Monday, October 28, 2019

Experiments in Living With Less

Many of us long for a simpler life free from the burden of our stuff, but we don't know how to achieve it.  We are overwhelmed, and we feel trapped in our current way of life.  But deep down, we believe that change could bring a huge payoff:  more time and energy, more money, more freedom, more generosity, less stress, less debt, and less distraction.  But how do we go about making that change?

Why not creatively experiment with a more minimalist approach to life to see whether the benefits are worth the effort?

The basic idea is to live without a particular possession for a limited amount of time, and then decide if you can or want to do without it permanently.  A few examples might be going for 24 hours without a smart phone, or a month without TV, the microwave, or eating out.  You might try limiting your wardrobe for a three month period, or removing a piece of furniture (like the desk you only use as a clutter catcher) to see how you do without it.

In our hyper-consumerist culture, we rarely consider the concept of "enough."  As Patrick Rhone writes in his book Enough:

Enough comes from trying things out.  It comes from challenging your preconceptions.  It comes from having less, trying more, then reducing to find out what is just right.  It comes from letting go of your fear of less.  It comes from letting go of the false security of more.

Many of us are blessed to have no experience of living with too little.  We don't know what it's like to be in need, so we don't really know where "enough" begins.  We generally focus on increasing what we have, not reducing it.  That perfect Goldilocks balance may be difficult to find, but it is worth it.  How many shoes, outfits, plates, or chairs are enough?  How many social or other activities?

You can experiment by storing some excess items temporarily while you decide if they are truly needed.  I use the corner of one closet for this; sometimes I also use the trunk of my car.  This gives me time to make a decision about possessions before taking the final step to remove them permanently.  They're "on hold" for a predetermined time (usually a month or so), after which I reassess them.

I've done this with clothing, blankets, artwork, furniture, collections, sets of dishes, and the TV.  Some people have done this with a car, a boat, even a room in their house (just close the door for a month).

Think of it as a fast.  The point of fasting is to give up something (often food, but it can also be a physical item or an activity) so that we can pay closer attention to our deeper hungers and desires.

A fast helps us focus on what we truly value.

So why not try experimenting with less?  You could temporarily resign from one commitment.  You could make coffee or tea at home and skip Starbucks for a month.  You might try to observe one "buy nothing" day every week (it's surprisingly hard to do).  I'd like to try one day a week when we don't drive our car -- we can bike, walk, or stay at home instead.  You could try vegetarianism, take a break from social media, or declutter the unused "good" china and the china hutch.  Give yourself at least a month to live with the experiment, and then evaluate.

  • Did you miss the item or activity?
  • What were the positive effects of not having/doing this item/activity?
  • Were there negative results of not having/doing this item/activity?
  • What have you learned about yourself?
  • Do you want to make this experiment, or a modified version of it, permanent?
  • What will you choose for your next experiment?

It's not deprivation, it's research.

Resist stagnation, accept the challenge, and explore a different way of being.

Photo by Coen Van Den Broek on Unsplash

Friday, October 25, 2019

I'm Dreaming of a Simpler Christmas

I know it's early, and I dislike rushing Christmas, but... if you want to simplify your holidays this year, now is the time to be thinking and planning for that!  And just in time, I've created a fantastic resource for you.  My newest book, Minimalism for the Holidays is available now on Amazon Kindle (which can be read on any device, even your computer, with their free app) and in a beautiful paperback edition!  Look for the link in the sidebar.

Meanwhile, here's a sneak peak:


I don't want to do it this year.  Just thinking about it is depressing.

I'm talking about the Christmas that starts now, before Halloween.  I'm talking about the canned music, the packed parking lots, the over-heated stores, the ads, and the wish lists.  The jam-packed schedules, plastic reindeer, and way too much food.

Some people thrive on the noise and the hype and the busyness.  I too used to believe I loved all of that.  But when I think about what really makes me happy, it doesn't look anything like the Modern American Christmas.  In fact, almost everything about the MAC makes me think I'm missing something that should be wonderful.

