Every winter it seems I find myself tangled up in a busy schedule that leaves little time for me to relax, at least not if I want to get enough sleep to keep powering through the days ahead.
This winter has been no different, with my first Winter Camp spanning from January 7th to 25th. The days are long, but the work is incredibly fulfilling. Even though I feel happy each night when I finally make it home, I’m fairly exhausted by the end of the week.
But even with my busy schedule, I’ve still managed to make intentional living a priority. Each night after work, my coworker Sam and I go to the gym for at least half an hour. I’ve been using my lunch break to catch up on my reading, and when I wake up in the morning, I make it a priority to read at least one news article. When I walk to work in the morning, I listen to The Daily and I don’t go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink.
Some days, doing these things feels like work. More than work feels like work, actually. But I know if I don’t do it, everything around me will begin to pile up and I’ll be easily consumed by the chaos. What these last few weeks have taught me is that allowing my space to become a mess triggers my stress more than stressful situations actually do. If my house is literally in order, I find it much easier to cope with the daily challenges I am presented with. It feels great to come home at 8:15 p.m. to a sink free of dirty dishes and a bed that’s made.
Sure, when life gets busy I might seem easier to forget our intentions and let life has its way with us. But taking the time to take care of yourself, even in the smallest of ways, can make a huge difference.
This week was the final week of my minimalism challenge, and I am not going to lie, I have been dragging my feet to go through this final stage of decluttering. Mostly because I’ve known since week three that I would not be able to find 220 more items to purge from my apartment, which is now the most organized, clutter-free space I have ever lived in.
With that being said, I forced myself to take inventory today, December 31, and discard any lingering items that I did not need and were taking up space in my life. Some of these things were passed over in the first three weeks, while others were things I had decided to hold onto, only to change my mind this time around.
Week Four’s Items
80 sachets of tea
11 aluminum food trays
5 store membership cards
2 reusable water bottles
2 paper shopping bags
1 empty tea jar
1 paint brush
1 candle with a crushed wick
1 pair of pants
Week four’s total: 122 items
Minimalism Challenge Total: 386/475
Although I came up a little bit short at the end of the challenge, I still believe I have done an excellent job decluttering my apartment and minimizing my possessions. Now, everything in my apartment has a place. I don’t spend time searching for things, and I actually use the things I own. While there are still some things that remain, hidden away, I have also taken care to be mindful of the next person that will live in this apartment someday.
Not only was this minimalism challenge fun, it was also eye-opening. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but clutter is clutter. Whether it is in the form of too many pairs of shoes or a bag full of bags shoved under the kitchen sink, it still takes up space in our lives. In fact, since undergoing this challenge, I’ve been able to store things under my sink, because it’s no longer overrun by things I don’t use or need. I don’t think I’ll be able to do this challenge again any time soon, especially with my New Year’s Resolution to undergo a year without shopping, but I know that I should check in every month or so to make sure I throw away all the receipts that I have shoved into my wallet.
As to be expected, week three of my minimalism challenge was the hardest week yet. It’s also the week I broke open my closet and did an assessment of what I brought with me from the States, and what I have actually worn since being here. I knew before even opening the closet that there were things in there that I’ve put on, only to take off immediately in favor of something I wear more often with more confidence.
The past weekend was a great chance for me to clean out, as my neighbor and co-worker had a clothing swap party. She was kind enough to let me join in on the fun and her guests could come over to my apartment and take the clothing and jewelry I was ready to part with. Everything that remained at the end went to the second hand shop downtown.
But clothing and jewelry wasn’t the only thing that went this time around, although that did make up a majority of the week’s clean-out. I also continued to go through my kitchen, and went into my laundry room to do a quick assessment.
