Give me inner peace and outer simplicity.
February 3, 2014 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for readings on minimalist lifestyles / simplifying that deal with the emotional angle as well as the logical one. Do you have any?

I'd like to buy fewer things and save more money. I live in a little apartment; I am more motivated to travel and have the freedom to take opportunities that having fewer things would entail. But every step I take I find myself fighting my emotions: I can't get rid of x because it is proof I wasted money on it initially. I can't get rid of y because what if I need it despite the fact that I haven't worn it in years. Someday I might really read z. I also have problems with bringing things in that, again, I totally understand. I was poor when I was young; I am not poor now; being able to just have what I want is profoundly lovely.

So far I have just been brute-forcing my emotions, but arguing with myself is tiring. I would like to instead read about how other folks have approached this. Unfortunately a lot of minimalist writing is very dudely-logical, based in an approach that doesn't resonate for me. Do you know of any works around this that take feels into account?
posted by dame to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I attended a "minimalism party" a few years ago, thrown by a friend who was newly committed to living a minimalist lifestyle. He moved all the things he had that he did not need into the front room, and invited people over to take those items if they wanted them, as well as hear a story about how he acquired the item(s). I still enjoy telling people that my coffee mug used to be my friend Brad's, and it was given to him by his aunt when he got his first apartment. After the party, he had visiting hours for the next two days so people could come by and take things that couldn't make the party, and then he donated what was left.

Perhaps the key to getting over your emotional attachment to the items could be short-circuited by giving those items good homes. The party was about ten years ago, and he is still living a minimalist lifestyle, in a studio apartment with a beautiful view. He travels frequently and now collects photographs of his travels and posts them online. The whole world is now "his."
posted by juniperesque at 11:12 AM on February 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

Some things I just say: have I thought of this item in the past year? Have I used this item in the past year? If No, then chuck.

Wasted money.... I am not a perfect decision maker, therefore money will be spent inefficiently. I chalk it up to lesson learned.

It sounds like your mind wants freedom/low stress but your feelings want stability & certainty. This means you'll never be a minimalist. Not right now anyway. You need to focus on the stability inside. Stability does not come from having that kitchen gadget. It comes from knowing that whatever happens in life, kitchen gadget or no kitchen gadget, you will be absolutely fine. Once you've got that internal anchor, you realize that stuff is just stuff.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:14 AM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me, the practice of simplicity of mind is best fostered by meditation. The Experience of Insight is a collection of talks given in the course of a thirty day mindfulness retreat, including instructions for various mindfulness practices.

I'm also going to look at home to see if I can find the short sermon on generosity prepared by a former theology professor, called "But I Might Need It." It speaks directly to the ability to free the mind of grasping, but in a Christian context. Don't know if that would be helpful for you, but if you can speak the language, even if it's not your native language (it's not mine), it's pretty easily translated into secular humanism.
posted by janey47 at 11:16 AM on February 3, 2014

Thanks guys. Don't want to threadsit, but to be clear: This is a process and it isn't about being a perfect minimalist. It's about a transition, so things like "You won't be a perfect minimalist till you have kitchen gadget enlightenment" aren't what I am looking for. I am looking for examples of people talking about how *they* managed the feelings they had.
posted by dame at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2014

It's All Too Much - it's not about "minimalism" per se, but it deals with the emotional difficulty of getting rid of things.
posted by O9scar at 11:28 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

For me it was simple. Instead of asking myself "Does this item HAVE to go?" I'd ask "Does this item HAVE to stay?". I wouldn't permit myself to argue the other way (it took some discipline).

You can make a case for ANYTHING being potentially useful in the future, but that's just not enough. Consider: if you tossed it, what are the odds you'd even remember it? And which would provide greater piece of mind: having on hand anything you might possibly ever need, or an end to clutter?

You can "prime the pump", as it were, by starting each session by defiantly tossing something that will cause some registerable pain. You may find you like the heady sensation of liberation.