Would you like to join me?

5 Ingredients of a Simple, Heartfelt Christmas

Everyone's version of a simpler holiday will look different.  Here's how I picture it:

1.  More time.

Christmas schedules can get crazy, with so many extra holiday activities, plus shopping, baking, wrapping, mailing, traveling, and hosting guests.  Normal routines get lost.  Clutter and chaos build because we don't take time to do maintenance.  When my children were little, their needs took a backseat to my to-do list, and I'd shuttle them with me from place to place all day.  (I'm sorry, kids.)

I'm aiming for no more than one holiday activity per day, even on the weekends.  That might not seem like much, but I want to have more time to relax or to be spontaneous.

We don't have to fill every time slot.  A little white space on the calendar is a good thing.

2.  Less food.

There are so many special holiday recipes!  It's not the same without them, right?

Wait a minute.  Is your holiday about food?

Okay, maybe there are a couple of dishes I don't make at other times of the year that I would miss.  But there is no law that says a holiday dinner must include multiple appetizers, a large stuffed bird, three vegetables prepared in some gourmet manner, three different kinds of pie, from-scratch whipped cream, eggnog, mulled wine, and more.  Christmas dinner really doesn't need to be a huge four-course feast, especially if we've been snacking on cookies for two months.

Is it heresy to suggest a little moderation and ease?  Can I be saved from exile in the kitchen without ruining the holiday?

A simpler meal will save everyone indigestion and regret.

3.  Homemade fun.

Instead of tickets to the big-city Nutcracker extravaganza (complete with dressy outfits and expensive parking), choose the local community theatre's holiday play instead.  Choose more family board games, ice skating, star gazing, caroling, and reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever aloud to each other, and less time sitting in traffic and shopping at the mall.

We need to make more of our entertainment, rather than buying it.

4.  Minimal decor.

In years past I spent a lot of money on Christmas decor.  Displaying all of it was quite a production, and took an entire day both to put up and take down.

Then my mother went into assisted living, got rid of most of what she owned, and gave me a pair of choirboy angels she bought the year I was born.

I remembered those angels.  I had loved them as a child.  When my husband and I downsized to a small apartment, the angels came with us.

Now holiday decor consists of curly willow branches in an old pitcher, a bowl filled with pomegranates and gilded pine cones, and a lot of white candles.  A fresh evergreen wreath with a red plaid bow.  A small nativity scene, and the red-robed singing angels.

Cue Christmas music by Nat and Bing, because I'm done.

5.  Creative giving.

There is one good thing about seeing Christmas items in stores three months before the big day:  it gets you thinking about gifts in time to make something.

I'll slip some cash into my grown children's Christmas cards, but I might also be able to craft something small they'd enjoy, like a sugar body scrub or a personalized tee shirt.  Co-workers might appreciate a jar of bean soup mix.  My grandson might enjoy a thrifted dress-up kit collected into an old suitcase.

By starting early, I can take my time and enjoy the process, rather than turning my creative efforts into yet another frantic rush job.  There are a lot of ways to give without buying, and that seems more personal, too.

If you're ready for a simpler Christmas, start that conversation now.  You may find that your loved ones share many of your feelings.  Even children may be excited about a holiday that includes more togetherness and less stress, with opportunities for them to participate rather than be shuttled around as you check tasks off your never-ending list.

P.S.  If you happen to buy my newest book, Minimalism for the Holidays, would you be so kind as to leave a short review?  I don't know about you, but I always read at least a few reviews when trying to decide if a book is one I'm interested in purchasing.  It would mean so much to me if you would take the time to do that.  Thanks!

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Monday, October 21, 2019

You Can Make A Difference

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

There are billions of people in the world who wish their biggest problems were a cluttered house, an over-busy schedule, picky kids, and that extra 20 pounds.

