Three Things to Simplify for Successful Minimalist Moving

Well it’s almost moving day – the day when all this minimalism pays some serious dividends.

For weeks I have been de-cluttering and donating things left, right, and center. Having fewer things means less packing, which has lessened the stress of my move. I have enough boxes and I can close my suitcases, what a novelty! I have a long way to go, but I also feel that I’ve come a long way and that I’ve learned a lot.

If you’re moving soon, embracing minimalism and paring down your possessions can make your move much less stressful. I noticed that paring down just three things has made my packing much easier than I dared to hope it would be. If you only have time to do a little bit of de-cluttering, I recommend trying to focus on just three areas.

1. Fragile items

I am moving in with a roommate who has kitchen supplies like plates and drinking glasses. Great! I am not going to hang onto mine for a “just-in-case” scenario that may happen many months down the road. I donated all my dishes and glasses, keeping just a couple mugs, my good wok, and a couple other random kitchen things. Not moving glasses and breakable dishes is a *huge* relief!

2. Shoes

I have made a very big effort to limit myself to only the shoes that I really need. I still own a ridiculous number of shoes, but the number is about half of the shoes that I started with. Shoes are heavy – don’t lug them around just because you think you might wear them “someday.” If you didn’t wear them more than twice last season then you probably don’t need them. Ladies, if you are having trouble parting with the sky-high heels that you rarely wear because they are SO UNCOMFORTABLE but that you hang onto because them make you feel sexy, read this post about how I learned to part with the things that made me feel sexy. Be honest about how often you wear your shoes. If you rarely wear a pair but really can’t part with them, consider giving them to a friend who will lend them to you if you ever need them.

3. Books

I love books so much, but they are so heavy! I am slowly converting to e-books, but in the meantime I wrote this post about reaching “book equilibrium” where books in = books out and you have a minimal number of books at any given time. If you really want to scare yourself, fill a suitcase or box with your books and weigh it. Then try to cut the weight of the suitcase or box in half, and then in half again if you can manage it. If you are holding onto all your favourite box sets (*ahem* Harry Potter) consider giving them away and buying the e-book versions if you ever find that you really want to re-read them. Still having trouble parting with a favourite? Get a close friend to look you in the eye and ask “hunny, how many times do you really need to read Twilight?” Sometimes you need tough love.

If you make a real effort to pare down these three things I promise you that your move will go more smoothly.

This is Minimalist Moving Part One. Later this week I will report back from the other side!

Sexiness – The Thing That I Struggled to Let Go Of and How I Finally Did

My de-cluttering was cruising along no problem.

Old sweaters that I don’t wear any more? In the donation pile. Jeans that don’t fit? Donate ’em. Tops that I wear occasionally but don’t really need? Donated. Dresses that I rarely wear but that make me feel sexy…. errrrrrch. (That was the sound of my de-cluttering coming to a grinding halt.)

Even though I very rarely wear my collection of short, flirty, sexy, dresses, I found myself having a very hard time letting go of them. In the past two years, I have found myself wearing these sorts of dresses less and less frequently. When I was younger (read: 18 – 22) I went out to nightclubs a couple times per month and therefore had occasion to wear my sexy dresses. At the ripe old age of 25 I am much less interested in clubbing (although I still enjoy it on occasion… mostly the dancing part), but I still love to know that there is something in my closet that I slip into and feel instantly sexy.

So I came face to face with a difficult truth: I couldn’t let go of “sexy.”

This raises three very important questions in my mind: 1) What is “being sexy?” 2) Why is being sexy (or at least having the option to be) so important to me? 3) Is being sexy really contingent upon having all of these dresses?

What is being sexy? The kind of “being sexy” that I am talking about here is the performance of one’s cultural beauty norms for the purpose of being considered attractive by potential partners – even if you’re not really interested in finding a partner. But seriously – a lot of women know intuitively what this means. For me it’s: short skirt/dress, high heels, push up bra, hair done, night eye makeup. Maybe for other women it includes a manicure, fake eyelashes, and perfectly highlighted and straightened hair. A lot of the time we aren’t doing it to attract a guy or girl – we’re doing it because of how being sexy makes us feel (more about that in question 2).

