In Praise of Minimalism
My introduction to a minimalist lifestyle happened by necessity. In 2001, I was newlywed and a recent Brooklyn transplant. Having grown up in the expansive lands of the West, it was an eye-opening experience to realize that New York City apartments were jarringly expensive and shockingly small. Still, the thrill of living in one of the most exciting cities in the world was enough to make me overlook that our first apartment (and every apartment after that) had no closet. Thus began my journey into living more with less — a lot less.
The old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” could not be truer when you live in a 600-square-foot apartment (and with another person). I invented storage out of thin air. Footlockers that housed winter clothes got covered with decorative scarves to make living room seating. Makeshift closets were made with wardrobe racks from Ikea and covered with off-season bedding, in a desperate bid to hide poorly folded clothing. The kitchen was a spartan affair, with no extra dishes or silverware save for the ones we used for every meal and were washed right after. Anything that languished unused for more than six months — clothes, gadgets, a kitchen appliance — was donated. We learned that we actually needed so little by way of new things. After all, buying something, no matter how big or small, meant having to store it somewhere.
"I had to really think about my minimalist ethos, and what objects mean to me. I knew deep down that holding onto my mom’s things was also a way of holding onto my grief."
After three years of being married and fine-tuning this system to the hilt, a new wrench was thrown into the mix: a baby. Who knew a 9-pound thing would require so many accoutrements? From strollers to car seats to diapers bags, a baby is maximalist by its very nature. And yet, with enough discipline, one can still be minimalist even with a kid. In fact, all our parent friends in Brooklyn were doing it. One couple lived in a studio apartment that was even smaller than ours with not one but two kids. Both architects, they designed their living space to accommodate all their needs as a family.
A few years after living in New York, we moved back West to care for my mother, who was terminally ill. When she passed, it fell to me to take care of her personal belongings. She had spent the last few years of her life as a missionary for the church and had very few possessions to dispose of, and yet, it was still a heart-wrenching process to do so.
I had to really think about my minimalist ethos, and what objects mean to me. I knew deep down that holding onto my mom’s things was also a way of holding onto my grief. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo says, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life.”
This gave me permission to let go — of things, of grief, of the impossibility of bringing my mom back. I kept a few items — a scarf, a hairbrush, a tube of lipstick — small tokens that make me wistful and also grateful to always have a reminder of her. And no matter where I go, whether I end up in a place with zero closets or 10, I’ll always have a place for them, and a place for my mother.
This post is part of a month-long April CircleAround series, tied to Earth Day. A 2018 UN report warned that, as relates to climate change, we had until 2030 to make drastic changes to avoid irreversible negative consequences. We asked writers — and readers — to share news and advice on what we all can do to help, or stories on inspirational women in the climate space. To see all the posts in the series, visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to info@circlearound.