Billions of people don't worry if they have the latest phone, the trendiest clothes, nail art, or a luxury car.  They worry about food, water, and shelter.  They worry that a mosquito bite will make them sick, or that their child will have to leave school to work in a factory for pennies like they do.

We didn't choose to be born with all the blessings we have.  We didn't steal anything.  But if we keep it all for ourselves, and indulge in cheap products made by the poor and exploited, then we're doing wrong.

Don't wallow in guilt, but do start making different choices.

Pay attention to how marketing makes you feel.

The goal of advertising is to make us discontented so we will buy whatever they're selling.  Marketers try to convince us that we need their product to improve our lives, that we'll be more interesting, sexier, and happier if we just buy now.  That message is constant.

The innate drive that we all have for self-improvement is used to get us to buy something that will supposedly meet that need.  But the excitement of a new acquisition fades quickly, and we have to buy again and again for less and less enjoyment.

Stay out of that trap.  Notice your reactions to magazines (especially fashion and lifestyle publications), TV, and social media.

Don't just buy -- wait.

When you see something you think you want, ask yourself, "Do I really want or need this, or am I just responding to clever marketing?"  If you didn't even know the product existed until you saw it in the store or online, pause before letting yourself buy.  Even 24 hours can help you think more clearly.

There are other steps you can take to blunt your "buy it now" tendencies.  Delete shopping apps from your phone, unsubscribe from sale notifications, remove your credit card details from online store accounts, and carry only cash when shopping.

"Don't just declutter -- de-own."

Joshua Becker, author of The Minimalist Home, reminds us that we can have access to many things we need without owning them.  We can borrow, rent, use community resources such as parks and libraries, and repair and keep our old things.

If we do need to buy, there are more options than running to the nearest big box store.  We can buy used, and buy ethically.  We can buy high quality items and take good care of them.

"Care less, and care more."

This idea comes from Brooke McAlary, author of Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World.  She suggests that it's appropriate to care less about trends and fads, the opinions of other people, competition, or your own ego, while caring more about quality, the stuff you already own and use, and the people making the items you buy.

Get started with this ethical shopping guide.

Give as much as you can.

Start by giving away what you don't need and use, rather than taking time to sell it.  Continue by giving your time and talents to a cause you care about such as your local church or school, a food pantry, an animal shelter, or a local environmental effort.

Make an even greater difference by giving money to highly effective charities.  Can you give 1% of your income (or even more)?  Give up one coffee drink or one restaurant meal every week and donate that amount.  Set up an automatic donation of $10 or $20 from every paycheck.  Or save all of your coins in a jar, and donate the total every month.

Give because it helps those who need it.  Give because it adds meaning to your life.  Give because it makes you happy.  Give because you have been blessed.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Rich Minimalists in a Needy World

Minimalism isn't a numbers game.  It's not about

  • owning only 100 things
  • living in a tiny 300-square-foot house
  • keeping only 10 books
  • wearing only black, white, and gray clothing
  • eating only beans, rice, fruit, and vegetables and drinking only water and green tea

Sure, you might experiment by doing any or all of these things in order to learn more about yourself or to help you change your consumer habits, but you can be a minimalist without setting these limits.

One of the definitions of minimalism I like comes from Cait Flanders, author of The Year of Less.  She describes it as "the mindset that helps you recognize what adds value to your life, so you can let go of what doesn't."  That applies not only to physical items, but to all areas, including health and diet, work, hobbies, relationships, goals, technology, etc.  There are no rules or requirements, but rather a challenge to be intentional about what you will emphasize in your life, and what you will minimize. 

Do we realize how privileged we are?

Having clutter in the first place is a sign of privilege.  We have the purchasing power to acquire things we don't need!  And generally we don't have just a few extra keepsakes.  We have piles and boxes and closets full of meaningless surplus items.  So we live with great abundance.  Having the ability to declutter half your belongings and still have plenty is an incredible privilege!

