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What’s Your Minimalism?

Though I am by no means a minimalist, I understand the appeal (and hope to embrace a simpler lifestyle). But why? Why are so many embracing the minimalist movement? For many, it stems from trouble with money and dissatisfaction with one’s current lifestyle. I know it did for these two as it does for me.

But what exactly is minimalism? Getting rid of your possessions doesn’t automatically make you a “minimalist.” To explain minimalism, let’s start at the beginning. Minimalism or the fundamentals of it, has been around for centuries in different countries, cultures and religious movements. In modern North America, minimalism gained popularity as an artistic movement in the 1960s. Minimalist artists removed the personal, or the biography from their work; particularly going against the popular Abstract Expressionism of the day (think Jackson Pollock). Minimalism was a simplified art form, giving attention and detail to the work or medium itself, not the whims of the artist creating the work. In this way, personal effects were “minimalised.” Simple forms, hard edges and linear forms were prevalent.

How does the minimalist art form translate itself into minimalism as a lifestyle? Well, the meaning is still the same. Just as minimalist artwork focuses on highlighting the work or medium itself, so to does the minimalist lifestyle. Except in the minimalist lifestyle, you’re the medium. The focus is on what’s most important in your life and that’s where your direct your energy and time. Once you figure out what you want out of life, you remove, or “minimize” everything that doesn’t get you closer to that goal. In essence, simplifying things around you makes what’s important crystal clear; in the same way that taking the personal or biography out of art makes the clean lines and simple forms clear.

So what steps can you take to approach the minimalist lifestyle? You start by taking a good look around you, both literally and figuratively. Are your finances a mess? Why? Did you spend on “stuff” to gain happiness and create an image in society, only to find yourself in debt because of it? Do you find yourself spending time and energy on things that don’t really hold importance to you i.e., constantly organizing and “cleaning” the stuff that’s piled up in your closets and garage on the weekends , when you’d rather be spending time with family and friends?

Once you assess the things in your life that are sucking away your time and energy, remove them. Some things you’ll be able to remove immediately (the junk that’s taken over your garage), others may take more time (debt that you’ve accumulated). Create a plan to remove these things and make room for what truly matters to you: This is the heart of minimalism.

Your picture of minimalism may look different than mine. Maybe your picture of minimalism is a tiny house with no mortgage and very little possessions to manage. Maybe your picture is one in a modest sized home with your spouse, children and a car or two in the garage, but your home is paid off and you’re without the other “trappings” of life that keep you tied to a job you hate just to keep up said trappings. You may choose instead, a career and financial path that gives you freedom to play and teach with your children, spend quality time with your spouse and have intellectual pursuits that interest you. Maybe your picture of minimalism is not having a home at all, instead being location independent, living out of a backpack and travelling the world.

What does your minimalism look like?

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The Capsule Wardrobe

Maybe you’ve heard of the capsule wardrobe. It’s the minimalist answer to clothing oneself. The idea is to have four small wardrobes: spring, summer, fall and winter. Each wardrobe has a small number of pieces that you feel extremely comfortable wearing and that you look great in. You mix and match the pieces to create different outfits for each day and separate occasions without worrying if something looks good or if it fits. So, what’s included? All outer clothing including jackets, shoes, hats, ties (for men) and handbags are designated as “pieces” in your wardrobe. Jewelry is left out.

Most people keep their capsule wardrobe limited to anywhere from thirty-three to thirty-seven pieces total for each wardrobe, though you can have more if needed. You store your off-season wardrobes to minimize space used in your closet.

I was really intrigued by this capsule wardrobe movement, mainly because I am more and more intrigued by many things “minimalist.” Clothes cost money. Keeping a ton of clothes cost time, space and energy.

So, this spring I decided to purge my closet and try a minimalist wardrobe. The results were a bit unexpected and surprisingly pleasant.

To begin, I have to admit that I have A LOT OF STUFF in my closet. Clothes that I am hanging on to for some sentimental reason, clothes that are stylish and cute, but I haven’t been able to fit for the past 10 years and clothes that I think I should like in theory, but aren’t really my style.

So I started building my capsule wardrobe by going through my clothes with very strict guidelines. Anything that hadn’t been worn in the past year was automatically in the “donate” pile. Anything that I couldn’t fit, no matter how cute, was also put in the “donate” pile. What was left were items that I was holding on to for sentimental value, clothes that I liked and those that I was “meh” about.

Sentimental clothes: This was hard. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them. Some of these sentimental items were a t-shirt from my fifth grade class saying “Class of 2000” that had everyone’s signature on it (my hand-writing was so big in elementary school!). A cute t-shirt my mother made me when she was taking some arts and craft classes a few  years ago, and a sweater from elementary school that I painted maple leaves on, just to name a few. So, I kept these but moved them to storage for safe keeping.

Clothes that I was “meh” about: Even though many of these items fit me just fine, I decided if I didn’t love the piece, it was gone. So, all the clothes that fell into this category were moved to the “donate” pile. Easy peasy.

Clothes that I liked: This was also a hard category. I definitely had more than thirty-three pieces of clothes that I liked and could fit. How to narrow it down? I decided that I would only have one color of each thing. So, two black skirts, get rid of one. Two pairs of black slacks, get rid of one. You get the idea. I was able to really whittle my wardrobe down using this method.

At the end of my clothing purge, I was left with thirty-six pieces of clothing (excluding sleep wear and work-out gear). Most importantly, it was so liberating! It felt great to get rid of all this stuff that was doing nothing but sucking my energy every time I looked at it or tried to decide what to wear.

It is so wonderful going to my closet, not having dozens of shirts staring at me, and just pulling something out knowing it is going to be cute, it’s going to fit and that I am going to look great in it. No matter where Mr. MyCountdown and I are going or doing, it literally takes me five minutes to create my outfit.

Full Disclosure: I decided to create just two wardrobes, spring/summer and fall/winter. This helped me keep the number of items down and decrease the amount of choices I have to make. However, I did not include my shoes, handbags and jackets in this round of purging…that is a BIG project for another day.

Now I just need to get Mr. MyCountdown on board with purging his closet and creating his own capsule wardrobe.

Would you ever try a capsule wardrobe? Why or why not?