Also see this thread I started a few years ago.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:30 AM on February 3, 2014

Mr. Money Moustache has a lot of articles that deal with the emotional aspect of frugal living (a lot of which boils down to minimalism). Examples:

Prospering in an anti-moustachian city
How to make your spouse love frugality

(You can use that second link to convince yourself instead of your spouse!)

There are also forums, for example:

Movies that show minimalism in a favorable light
posted by rada at 11:39 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Organising from the inside out really addresses the many different types of emotions that our possessions bring up in us and how they affect people differently. She addressed the emotional side of paring down possessions very well.
posted by saucysault at 11:55 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have tried to do something similar, with fair success. Although I don't always subscribe to the tenets of Feng Shui, I found the book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston to be immensely helpful.

I found the Feng Shui parts of the book to be interesting, but the greatest value for me was the way the author guides the reader through the three parts of the book: Understanding Clutter, Identifying Clutter, and Clearing Clutter.

In particular, the chapters How Clutter Affects You, So Why Do People Keep Clutter? and Letting Go really helped me work through the process and my own thoughts.

I first read the book four years ago and refer to it often when I feel I need a refresher on some of the principles and thinking it encourages.
posted by nathaole at 1:05 PM on February 3, 2014

I found Less is More very helpful, in particular the advice to think through who could make better use of your stuff, and advice about convincing yourself that you can always buy a similar thing again if you need it.

Another tip that might work for you: get all the things that you haven't worn/used, and lay them out somewhere in your apartment that is not close by where you usually keep them (ie, you want them to be out of context - so put your clothes on the kitchen bench and your coffee mugs on the bed). Then pick each one up and ask yourself: if this was a shop, how much would I pay to own this article? Write down the amounts. Add them up. Then ask yourself, if I had to go to the bank RIGHT NOW and take out that amount of cash in order to keep these articles, would I do it?
posted by girlgenius at 2:30 PM on February 3, 2014

Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
posted by Blitz at 2:52 PM on February 3, 2014

We have had to downsize several times and it's hard as I am very sentimental. My husband volunteered to house clean for hoarders and that experience made him much much better at releasing clutter. For me, it was setting aside several large storage boxes for sentimental things and selecting for those, so I could dump what didn't fit. I also like putting things into a box for six months and then going back to decide. 90% of it will be easy to let go of. Books are hard. I sent a bunch to friends, had a yard sale and then mostly left them for neighbours. We put some in storage but I would rather give up furniture than more books.

The trick to put it in storage and then return later really does work because you forget about the objects and enjoy the space, when when you open the box, you're all "huh, this is cool but I don't miss it much". Some people don't open the box, just set a date to chuck it by.

Flylady has a 27-item rule that is great. The odd number helps. You get a bag and throw 27 things each day. This can include pen caps and receipts, but it gets you in the habit of searching for clutter and achieving a small clean up. I use that rule with my kids and it's effective.

One thing that helped me is the idea of Falco's copper spoons. It's from a novel (gave them all away recently) about an ancient roman detective who starts out broke, owning very little and gradually gets married and sets up home, but is still mostly broke. One of the first purchases he has is a pair of beautiful copper spoons, that he chooses and treasures. When I buy something, I think are they going to be my copper spoons? Are they going to be something beautiful and useful? I would rather have one pair of beautiful spoons than a dozen cruddy ones. This stops me buying a lot of junk.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:55 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seriously, any book about 'de-cluttering', as naff as that sounds, goes a lot into the psychological aspects of getting rid of stuff, and the insecurity that provokes, often especially if it has hippy or flowery language.

Most of the hippy things are just using an alternate vocabulary for psychological effects - but it's actually quite effective.
E.g. They talk about unwanted things draining your energy. What they mean, is the energy is your attention, subconcious or otherwise, and it is exhausting being surrounded by a bunch of things that all have little mental "To-Do's" attached to them, like uncompleted projects, or things that need fixing or selling. O things that have bad memories that you don't consciously realise you're associating with an object (it's a perfectly fine vase, but actually your ex-boyfriend's mother gave it to you, and she always hated you).
Also, when you hang on to stuff you don't need, it's because you're telling yourself that you do still need it, and that you couldn't cope without it. If you firmly, truly believe that you'll be able to cope without it. That if you actually needed that third can-opener, it's ok, you would go buy, borrow or make do without one, then you can let go of it. Action precedes motivation, so sometimes the best way to convince yourself you can cope, is to live like you will be able to cope.