Maybe you know someone who never buys anything they don't absolutely need because they can't afford to do so.  Maybe you've been in that position yourself, once upon a time.  Maybe it's not a matter of deciding to live with only one car, but of figuring out how to get to work on the bus because you can't afford to replace your old vehicle that finally died.  It's not a matter of buying organic veggies and free-range eggs, but of affording bargain-brand macaroni and cheese.  It's not a matter of cutting up your credit cards so you stop buying new clothes and shoes, but of scrimping to pay for the glasses your child needs.

How fortunate I am to be in a position to choose to be a minimalist.  If I'm tired of having excess in my life, I can let it go without a worry.  If my diet isn't making me feel healthy, I can walk into a grocery store and buy better food.  If my clothes don't fit well or make me feel frumpy, I can buy better clothes.  If I need or want to learn a new skill, I can take a class.  The list goes on.

If you're tempted to compare your financial situation with someone who has a bigger house or a fancier car or takes more luxurious vacations than you do, stop and think.  It's become normal to criticize the 1% for their greed and materialism, thus implying that we don't commit those sins because we're not part of the wealthy few.  But something interesting happens when we widen our gaze.

Globally, almost half the world's population (3.4 billion people) live on less than US $5.50 per day (approximately US $2,000 per year).  According to the non-profit group Giving What We Can, an annual income of US $41,000 places you in the richest 2% of the world's population.  An income of US $26,000 per year places you in the top 5%.

Even a minimum wage job ($7.25 per hour, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year) puts you in the top 11% of all the people on the planet, with an income 10 times the global average.  Adjusting for actual purchasing power makes little difference in the percentages.

We are wealthy.

When we expand our world view, we discover that we belong to the "haves."  We are the ones with adequate income, decent shelter, ample food, clean water, stable government, public education, libraries, parks, and many other benefits.

This realization could change our lives.

If we are among the top 2%-5% of wage-earners in the world, maybe increasing our incomes isn't going to make us any happier.  If having more money isn't the key to a good life, we'll have to look somewhere else.

If we're discontented and restless, more shopping, more experiences, and more debt will probably not satisfy the longing of our hearts.  If having more stuff isn't the key to happiness, we'll have to look somewhere else.

If we've been waiting to be more generous until we've met our own needs, maybe we should realize we've already done that.

The time for generosity is now.

When we choose a simpler life, we're not impoverishing ourselves.  We're enriching our lives with space, time, freedom, energy, peace, contentment, and joy.  When there are so many people who don't have enough to begin with, let's never forget that we are blessed to be able to choose to live with less.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Monday, October 14, 2019

An Exciting Announcement

Photo by Michael Wagner/Unsplash

Dear Reader,

Minimalism is about living consciously and with only the things that add value to your life.  It focuses less on material possessions and more on relationships and experiences.  As Joshua Becker, creator of, has wisely said, "Excess possessions do not increase happiness -- they distract us from the things that do!"

As an aspiring minimalist, this doesn't mean you have to give up all of your belongings.  It does mean that you don't put much stock in the idea that what you own will fulfill you.

We all need food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care and other essentials.  But we're constantly bombarded by advertisers who want us to buy more than we need, because buying more is what keeps our culture humming along.  Unfortunately, buying more also keeps us in bondage to busyness, debt, dissatisfaction, waste, and environmental destruction.

But minimalists know that joy doesn't come from things.

We know that joy comes from love, purpose, creativity, and gratitude. 

I hope you've enjoyed exploring the ABCs of Minimalism over the past two months, and that you've found the posts interesting and useful.

I'm very pleased to announce that I've published a book which contains all of them in one handy volume, plus additional material that I think enhances what I've posted here.  The book outlines a philosophy for living a good life, with tons of practical advice for achieving it.

It's called Minimalism A to Z, and it's available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook.  Find out more by clicking on the link.

Whether you buy the book or not, please take a look!  And if you do decide to purchase, I would appreciate it if you would take the time to leave a short review on Amazon.  As you know, reviews help customers decide if a book is one they might be interested in reading.  I consult Amazon reviews all the time!

