The Unexpected Benefits of Minimalism

The benefits of minimalism can seem pretty straightforward: saving money, making cleaning easier, uncluttered spaces, and having a conversation stopper as a “hobby”.

OK, so the last one is a bit of a stretch, but could save you from a boring conversation with a neighbor.

I mean, minimalism seems so simple. The uninitiated might wonder why minimalists still have anything to say about it. Plus, minimalism can seem a little … well, pretentious. Those haughty minimalists seem to have things all figured out in their large, empty spaces and maybe they’re judging us for having too much or consuming too much. Maybe.

At first, I just wanted more breathing room from all the stuff I had collected in my adult life and to make moving day easier on my friends and family. I thought minimalism was all about stuff; how much you owned and how much you could get rid of. I was confused as to why this topic received so much online attention, especially in our wildly consumer-driven society.

Eight months have passed. I have fewer items in my home, which is much less cluttered and easier to clean, but nowhere near as sparse as an extreme minimalist’s home (if they even still have a permanent one). I’m not any less a minimalist than they are.

That’s right: because minimalism is a process not a destination. Anyone employing the tools of minimalism is a minimalist. And it is precisely the tools and the process that hold the secret to the unexpected benefits of minimalism.

Benefit #1: Confidence-Building and Avoidance of Decision Fatigue

Making decisions about what things to keep and what to lose, especially when done regularly, increases confidence in your abilities to make good decisions. Minimalism allows you to test your decision-making skills and to see the results on your life. Practice makes perfect.

The practice of minimalism also helps guard against “decision fatigue” – the idea that we only have so many decisions to make in our day before we feel worn out. It may seem counter-intuitive, especially in light of my “practice makes perfect” claim above, but by addressing and then weeding out those unnecessary decisions we make every day, we can focus on more productive decisions going forward.

A prime example is a minimalist wardrobe or uniform that eliminates unnecessary decisions made every day while getting dressed. There is really no need to waste our decision-making power before the day begins in earnest.

Benefit #2: Self-Awareness

When you spend conscious time evaluating your needs, wants, values, and personal style, you learn what feeds you and what drains you in your life. This allows you to confront self-delusion and bring about the changes you’d like to see.

A prime example is when you hold onto the objects of a “hobby” you think you value but haven’t made time for in years. If you really valued it, you’d make the time. But now that you recognize that this hobby doesn’t bring a spark into your life, you’re free to let it go. Release the guilt for not practicing that instrument, for example, and to find something that lights your fire instead.

Benefit #3: Conscious Life Design and Priority Assessment

So much of our lives are lived on auto-pilot. Minimalism is all about bringing awareness to one’s life. It helps you to understand your values and priorities, as I touched on above, in coming to better self-awareness.

But the benefit doesn’t stop at self-awareness because when you understand your priorities, you can better chart your daily lifestyle to be that much more fulfilling and productive.

This might mean that your life’s direction gets re-evaluated, leading to drastic change: quitting your job, moving or divorce from an unfulfilling marriage. It could also manifest as a lot of small tweaks that add up to something great.

What is in your life that doesn’t have to be? Bad habits? Time wasters? Toxic relationships? What could you use more of? Productive habits? Support? Knowledge of this or that topic? Greater skill?

Benefit #4: Feeling Abundant

Media impresses upon us a feeling of lack. Often a lack we never knew we had. A lack for specific consumer gadgets (such as in a commercial) or a dissatisfaction with our life’s situation. Perhaps we feel loss for what “might have been” when we watch gorgeous actors and actresses trot across the screen in beautiful clothes. The distortion can be especially cutting when these actors are portraying the “average” American on sets that resemble mansions.

We end up in the rat race, keeping up with the Jones’, wanting more while feeling as though we have less and less.

Minimalism frees a person from this, or at least allows us to see the scam for what it is, even if we’re not entirely freed. We have to work on the freeing.

Through the process of minimalism, we understand that our needs are in fact very finite and smaller than we ever imagined. We understand that our wants are flexible and can be measured on a scale that we choose.

I enjoy watching videos and reading blogs by extreme minimalists, our own celebrities. They provide a sort of inspiration in direct contrast to the Hollywood actress. They teach me to scale down.

In scaling down, we can set our own caps and limits, ones meaningful and personal to us, the realization that we mostly live in surplus sinks in.