Below is a list of the 133 items I cleaned out in the third week of my minimalism challenge:
38 wooden skewers
21 articles of clothing
19 pieces of jewelry
9 nose rings
3 vacation souvenirs
2 pairs of shoes
2 hair accessories
2 small kitchen things
2 bike accessories
2 power adapters
1 lone earring with no match
1 broken pair of headphones
1 small drawer unit that fell apart in my hands when I tried to move it
1 sleeping bag
1 small travel makeup bag
1 broken Christmas ornament
1 Tupperware lid I missed the first week
1 empty container of fabric softener that has been empty since September
Looking around my apartment, I can see the difference the last three weeks of cleaning and decluttering has made. My space is more comfortable, cleaner, and brighter. I don’t have to shove aside things I don’t use in order to find the things I do. While I’m not sure how much further I’ll be able to go, I’m glad I made it this far.
If you’re interested in doing my minimalism challenge, or interested in the original challenge, which involves working with a partner and making a bet as to who will make it the the furthest in decluttering, comment below! Happy cleaning!
I really thought week two of the minimalism challenge would be difficult. I thought I would struggle to find 84 things to purge from my small studio apartment that I have been living in for only three months, but as it turns out, this week took even less time to complete than the first week. Perhaps that is because I already knew what areas I would tackle this week. But I didn’t really realize that the few areas I would clear out would amass to 84 items.
Here is what I discarded in week two of my minimalism challenge:
23 shopping bags- I feel guilty about this one. As hard as I try to always have my own bag with me, sometimes I just forget. Or the person already puts my items in a bag, but I cannot tell them I don’t want the bag because, well, I don’t speak Korean.
18 free sample products- every time you buy something from a beauty or skincare store in Korea, they give you a fistful of free samples. I finally decided to use them up and get them out of my space.
9 assorted books and maps- many of these were worn and outdated.
8 small toys and pins
2 tape measures
2 used envelopes
2 shoe boxes
2 dead pens
2 whiteboard markers
1 empty soap box
1 glue stick
1 instruction sheet for a power adapter
1 empty shampoo bottle
Once again, many of the items I cleared out were left behind by the previous teacher who lived in my apartment. Although I’m not sure what he did with two tape measures, I decided that I don’t even have the need for one, and that they must go. This week’s goal was 84 items. I managed to clean out 86, exceeding my goal by 2!
The most amazing thing about reaching 86 items is the fact that I still have not even opened my closet or any of my drawers. My laundry room remains untouched. Next week, my goal will be to rid my apartment of 133 items. I feel that the third week will be where the real challenge begins. But then again, I thought the same thing about this week, and I was able to find 86 items with ease.
One thing that is important to remember when it comes to decluttering and minimizing doesn’t always mean getting rid of clothes and shoes. Sometimes it really is throwing out empty containers, old receipts, and other useless items that are taking up space in our homes. Happy minimizing!
Another day, another challenge. The latest in my end-of-the-year undertakings is Project 333. Project 333 challenges you to dress with 33 articles of clothing and accessories for three months, packing the rest away and out of sight. In this time frame, you also cannot buy any new clothing or accessories, so what you have is what you have.
That said, there are exceptions to 333. For instance, undergarments, socks, sentimental jewelry that you always wear, and in-home lounge and sleepwear are not included in the count. But things like belts, bags, and shoes are.
Last night, I went through my closet, pulling out everything I wanted to wear for the next three months, focusing on sweaters and warm clothing and leaving the dresses for the far-off days of spring. While I was choosing, I was not counting my selections. That would come at the end. I just chose, one item at a time, and laid them out on my bed. When I counted everything, my selections came to 34. Not bad, considering I was just going on feeling. But one item had to go. Looking over my pile, it was easy to make my selection and I decided to purge the baseball baseball hat sitting on top of the pile.. After all, I had only kept it out to wear when I travel to Hong Kong next week. Otherwise, Korea is far too cold now to be wearing a baseball hat outside.
I looked over my final selections. Sweaters, two button-up shirts, a cardigan, two dresses, five pairs of pants, a pair of leggings, two bags, a winter coat, hats, gloves, and two scarves. Not bad. Definitely a workable wardrobe. No crazy patterns that would be hard to match. Just simple colors: muted pinks and reds, a smattering of earth tones, and black and grey. What more could I possibly need in the winter?
