Retail Detox: January

The first month of my shopping ban went more smoothly than I expected. When I set out on this journey, I had already started Project 333, which eliminated any desires I had to purchase new clothing. Although my wardrobe is the smallest its ever been, I find that I genuinely like everything in my closet. I wear each and every item I selected for this three month project. In fact, when I do have to walk through downtown, I don’t even look at the clothing in the windows.

Other areas of the shopping ban are proving more tempting, but I’ve managed to stay strong. I have always loved stationary. Back in America, I had so many journals, but rarely managed to fill any of them. The same goes for notebooks. When I filled up a journal at the beginning of the month, I will admit that my first thought was that it’s time for a new one. And trust me, the journals and notebooks here in Korea are so cute. But I have more journals that are half full. Why not fill those up first before looking to get another one?

A potted green plant seen at a cafe in Gyeongju, South Korea.

And yet in other areas, I haven’t even considered buying items I included in the ban. Books written in English are hard to come by in my small Korean city, and I find the cost of international shipping off-putting, so I haven’t even looked at books. If something comes out that I really want to read, I use my Audible subscription and listen to the audio version. While it’s not quite the same as reading, audio books have become a staple in my life.

Take-out coffee is also proving easier not to buy than I expected. Perhaps it’s because I spent most of January teaching winter camp, and I arrived to work before any coffee shops were even open. The only place that I could have gotten take-out coffee were the convenience stores, and the sugary coffees have definitely lost their appeal to me since moving here.

I know that thirty-one days without shopping for non-essential items isn’t a huge feat, and that as time goes on, it will become more difficult for me to adhere to my self-imposed shopping ban. But knowing how to avoid the temptations of shopping, and acknowledging that shopping isn’t a hobby and isn’t something I need to do to feel happy are starting points to reshape the way I think about shopping and what I truly need in order to have a life of happiness and fulfillment found in experiences, not things.

Minimalism Challenge: Week Four

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
  • 10 receipts
  • 5 store membership cards
  • 4 manuals
  • 2 reusable water bottles
  • 2 paper shopping bags
  • 2 cables
  • 1 empty tea jar
  • 1 paint brush
  • 1 magnet
  • 1 candle with a crushed wick
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 lighter

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.

Leave the Clutter in 2018: Things to Get Rid of Before 2019 Begins

As one year turns to another, we are always seeking new ways to improve our lives in the new year. As I continue my Minimalism Challenge throughout December, I’ve been considering the things that everyone should consider cleaning out before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, indicating the start of a new year. 

Here are some of the things that I personally believe would help you to start 2019 heading in a positive direction.

Unsubscribe from e-mail lists

Every morning I wake up and I have loads of unread e-mails, the majority of which are announcing sales and coupons for stores I no longer shop at now that I am living in Korea. Even before moving, I never looked at these e-mails. Rarely was the subject line catchy enough to make me open the e-mail. In the majority of cases, I signed up for the e-mail list in order to get some sort of discount when shopping online.

If your inbox looks like mine, consider taking the time to unsubscribe from these e-mail lists. You can do this manually, or you can download an app like Unroll Me, which does all the hard work for you. While you might spend anywhere from 5-15 minutes unsubscribing from e-mails, that’s nothing compared to the time you’ll save over the course of a year when you aren’t taking the time to delete unopened e-mails every day.

Clean out your junk drawer for good

Every home has one. I grew up with a junk drawer. My grandparents had junk drawers. I had a junk drawer in my apartment in Pennsylvania. But when I moved to Korea with next to nothing, I didn’t make a junk drawer, because I had no junk. Before today, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I have no junk drawer. But after going three months without one, I have come to one very simple realization: you don’t need a junk drawer.

Seriously.

Clean it out. Put things where they belong. Throw away those old manuals for things you know how to use, get rid of those dead batteries, and stop hoarding garbage you don’t need. Say goodbye to your junk drawer and don’t look back.

Discard old papers

Nothing builds up in our living spaces like old papers. Receipts, bills, manuals, holiday and birthday cards, old photographs. They’re everywhere. It seems every time I turn around there is another receipt laying on my table or sticking out from under my bed. Where do they all come from? When will this cycle of finding and throwing away receipts end?! 

Before the new year ends, go through all those old papers laying around your home. Get rid of them. And make it a habit to ask for no receipt. If you’re given one, put it in the recycling immediately. Stop letting them pile up and slowly take over your living spaces. 

Bad habits

Bad habits may be the trickiest thing to give up as the new year begins. We often like to think about how great and wonderful we will be in the new year, because it’s not now. It’s later. We can always be better later. We can ditch our bad habits later, but for now, we can revel in them. Ditch that way of thinking and start breaking down those bad habits now. Changing habits takes time, and creating an arbitrary start date for an arbitrary reason is not going to help you change. Instead, start now. And if you slip, keep going. Try every single day to break down those bad habits. Because if you keep trying, even after failing time and time again, one day they won’t be habits anymore. 

