Sometimes it feels like there isn’t anything else in my entire apartment that I’m ready to part with, yet when I look around I’m overwhelmed with the amount of clutter surrounding me. Now, as of this point I’m not ready to go as far as Everett’s ‘one-month-rule’ and only keep what I use within a month, but I still knew something had to give. After a few weeks of feeling like this I came up with a solution: stickers.
I went down to the corner drug store and purchased a pack of those round neon stickers. I went around the house sticking everything. And I mean, everything. I circled the date on the calendar and made a household rule: only remove a sticker if you are using something. I figured, after 4 weeks or so I could evaluate what still had a sticker left on it. I didn’t HAVE to get rid of it, but I figured I should strongly evaluate what it is and why I’m keeping if it still had a sticker left.
As the weeks wore on I noticed myself attempting to defend the items I wanted to keep the most. “Oh no, the candle holder I like still has a sticker on it, I should really just light a candle right now so I can remove the sticker. I wouldn’t want that left with a sticker after 4 weeks.” The funny thing is, after pulling that trick a few times it still made me evaluate those items pretty strongly. After purposely using the item just to remove the sticker, did I actually enjoy the thing, or was i using it out of guilt and obligation?
After the sticker project was complete, there were certainly many more bags to be hauled off to charity, and items to be put onto Craigslist. Most importantly, the sticker project allowed be to be honest with myself in a way I hadn’t been before.
I recently returned from a trip to San Francisco. It was one of those trips, where you wish you could just stay there and keep living that lifestyle forever.
Once I came home and returned to work the next day, I began to realize: that’s what I’m chasing. The simple, balanced life I lead on vacation is the life I’m working towards everyday.
Sometime it’s hard to realize what this fuzzy concept is that I’m pursuing – what does simplicity and freedom feel like, what does it mean, and how do I do it?
The vacation lifestyle doesn’t include lots of possessions, or living space. It doesn’t include television, cars or hours on the internet.
It does includes bike rides in the park, long walks up big hills, adventures on public transit, great food served in locally owned cafes, and days without big obligations.
I’m remembering the simplicity of vacation life as I ease back in to my normal day to day routine; remembering that I can be happy living out of the possessions contained in my one carry-on size backpack. Realizing that if I didn’t need it on vacation, maybe it’s relevance to my life should be suspect. Remembering that the simplicity is attainable, and is most certainly worth working towards.
It’s amazing to me how you can surround yourself with the messages you want to hear, to the point that it’s hard to remember that those messages may be contrary to the status-quo.
I read blogs about decluttering, biking, writing and travel. I watch documentaries like Food Inc, The Story of Stuff, and Beer Wars. I hang out with people who own their own businesses, rarely drive cars and love to travel. Without realizing it, I start to feel like this is normal: that experiencing the independent, the alternative, the authentic is the norm.
But then I drive past a Wal-Mart and see how long the line is to get into the parking lot, and then I get cut off by a cell-phone wielding driver who doesn’t care, and then I walk into a grocery store and the employees are more irritated that I am there than concerned with helping me.
Once I recognized the influence and peer pressure I can build around myself, I began to use it as a powerful tool. When I want to move toward a goal or habit – I watch the movies, read the blogs and listen to the people that will help get me there.
When I begin to feel that everyone else but me is out riding their bike – I feel compelled to go ride my bike. When I feel that everyone is spending money on legitimate experiences and no one is going shopping at the mall anymore – I feel compelled to do the same.
Don’t deny the power of peer pressure – simply choose your peers deliberately.
Hard work doesn’t break you; a life of dullness and listlessness is what will break you.
The dull, listless life is what happens when you aren’t paying attention. It creeps in between the weekends out having a good time and the Monday morning meetings.
The hard work is what your driven to do once you find a passion. The right work isn’t draining, it’s challenging and exciting. The right work will push you beyond the limits you thought you had.
Most of us choose the dull, listless route without even realizing it. Then we realize one day that we’ve lost ourselves, we’ve been broken.
Find the hard work you need, and see how many limits you can break.