Benefit #5: Leaving Less for More Abundant Generations

When we die, our possessions stay. That’s right, the dirty pizza boxes, the unpaid bills, along with the charming mementos no one really knows what to do with. The folks you leave behind will undoubtedly get to know a lot about you.

But what if instead of leaving behind junk no one needs, you left more trees in the forests? More clean air and more clean water and less trash in landfills? Less mess? A smaller footprint for future generations to tackle?

My chief interest in minimalism has always been the oft overlooked lighter impact that living simply has on the planet we live on.

The Grand Secret of Minimalism…

…is that it is about more than the stuff we choose to keep or toss. Because what we value today may not be the same things we value a year from now. Allowing for the process of minimalism can be quite the radical journey.

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

Enough

The minimalist and Zero Waste movements intersect from the start. Béa Johnson, in her book: The Zero Waste Home, introduces the hierarchy of Zero Waste, known as the 5 R’s. The first two: “Refuse what you do not need” and “Reduce what you do need”, are deceptively simple.

But what is need?

We would all agree that we need food to survive, but do we “need” the deluxe food processor or blender? If food goes bad in our fridge week after week, did we “need” it after all? And that handful of chips I had with lunch. Did I “need” that?

The reason that Béa didn’t just write “refuse what you do not need or want” is that wants are such a slippery target. I think we’ve all experienced this at some point. You go into a store to buy something specific, but then you see all sorts of beautiful things around you, a desire you didn’t have before is awakened. Suddenly, you’re less content and left wanting more.

Needs are finite and wants can be infinite. So do we just ignore all of our wants and live in tents, cooking over a fire, what we’ve foraged from the woods?

As much as I adore camping, I don’t think this is the answer. There are so many wonders that humans bring to this world when we’re not over-consumed by acts of survival. Along with camping, I’m also a big fan of the Internet.

So, how do we go about managing our wants so that they don’t overwhelm us?

Step 1: Determine Your Vision

The most important step in determining your “enough” will be to set goals for yourself. Do you want to be a nomad? Do you want to live out of a van or in a tiny home? Do you want a chic, white walled studio apartment decorated with green plants and little else? Or are your goals a little more conventional? Maybe, like me, you’d just like to keep a clean, clutter free home that reduces the family’s environmental impact. Maybe you’d like to live with less stress and less debt. There are all kinds of minimalists. What sort do you want to be?

Does the media you consume support or detract from your goals? I like to watch YouTube videos by extreme minimalists for inspiration about how little I actually need. It still creates a desire to emulate, just as watching a show where beautiful actresses prance around in expensive clothes and in expensive homes portraying the average American, but the result of emulation is healthier for me.

Step 2: Set Your Limits

I can’t sing the praises of limits enough, it seems. I’ve experienced immediate transformation of mindset just by pinning a maximum number or by allotting a certain space for things. When I had no magic numbers for my clothes, my satisfaction went up and down with my boredom or the proximity to laundry day. As soon as I told myself that four bottoms were enough for a season, I had to pick and choose from my favorites. I no longer felt deprived but instead over-abundant.

Step 3: Avoid Your Triggers

Children are often overwhelmed with their wants. Take a kid to the proverbial candy store, or, perhaps a toy store. See what happens.

Some parents will choose to avoid the situation in the first place: don’t take the kids to the toy or candy stores, don’t bake cookies if they’re not on the menu. Get upset with the school district when they serve chocolate milk and pizza with a side of chips for lunch.

This is because young children are under-developed in their decision making skills. They frequently aren’t able to set aside immediate gratification in order to reach more important goals. This is why kid’s toothpaste is sweetened and kid vitamins resemble candy.

The truth is, adults aren’t really that much better. Certainly, we have more life experience and can see that our immediate gratification might not be in our best interest. We can take our morning pill that might be tough to swallow. That said, our ability to parent ourselves judiciously is finite. A few good decisions here or there are easily offset by allowances we give ourselves as reward for making good decisions.

Since our good decisions are limited, it’s best not to overwhelm ourselves with what is often referred to as “decision fatigue”.

Do you always overspend at the mall? Maybe trade mall shopping for going to see a movie or taking a hike instead.