So I went to work, folding and packing the rest of my clothing into two small cardboard boxes. They were the largest ones I could find outside of E-mart, but still small. When the boxes were packed, I tucked them out of sight along with the shoes that did not make the cut. Packing my things away gets easier every time I do it. Making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of gets easier too, less emotional and more rational, the more I do it.
By constantly assessing my belongings and asking myself if they are adding value to my life or serving a deliberate purpose, I’ve become more comfortable with the truth that things hold no intrinsic value. Rather, possessions can add value to our lives, and that value changes over time. Something that adds value to our lives when we are thirteen may no longer add value at twenty-three. So why do we so desperately cling to things? I am still trying to find the answer, but I do not think the answer can be neatly tied up with a bow. Rather, there are a lot of factors, different for everyone, that play into our desire to accumulate things and never let them go.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about minimalism it that there is only one way to be a minimalist. That you must own less than 100 things, only eat raw foods, forgo luxuries like a bed frame, and only walk or ride of bike everywhere you go.
While minimalism looks this way for some people, it is not the only way to be a minimalist.
According to 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.” So rather than thinking of minimalism as a strict set of guidelines, it is more helpful to think of it as a lens through which to evaluate your life in order to be sure that your reality is in line with your values.
If you are considering adopting a minimalist lifestyle or even just tackling the clutter in your life, it is important to consider your values, goals, and aspirations. Write them down. Next, consider what your life actually looks like. What do you do daily, weekly, monthly. Write that down too. Then compare the two. Does your reality align with the life you want for yourself? If it doesn’t try to figure out why.
For example, if one of your goals is to visit one new city every year, but you haven’t even chosen this year’s destination or started saving up money, consider why. Perhaps you are afraid of failure, or maybe you haven’t saved any money because you go on a mini shopping spree each time you get paid. While there’s nothing wrong with buying things you need when you need them, excess and frivolous spending can leave us unfulfilled and prevent us from achieving long-term goals.
So why did I decide to live minimally?
The concept of minimalism was immediately appealing to me. Cooped up on a cold February night in NEPA, I watched the minimalism documentary from The Minimalists. I needed to know more. So I subscribed to their podcast and read The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker. Then I set out to declutter my life.
Looking back, I think one of the biggest contributing factors that drew me to minimalism was working as an admissions counselor. I spent 5-6 nights a week in hotel rooms, never taking more than one carry-on suitcase with me on the road. It was then that I realized just how little I needed to get by. Everything else is just excess.
I also moved a lot in 2017, and each time I had to haul boxes up and down stairs I thought about how nice it would be to just leave it all behind somewhere. Little did I know that I’d do exactly that in the summer of 2018.
The most important thing to consider is that a minimal lifestyle aligns with my values. I do not believe that things can bring us fulfillment, but rather experiences help us to make the most of our time on Earth. When I consider all the happiness moments of my life, I am always thinking of an experience, whether it be traveling, a personal achievement, or spending time with friends laughing long into the night, none of these recollections involve material possessions.
Instead, I’ve come to realize that material possessions are burdensome, and often accumulated out of a false sense of want, rather than a genuine need or desire. While I still struggle with the impulse to buy things when I am out and about downtown, I make an effort to be more intentional with my purchases.
I truly believe that everyone can benefit in some way from minimalism. Whether it’s shrinking your worldly possessions down to the smallest amount possible or just being more intentional with how you spend your money and making room in your home and your life for the things that bring you joy, minimalism has something to offer to everyone. With the new year right around the corner, now may just be the perfect time to consider living life with less, in order to make room for more of the things that truly bring you joy.
I’ve written about minimalism a few times before, noting that my inspiration to live a more minimal and meaningful life began back in February after watching a documentary from The Minimalists on Netflix. Before moving to Korea, I sold, donated, and got rid of 90% of my possessions, but after watching some minimalism videos on YouTube today, I thought it might be a good time to check in to see how my minimalism journey is going here in Korea. I haven’t really checked in since I got here, but I also haven’t accumulated much. That being said, there was a decent amount left behind in my apartment, and much of it I have never used.
