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Why I Chose Minimalism

I went to Ireland in March. I didn't really save for it, but instead put most of the expenses on my credit card. I do not regret the trip in the least, but I do regret my lack of planning. While there, my friend and travel companion made a small comment in passing. "Do you really need to take two suitcases into the hotel room for one night?" The question was rhetorical, of course, but somehow it stuck with me. I had for some reason imagined myself on this trip as another person. Not myself, but as someone who does her hair daily and wears a full face of makeup. Neither of those actions characterize me, so why did I feel the need to have all this stuff? The question bothered me in a good way. It got me thinking about how I live my life, and more importantly, why I live the way I do.

Now, I have always been a compulsive shopper. I love shopping on a Saturday and I love going to the mall. I love trying on clothes and experimenting with makeup. Except... I don't like those things at all. In the last 7 years, I cannot remember a single shopping trip that ended with me feeling successful or or even mildly content. I leave the mall feeling old, fat, and tired. I try on clothes and remember all the things I hate about my body. I put on makeup and remember that my skin is far from perfect. So why was I so quick to say I loved these activities?

I had never considered before that mindlessly shopping was a bad thing. Aside from blowing my budget, there was not a tangible consequence for making an unplanned purchase. Even then, I just skimped on things like shampoo, medication, or groceries to make up for the wasted $20 to $30. No joke. I would skip my medication every couple days to make it last longer if I ran out of money at the end of the month. That's insane! 

This is where it started to sink in. I "care" about things like environmentally friendly and socially responsible production of products. But then I felt fine about buying a pair of shoes for $6. Not on clearance. Actual $6 shoes. I know fully that they were made in sweatshop conditions. I studied psychology in college. I should know better than this. I am fully aware that to rid myself of this cognitive dissonance, I need to make my actions match my beliefs. But, $6 shoes.

So I came home from Ireland, which by the way is beautiful and worth the trip if you can afford it, and I started this process of simply thinking. Thinking about what I was doing when I went to the store. Was I drawn to certain parts of the store? Did I look at the ads right before I felt drawn to this section? What triggered those "Oh yeah, I wanted ______!" thoughts? Did I really think about that product before I saw it on the endcap, or only after seeing it did I then think of how handy it would be?

After about a month of thinking more mindfully about my budget and spending habits came the purge. I started with clothes because, again, my wonderful friend said she felt better about having fewer clothing options. Tired of feeling like a literal amorphous blob, I too wanted to feel content with the clothes I had to choose from. I went through my closet and pulled out everything that did not fit, looked unkempt, or simply hadn't been worn in a while. My mindset starting off was pretty general. I did not want to think too hard about it, so I started with the easy stuff. After about 5 hours, I had pared down my closet to 10 t-shirts, 20 dress shirts, 4 pairs of jeans, 5 pairs of dress slacks, 5 flannel shirts, 6 cardigans, 4 blazers, and of course, pajamas and underwear. That's still a ton of stuff! I plan to get rid of even more, but I want to use the next couple months to figure out what I love, and what I only sort of tolerate from the shirts. I'm looking for cues like when I always think I'll wear a shirt, but when I put it on, I feel like a manatee.

This new freedom that has come with minimizing my clothes has motivated me to keep going. The lesson I keep learning over and over is that if I am unhappy right now, nothing I buy can create the happiness I'm missing. No shirt will magically make my body 3 sizes smaller, or make me look put together; exercise will. No new gadget will make me closer to friends and family; quality time will. No shiny new object will make me interesting; sharing experiences will. Meaningful actions are the thing I've been missing, not more things.