I have the guilty habit of online shopping on pay day. I love the satisfaction of picking just the right things out and then waiting eagerly for the mail to come. When it gets here, it’s a nice little high. Admitting you have a problem, I hear, is the first step.

Your Homework

Now, get out a pen and a notebook. Write down everything you own. Every item in every drawer.

What’s that? Is the idea ludicrous to you? You, like me, wouldn’t consider wasting your time in this way? Chances are, then, that you have “enough” stuff. Maybe, if you were especially terrified by the sound of this assignment, you have more than enough.

A Minimalist Wardrobe for Baby (0-3 Months)

Most conventional weekly pregnancy updates contain a to-do list telling the expectant parents to buy this or that each week. New parents hope to have a baby shower to help curtail the costs of the expensive and expansive baby gear. By the time the baby is born, s/he already has more belongings than the average medieval king.

This is my third go at it. At first we wanted two children, so I felt generous in gifting away my baby gear to friends and family with more urgent need. What these two factors mean is that I’m starting from scratch with a whole lot more parenting wisdom than I once had.

Special Considerations for This Age Group (0-3 months)

  • A young baby does a lot of sleeping with few transition times, so clothing should be comfortable to sleep in. No one wants to wake up baby to put PJs on.
  • Unless you’re very lucky in hand-me-downs (or a shop-a-holic), you will probably never need to “cull” a baby’s wardrobe (that is, outside of the transitions between sizes). This is because they grow out of sizes or damage their clothes so fast that the collection is pretty self-limiting.
  • Ease of nighttime changing should be a real priority. Waking up to feed and change a baby is exhausting enough without dealing with finicky clothing.
  • Footies are especially helpful as babies, with no control of their limbs, still manage to kick off shoes and socks which are much too difficult to put on those tiny, delicate limbs in the first place.
  • Hats and mittens for indoor use aren’t mere accessories. Many young babies have long sharp fingernails and can easily gouge their faces. They also often have bald heads which lead to heat loss.

My List of Essentials

  • 1 outdoor car seat / travel suit. These preferably have built in hand and feet coverings, a hood and a crotch so that you can fasten a car seat whilst the baby is snug inside. This is especially essential for winter babies.
  • 3 pair of indoor mittens. Light weight to prevent scratching. Baby socks can substitute for these.
  • 3 indoor hats. To keep that big bald head warm. They don’t tend to get really dirty and can be reused between washes.
  • 7-10 onesies. These are those typically white body suits that snap together over the diaper and are usually used as an infant undergarment. Short-sleeved lasts longer, but if you intend to use them as actual shirts, long sleeves are great for winter babies or kids with eczema.
  • 7-11 sleep and play body suits. I prefer ones that zip and have feet attached. I usually like to have about 7 thinner ones and 3-4 warmer/thicker ones for very cool days or for night wear.
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3 scratch gloves, 3 hats, 4 warmer fleece sleep and play suits, 1 warm travel suit, 7 zippered lighter-weight cotton sleep and play suits, 9 short-sleeved onesies (in a stack), 1 onesie spread out for illustrative purposes

That’s it! I know it probably seems like a small number of items, but babies don’t do a whole lot except for growing.

This is a great base to have, but you’ll probably get gifts from family and friends to supplement these items and to change things up. There certainly are so many cute outfits that you may get (and not want to use on a regular basis due to finicky parts). Pieces with sweaters and pants and buttons in weird locations.

All About Sizes

For the uninitiated, baby sizes are really confusing. For the first year, a baby could go through as many as 6 sizes (preemie, newborn, 0-3 month, 3-6 month, 6-9 month, 9-12 month). Thankfully, this speed of growth slows down after all that! Some garments will be marked with a single month (6 month, 9 month and 12 months are common) and some garments, such as outdoor suits and sleep sacks, are designed to hit a large range of sizes (example: 0-9 months).

Like the Pirate’s Code, sizes are more like “guidelines”, though. Different companies may use a different scale and a kid could be stuffed into the same clothing item for a large span of time, especially when short sleeves are used.

My babies have historically been on the large side of things. For this reason, I consider 0-3 to be the perfect first size for my family. This is where I invest in my first capsule wardrobe.

Even though I don’t choose to work a complete newborn-sized capsule, I do keep clothes of this size on hand for the brief time my kids fit into them. I usually have a few outfits (4-8) tucked away in the drawer and hospital bag.