I am constantly grateful for all of you.  I appreciate the fact that you take time to read what I've written, and I sincerely hope you find it helpful and encouraging.

With best wishes,

Karen Trefzger

Friday, October 11, 2019

Zero Waste Challenge

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Don't you hate walking through a park and seeing garbage on the ground?  Or garbage tossed along the highway?  Is there anything uglier?

Well actually, yes there is.  The plastic soup that infiltrates gigantic areas of our oceans, chokes marine life, and allows toxins to enter the food chain is a problem on par with global warming.

Both manufacturing and waste disposal put a strain on the environment.  Even recycling uses resources and causes pollution, but alarmingly, the vast majority of plastic is never recycled.  Much of it enters our waterways.  It may be used for only a few hours (or a few minutes!), but it takes hundreds of years to decompose.

One way to begin to address this problem is simply to reduce waste.  Obviously, this change isn't made overnight.  It's a goal we can work toward, and minimalism can help.

A minimalist is mindful about purchases.

Minimalists already know that we don't actually need everything that is sold to us!

A minimalist values quality over quantity.

So items last longer and are replaced less often.

30 Additional Ways to Waste Less

  1. Replace plastic shopping bags with reusable totes, not only at the grocery store, but everywhere you shop.
  2. Replace plastic produce bags with reusable mesh bags.
  3. Opt for items with minimal packaging.  Avoid snack packs and individually wrapped products.  Buy pantry items from bulk bins when possible, and be sure to bring your own reusable storage containers.  Support brands that avoid excessive packaging.
  4. Buy food more consciously to avoid waste.  Each year, we discard millions of tons of expired food while millions of people go hungry.  Avoid buying economy sizes if you're unlikely to use them, and shop every few days for immediate needs, rather than stockpiling.  Serve smaller portions that will actually be consumed, and compost as many food scraps as possible.
  5. Replace plastic wrap or paper lunch bags with a bento box or reusable snack and sandwich bags.
  6. Replace plastic straws with a stainless steel straw, or simply do without.
  7. Avoid fast food, with its disposable cups, lids, and plastic utensils and containers.  Eat at home or in a restaurant that uses real plates, cups, and silverware.
  8. Avoid Styrofoam and plastic takeout containers.  Bring some of your own storage containers to the restaurant.
  9. Replace plastic utensils with the real thing, even on picnics.
  10. Avoid using disposable cups, lids, and sleeves at your coffee shop by asking the barista to prepare and serve your latte in a mug.  I'm always sorry to see the predominance of takeaway cups used by people who have stayed in the store.
  11. Avoid making coffee with single-use pods, and use a drip machine or a pour-over setup instead.  Use a stainless steel filter instead of paper.
  12. Replace tea bags with a stainless steel strainer and loose leaf tea packed in a tin.
  13. Avoid bottled water.  Fill a reusable bottle from the tap.
  14. Replace paper towels with cloth to wipe up spills.
  15. Avoid plastic sponges.  Use washable dish cloths, and change them daily.
  16. Replace paper napkins with cloth napkins.
  17. Replace paper baking cups with silicone cups.
  18. Instead of a throwaway razor, shave with an electric razor or a reusable one with replaceable blades.
  19. Replace plastic toothbrushes with bamboo toothbrushes that can be composted.
  20. Use smaller amounts of shampoo, facial cleanser, and other personal care products.  You'll find that less is still enough for the job, and you'll save money while using fewer containers.
  21. Consider using disposable diapers and wipes only when traveling, while using cloth diapers and wipes at home.  I know it's a big commitment, but earlier generations managed it without washing machines and tumble dryers.
  22. Consider using a menstrual cup or cloth pads instead of disposable feminine hygiene products.
  23. Consider using facial tissues only when you're sick, and a handkerchief the rest of the time.
  24. Replace dryer sheets with wool dryer balls.
  25. Use refilled ink cartridges in your printer, and print only when absolutely necessary.
  26. Use refillable pens and mechanical pencils.
  27. Invest in rechargeable batteries.
  28. Reuse paper gift wrap and bags, or present your gift in a small cloth tote.
  29. Choose glitter-free paper items and makeup.  Glitter is a microplastic that is dangerous to sea life.
  30. Consolidate online orders and request that they be shipped in a single box.  This reduces packaging and the airline emissions generated by multiple shipments.