One thing I came across in my video watching was this thing called the “Minimalism Game.” Essentially how it works is you declutter your space a little bit every day, getting rid of the same number of things that it is the day of the month. For example, on the 1st, you get rid of one item, and on the 12th you get rid of twelve. I love the idea of this challenge, so I decided December, the last month of the year, would be the perfect time to take it on and make sure I am really starting off on the right foot in the new year.
Since I am fairly busy between work, Korean lessons, and other things I do outside of work and studying, I decided to adapt this challenge to better fit my schedule. Rather that go through my possessions each day, I decided to add up how many items I would discard each week, and dedicate one day a week to minimize. Typically I clean my apartment on Sundays, so that will likely be the day I minimize as well. Since I discovered this challenge on a Tuesday, I decided to kick it off right after work, gathering up the first 45 items that I would be ridding my apartment of for the first week.
One of the great things about decluttering is it doesn’t always mean getting rid of large items like clothing, shoes, etc. So to start, I tackled some of the most annoying kinds of clutter that have been piling up on my table, in my fridge, and in my cabinets.
In the first week of my minimalism challenge, I was able to get rid of:
19 papers, including old bills, receipts, and outdated resumes
1 Pringles lid
4 Tupperware lids with no matching containers
1 Tupperware container with no lid
2 half used jars of spaghetti sauce that were no longer edible
1 stained wine glass
1 bag of stale cereal
7 packages of expired seaweed
1 expired jar of tea
1 package of jelly
2 lids for pots I don’t own
4 spuddy potatoes
1 twist tie for a bag of mushrooms
This brought me to a total of 45 items in the first week, and I never even opened my wardrobe.
I have to admit, it feels great to have all the expired food out of my cabinets. Much of the expired food was left behind by the teacher who lived in this apartment before me. But rather than getting rid of it, I just kept pushing it aside and letting it take up space in my cabinet. Now, I have more space to organize the food I have, which will make it easier for me to keep track of what I have and visualize my meals more easily.
Next week, I will be going through my apartment attempting to get rid of 84 items. 84! It seems like such a big number, so I am eager to see how easily I can find 84 items in my apartment that aren’t adding value to my life or serving a purpose.
Last year for Christmas, my friend Hannah got me one of those prompted journals where you answer one question every day, for five years. The idea is that you write every day, and see how you grow and change over time. One question for the month of October that really made me stop and think asked What is the most valuable thing you own. This question stopped me in my tracks because I have been thinking about the value of material objects ever since I watched the documentary from the Minimalists back in February.
As I sat looking around my apartment, I thought about all the things I rid my life of before moving to Korea. I tried to put a value on the things I brought with me, but I just kept thinking about what it took to get to where I was. The weeks I spent cleaning out my apartment were agonizing, not because letting go of things is hard, but because realizing just how much I let things pile up in my life was a hard pill to swallow. Letting go of so many of my material possessions was freeing. I imagine that many people feel that freedom when they stop putting stock in the things they own and start measuring their life by how much they’ve lived.
So I sat on the question. I thought about what mattered in my life, and about the concept of ownership. Yes, I own things, but my things are not a reflection of the life I have lived. I thought about my experiences, my memories, and my own personal journey toward fulfillment. In many ways, I believe I own those things more than anything in my apartment, because those things can never truly belong to someone else. I can share my experiences and tell my stories, but they will never truly belong to anyone other than me.
It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve been in Korea for an entire month. I waited months that felt like an eternity for the day I would board my flight to get here, and now an entire month has passed since my plane touched down in Incheon.