Why is being sexy so important? For a young woman in my culture, being sexy instantly elevates one’s status in society. Being a sexy woman means that you are desired, envied, worthy of someone’s attention and love. Being sexy is one of the fastest and easiest (and at times the only) route to elevating our status. Why does status matter? Having status in society means that our merits are applauded, our views are heard, our needs are tended to, and that we have social clout. Throughout our entire lives women are sold the notion that our self-esteem and self-worth hinges on our looks and our desirability as women. My desire to “be sexy” is an embodiment of a desire to be valued because I have internalized the belief that sexiness=being valued. Even though I actively challenge the norm of women being valued for their attractiveness I still get caught up in the desire to be sexy.

Is being sexy really contingent upon having all of my dresses? While I wrestle with overcoming the need to “be sexy” can I reduce the number of dresses that I own?

Once I understood where the strong desire to hold onto my dresses was coming from it became easier to let them go. In fact, giving them away became an act of defiance: I was not going to be economically tied to the need to be sexy.

I did come to a compromise: I will keep ONE dress that makes me feel sexy and conventionally attractive. I am going to work my way down to just having one. This solution worked very well for breaking my lipgloss habit. The other part of the compromise was that I gave some of my dresses away to friends. I didn’t foist them off on anyone unwilling, but somehow knowing that I could still borrow them (even though I probably never will) made it easier to part with them. I still have a few dresses that I am in the process of selling or donating, but I won’t be giving into the temptation to keep them.

Becoming a minimalist is forcing me to confront a lot of my own anxieties surrounding my possessions and their links to my identity. Every time that I deal with a challenge like this one I feel that I am liberating myself from a self-defeating belief. What beliefs about your possessions have you been forced to confront, or are hoping to confront? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

Four Easy Steps to Book Equilibrium

I love books.

I think that I love books more than I love reading books, although I do love reading them.

IMG_0944

I love the process of buying books from start to finish. I love browsing in book stores, reading the backs of books, anticipating a scintillating read when I inevitably leave the bookstore with one, or two, or three new books.

Now that I live in Toronto and have access to great used book stores, not to mention great services like Book Mooch, used books on Amazon, and Abe Books I have endeavored to only buy used books. This has saved me a lot of money, and probably saved a lot of trees as well.

But at the end of the day, I always end up accumulating books, and letting great books sit on my shelf unread.

Oh, and did I mention that I also have a Kindle? I tend to use it for traveling so that people can’t see what book I’m reading.

I am moving in less than a month, so I have decided that now is the time to change my relationship to buying books.

First, I am going to define my goal: book equilibrium. What is book equilibrium? It is when books in = books out so that at any given time I am not increasing or decreasing the number of books that I have. I also need to ensure that the number of books that I have is acceptable. I am choosing an arbitrary number as my desired book equilibrium: three.

IMG_0945

As you can see I have considerably more than three books in this pile. This is not even all my books.

IMG_0946

So these are my steps to book equilibrium:

1. Choose a target number for book equilibrium. I have chosen three. That means that at any given time I have no more than three physical books in my house.

2. Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. I have tons of books that I have already read and that need to be given away. If you see a book in these pictures that you would like to have, leave me a comment and I might be able to send it to you! I will be giving my books away on Book Mooch and to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. This will happen in the next two weeks since I am moving very soon!

3. Read, read, read. I read every night before bed, but I need to make more time for reading. I am going to try to read as much as possible over the next two weeks so that I can go back to step 2 and do some more eliminating. This includes reading the one or two unread books that I have on my Kindle.

4. Stop buying new books! This is the most important step. If I keep buying new books I will never reach book equilibrium. I am going to try this thing that I heard about called THE LIBRARY. What a novelty! Library books will still count towards my three book limit, but they will be much less likely to sit around collecting dust because I will have to return them.