I do not practice all of these suggestions, but I'm working toward that goal.  Why not pick a disposable item you use regularly and replace it with a reusable version?  Practice for several weeks until it becomes a habit.  Then choose another item and go on from there.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

You Are Enough

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

One of the ways that advertisers keep us buying is by creating the feeling that we could be the people we want to be if only we had a new car, a better phone, more stylish clothing, a sexier perfume, or an exotic vacation.  We are constantly encouraged to look for change and improvement outside ourselves.

We want to believe that our next purchase will solve our problems.  And it's so much easier to swipe a card or click-to-ship than it is to do the hard work of changing ourselves.  I know this first hand, because I keep losing the same 30 pounds over and over again.

But you can't buy change.

Change only happens when you figure out the motivations and habits that got you where you are, and create new beliefs and practices that get you where you want to go.  This is the only way to achieve change.  It can't be found in a store.

How many purchases have we made hoping they would make all the difference?

  • Cookbooks and diet plans we thought would help us lose weight.
  • Gym memberships and fitness apps we thought would help us get in shape.
  • Clothing and hair styles we thought would make us look thinner, younger, or more successful.
  • Big screen TVs and gaming systems we thought would create more family time.

I'm not saying these things are bad.  Some of them could be valuable tools, but only if we actually put them to use.  We can't buy our way to health, thinness, or happy relationships.  It's an inside job.

It's not what I own, but what I do, that really matters.

The good news is that I can make these changes if I choose.  I don't need an exercise bike to get in shape; I have a body in decent working order that can stretch, lift, walk, and become stronger if I just use it more.  I don't need special diet food or a stack of cookbooks to get thinner; I know that eating more fruits and vegetables while cutting out desserts and snacks will result in weight loss.  I don't need more tools; I have the ability within myself to become the person I want to be.

Dear aspiring minimalist, you are enough!  You have enough.  You don't need to buy something to improve your life.  You need to tap into your own desires, creativity, and determination.

What's holding you back?  Is it your belief that you aren't enough, that you don't actually have what it takes to make a change?  I've had the exact same feelings:  "I've been obese for a long time; I'll always be obese."  "I'm in late middle age; I'm too old to make a change."  "This relationship is already distant and cold; probably nothing I do can improve it."

There are a million excuses for avoiding change, because change is hard.  It means leaving our familiar comfort zone.  It means risking failure.

But if we never try, we've already failed.

Start by establishing a small action to complete every day -- something that, over the course of a few weeks, has the potential to become a strong habit.

  • Make a big green salad your go-to lunch.
  • Do five minutes of stretching as soon as you wake up.
  • Replace your customary venti Frappuccino with a tall latte.
  • Pleasantly greet that problematic colleague every morning.
  • Take a short walk at the top of every hour.
  • Refuse to bring your phone to the dinner table.
  • Declutter one item.

You may think that such a small action won't make much difference.  But if you keep taking those tiny steps, you will eventually move closer to your goal.  

Buying stuff will never make you something you are not.  But you are enough.  You can achieve your goals, a step at a time.

Monday, October 7, 2019

X-Ray Vision Helps Clear Hidden Clutter

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

We're finite creatures.  We have only so much time, money, space, and energy.

But our modern consumer society offers a dizzying array of merchandise.  This can have several possible effects:

  • The constant influx of new products catches our attention and makes us greedy, and so we buy more than we need.
  • Endless sales and clearances make everything look like a "bargain," and so we buy more than we need.
  • The difficulty of making the "perfect" choice can be overwhelming, even paralyzing.  We're unsure, and so we buy more than we need.
  • We can't locate something essential among the clutter of past purchases, so even though we own three such items, we buy more than we need.