Reflecting on this past month, I’ve noticed that for the first time in quite a while, I feel truly happy and at peace with where I am. After years of unrest and discontent, this change in demeaner is a welcome change. When I think about my future, the door is wide open with possibility, and I no longer feel trapped in a place I have no business being (looking at you, Wilkes Barre). Perhaps this happiness is simply me living through the honeymoon phase that comes with moving somewhere new, or perhaps it is the overwhelming relief that comes with finally leaving somewhere I was desparate to escape. Either way, I hope this peace has come to stay.
And while I could say that every day has been a constant high, that would be a lie. There are moments where I feel overwhelmed and moments that are mundane, but such is life. But as I sit in a coffee shop, sipping an iced vanilla latte, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of life, I know that I am in the right place. I’ve met so many incredible people who come from all walks of life, but we all have one thing in common: we left the comfort of our home countries to come to Korea in search of something more. Not all of us are searching for the same thing, and I don’t know that all of us will find what we are looking for, but I know that this journey has brought us together.
As I continue through this period of my life, I’m sure I will be met with surprises, obstacles, hardships, and overwhelming joy. I can’t wait to see what my second month in Korea brings.
I have always been a messy person. My entire life my bedroom floor has been littered with possessions: toys as a child, CD cases and clothing as a teenager, and now, as a young professional, the outfits I try on in the morning only to fling off immediately in order to try something else on. I always wondered why I couldn’t keep my room clean. My the cabinet under my bathroom sink is so difficult to navigate. Why I could not fit everything into my car when I moved out of my college dorm room and had to call for backup.
And then one day, while browsing the documentaries section on Netflix, I came across a film on minimalism. Minimalism has definitely been a buzzword over the past few years. Hell, even Emily Gilmore dabbled in minimalism, removing anything from her life that did not bring her joy after the passing of her husband.
I was inspired by these two young men, who spend their days traveling around the country to share the joys of minimalism with millions of Americans. But this documentary found me at the wrong time. I was out on the road, traveling for my job, and spending five nights a week at the Hampton Inn. There was no way I’d have time to really embrace minimalism. So I set it aside, and forgot about it until one day in Georgia.
I traveled to Georgia to see two old pals who I met in a hostel in Ireland. (You can read all about my travels to Georgia here!) I arrived at their beautiful, vibrant townhouse, and Mackenzie said to me, “You can have whatever you like! I’m trying minimalism.” and that’s when I was really struck by it. I saw how simple, but comfortable their home was. Her bedroom was nearly spotless, but also cozy and lived-in. That’s when I knew that the problem that had plagued me all my life was not a lack of self-discipline to put things away neatly (although that certainly doesn’t help), but owning too much stuff! So I ordered a book called The More of Less (yes, I bought something to help me own less, I recognize the irony), and set out to own less.
The first thing I tackled was my sock and underwear drawer. Getting rid of these types of textiles always plagued me with guilt. Most places do not accept donations of used socks or underwear (understandable). So instead, I’d wear these things under they no longer resembled the original product, all so I’d feel less guilty about them winding up in landfills. That’s when I discovered Planet Aid. They recycle and redistribute old clothing, even the clothing with holes and stains, even socks and underwear. When I learned that there is a Planet Aid donation bin just blocks from my apartment, I went from two drawers full of socks that could barely close to one that opens and closes with ease. I also cleaned out my pajama drawer, donating clothing I haven’t worn in months.
Another area I am trying to minimize is food. I’ve decided to challenge myself not to buy groceries, especially grains, pastas, and canned goods, until I run out of what I have in my pantry to use. I know this challenge will be a bit difficult as I follow a vegan diet and eat a lot of fresh produce. But even that I can work around. I have frozen vegetables in my freezer, canned goods in the pantry. While I prefer fresh produce, it is important to eat what I have before purchasing more.
While I am still working on my minimalist journey, I already feel rewarded. My surfaces are clearer, I don’t have excess of things I don’t need excess of, and I will be helping my future self by making my next move much more bearable. Not only that, but by choosing to live with less, I will also be taking a journey in better money management and spending my money on experiences I enjoy rather than on things that add little value to my life. Sure, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I know I will get there.