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A cube of newborn-sized gender neutral clothing. It contains scratch mits, a hat, a few onesies, a few outfits, and some body suits. Below the cube is pictured the coming home outfits for my hospital bag – one for a boy and one for a girl, just in case.

When asked which sizes I want from friends and family, I usually ask for size 6 month and up. The reason being is that enthusiasm over a baby wanes and once kids start eating solids (usually around 6 months), hand-me-downs and stocks in used clothing stores dwindle due to so many garments being ruined by babies past.

Gender Talk

In the past, I tried to get my first sizes (newborn and 0-3 month) in gender neutral prints so that if there is a surprise in the delivery room, I wasn’t unprepared. It was also more economical and eco-friendly as I was planning for multiple kids.

As this is our last kid, and we’re pretty sure that we’re having a girl, I didn’t stick as much to my rules about gender neutrality as I did for my older kids. I’ve decided to live up having a little girl to clothe.
Additional Items We Chose to Have:

Above, I gave my absolute essential items. However, I’ve included a few additional items in my own baby’s capsule that may be useful or inspirational for other parents.

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4 head bands, 4 pairs of soft white socks, 1 sweater, 4 long-sleeved onesies, 4 pairs of pants, 1 Halloween costume, 2 more finicky sleep and play suits, 2 jean dresses for photos
  • 4 pairs of white fluffy socks (These could be used as extra scratch mittens or to keep little toes warm in the few footless outfits we have.)
  • 4 head bands (This is baby girl specific)
  • 4 pairs of plain pants (Shirts frequently come with prints so this eases putting outfits together)
  • 4 long-sleeved onesies for outfits (I skip out on regular shirts that don’t snap in the crotch because they tend to ride up and expose baby bellies to the cold.)
  • 1 sweater
  • 5 “special” outfits (For upcoming holidays, pictures, costumes, etc. I have a Halloween costume, two cute body suits, and two jeans dresses that I couldn’t resist.)

 

I hope this knowledge from one parent to another is valuable and may your own little minimalist be comfortable and happy.

Happy Parenting With Mother Earth in Mind!

 

Minimalist Baby Gear (0-3 Months)

We’re well on our way to having baby number three and so child-rearing has become a practiced skill for my husband and I. We also originally thought that we would stop at two kids and so most of our gear has been gifted away to friends and family. In preparation for baby number three, we’ve had to start fresh, on a budget, and with our new minimalist mindset.

The following is my “must have” items for baby. I’m not including diapers or clothes in this piece because I will be covering those categories elsewhere (see link above). This is everything else and I hope that this is helpful to new mamas and papas out there as well as parents who have recently embraced minimalism.

Feeding

Everyone’s situation will be a little different. My two older kids certainly were: my younger would have nothing to do with any artificial nipple or pacifier. My eldest had major feeding and reflux issues and required just about every intervention and product you could think of. The truth is, your situation for each kid is very unpredictable. As a minimalist, I’m planning for my ideal and I will have no qualms buying additional gear if warranted.

These are my “must haves”:

  • burp cloths (about 6)

  • a nursing pillow (Really any pillow will do the job, but I’m spoiled.)

  • a nursing throne (Hey, I said I was spoiled. Stake out a place for mama, or papa, to sit for long stretches of time. I have a glider rocker and side table for this purpose.

  • a place to record feeding/changing information (You will be asked this information everywhere or, if nursing, you may want to keep track of which breast the baby drank from last. Some use their phone for this purpose, I have a little notebook.)

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Things I would wait to buy:

  • a breast pump (Manual is fine for occasional use, but an electric can be a real life-saver for kids exclusively on the bottle or for mothers working away from home.)

  • breast milk storage containers (I plan to use mason jars if I need these.)

  • bottles, nipples

  • bottle brush

  • more burp cloths (if the child has reflux or GERD)

  • pacifiers

 

Some Things for the Breastfeeding Mama:

  • Washable breastpads for catching “let down” milk
  • Nursing Bras or Nursing Tanks
  • Nursing Cover (if that is your preference)

The numbers you want will be determined by your laundry schedule, but keep in mind you may want more nursing bras/tanks than you usually have because milk and baby spit up can prevent re-use between washes.

