

Now spend five minutes writing about what you want your days to look like. How do you want to spend your time? Do you want to change jobs so that you can work less or enjoy your work more? Would you like to spend more time with loved ones, more time painting, or more time building camp stoves from recycled cans? Don’t think about limitations such as debt, bills, or other’s expectations right now. Simply dream about all the ways you’d like to spend your time in an ideal world. This will be your guide as you simplify your schedule for more joy.

Finally, take five more minutes to journal about your inner life. Would you like to be happier? Have less self-doubt? Be more positive? Laugh more? Be more open to love, spontaneity, or adventure? Write about the ways your inner life could use a makeover. Write about the ways that your thoughts might be out of control. After all, everything starts with a thought. How can your thoughts serve you better? Having control over the thoughts you let into your mind is just like having control over the items you let into your home or the commitments you let into your schedule: it takes practice, but it is possible.

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