Well everyone, let me know in the comments if you would like to have any of the books pictured. I have to start listing them on Bookmooch!

Quick Minimalism: Paring Down My Wallet in 3 Easy Steps

Yesterday I was given the “World’s Thinnest Wallet.” I decided that it was time to stop carrying around the massive wallet/wristlet purse that I’ve been using for the past nine months.

One of the great things about giving up shopping (or even just spontaneous shopping) is that there is no need to carry loyalty cards around all the time.

IMG_0941

Here you can see my old wallet (left) and all the rewards/membership cards that didn’t make the cut.

The cards that I am keeping in my wallet are:

Driver’s License
Health Care Card
Extended Health Insurance Card
Debit Card
Visa Card
Access Card for my office
Shopper’s Optimum Card (because going to the drug store is usually spontaneous)
Two “free tea” cards that are expiring soon – I must use these!
A few business cards
2 “corporate discount cards” that I am going to leave in my office drawer on Monday
A bit of cash

Here are the three easy steps that I used to pare down my wallet (and that you can use too!):

1. Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate

Toss anything that is expired, or that you haven’t used in six months. If you have someone’s business card in your wallet, put their information in your phone or computer and toss the card (this is the 21st century for crying out loud!). I had an old health care card from a province that I left seven years ago – it is amazing the things that we mindlessly carry around with us. Receipts that you are hanging onto? Toss them or file them! Do you have loyalty cards from stores that you rarely shop at? Toss those – you will probably never use them and most stores can look up your account if you really want to earn your loyalty points.

2. Find an alternative location for cards that you rarely use

If you have loyalty cards that you really do use or unused gift cards, take them out of your wallet and leave them at home or in your office. You will know in advance if you need to use these cards, or else not having them will discourage impulse purchases. Double win! I am a member of a car sharing service, but there is no need for me to carry my membership card around with me. I’ll just bring it if I’ve booked a car.

3. Make a plan for coins

Everyone deals with coins, but Canadians truly take coins to the next level. I know that in order to maintain my minimalist wallet (which has no change pouch) I need a plan. My plan is to put change in a little pouch in my purse and empty it daily into a change bowl. I guess I’ll need to roll the change eventually, but I suppose that is an inevitability.

And voila – you’re done! Here is my new minimalist wallet:

IMG_0942

Update on My No iPod Challenge

A quick update on my No iPod Challenge: It has been a week and I have stuck to the challenge religiously! I took my iPod out of my purse, which made it much easier.

Positive changes that I noticed:

I paid attention to my surroundings.

It was much easier for me to stay “in the moment” and enjoy my surroundings.

I was much less stressed because I had one less thing to juggle (physically and mentally).

I actually talked to people. What a friendly and personable thing for me to do!

I didn’t worry about missing my stop on the subway because I could hear the announcements.

I still have a long way to go in terms of staying present in the moment. I now notice my mind wandering and am usually able to bring it back to the present moment. To be honest though, it will usually start to wander again almost right away. I am hoping that staying rooted in the present moment is something that I will get better at with practice.

I got an excellent tip for bringing myself out of my head and into the present moment: think about feeling your toes. This has worked really well, so I am going to keep doing that as well as focusing on my breathing.

If anyone has any other tips for staying focused on the present, please feel free to share!

Who Are You at Your Very Core?

Have you ever wondered who you are at your very core? If you sold all your possessions, moved to a new country where no one knew your name, and just started over, would you be the same person? What parts of you would stay and what parts would go?

Over the past few years I have been continually “rebooting” my life to start over in a new city. Every time I do this I have a chance to redefine myself, and to start my life anew. I have always found this to be an incredibly liberating experience. Who am I in a new place where no one knows my name? Am I the same person as when I’m surrounded by people who know me? Who am I in a country where my education, experiences, status indicators mean nothing to anyone?