A set up that I love is a nursing tank and a largish t-shirt (short or long-sleeved). My belly stays covered, my chest stays covered but I can still pop open my tank to nurse discreetly.

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Sleeping

Consider how you want to set up your sleeping arrangements. Are you and your partner both into co-sleeping? Would either of you prefer that the baby has a nursery? We got a convertible crib for my first-born. It seemed very eco-friendly. We could buy the crib, turn it into a toddler bed and then buy rails for a twin-sized frame down the road. He spent his first months in a nursery and I spent the nights jumping up to check on him at the slightest whimper.

For my second-born, I bought a sidecar co-sleeper for our bed (an Arm’s Reach Mini). This worked well for the first three months, but necessitated a new arrangement when he became more mobile. A major mistake that I made with his sleeping arrangements was relying too heavily on nursing him to sleep. This limited his ability to put himself to sleep.

My plan for baby three is to put the baby in our side-car co-sleeper for the first three months (we got this item back) and then outfit a pack and play with a comfortable mattress for the remainder of the crib years, eventually switching to a twin-sized set up and skipping the toddler bed altogether. If I didn’t have the co-sleeper, I might just begin with the pack and play in our bedroom.

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Arm’s Reach Mini Co-sleeper (not yet strapped to the bed)
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2 breathable blankets, 1 night light, 2 burp cloths, 1 organic cotton crib sheet (the other is on the mattress)

These are my “must haves”:

  • a safe sleeping surface + mattress (our co-sleeper for the first three months)

  • crib sheets (x2)

  • crocheted/ knitted/waffle woven blankets (x2, these are very “breathable”, unlike the heavy synthetic baby blankets which are great for day time snuggling but are potentially dangerous) NB: I am not suggesting that a newborn should be left unattended with a blanket, but that I am more comfortable with the breathable kind when I am beside the baby in a co-sleeping situation. Use your own judgment.

  • burp cloths (2 near the crib)

  • a night light (1)

Things I would wait to buy:

  • swaddles, some babies don’t enjoy these

Travel & Parking

I’m not sure whether this is true or not, but I’ve been told that hospitals won’t let you leave with your newborn without first seeing that you have a car seat. Regardless, as a car-dependent, rural mama, I didn’t feel the need to test this out. We originally had a car seat and stroller system. You could snap the car seat directly into a huge stroller and never have to wake your babe. As my eldest was born in a cold October and was shuffled from hospital, pediatric, and specialist care, this system had some appeal – until the snow melted and he was in healthier shape.

For my next born, we kept the car seat with the base, but let the stroller get dusty. We had gotten into baby wearing. He was a spring baby and carrying him around, especially on trails and around town just seemed so much easier. I never needed to put him in a sketchy shopping cart either as he snuggled me in his carrier.

This time around, we got a car seat with two bases (for both cars) and a newborn insert all second-hand. I ditched the bulky hood and added a car seat cover as we’re due for another cold-weather baby.

For the first three months, I intend to wear my baby in a stretchy moby wrap. This kind usually only works for around 3 months anyway, but it takes care of the issue that newborn’s have with their tiny frog legs. (After which, I have my choice between my trusty mei tai, a ring sling, and a woven wrap I’m borrowing from my sister-in-law.)

When I want to put my baby down away from home, I’ll put her in her car seat. At home, I have our old bouncer back (minus a few unnecessary attachments).

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I think as a minimalist parent, you should feel comfortable getting rid of the unnecessary elements on baby gear – especially when you don’t think you’ll be able to sell the item after you use it.

These are my “must haves”:

  • car seat (the kind with a base are really great for this stage)

  • baby carrier or a stroller

  • some place safe to lay your baby down during the day such as a bouncer or baby swing

This time around, I’m trying:

  • newborn insert for car seat

  • car seat cover (if you’re having a warm season baby this may be completely redundant)

Things I would wait to buy or reconsider getting altogether:

  • a stroller

  • a grocery cart cover

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Bathing & Pharmacy

Kids don’t need to be cleaned very often. And they don’t need a lot of specialized gear. I know, marketing seems to make this realization a little counter-intuitive, but think about it: why do babies need their own nail clipper?