Anyway, go to the library, check out 'Lighten Up!: Free Yourself from Clutter' by Michelle Passoff, or one of the (super hippy) books by Denise Linn (seriously, it doesn't look like it's about clutter, but there is a lot on why you have the things you have, and not having them if they aren't adding to the space.
That and just the repeated sections about making room for what you want in your life - the really cliche example, was a single woman who hadn't dated for awhile, and she asked her what she'd have to do to be ready for a boyfriend. In her house.
And it was stuff like, getting rid of the pillows and softtoys(!?) off the bed, so there was literally room for someone on the other side. Replacing the comforter with something more comfortable/unisex, optimistically making a whole drawer and table on that side of the bed empty, and room in the bathroom. Actually having a house that could have a 'guest' over.
And how to let go of items that 'hold memories'.
I really understood what that 'fake it til you make it' thing meant, because for me, that kind of physical preparation for a psychological or life change, really works for me, and it seems easier than trying to do it the other way round.

Clear everything out of a small space, then only put the things you want to have in it. Rather than, do I get rid of it? It's - do I keep it?

Unfortunately, I just read a bunch of hippy fake feng-shui (much better for the psychological tips than the genuine place-this-thing-here stuff) and clutter clearing books in a row, it was actually really good for getting a handle on my hoarding impulses, but I can't remember what I got from which book.
posted by Elysum at 4:04 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love Joshua Becker's Becoming Minimalist blog. He has quite a following online as well as on FB and he is not "preachy". Minimalism is a process, not an end. I have been inspired by his words for many years.
posted by seawallrunner at 5:58 PM on February 3, 2014

I was able to get rid of a lot of things by giving them to friends. Giving away the garlic press you never used to someone who loves cooking with garlic and is thrilled to have it turns the narrative from "made a bad decision" to "did something really nice for a friend."

In some cases giving away certain things meant giving on a certain vision of myself. Like, giving away that pile of yarn or complete works of Shakespeare means giving up on becoming an accomplished knitter or a person who has read all of Shakespeare. That can be really hard. It can help to talk it through with a friend, or to give it some time. Put whatever it is in a box and think about it. Ask yourself if you're willing to commit to using it in the next month. If so, come up with a plan for using it. If you can't commit ... it's probably time to say goodbye.
posted by bunderful at 6:20 PM on February 3, 2014

Try the blog Rowdy Kittens. Female voice, without being overly flowery/hippy. She'll have links somewhere on her site too.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:49 PM on February 3, 2014

Sorry I didn't mean you have to be a perfect minimalist ("kitchen gadget enlightenment") before even starting this journey. That makes no sense.

I meant to describe this: when you are aware of the faux emotional-link between "I have that thing, phew I'm safe!!" and actually being safe, then it is easier to let go of the thing. So then dealing with the uncomfortable feelings of grasping onto things becomes a reminder to yourself "I am safe regardless." That's how to cope with the feelings. Say you've decided to give away object X, which you only use once a year. Just as you are giving it away, those "oh noes!!!" feelings will show up inside, at which point you tell yourself "I understand you are worried, but I assure you dear one that you are safe." That's one way of coping with the feelings.

It is a little bit unfair, but the fact is having money also allows you to have less. You know in your head you CAN go out and buy a lemon zester if you really need it, so it is easier to not have one. If you don't have the means to go out and buy [whatever] should you really need it, then it is more likely that the feelings of grasping will show up. So maybe you can just think about the actual dollar value of the item, and even calculate how much time it takes you to make that money. ($10 takes you how many minutes to earn?) So you can see if the item is really worth this much stress.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:04 AM on February 4, 2014

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