Whenever I am abroad and someone asks me where in Canada I am from, I tell them that I’m from Calgary. They will nod and smile, but I can tell that the word “Calgary” means nothing to them. Maybe if I had said “Toronto” or even “Vancouver” I would see the light of comprehension in their eyes, but Calgary… nothing. Something that is so central to my identity when I’m at home means nothing once I leave North America. This experience really puts things into perspective and it makes me feel like all of our labels are mere vanities.

When we strip away all of the meaning and identity that we derive not only from our possessions (i.e. being a Mac person or a PC person), but also from our cities, nationalities, education, careers, religions, from all the labels that we use to describe ourselves – we often find that the person we truly are is very different from the person we pretend to be. The person that we are at our core may be utterly unrecognizable to us, if we have buried that person under all the external definitions that society thrusts upon us.

We often internalize and identify with external labels to the point where we lose our own true voice. Not everyone can just start their life over in a new city. I do think that experimenting with stripping away some of the external things that we use to define ourselves can help anyone learn something about themselves. Here are a couple ways that I’ve learned to do this:

Join a club in a new part of town ideally where no one knows you, or at least no one knows you well. Instead of talking about yourself, spend time listening to other people or talking about your common interest. Notice your behaviours, do you find yourself more willing to discuss certain topics, do you find yourself interested in or wanting things that you would never have considered before?

Stop rattling off labels or qualifications as soon as you meet someone new. I am totally guilty of doing this: “Hi I’m Darby and I’m new to Toronto, I just moved here from Vancouver, and before that I did my Masters in the UK…” and on and on. Now when I meet new people I try to spend more time listening to them and paying attention to my own feelings as they arise. I question myself a bit – why did I feel the need to mention my degree? Am I trying to impress this person? Why do I care about impressing someone I just met? Am I feeling insecure about myself? What is it about this situation that is making me uncomfortable? This often leads me to realize an assumption that I’ve made, such as “I have to show these people that I’m successful in order for them to take me seriously.”

Make fun of your own labels. I often joke with people that because I’m a vegan I just graze, or forage for roots and berries for supper. Treating relatively innocuous labels with a bit of playfulness can stop us from taking them too seriously. Although I am serious about my veganism, I think it’s important to remind myself not to take the label (or myself!) too seriously.

Sell, donate, or otherwise get rid of some of your possessions. I am in the process of doing this right now. I am finding it useful to question why I have kept objects around for so long. Ask yourself, in what way is this possession supporting my identity? And realize that you can be the same person without that possession, OR that you aren’t really that person and that’s all right. I recently came to terms with the fact that I am just not a lipgloss person. And a reminder from Fight Club: You are not your job. You are not the car you drive. You are not your f***ing khakis!

Take some time for reflection. Take some time to think about labels that we apply unquestioningly to ourselves. Example: Until I was 22 I couldn’t cook AT ALL. I didn’t even know how to use an oven to heat up pizza, and a simple dish like a stir fry seemed impossible. Because everyone knew that I couldn’t cook no one asked me to, or expected me too. In my mind, I was just someone who couldn’t cook and I dealt with that. When I moved to the UK and became a vegetarian, no one thought of me as someone who couldn’t cook – and so I start to learn to cook! I didn’t feel like I was being scrutinized because people had no expectations of my cooking abilities (or lack thereof!) and it was very liberating! I’m sure that most of us could come up with at least one label that others apply to us and that we accept without questioning.

And of course, my favourite:

Move to a new country where no one knows your name! If you ever have a chance in your life to do this: do it! It will change your life and you will learn a lot about yourself.

Has anyone else had an interesting experience with discovering themselves by stripping away external possessions, labels, and/or expectations? Please feel free to share in the comments.

If you enjoyed this post or think this is an interesting topic, please feel free to share it!

Being Present in the Moment – My No iPod Challenge

A really good friend of mine recently pointed out to me how much time I spend thinking about the future. She said: “remember, while you’re thinking about the next big thing, you are missing out on your last big thing which is happening now.” She is absolutely right. I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the future, and sometimes I spend a lot of energy worrying about the future.

