Scratch that. Change is here. Allow me to explain.
I know we haven’t seen much of each other lately. It’s been a deliberate choice on my part. I needed a time out. While I didn’t completely unplug, I have considerably decreased my online presence of late.
I offer no apology this time, however, because on this particular occasion my time has been much better spent making some signifiant changes to my life.
For the past several months, I’ve been growing frustrated with the amount of stuff in my life. I suppose it started back in March when my family and I had to clean out my grandmother’s house after she passed away. She lived to be more than a hundred years old so you can imagine the amount of stuff she had.
The trouble was, she had really nice stuff. Or stuff that had a lot of sentimental value. It was tremendously difficult to part with the remains of her life. It felt like losing her all over again. It was one of the most stressful and painful things we’ve gone through as a family. Almost as painful as her actual death.
In any case, it got me thinking about my life, my living space, and the manner in which I’d like to spend my remaining days on this planet. I had to ask myself, how many more Saturdays do I want to spend cleaning/re-organizing my apartment rather than doing something I actually enjoy with the people I love?
As with everything else, change starts at home, so I took a long hard look at my apartment.
Though my four bedroom, pre-war apartment in Harlem is considerably larger than those of some of my friends who live in the trendier parts of the city (I actually have closets – plural), it was stuffed to the gills with, well, stuff. And much of that stuff was starting to feel like weight. Dead, useless weight that required more of my time and attention than I was willing to give.
So I did what any type-A, goal-oriented individual would do. I made lists. Lots of lists. Lists of things to sell on Craigslist, lists of stuff that I could donate to Goodwill, I even made a list of the things that weren’t useful enough to be sold or donated and should probably be thrown away.
Those lists sat in a drawer, buried under a pile of other stuff for about six months.
I clearly needed a better strategy. So I started doing research.
I have a fondness for TED talks and, despite my resolution to spend less time online, I tend to binge-watch them from time to time. Recently I saw one – a three minute video – featuring Grant Blakeman called: Minimalism – For a More Full Life.
I was largely unfamiliar with the term, so I popped it into the googler and came up with this:
It was particularly the writing of The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, that lit the spark and nudged me out of research mode where I was merely considering the adoption of a simpler lifestyle, to taking the leap.
So the next day, I took a tote bag full of my paper files (bills, bank statements, tax returns, etc…) to work with me. Using our high-powered scanner, I scanned the important documents into my computer and shredded the rest. I went home with an empty tote bag that night. I repeated the process the next day…and the next. By the end of that third day, I no longer had ANY paper files taking up space in my life.
While I got very little work work done on those days, I felt fantastic. Accomplished. Light. I wanted more.
Do you ever get that feeling that the Universe or God or whatever is telling you that you’re on the right path and that you should keep going? Because I definitely had that feeling two Wednesdays ago.
Cursing as I tripped over a pair of shoes that were lying in the middle of the floor because there was no room for them in my already over-stuffed closet, I realized that more drastic steps needed to be taken. So I went back to The Minimalists website in search of more tips/tricks/ideas and I noticed a post talking about their upcoming book tour.
Apparently, they were doing an appearance in New York that very evening at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe – a ten minute subway ride from my office.
I went. It was amazing. They were both so open, friendly and eager to answer my myriad questions. Not to mention inspirational…
By the time I left the event, book in hand, I had arranged to donate several boxes of my own books to Housing Works and I felt super energized. Double win!
A few days later, I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop, reading The Minimalists’ new book Everything That Remains (which I HIGHLY recommend by the way), when I noticed a sign posted on a bulletin board advertising a rummage sale to benefit a local community garden. The sale was taking place that afternoon. Beneath the date and time was a plea for donations of gently used household items.
I looked at my phone. I had a little over an hour before the sale was set to begin.
I rushed home, picked up an empty box from my most recent online purchase of I can’t remember what, and started to fill it up.
Do I really need four different sized curling irons? Nope. Three of them went in the box.
How many travel cosmetics bags does a girl really need? One? Yeah, one sounds about right. The other four went in the box.
Have I ever worn this bracelet in the six years I’ve owned it? No? In the box.
Hm…two teapots is starting to feel like one teapot too many... Box.
On it went. Once the box was full I grabbed a decorative storage basket filled with magazines (the most recent of which was dated Sept 2012), dumped the magazines unceremoniously into the recycling bin and filled up the basket with more stuff.
Then I pulled a large storage bin out from under my bed that contained a couch cover (for a couch I no longer own), four sets of curtains (none of which are long enough to cover any of the windows in my apartment) and a wide variety of curtain rods – some brand new – that also had no useful place in my home.
At first, I began frantically removing the items from the bin and stuffing them in trash bags. Then I paused for a moment. What did I need with an empty storage bin? If I kept it, I was just going to find more crap to put in it. So I packed everything back in the bin and took it out to my car.
An hour later, I had a full car load.
When I arrived at the rummage sale, there was only one sad little table with some glassware, a few knick-knacks, and an extra large Islanders hockey shirt on it. By the time we unpacked my car, they needed three additional tables to accommodate all my stuff.
More importantly, while we were unloading my car, I made friends with the woman running the sale who invited me to connect with her on Facebook so that I’d be able to attend some of the events she organizes in the garden.
That’s when I got smacked in the head by another revelation. I realized something hugely important that’s been missing from my life – a sense of community. It’s one of those things that you don’t realize you’re missing until it’s gone. I think it’s an especially difficult thing to find in NYC, but that’s a subject for another post.
In any event, while I don’t believe that getting rid of all my stuff is going to magically bring me happiness, fulfillment and a sense of belonging, I am hopeful that it will clear some space in my life so that I might be able to make room (literally and figuratively) for those infinitely more important things.
I’ve already gotten a small taste of the wonderful feeling of freedom that comes with the shedding of some of life’s excesses. I definitely want to continue down this path to see where it takes me.
Long story short:
I think I’m going to try this minimalism thing for a while. I think I might be a minimalist now. I am a minimalist now. (FYI – I deleted and re-typed that last line at least a dozen times before hitting the ‘publish’ button. Yes, the idea of minimalist living is that scary.)
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Here’s to the simple life!