Minimalist: Knowing When We Have Too Much of Something

I often wonder how to cut down on my consumption of products. I like the idea of being a minimalist, but this doesn’t show itself in practice. For example, I was sorting through my recipes recently, when I realized that I have a lot. About 260 recipes in all and that’s not including the recipe websites I have book marked! I only make a handful of these recipes regularly, seeing as how I’m on a budget until I pay off my student loans. The plan is, to start rotating in new recipes when I’m able to spend a little more money on my food budget. Because when I was buying whatever I wanted, to make my meals, I was spending upwards to $700 a month 0.o No bueno. But looking at all these recipes has me wondering, where is the limit? When have I amassed too much of something?

When is Enough Stuff, Enough

Amassing things is something I’m good at doing. I’m not alone, to be sure, but still, it leaves me feeling a little guilty. I love the feeling of a clean, well organized and open area. But most of the time this is not how my space looks. Some of this is not my fault. I currently live with my father and step-mother, who also have a habit of collecting things. And I don’t feel as though it is my place to dictate how things should be handled as far as the daily maintenance of the household and collection of stuffs is concerned.

I do however want to do my part to chip in and help keep our shared spaces clean and decluttered. This is something I’m really good at. This was a trait I picked up from my mother, who excels at all things cleaning. Though I must say, that she, like myself, can take it to the extreme. I think this is where the idea of wanting to be a minimalist comes into play. But in between my cleaning binges, I’m really good at collecting items that I have a plan for at some later point in the future.

Or, the things I need to sort through get put to the side because I need a chunk of time to execute my project. Time that I just don’t have. This is usually due to over committing myself to projects, or being too ambitious with my plans. In both cases, the result is the same. I keep putting off the projects I want to get done.

Sort Through Your Basement

An extreme example is, I’ve been putting off going through the stuff from my last apartment that has been taking up space in my basement for the better part of a decade. No bueno. There are some items I want to keep, but I feel that most of the things I own, I’m going to donate. And in my attempt to be as sustainable as possible, my plan is to list everything on a site like “Offer Up“.

This way I feel a little better about not dumping a pile of stuff in a landfill some where. But this also requires me to, take photos of all my stuff, create a sellers account, list items with descriptions, then keep an eye on my inbox for potential interested parties. This, with all of my other obligations and commitments, just seems a little too much.

However, in the spirit of being a minimalist, I DO want to do this as sustainably as possible. So where is the balance? How do I achieve my goals without killing myself in the process? And if you’re like I am, when you go, you go hard. I think the answer is in something that my father tells me all the time, but I was too busy doing to stop to listen.

Go Slow, One Thing at a Time & It’ll Get Done

This is some basic advice that I was just unwilling to accept. However, while I was growing up, I was often told I was lazy. I was already having a difficult time feeling belonging, so I thought that if I worked myself to death, then I’d gain the approval I was searching for. This, however, did not go as planned. I ended up pushing myself past my physical limits as well as setting my standards too high. In short, I was a mess.

Since moving in with my father, a part of me was resentful of how little he seemed to do during the day. He was retired, which in my mind and my upbringing dictated, that he has a whole day to be “productive”. Something my family valued more than most things. This was a lesson I was taught from an early age. Being productive meant gaining approval. But there are a few things that I’ve learned that aren’t healthy about this statement.

When I stopped to listen to my father, I learned that he had done the exact same thing that I was doing. Only he was going harder than I was. Sure, I was working six days a week at two jobs to pay off my loans. But my father was working seven days a week under more difficult conditions than I was. This was an eye opener.

At one point, he said he was rushing around waiting on three people at a time when he realized that he was making mistakes and feeling like no matter what he did, how hard he worked, he was never going to meet the mark. That’s when he decided that he was going to slow down and take it, “one person at a time, they will wait”. And it’s true. People will wait. So will our tasks. And this is where our actions meet the minimalist ideal. We just need to give ourselves the permission to slow down and feel uncomfortable that others are waiting on us. And extend this mentality to all our tasks. One thing at a time.

