Overconsumption. I veered off the path of excess consumption of material goods a few years ago. Minimalism was my tool for that. I like the definition given by The Minimalists:
Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.
Noticing objects and material stuff around us is easy. It’s visible. We can plan decluttering sessions and visibly see space getting created. Now, what about intangible stuff? Information? Thoughts? Memories? Worry?
I don’t have excess material possessions anymore. Everything I have is enough and fills my needs. That doesn’t mean I live with less than 100 items, it just means I have what I consider is enough for myself and my lifestyle. It’s not about restrictions, it’s about eliminating the superfluous.
But I’ve been consuming and accumulating a lot of digital stuff over the years: hundreds of clipped articles on Evernote, guides and manuals I never read, RSS feeds from dozens of sites, articles to read saved on Instapaper or Pocket, dozens of newsletters cluttering my inbox, social media feeds.
It took a while, but I opted out of many of those digital things and now I think I have only what is meaningful to me:
I subscribe to 5 newsletters now, having unsubscribed from dozens in the past months. This amount is not overwhelming to me right now. It feels manageable.
I cancelled my Instapaper subscription. I had this idea that I would build a digital library with my notes and all the articles I read over time. I realized it was not important to me. I had more articles than I had time to read them. And the list of unread articles made me feel anxious. So I decided not to collect articles anymore. I much rather read a book.
I unsubscribed from dozens (if not hundreds) of RSS feeds. I kept 5 blogs and 1 comic strip (Dilbert) that I still enjoy reading once in a while.
I don’t use Evernote anymore. It was too easy to just collect stuff. If I want to take notes I use Standard Notes. Creating > collecting.
I stopped listening to a few podcasts. From a list of 15+ podcasts I was subscribed to, I decided to stick with 5 of them. And I don’t feel obliged to listen to all of them. I look at the feed and decide if it is an episode that interests me, otherwise, I just delete it.
I stopped using social media.
I cut down the time I spent watching YouTube. I still enjoy some science-related channels, but since I stopped using social media, I don’t feel the pull to go to YouTube anymore.
I still read books. That’s one type of information that energizes me. And opting out of all the other forms of digital consumption gave me more time to enjoy reading.
I've simplified many aspects of my life already. Little things like creating a uniform for myself (black pants and a shirt) to go to work make it super easy to get dressed up. I don't waste energy in the morning choosing this or that fashion trend. It’s liberating. Same thing with my breakfast: I eat the same meal every day. It's automatic: I prepare my omelet in the morning and that's it.
I feel like I have more headspace now. It’s a subtle change, but it’s there. Things are slowing down in my mind. I don't crave newsfeeds anymore. On the contrary, I cringe when I see any type of random automated endless newsfeed now. I feel calmer. I feel like I can make decisions. Even the smallest ones were hard for me at times: What should I choose from the sandwich menu? Which phone call should I make first? Which book should I read? What do I want for dinner? It’s all clearer now.
I've regained my love of reading. And my ability to read for long hours. There is space now!
I will be moving abroad next month (in 23 days to be exact) and I’ve been evaluating my possessions and minimizing since 2015. By then, I just wanted to live more intentionally and get rid of excess stuff. I wanted to travel light, with only a carry-on. I wanted to have a capsule wardrobe so that I needn’t waste time deciding what to wear in the morning.
These are all normal things everybody desires when they discover intentional living or minimalism.
I’ve read more than a dozen books about this topic since 2015.
I've read countless blog posts and articles about living with less, wasting less and choosing to own only the essential.
I started meditating in the mornings.
I started practicing yoga.
I've sold almost all my physical books, I've sold all my CD's, I donated clothes, shoes, towels, magazines, pens, notebooks.
I've scanned all the print photos I still had with me and recycled them. It was a huge pile!
I did the Minimalism Game for two consecutive months and got rid of 902 items in 59 days (February and March, 2017).
And I wondered if that was enough. Deep inside I felt that I wasn’t touching the surface of being really intentional. I felt all the benefits though. I am a much happier person. I have less anxiety, less stress. I remember to breath deeply in the middle of the day. I can focus.
Now, due to our future big move overseas, I started to sell and donate things that I thought were essential to me. As I am getting rid of furniture, electronics and even domestic appliances I am realizing that these things are not so essential after all.
This month I am selling big things. An office cabinet. A drawer cabinet. A sofa-bed that was “just in case we had visitors”. A kitchen mixer. A blender. A high quality office chair. All these items were in my daily routine (except the sofa-bed, which was really a “Just In Case”). They were essential to me! But after not having them at my disposal, I noticed I can live without them. It's not that bad!
In February, 2017 I decided to play the Minimalism Game. I wanted to use it as a tool to declutter some of my stuff. I had a loose plan of the categories of things I wanted to address. So, I gave it a go!