The load of unused items becomes a physical weight, and may cause guilt or regret.  We try to hide it away in boxes, bins, drawers, closets, basements, attics, and under the bed, but it's all still there, nagging at us.

Feng Shui practitioners say that hidden clutter affects your home's energy.  It makes sense that unused items create inertia.  Clutter keeps you stuck in the past, or demonstrates your fears about the future.

Clutter represents indecision and procrastination.

Items that are used move from one place to another.  Dishes and cookware are used, become dirty, get washed, and are returned to the cupboard.  Clothing is worn, dirtied, laundered, and returned to a drawer or the closet.  Tools, appliances, books, photos, knickknacks, or other things that sit in one place for a long time may simply be clutter.  Does your home contain shelves, drawers, closets, maybe even entire rooms where nothing comes or goes?  That staleness and stagnation need to be cleared away.

Don't let hidden clutter trap you and drag you down.  Pretend you have x-ray vision to see what's hidden, and pull it out into the open.  Ask yourself, "Do I need this?  Does it bring something positive to my life?"  Be honest.  Don't let yourself make excuses.  Go through things at your own pace, but go through them.

Here's a decluttering clue:  you like the things you use over and over more than the things just sitting at the back of a closet.  The dusty items are not the ones you need and love.

Don't look at each item and ask if it sparks joy or memories.  At one point it probably did, which is why it's cluttering your cupboard.  Enforce a use-it-or-lose-it guideline.

Those hidden things, the ones you keep just because you've had them for so long, or because someone gave them to you, or because your fear has made you keep them "just in case," aren't doing you any good.  Let them go, and they might be useful to someone else.

Having less will highlight the items you actually use and enjoy.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Wear a Capsule Wardrobe

I'm sure you've seen Pinterest photos of beautifully curated closets and capsule wardrobes.  Maybe you long for one yourself, but think it's impossible or too restrictive.

It's a modern consumer belief that we need a huge wardrobe to be "interesting."  Of course you want to be appropriately dressed, and why not wear attractive clothes that flatter your body type and coloring?  But none of that demands a huge quantity of clothing.  Limits encourage creativity, and a smaller closet isn't necessarily boring.

In the 1940s the average person owned 36 items of clothing.  Today the average consumer has 120 items, with 80% going unworn.  This tells me several things:

  • 20% of what's in the average closet (that's 24 pieces of clothing) may be an adequate wardrobe.
  • We hang on to clothes that haven't fit in years and (if we're honest) will never fit again.  Even if we could wear them, they'd be out of style.  These clothes mock us and wreck our confidence.
  • We hang on to clothes that we will never wear again:  prom dresses, concert tee shirts, cheerleader uniforms.  These souvenirs crowd our closets, waste our time, and keep us from concentrating on who we are now.
  • We're quite obviously addicted to shopping, whether we need anything or not.  We're worse than any 3-year-old nagging for a new toy!

We need clothing, but it should never be the most noteworthy thing about us.

You may already own the core of a great capsule wardrobe, once you've decluttered the 80% that doesn't fit, that you never wear, that's no longer in good shape, or that doesn't go with anything else in your closet.

There are two secrets to a minimalist wardrobe:  separates and color.  A wardrobe built on separates such as skirts, trousers, jeans, tees, blouses, cardigans, and jackets, in a few coordinating colors, allows all of the pieces to be mixed and matched into a maximum number of wearable outfits.

If you need a clue to what will work best for you, consider pieces you already own that make you feel attractive and confident.  Notice styling and details that these pieces share.  You probably already have a few favorite colors you wear most often because you like the way you look in them.  Intentionally wearing fewer colors also means you need fewer accessories (shoes, belts, handbags, etc.)

If you work in an office or a classroom, as I used to do, you'll want outfits that are professional yet comfortable.  I used to own three similar skirts (navy, taupe, burgundy) and two trousers (black, charcoal).  With about eight shirts or blouses and three cardigans or jackets, I could mix and match to create at least two dozen outfits, more than enough for a month of work days without an exact repeat.