These are my “must haves”:

  • a nail clipper (that the family shares)

  • a soft brush (mostly for cradle cap, both my boys had this so I expect to deal with it again)

  • a baby towel (x1)

  • baby wash cloths (I have a store of these for washing kids’ faces and for multiple kids bath times)

  • a mild soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap and Nature’s Gate’s Baby Shampoo and Body Wash)

  • a mild lotion or oil (my favorite is coconut oil but I also have Aveeno’s Baby Lotion)

  • a nasal aspirator (for getting boogies out)

  • saline solution (for the aspirator)

  • a thermometer (the kids share)

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There is a hooded baby towel, baby wash cloths, Nature’s Gate Baby Wash, a soft, vegan baby brush, a nasal aspirator that comes apart for easy cleaning, saline spray, nail clippers, and a thermometer. I’m not a fan of Johnson & Johnson but this is one of their safer products that I intend to use up before replacing with coconut oil.

Things I would wait on or completely reconsider:

  • eczema care

  • cold care

  • pain relievers

  • a baby bath tub

Toys, Books, Stimulation

Babies from birth to three months usually don’t have a lot of interest in toys and you will probably receive some as gifts so there is no need to stock up on these at this stage. At about 3 months exactly, kids seem to universally gravitate toward those plastic keys – so don’t throw those out if you get some.

I believe in reading to your child, but a library card is probably the best route to take. You can purchase any favorites, but get a much wider selection and save a lot of money and clutter by taking this route.

Stimulation comes from you and all those people who want to be in your baby’s life. Simple games and cuddles are priceless and come without any clutter!

These are my 0-3 “must haves”:

  • a library card

  • any book that is fun for the parent to read out loud

  • some books written in French (or whatever family language you have other than English as these may be hard to get at the library, depending on where you live)

Memorabilia

I’m a failed baby booker. OK, I’ve admitted it. Moving on. I am a big believer in having some stuff to remember this time. It seems like a never ending cycle of kid care until you blink and then try to recall the time later on. The trick is to make memorabilia super easy for you.

For my first born, I tried the baby book thing because that is what my mom did for us. Later, I learned about baby’s first year calendars and I was won over. Put the calendar somewhere very easy to access, like in the pocket of your nursing throne. Keep a pen handy. Don’t worry over perfection.

Cameras that can be set to put the date in the corner or organize data by date are worthwhile. I haven’t used it yet, but I plan to have milestone stickers to put on the baby’s clothes for pictures. My husband made the brilliant observation that blank label stickers would be great for those milestones marketers haven’t considered. Such as: “baby’s first game night”.

Also, a fabric or permanent marker can be a great way to turn a onesie into some occasion-specific outfit. I’ve written all kinds of events or messages on my kid’s clothes.

These are my “must haves”:

  • baby calendar and pen

  • camera

  • fabric marker / permanent marker

Thing I’m trying out this time around:

  • milestone stickers / blank labels

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A first-year calendar, some milestone stickers, some blank labels for our own milestones (such as “baby’s first game night”), a permanent marker. We might use the marker on the kids’ clothes directly or add dates to stickers.

 

So, that’s it! I think you’ll find that a newborn comes with very little of his or her own expectations. This is a great time to introduce your child to the luxuries of less.

Happy Parenting with Mother Earth in Mind!

A Minimalist’s Approach to Hobbies

You can collect hobbies like you collect stuff. Trust me, I know. I’ve mindlessly collected quite a few over the years and have let very few of those go. I’ve collected the stuff for my hobbies and diligently housed that stuff in climate-controlled, rented space. I’ve schlepped that stuff to and fro with every move. I’ve even allowed those hobbies to guilt me about their neglect.

Now, each of us only has 24 hours to the day. Some of us, like me, require about 8 hours of sleep to function, and while sleep is so, so good (I write this before the crack of dawn while my kids are still asleep), it offers little in the way of task completion. That leaves about 16 hours, give or take for individual needs and preferences. That’s actually not a lot. We pack in all sorts of stuff in those 16 ish hours: work, school, commuting, housekeeping, parenting, basic self care, and so on.

Who has time for a ton of hobbies? I’ve found that the hobbies I’ve tended to collect are aspirational in nature. The kind of hobby that leads to some grand achievement. One that makes you look good for others.