I have decided to really work on being present in the moment. I have two strategies to do this:

1) When I worry, I will bring myself back to the present moment but focusing on my breathing. I will remind myself that all I can do is deal with what is happening in the present moment.

When we worry about the future, it is impossible to act because the future we worry about exists only in our minds. The present moment exists in reality where we can actually act; we will always be able to handle the present moment.

2) I am going to stop listening to my iPod for a whole week. I mindlessly listen to music all day long: when I walk to work, when I sit on the subway, when I go for a run. For one week I am going to focus on being present and paying attention to the reality that is happening all around me.

This will be a real challenge. I’ll keep you posted.

A Personal Reflection Based on “Everybody Worships Something”

This is a personal reflection based on a post entitled: Everybody Worships Something (Conscious Freedom: Part One) by Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus who write the awesome blog The Minimalists (it is a guest post on another awesome blog Becoming Minimalist). I would highly recommend that you read that post before you read my reflection, otherwise it all might be a bit confusing.

“Everybody Worships Something” posits that while people say they value and prioritize things like friends, family, their relationships, or their health, they actually live a life with emotional attachments to material possessions that are so strong that these same people “worship stuff.” When we look at how our lives are structured, how we spend our money, and (most importantly) how we spend our time, we see that our emotional attachments and priorities, which are often unconscious, dictate how we actually live our lives. These emotional attachments drive our actions rather than the intellectual values that we say that we care about.

I’m not doing the essay justice, so please go read it (here). Suffice it say that it got me thinking about what I say that I value, versus the values that I express through actually living my life. I express my values daily by how I choose to spend my time, how I choose to spend my money, the things that I allow to take up space in my brain, etc.

So here is a little chart of things that I say that I value, versus the values that are expressed by the way that I choose to live my everyday life:

What I Say I Value Values Expressed By My Life Choices
Freedom The illusion of security that comes with a conventional career
Making mindful consumption decisions Making mindful consumption decisions about what I eat (being vegan), but not about other goods that I purchase (particularly clothes)
Thinking for myself Worrying about what people think of me
Investing time and energy into my relationships with friends and family Spending my limited vacation time with friends and family (seeing them at least once a year)
Living a life that challenges me and forces me to grow as a person Living a comfortable life that society approves of and that some people admire; trying not to fail
Not feeling like I always need to explain myself Constantly apologizing
Doing what I know I need to do for myself Doing what I’m expected (or told) to do
My health My health – as long as it doesn’t interfere too much with my job
Making a lasting contribution to the world Climbing the corporate ladder

I’m sure that I could make a much longer list. I’m also sure that I’m not alone in experiencing many of these inconsistencies. The values that I live tend to align quite closely with the default expectations that society has of a woman like me – who has a business degree and has been accumulating pin-striped suits since she was 19. I’m sure that many people reading this also feel that there is some discord between the things they say they value, and the values they express through living their lives.

I firmly believe that anything that can be brought to consciousness can be changed. Externalizing these contradictions by writing them down will be a first step to changing them. The next step is making these contradictions things that I must change, rather than things that I should change (maybe, someday, if I get around to it).

If you’re reading this reflection and you see something that resonates with you, shoot me a message on twitter @justdarby. I’d love to hear from other people who have gone through the exercise of trying to align their daily existence with their values. I’ll be posting updates on my progress, and hopefully some of you will find them useful for your own lives.

Quick Minimalism: Paring Down My Lipgloss

photo (1)

I own a ridiculous amount of lipgloss. Especially considering the fact that I almost never wear lipgloss. So I collected all my various lipgloss tubes, sticks, etc. and arranged them for the lovely photo that you see above.