It’s never too late to live the life you want to live or be the person you want to be. Don’t wait until you have more time or more money or a “reason” to start. Start today, and keep restarting every single day until you are living a life you love. And then, keep going.

Minimalism Challenge: Week Three

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
  • 25 magnets
  • 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! 

Minimalism Challenge: Week Two

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.
  • 13 receipts
  • 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 button
  • 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 Undertaking: Project 333

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. 

My final selections, not including my winter coat, hat, and gloves

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.

Why I Decided to Pursue a Minimalist Lifestyle

What is Minimalism? 

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.

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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.

The Most Valuable Thing You Own

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.

 

On Letting Go

Moving to another country helped me come to a huge realization: my life is cluttered with things. I didn’t even realize how much I owned until I had to sit down and pick through my entire life, deciding what stays and what goes.

Earlier this year, I decided to take on living life with less. And I did cut down on my consumption. I even went through clothing and some of my belongings, but there were a lot of things I did not want to part with at the time, and even more things that I didn’t even consider to be cluttering my life, like kitchenwares and the old prom dresses shoved in the back of my closet. But when I had to really go through everything to clean out my apartment, I realized just how much I had overlooked in my quest to downsize my life.

Some items were easy to get rid of. I donated a lot of clothing and packed up boxes of possessions that I didn’t feel served me in my life. With others I had a harder time.

In moving to another country, the most difficult things I have had to part with were sentimental pieces that I had accumulated throughout the years from family, friends, and traveling. While there are a few things I have decided to hold on to, most of these possessions have found new homes. I couldn’t simply take these possessions to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Instead, I took time to think about each piece: where it came from, who gave it to me, the stories and memories associated with it, and who those stories would resonate with. When I felt particularly moved by the thought of a specific object going to a certain person, I decided that would be who I gave it to. In every encounter of passing on a possession to a new person, the person was grateful, and often moved by the sentiment behind the object. Each time, I knew I made the right choice. This passing on of my possessions made it a lot easier to let go.

With each item I purged from my life, I felt lighter. I didn’t realize how much these possessions were weighing me down until I had to consider their meaning, their use, and whether or not it would serve me as I move on from my life back home. I don’t know that I will ever accumulate so many possessions again. Now that I am living a more simple life, I feel like my life is more in line with what I really value– meaningful relationships, experiences, being an active participant in my life, rather than a passive one. So even though letting go has been difficult, the positive benefits of truly minimizing my life have been far greater than any sadness I have felt in getting rid of everything I have accumulated. Because at the end of the day, the whole of my possessions does not represent how well I lived my life. Rather my stories, experiences, memories, and the people I have shared them with are the true measure of a well-lived life.

 

Feature image from: http://borntotalkradioshow.com/2017/05/word-day-simplify/

Why We Should All Live With Less

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640Getting ready to move has been hard. Not because of saying my goodbyes, not because of leaving a job I love, but because of getting rid of all of my possessions. And I don’t mean the ones I have sentimental attachments to. No, I mean the ones that I put little thought toward, the ones that clutter up the back of my closet, linger under my bathroom sink, and crowd the drawers I don’t go into.

Now that the time has really come for me to part with my possessions, I’m losing my mind. When did I get all of this stuff? And how did I not realize I had so much when I moved out of my college dorm room or into my first apartment? When I was unpacking it all? It’s really been blowing my mind just how much I own, and how little of it I actually used.

simplifyPerhaps one of the most jarring realizations I had was that I accumulated so much of the same stuff. Why did I need fifteen coffee mugs? In reality, I only need one. I can only use one at a time. Maybe two, in case I have a friend over and they also want a cup of coffee or tea, but anything more than that just seems excessive, especially after determining what to do with them all.

Another area that I was guilty of hoarding was old clothing. And I mean the clothing I will never wear again, like dresses from the various proms I attended and weddings I was in. Not only will I never fit into those dresses again, but I’ll also never have a reason to wear them again, so why was I hanging onto them? There are so many young girls out there who hope and pray for a beautiful prom dress, but cannot afford it, so why not donate them? They aren’t doing anyone any good by hanging in the back of my closet.

Hopefully, these experiences have made you consider what areas of your life are cluttered by possessions you feel the need to hang onto or have just pushed from your mind. Living with less seems like a huge commitment, and to some, it sounds downright crazy. But in reality, our lives should be a collection of our experiences, not our things.

So start small. Tackle cleaning out under the bathroom sink. Downsize from twenty coffee mugs to two. Donate those old dresses, coats, scarves, hats, and blankets you no longer use. Get rid of the old memorabilia from high school, because let’s face it, no one cares if you have a varsity letter for whatever sport it is you played. Go through your old t-shirts. If you can’t part with them, give them new life and have them turned into a t-shirt blanket, and make that blanket one of the only ones you own. In time, you’ll notice you feel lighter. Your space will no longer feel chaotic and cluttered. When your physical environment is in order, it’s amazing how much emotional order you’ll feel, too.