Just one is a concept that can be applied to certain areas of your wardrobe.  Sometimes one is enough:  one swimsuit, one black dress, one winter coat, one leather belt, one pair of sneakers, one handbag.  Consider owning just one of some things, based on your occupation, lifestyle, and climate.

For some, shopping for clothes is a habit, something they do with certain friends or when they're bored.  Become aware of your shopping habits, and take control of them by imposing a buying freeze.  90 days without buying clothes will definitely save you money, but may also make you aware that you already own plenty.  Your view of fashion and marketers may change forever.

When you own fewer clothes, you can afford to buy higher quality garments, and these look better, fit better, and last longer.  Choose classic styles that suit your body type, so nothing looks dated after only one season.  This will enable you to avoid the evils of fast fashion, which leads to millions of tons of textile waste each year.

With a smaller wardrobe, make sure each outfit passes the "feel good test," including casual wear.  Would you feel comfortable being photographed in your outfit, or running into an old classmate?  You are the curator of your wardrobe, and each piece must pass the test to be included.

For more inspiration, I highly recommend Courtney Carver's Project 333.  Thousands of women and men have participated in this project and found that

  • mornings are more peaceful with fewer choices,
  • it's really nice to wear your favorite clothes every day,
  • no one really cares that you wear the same things over and over, though they may notice that you present yourself with more self-confidence.

The magic of a minimalist wardrobe happens when you shop intentionally for items you need, free from the pressures of trends and brands.  The result?

You love and wear 100% of the items in your closet.

Photo by James Hollingsworth on Unsplash

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Voluntary Simplicity

Photo by Brian Mann on Unsplash

This is my 100th post!

A common misconception about minimalism is that if you have or earn very little you must be a minimalist.  In fact, as you've progressed in your minimalist journey, some well-meaning acquaintances may have asked if you were having financial difficulties, since that's the only reason they can imagine that you would choose to own and buy less.

But minimalism isn't about trying to get by with as little as possible (though you might explore those limits as an interesting experiment).  It's not about being cheap, and it's not meant to glorify or romanticize real poverty.

Study after study shows that the rich people of the world (and if we have more than we need, that definitely includes us) are not as happy as one might expect, given their level of comfort and opportunity.

A life of materialism can create feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.  It consumes huge quantities of natural resources, creates pollution, and makes us less likely to share with those who really are in need.  It turns out that too much stuff, too much busyness, too much distraction, too much food, and too much debt is a ruinous combination.

Minimalism means that you own what feels right for you, what you need and what you enjoy, without having excess that makes your life more complicated than you would like.  If you regularly have trouble finding the things you need because of clutter, if your schedule is so packed you're constantly impatient and on edge, if you have no funds for an emergency or a good cause, or if you're deep in debt but just can't stop shopping, then you're not living a life that meets your needs.  In that situation, you're probably not as happy as you could be.

In contrast, a minimalist removes the things that weigh her down, or keep her too busy, or take energy and money away from things she'd rather be doing.  The choice is deliberate, purposeful, intentional.  It's voluntary simplicity.

You can start small.  Remove clutter from your work area, and notice that you can focus more easily and streamline your productivity, resulting in less stress.  Remove clutter from your kitchen, and notice that it's easier to prepare meals and even eat more healthfully.  Remove clutter from your calendar, and notice that you're less rushed while enjoying your chosen activities more.  The results can ripple outward from wherever you start.

Minimalism has plenty of luxuries, they're just different luxuries from the ones most people choose.

Minimalism puts the emphasis on things that money can't buy.  It doesn't require you to live in a 300-square-foot tiny house with a ten-item wardrobe.  Minimalism's only guideline is LESS:  less clutter, less debt, less busyness, and less stress.  You decide what level of LESS will allow you to more effectively enjoy the people, activities, and things that bring value to your life.