My aspirational self has time for all kinds of neat hobbies, because this fake self doesn’t live in the real world. She can play the violin, knit a pair of socks, has earned a black belt, guides wilderness expeditions, teaches yoga, runs marathons, speaks about 35 languages, and so on. Yes, these are actual goals that I’ve aspired to with my hobbies over the years. And trust me, there are many, many more.

The problem isn’t hobbies. It isn’t even hobbies which come with impressive but hard to reach goals. The problem, in my opinion, is not taking the time to revisit one’s hobbies on a regular basis. Not allowing yourself the freedom of letting go those hobbies that no longer ignite you. The problem is when you start to beat yourself up for not practicing that instrument you no longer like just because you wanted to get good at it.

Downsizing Your Hobbies

There are three basic steps for culling your hobby collection.

The first is the Marie Kondo, or “Konmari”, approach. (She is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.) That is, ask yourself if the hobby in question still “sparks joy”. Is it personally satisfying for you to take the time to do? You might be surprised with the answer. If the hobby no longer excites you, it’s time to let it go. Free up your time, remove the guilt. Keep in mind that if, in the unlikely scenario that you rekindle your interest, you can always take the hobby up again at any point in your life.

The second step is to set yourself some limits. What those limits look like is up to you. Perhaps you give yourself a daily or weekly time slot for your hobbies and refuse to feel guilty when you can’t achieve grandiose goals because the allotted time doesn’t allow for it.

Maybe you pick 6 hobbies per season, or work on 3 hobbies each month, or whatever number seems to call to you. By setting yourself a cap, you avoid the “jack of all trades, master of none” pitfall. By making your choices explicit, you may discover that you care more for a hobby you didn’t include than for one that you did. Being explicit leads to clarity in my experience.

The third is downsizing the stuff you’ve collected for your chosen hobby. A great example is camping gear. It may be time to weed out the tarp with all the holes, the old tent with the missing pieces, or the camp stove that you’ve long since replaced. It’s time to take into consideration the way you like to play your hobby and weed out the “what if” items.

The Hidden Danger of Too Many Hobbies

The reason I decided to write about this is because I’ve been neglecting both my hobbies and the act of dealing with them. They’ve sort of taken up a holding pattern in my life. Instead of pursuing the hobbies I’ve collected and am now overwhelmed by, I might surf Facebook or watch TV instead. This is a sad, cluttered state of affairs.

While I’m mindlessly killing the little down time that I have, I feel guilty that my archery gear is collecting dust (a hobby I might best let go of) or that my hiking boots are crying in the closet from neglect (to the deep pain of me and my boots). It isn’t just about the guilt associated with not doing something you set out to do, it isn’t just about all the stuff you’re tripping over instead of playing with, another hidden danger of having too many hobbies is that you lose focus on what can bring passion, creativity, or joy to your life. Because, at the end of the day, hobbies are supposed to be the things you do to refuel and recharge yourself.

Minimalism for the Environment

When I first came across the concept of minimalism, around the year 2009, I wasn’t too impressed. It seemed to me that minimalism was all about getting rid of stuff. Sometimes perfectly good stuff and where that stuff went after leaving the home wasn’t touched on much, so minimalism seemed to me to be supporting a heavier use of landfills. After reading the first book on minimalism that I found, the idea that minimalism was all about housekeeping and de-cluttering was cemented in my mind. I moved on to other things.

You see, back in 2009, my environmentalism was more a field of study and a rallying call behind my activism. I didn’t yet understand that each of us in our daily living creates our legacy. So home upkeep seemed irrelevant to me back then, especially as an unmarried college student.

This year, I began my minimalist journey in earnest and I don’t think I’ll ever see the world the same way again. I was initially lured back into the realm of minimalism by stumbling upon the concept of capsule wardrobing. The idea that I could finally look decent without breaking the bank, filling the laundry basket, and ravaging the Earth held great appeal. I saw a minimalist practice as both personally and environmentally beneficial for the first time. I began to see that less really was more and that there was more to less.

Rather than simply ditching things, minimalism has become a call to rethink my consumptive habits. I am in a process of considering what I really need or love to have in my life. It is a lens that I’ve begun looking through that puts a damper on my desire to collect things for that false sense of security or to keep up with the Jones’. In simplifying my everyday habits, I am content with less and so I buy less.