You are Not How Much You Produce

In my family, on my mother’s side, we are constantly on the go. In a state of perpetual motion. It’s kind of amazing to watch actually. For example, my mother knows how to pack a day so full, that there is no down time. Every moment is filled with some errand or project that needs doing. This usually translated into some sort of shopping trip or returning bought goods to stores. This is how I learned not to be a minimalist. By filling my down time with shopping trips and projects, labeling them as “being productive”.

The more we felt we needed to do, the more items we consumed. The tenants of being a minimalist weren’t even on my radar when I was taught these lessons. And they sure weren’t on my family’s either. But if we stopped for long enough to see what we were doing, why we were so focused on buying things to feel productive, we may have realized that we were really running from our fear of not being approved of. And in a way, by stopping long enough to see we are running from our emotions, we become task minimalists. Taking control of our time and relieving the stress that comes with a super busy day.

Relaxing in the Face of Rejection

If you’re seeking approval through you’re productivity, then you have to keep producing to feel approved of. This is not sustainable. But learning to relax in the aftermath of learning that you are not how much you produce, can feel overwhelming. This was/is something I struggle with. I often feel guilty if I’m not being productive for fear of being seen as lazy.

So the first step is to relax. Let go of your to-do list. This is at the heart of being a minimalist and this will look a little different for everybody. But I’ve come to know it as self-care. I recently read an article from The Good Trade that has labeled this type of relaxing as slow living. I agree with them in what the article lays out as a practice for being kinder to ourselves through going slow, though disagree that the term “self-care” has become “meaningless” according to their article. Either way, they have some great points.

Mostly about cutting out the things we’re over committing ourselves to. This falls in line with my minimalist ideal while, as the article says, freeing up time to pursue the things and hobbies that really matter to you. And this falls in line with my dad’s saying, “one thing at a time.” Letting go of the guilt, of feeling like you’re letting someone down by not being as productive as you feel you should be and take your time doing your tasks. The benefits? You’ll get more done, probably faster than if you’re trying to multitask and make fewer mistakes as well.

Boundaries With What We’re Planning & Reigning in Our Emotions

And once we learn how to slow down our impulse to produce and gage what’s truly important to us, we can start to embrace the minimalist ideals by decluttering some of the things we’ve been collecting. For me this means being able to step into my basement and get the urge of wanting to organize everything, all at once, under control. It’ll get done, one thing at a time.

I recently had another experience with wanting to plan out my future all at once when I was looking at the types of houses that are available for me to build. I was looking at photos of “pole barn houses”, as they are a more affordable option in building your own home.

Interior of a Pole Barn Home from: Taglevel.com

As I was looking at the photos and texting with a friend who is also in the same place as me in wanting their own home, I started to feel the excitement of the possibility of building my own home. It felt like a pent up energy, of wanting to accomplish something. As I was getting excited, I kept opening more browser tabs and before I knew it, I had ten open tabs and was looking on Pinterest while texting with my friend. I was working myself up, not realizing that I needed to slow my roll a little.

Then I stopped. I recognized how I was feeling at that moment, of being swept away in the emotion, and gave myself the permission to not have to figure it all out then and there. And it kind of felt as though I was being bullied by my emotions a bit. As though my emotions were in control of what I SHOULD be doing. This carried undertones of how my family used to handle their emotions. A legacy I do not want to carry with me into my future.

Be Patient & Know That it Takes Practice

That being said, it took a while for me to get to a place where I could be patient with my emotions. In the past I would react to my emotions almost immediately. This made for some uncomfortable situations. But allowing yourself the space between your initial emotional wave and the actions you take, you’ll find the emotions are easier to handle.

Slowing down helps with this process. I cut down on my caffeine intake drastically. This helps me to stay in my emotions while listening to another’s point of view. This is critical for people feeling as though they are feeling heard. Because if you don’t feel as though you are being heard, that’s when the emotions start flaring up.

And in the spirit of being a minimalist, the simpler the conversation, the more likely everybody will feel heard. This is how we stay open, slow down and take things one step at a time. There’s no need to rush to feel approved of. We’re already enough. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A pile of stuff that wants to become a kitchen” by siepert is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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