A Real-Life Lesson in Minimalism

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I was first introduced to minimalism a few months ago when I came across a quote by Lao Tzu: “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

On November 16, 2001 I moved out of my apartment in New York City to start a new life with my future husband Randy in Florida. After my survival of the September 11th attacks I felt confident to let go of my past and embark on a journey of new beginnings. As luck and good fortune would have it the firm I had been working for generously agreed to pay for my relocation in full, which meant I could literally pack all of my belongings and incur zero expenses in my move.

In spite of all this, I gave almost half of my wardrobe to charity and more than willingly disposed of all reminders of past relationships—photos, mementos and other souvenirs that would otherwise disrupt the happiness of my present moment. I was free of emotional baggage, but what was left? What was of great importance at the time were the remaining pieces of my wardrobe, jewelry, CD’s and books I loved; and actually took the time to read.

Even then I didn’t consider myself a minimalist, for what I believed to be minimalism was something of a more drastic approach to simplification.

In their post, “What is Minimalism?” best-selling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share what I found to be an unattainable description of this Minimalist philosophy:

“To be a minimalist you must live with less than 100 things, and you can’t own a car or a home or a television, and you can’t have a career, and you have to be able to live in exotic hard-to-pronounce places all over the world, and you have to start a blog, and you can’t have any children, and you have to be a young white male from a privileged background.”

They were only joking, of course (thank goodness for that), and I do admire the authors for their sense of humor.

Although a part of me wishes my house would be emptied to mimic somewhat of a Zen Buddhist Zazen, I actually don’t believe that minimalism means relinquishing all that one loves the most.

When my Mom passed away from lung cancer in 2012 my husband and I went to the house she shared with my Mother-in-Law to collect her personal belongings. As I entered my Mom’s bedroom there appeared a profound lesson in minimalism.

Her somewhat cluttered life, which once consisted of hoarding souvenirs from her travels and clothes not worn in decades, had evolved into that of utter simplicity. With the exception of her clothing given to Goodwill everything my Mom owned fit neatly in her black, oversized suitcase. Fragile items such as crystal figurines which sat atop her dresser and picture frames were placed in a separate box, with enough space to fill with bubble wrap.

I was truly amazed by her decision to only keep the things she held most dear, and how she found comfort in letting go of what she didn’t. It appeared as if nothing was lacking, which inspired me to begin my ongoing journey as a minimalist.

Despite what many would believe, including myself in the past, minimalism is not giving up prized possessions such as the nice house, the car, the iPhone or anything else that might bring joy and happiness to one’s life. It’s about finding peace with what you currently have, and detaching yourself from things you don’t. It’s about mindfulness of who you are and knowing that if these possessions were suddenly gone, nothing would be amiss.

Although it would be nice to reduce my items to less than 100, I can honestly say that it won’t happen anytime soon, unless our mini-dachshund Trixie can fit comfortably in my backpack. :-) I do know however, that I will continue to follow in my Mom’s path of minimalism every step of the way, without question.

It’s your turn. Have you practiced minimalism? Has it changed your way of thinking? Please share your comments below.