The things I have around me I have because they help me to be the person I want to be. I know better who I want to be by exploring what is meaningful to me and this exploration is at the heart of minimalism. It is an ongoing and personal process. There is no end point and there is no contest between me and other minimalists.

How Minimalism Has Shaped My New Environmentalism

As I mentioned above, I didn’t see the environmental benefits of minimalism at first. Like many new to the concept of minimalism, I focused on the most visible attributes of the philosophy. It wasn’t until I began exploring another movement, called Zero Waste, that I understood that the practice of sustainable living benefited from a framework, or a hierarchy of decisions. At the peak of the Zero Waste hierarchy, created by Bea Johnson in her Zero Waste Home book and blog, is the first “R”, which stands for “refuse what you do not need”. The second “R” is “reduce what you do need”.

What would have been painfully obvious to a practicing minimalist but took me some time to grasp was that these first two “R”s, are a call to minimalism, because waste is naturally reduced when consumption is reduced.

In fact, whatever the impact you have on the environment, whether your choices are considered wildly harmful to the environment or only mildly so, choices both big and small, that impact is made automatically less harmful be curbing the consumptive level. For example, say you have a Hummer as your family vehicle. You’re not in a position to replace the vehicle right now, but you have become more environmentally conscious. To make the least impact, you decide to combine errands, to carpool, and to simply drive less when activities could be walked or biked to instead. This is clearly not the ideal scenario, but it is a realistic one that improves the situation just by making the decision to consume less.

I now consider minimalism at the top of my environmental hierarchy of decision making. I first look to refuse and reduce the things coming into my home before I look at other issues such as buying second-hand, limiting plastic, avoiding animal products and testing, and so on. The decisions I could make might be endless, but if I am already refusing an object that I decided I don’t need, I no longer have to worry about how ethically it was produced (I’m protesting an unethical or unnecessary product by not handing over my money in the first place).

And, by the way, when I do de-clutter, I’ve learned that I can think minimally and responsibly at the same time. I always think about alternatives to the landfill first.

Learning about minimalism has been a life-altering journey, but by placing my minimalism in the framework of my environmentalism, I have also found that the impact has even broader repercussions than I had thought possible.

My Book Habit

As far as addictions are concerned, mine is both accessible and legal. It is generally socially acceptable, except on moving day when your nearest and dearest may start to feel more vindictive than understanding. You see, books are heavy.

And somehow, the acquisition has outpaced my reading speed. Many have actually worn out their welcome. But books can be hard to get rid of on both the emotional and logistical levels.

The sheer amount of books I own is kind of debilitating. I’m having trouble being thoughtful about what to keep, get rid of, and how to get rid of what I don’t want in a responsible manner.

Last year, as part of my zero waste challenge, I decided that I would “digitize my habit” and only purchase books for an e-reader. This resolution has not stuck. For one thing, e-readers work best for fiction novels. Books you read from cover to cover and don’t flip around in or refer to frequently. It is the constant need to recall specific work-related material that has also made borrowing from the library more problematic for me (though it is an excellent place to store my novels).

My preferred genre is non-fiction. The books I refer to frequently are about sustainable living, outdoors, health, zero waste, minimalism, veganism, parenting, and environmental science.

In order to tackle the excess, slow the inflow, and respect the treasures, I have adopted a new approach.

My New Approach to Books

  1. Read only one book at a time. Read it through. Act on it after I am done with it (finished or decided against finishing). That is, sell/donate/gift it or put it on the appropriate shelf. I notice there is less drive to purchase books after adopting this habit alone.
  2. Narrow down to three bookshelves: husband’s personal collection (he keeps at his discretion I don’t take from or add to), my personal books (school, work, personal growth), and family favorites (typically fiction and kids’ books).
  3. Utilize the library, especially for kids’ books.
  4. Borrow new novels from the library or purchase for an e-reader.
  5. Don’t let book number increase if there is no shelf space, cull to favorites.

For some of you, this may seem like a ridiculously lenient approach, but realize that this is for a family of 4 (soon to be 5), we’re living a stationary lifestyle, and the practice of minimalism is new to me having come from a hoarding history. (Full confession: I currently have 6 bookshelves in this room alone, the kids have books in their rooms, and I have a ton of unorganized, un-shelved books in boxes.)

Until next time, keep that talk walking!