My Favorite ‘Ism’

I love Portland for its wealth of unique social gatherings. I’ve been to storytelling events, publicly hosted interfaith discussions, gluten-free fairs, an Irish music sing-along, a chocolate tasting and plenty of wine tastings. Some were better than others (I love Irish music but there’s a culture of Irish music that’s hard to recreate).

A while back, I attended a word tasting. The theme was minimalism and people shared stories of their conversion. It was held in what used to be a church sanctuary with high open beam ceilings and stained glass windows and candlelight that might have been fake but it created a warm glow.

The speakers came forward and spoke about how their lives had improved since embracing minimalism. A weight was lifted from them. Even when their personal lives suffered, they found peace and joy which they attributed to their decision to release their hold on material goods.

At the time, I was pregnant and figuring out how to fit our growing family into a 500 square foot house. Online forums estimated you’d need to spend around 10,000 to get the nursery outfitted. We were wondering where we’d fit a co-sleeper. In total, I was gifted upwards of 50 washcloths. The prospect of baby gadgets cluttering our little home overwhelmed me. Minimalism looked attractive.

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After the service, we (my husband and another couple) walked around the neighborhood enjoying a cool spring evening. We wondered about the practicality of minimalism for growing families. We talked about wanting to garden, cook from scratch, teach our children to make things. How do you live a life of creating if you don’t have supplies?

DSCN0653Around that time, I read a book on essentialism (don’t you just love all the isms!?!?!?!) The focus is honing in on what’s most important to you and devoting your time, energy, resources to those things while saying no to everything else. Having this concept in mind, it has become easier for me to say no. It’s also made it easier for me to say yes. Decision making becomes easier.

If I spend time caring for my child instead of working on my business, I can release a sense of guilt because my child is essential. If I spend precious nap time doing random internet searches instead of working on my business, I know I’ve made a poor decision because searching the internet is not essential and doesn’t get me where I want to go in life.

In terms of my belongings, I come to cleaning, organizing and clearing out with a different focus. I’ll always have more than 100 items because I sew and we cook. Dietary needs have determined that cooking will be essential in our home. Years ago, I gave up on painting because I didn’t want to take time away from sewing. Therefore, my painting supplied ended up in the get-rid-of pile. Paper clutter needs to be addressed as well because it takes time and energy away from what I want to do. They aren’t essential to the direction I’m heading.

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For me, minimalism felt arbitrary: I get rid of things for the sake of having fewer items. Essentialism helped me focus on priorities and reminded me that I make choices. I choose what I allow in my life, where I focus my energy, and how I spend my time. It’s so easy to hand over control – to feel the need to be available for everyone’s needs, to be burdened to give to every cause, to pursue every hobby, attend every event. Thinking in terms of essentialism hasn’t necessarily simplified my life (children get sick, cars break down, financial crashes occur), but it has simplified my decision-making.

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