A few weeks ago the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird occurred. One of my local book stores held a reading, where prominent authors read their favorite passage from the book. As part of this event the book store had the anniversary hardback copy of the book on sale. Now, to be clear, I love this book. I currently own a worn out dog-eared and note-filled paperback copy of the book. I got wrapped up in the hoopla of it all, and I found my mindset changing very suddenly. I wanted this hardback copy. I needed it. What kind of fan would I be if I didn’t have a proper copy of this book? How could I go attend any of these anniversary events without being a real fan? They’d know I wasn’t one of them.
And right when I was googling this book, to see what the cost would be, it hit me. I don’t need this book. Having a copy of a book like this doesn’t define me. I don’t need to prove to anyone who I am by what I own. I can still love this book without owning the anniversary hardback, or the 30 other editions of the book that may be out there.
But isn’t that the truth behind all of the things which are the hardest to let go of or step away from? It’s the things which we use to define ourselves, to show others and ourselves what type of person we are.
I can still be someone who loves books and reading without owning bookcases full of books. It’s the identity part that’s hardest to make peace with. These are the possessions that we have no logical reason for, the ones we become unreasonable about if someone suggests we pair them down or eliminate them all together. “I can get rid of all the clutter in the house, but don’t touch my books.”
Knowing how easy it is to slip into the identity of my clutter, I’ve begun to understand why it was so easy to get rid of that candle holder I never used, but why it took so much mental energy to sell the pile of books I had no immediate intention of reading. And for me knowing it’s there, to expect it, has been half the battle.
It seems that most people online dive into minimalism with such fervent passion that it becomes way too easy to ignore. Anytime someone becomes too extreme into something they can be dismissed by others as ‘radical’ or not worth listening to. “Sure, go ahead and live with 100 things, you freak.”
By the time they begin writing about what they are doing, they’ve lost the forest for the trees. They forgot why they walked into the forest the first time, while they’re busy enjoying the fruits the forest provides. Those standing outside are left to think the forest is dark, dirty and worthless.
I’m here planning to walk the line. I’m looking for the benefits: less stress, lower monthly overhead, time to focus on the important. I am not here to dive in with no regard. I have no plans to blindly follow the tribe down a path just so that I’m not left behind.
I don’t want to live in a home with no chairs, just so that I can live more simply. That is not simple to me, that’s just uncomfortable and impractical.
I don’t want to have so few pieces of clothing that I need to do my laundry more than once a week. That’s not simple, that’s more complicated.
I am here to learn, to try, and to move towards a better life.
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You have to decide what you want before you can have it.
So how do you figure out what it is you want; what you really want?
Turn it all off. Turn off the radio, the television, the computer, and your phone. It’s amazing what will happen when you begin to listen to your own thoughts that come through.
At first it might seem strange. And pointless.
I first attempted this while reading The 4-Hour Workweek. The author suggests a one week media fast. So I played along. I felt like a smoker needing a fix. It was awkward and uncomfortable. But then it worked. After a day or two I found myself coming up with plenty of great ideas – and realizing what it is that is important to me. I began to feel inspired and motivated in a way I didn’t know was possible.
What could happen if you tried it too?
- Poster Cabaret: Great affordable prints from an Austin based website. The Bicycle Print Set is what lead me here, but almost everything is awesome. This is the kind of art I would want to make if I could make art.
- The girls at letsgorideabike.com are hosting an online Summer Games series. I think it’s a brilliant concept to encourage everyone to go ride a bike and I plant to contribute my related post soon.
- Video Inspiration: These are some great videos, and should remind me to check out Ted.com much more often. Of the listed videos the Elizabeth Gilbert one really got me thinking.
Happening upon scenes like this, always feels right.
I forgot to listen to the beat of my own drum.
I’ve been distracted and lured away by so many things. It becomes so easy to fall in line and do what is expected. Oh so easy…
There are a handful of things that have lead me back: riding my bike, taking pictures, being outdoors, ignoring the “should”s on my to-do list. When it feels right, that’s my guide. And it makes me sad to say that there are WAY too many things in my life right now that don’t feel right.
But I’m working on that…