The first month was a success, as you can check out here, here and here.
The sweet thing about the game is that it gives us momentum. It breaks the inertial state. And it provides a sense of progression. You start slow, with one item, and you comfortably go adding one more item to the previous amount until you reach day 15. Then things start to get more challenging. But you’ve prepared for it, you’ve been training and so you put your fears aside and continue on the quest for more items to let go.
When I finished the first month, which were 28 days, I looked at my stuff and saw that there were more items to purge. I was not done with my plan. It was natural for me to go for a second round.
The second month of purging: March, 2017
My plan was to declutter the following categories of stuff:
This month (February, 2017) I decided to start the Minimalism Game. It’s an idea by The Minimalists (awesome blog!), you can read more about it here. This is the last post about it, from Day 19 to Day 28. You can also read Part 1 and Part 2.
So, my February Minimalism Game is now complete! That means I had a daily task of looking at my possessions and deciding which ones no longer were adding value to my life…
…That means I trashed, donated or recycled 406 items!
The habit of critically analyzing my stuff got easier day by day. I started to wonder why I held on to each particular object and weighted its importance and usefulness to me. The weird thing is that I remember each one of the 406 items. I have memories about them. I know where they came from. Some of them traveled 1,105 kilometers with me when I left my hometown and moved to Brasilia in 2007. But, oh, well, they are just stuff! They have served me once but now they are just stuff.
Most of the items were paperwork. I have spent some hours of February digitizing stuff too because there were some documents I wanted to keep a digital copy. I finally dealt with a memory box I carried with me since college that contained old postcards and letters (Day 21). I kept the digital images of the important letters to me, the hard copies were recycled. And the box is gone too because it wasn’t useful to me anymore.
This month (February, 2017) I decided to start the Minimalism Game. It’s an idea by The Minimalists (awesome blog!), you can read more about it here. This is the second post about it, from Day 10 to Day 18. You can read the first part here.
The “Gamification” Effect
This is when the game starts to become challenging. After day 10 the selection of items is not so fast anymore. You see, I didn’t have a box already full of stuff previously collected to donate/trash/sell. Each day I go through my stuff and select which items will go away that day.
And since I didn’t have previously collected items, I started to plan ahead my game every week. I know which areas I can go through the next day and I even separate the next number of stuff so that I can deal with it the next morning. And this “gamification” keeps me working! It’s less likely I will find an excuse and let the decluttering for an undetermined day in the future.
When I reached Day 18, I started to think that I wouldn’t get to the end. But there is always one more pile of paper, some books here and there and CD’s. I discovered a drawer full of CD’s. I knew I had them, but I didn’t remember how many. I used to back up my data on CD’s before having external hard drives. I had old PC games I no longer play. I had CD’s with MP3’s before there were streaming services. I had old electronics! I had installation CD’s and manuals of a computer I no longer own! So many obsolete things!!
This month I decided to start the Minimalism Game. It’s an idea by The Minimalists (awesome blog!), you can read more about it here. It’s very simple: you choose someone to join you, to create accountability. Then on Day One you get rid of one thing, one day two, two things, so on and so forth, until day 30, when you get rid of 30 things in one day.
The game is meant to create momentum while decluttering and eliminating the feeling of overwhelm when you want to tackle a great number of stuff. You can either donate, sell, or trash the excess stuff. By the end of the 30 days, if you keep it up, you’ll have 465 less things in your life.
In my case, since February has 28 days, I’ll have 406 items!
This will be a three part post!
Why have I started it?
I’ve been into a minimal mindset since 2013. It’s a long process, and I started to get rid of unwanted or forgotten clothes and shoes at first. I realized I was hanging on to too many items that didn’t correspond to my life style anymore. I had shoes I never wore. I had old clothes that were setting in my closet forgotten. First, I’ve decluttered my wardrobe. Then my CD’s, my books and my kitchen utensils. But I still had other areas of focus I wanted to tackle. I have office supplies, old electronics, mementos and miscellaneous stuff I want to go through. So, I thought the Minimalism Game could give me the right amount of incentive to start up this process.
I love reading about minimalism! I think it infuses us with a thought process that helps us be happier and mindful. It makes us think outside the box. And this book is very authentic. As Joshua F. Millburn says on The Minimalists podcast, this is a book about the big “WHY”. The “what” is just the easy part, it is the action of getting rid of our stuff, but:
“Minimalism doesn’t work like that. By simply embracing the what without the why, a person gets nowhere. It is possible to get rid of everything you own and still be utterly miserable, to come home to your empty house and sulk after removing all your pacifiers.” — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists. Kindle Edition. pg. 70, loc. 848–850
The book is written in a kind of memoir format telling the story of how the founders of “The minimalists” blog began living more deliberately.