I think WTF expresses the sentiment nicely. WTF was I thinking buying so much lipgloss? An even better question is why did I hold onto all these lipglosses and (I am not joking) haul them around the world with me? At least one of these lipglosses was purchased five years ago, when I was 20. I then brought it with me to Botswana, and then to Hong Kong, and then back to Canada, and then I took it with me when I moved to the UK. When I moved back to Canada I took it back with me to Calgary, and then to Vancouver, and finally I brought it to Toronto where I have finally disposed of it.

Why would a seemingly sane woman like myself bring an obscene number of lipglosses with her around the world, wearing them only occasionally (and far past their best-before dates), and never throw any of them out?

I think it is because there is a mythology around lipgloss. Lipgloss is incredibly girly and feminine. Lipgloss is the finishing touch on your perfect “kiss-me” lips and it is supposed to give you a “come hither” look that will drive the menfolk wild. When I think about putting on lipgloss I think about being in the bathroom with my girlfriends, gossiping and bonding. Unlike it’s more practical cousin, lip balm, lip gloss exists for the sole purpose of making the wearer “look pretty.”

I know that the evolutionary explanation for lipstick and lipgloss is that darkening and highlighting the lips mimics arousal. But my friends and I don’t stand around a mirror saying “alright ladies, it’s time to apply our lipgloss in order to mimic arousal and land ourselves a man!” I do think though that our lipgloss makes us feel sexier and more desirable, and that is how we want to feel. Even when we are in relationships, we want to feel desired, to turn heads, to know that “we’ve still got it.” Desirability is sold to us as an end in itself for women.

I think that I’ve acquired so much lipgloss because I bought into the fantasy that these pretty tubes of colour would make me into the sort of girl who turns heads, who is desired by men even when she just wants a fun night out with her friends.

So I’ve made the decision to throw out all but one of my lipglosses. If I don’t use that one in the next couple months I’ll throw it out too. I don’t need them, and I don’t need the fantasy that they represent.

Here is my much more practical lip product collection now:

photo (2)

Minimalist Action Round One: Decluttering Before and After

I am a person who can very much benefit from minimalism. I have been living in my condo (with a roommate) for less than a year. I moved to this city with three suitcases and a bag of bedding. Later my parents sent out three Rubbermaid boxes of stuff.

And yet I still have a lot of clutter. I want to chronicle my starting point so that I won’t forget how much work goes into changing the way that I live.

These are actual photos of my bedroom.

IMG_0916

Don’t ask about the blonde wig.

I wish that I could say that I staged these photos, but frankly I am just really messy. Ask anyone that knows me. Here’s another before image of my room:

IMG_0913

Annnd here is the floor of my closet.

IMG_0925

Yes I have a small walk-in closet and I still manage to have stuff strewn everywhere.

That is where I started from. Over the Labour Day long weekend I did a major decluttering and clean up. Here is all the stuff that I donated to Goodwill or gave away to friends:

IMG_0926

So here is my bedroom after the first round of paring down:

IMG_0933

Yay! Much better right?

IMG_0931

And the floor of my closet:

IMG_0927

So much better!

I think that there is still a lot of room for “paring down and decluttering round 2.”

The Zen Habits blog has some great decluttering tips.

My technique was to attack my entire bedroom over the course of the long weekend. Since most of my stuff is in my room (because the living room is practically empty) this was by far the hardest room. I knew that if I could get it done over the weekend I would have a huge sense of momentum. It has been a month now and I definitely haven’t missed any of the things that I gave away. I’ve gained a huge sense of accomplishment and my room still looks similar to the after photos. It is much, much easier to keep clean. File that under the benefits of minimalism.

I have to move again at the end of November so I plan to do another round of decluttering and paring down. I think I still have some room to pare down before I have to make more difficult and emotional decisions. This round was driven by a relatively straight forward “when was the last time that I wore/used this?” thought process, with anything not worn or used more than twice since I arrived in Toronto getting donated.

I am also working on changing my purchasing habits, because all this work will be for nothing if I just fill up the empty space again.

If you find inspiration or value in this post please feel free to share it!