The key to living a full life is simplicity. It seems contradictory, but it’s true. It was about a year ago that I read a book that changed my whole way of living. Dramatic as it may sound, this book was only written on one topic, and that is de-cluttering. It resulted in me removing every item in my home that I did not love (love so much that it pulls at my heartstrings) and that did not serve a purpose. I ended up with less stuff, but more time. I was going to grad school at the time and I was always running around like a chicken with my head cut off because of all the things I had to do. I would spend every extra minute of free time that I had tidying the house, organizing my things, doing laundry, pretty much all the basic chores that I needed to keep an organized room and thus, my sanity as well. When I de-cluttered my home, I realized that
1) I did not miss a single thing that I had gotten rid of and
2) I had more time.
There were less things to straighten out because, well, there were less things period. This resulted in less of a mess. Organizing my drawers was more quickly done because I didn’t have to ruffle through piles and piles of clothes to pick out the one I wanted to wear that day, thereby avoiding the pile of ruffled clothes that I would have to re-fold. Actually, choosing outfits cut out some time too. You know those days when you try on every article of clothing in that closet and none of them feel or look right, so you end up wearing your favorite T-shirt instead? Well, skip trying on every article of clothing, because all that’s hanging in your closet are your favorite T-shirts. What are you left with? More time! Time to focus on what really matters to you. I found that I now have time to travel more, time to dabble in different hobbies and activities, time to reminisce and WRITE about my life. And we aren’t just talking clothes here. I was a book hoarder. I kept books I have already read and books I didn’t even LIKE just because I felt I should. I kept books I was going to read in the future (ones where the topics put me to sleep), and I did spend time and time again trying to read them, but never to finish them. Six months down the road, I would try again, wasting even more time. I donated all the books I have already read and those that I just cannot get into. I kept only my favorites and a select few that I would definitely want to read in the future. As for the rest, some other lucky soul was meant to have that book anyway. Once I de-cluttered everything, I had an epiphany. A realization that everything I just gave up cost me money at some point in my life. For a college grad student going to a financially-shattering expensive school to realize that single fact is life-changing. This included those tops I never wore, that jewelry piece that was on sale (but GOD, it’s hideous), that book that Oprah recommended (bless her soul) but was SUCH a snooze. The ten towels that I owned that I didn’t need. The bobbles I collected from every free prize giveaway table I came upon, the souvenir key chains that literally were stashed in a box with absolutely no purpose. Purchased not to be used, just to be looked at, and still, I never looked at them again. I got rid of all of that, but I also paid for it all. And by getting rid of these things, I suddenly also became very selective about what I let back in. I did NOT do all of that hard work for nothing! I started researching where my products come from, started realizing that all the waste I just produced came from somewhere, and I have somehow affected someone else’s life by purchasing said items. I learned about unethical work places especially in the fashion industry, and also in the food industry. I learned about waste and found better ways to reduce and recycle. And through all of this, I started to hone in on a particular style in my home, one that was with me all along. My mom used to chide me for loving clothes that were vintage when I was in high school. She said I did not dress appropriately for my age, that I love the drab and the old. Well, I am okay with that now. I started to love, maybe even obsess with, antique-looking pieces. Pieces that had a story and that meant a lot to me. I love the industrial, things made out of materials that have lasted the tests of time. Things that were not plastic, things that my engineer husband can make on his own.
ON FURNITURE: My 12 foot dining table was hand made by the girls who furnished our wedding. Handmade with love from a solid piece of wood that was sanded down, stained, and finished. It has been to plenty of weddings since it used to be a rental table, but it needed a home. So we welcomed it. It took 4 people to carry it up a flight of stairs. I love it dearly and it is a symbol of all the people in our wedding who have helped and continue to help Mike and I grow. Actually, a lot of the furniture in our home came from people we love. Let’s take the living room for example. The couch is my dental roommate’s old couch. We spent countless afternoons coloring, watching TV, reading, and even falling asleep on that thing. There were days when we cried and whined and rolled about because school was causing us to suffer. There were days when we ate dinner on that thing too. I love this couch. The coffee table and chair are finds I found in a consignment center when I moved out for the first time. The Ikea brown bookshelf was also from the first time I moved out of the house. These were some of the very few pieces I carefully selected to live with during the first time in my life that I was on my own. The two gray seats are outdoor patio furniture from my parents’ old house that they no longer use. I used to sit on that patio with my cousins at every family gathering, talking about life and all the family drama. We said we would grow up and never take that drama with us. So far, it’s been good. The 5 speaker surround sound system was Mike’s cousins’ before they decided they needed an upgrade. It’s hooked to our record player and plays for us our favorite records on weeknights after work. The metal patio set was a wedding gift from my closest cousin on my mom’s side. He happens to be one of the cousins who sat with me the most on those aforementioned gray chairs. The wooden tree trunk table was a wedding shower gift from Mike’s mom. The Restoration hardware shelving was a wedding present from our two best friends. The only things that we got for ourselves is the rack holding Mike’s beloved records, and the two shelves above the couch, which I filled with pictures of our families and friends. I wouldn’t change a single thing about our home.
ON A WEDDING RING: I searched for months and months at the local consignment center for my wedding ring. The tenders knew me thoroughly by the time I was through. There were days I would come home feeling defeated, but I was determined and I kept going back. Eventually, I found one that was made in the 1950s, which makes it older than my parents. It was made by two brothers who happened to be jewelers and artisans. Each groove on this ring was hand drawn into the gold. He and his brother passed away and when they did, his daughter found a box filled with some of his favorite jewelry that he never sold, even after their jewelry business. The diamonds in the ring have less facets than the diamonds made today because they did not have the magnification that they do today to make more facets. As a result, it has more surface area and reflects more light, making it appear shinier than a brand new ring. I love these diamonds because they are so teeny tiny, but they are just as bright as their larger counterparts. This ring meant a lot to somebody once, and it means that much more to me now. The ring cost me a mere $150.
ON A WEDDING REGISTRY: The trickiest part about having a mindful home is all the gifts you receive. It took a lot of explaining to my friends and family, and some still don’t understand, but I ask for only particular items and if they don’t want to gift those items, I ask for nothing at all. I am not a snob, but I just don’t need those things and I would prefer not to create waste. Because it will be wasted on me. Give me your time, go out to lunch with me, but please don’t give me another set of mixing bowls because I already own a set. At our wedding registry, we asked many of our guests to contribute to the wedding instead. More than half of our guests chose to do that, and it made our wedding that much more close and meaningful. We still had a registry, but every item on there was very well thought through. Our taste was what some would call simple, but I chose them specifically to be that way because they are also timeless. I only have white china, clear glassware, and stainless steel flatware. Linen napkins that replace paper napkins and get softer and better over time. The basic appliances to get us by, and a collection of pots and pans, without any doubles of any kind. One wooden cutting board. A 10 piece knife set is more than enough. And wooden utensil and glass Tupperware. I have only two sets of bedsheets, one for our bed, and the other for visitors. I have one duvet cover, and until we received that, we were sleeping with our sheets and throw blankets. When our wedding passed, we did not go out and buy all the things we didn’t receive. We spent the last 7 months in our home without them, so we do not need them. Everything we need came from someone who loves us and that is enough. So what about the vacuum I don’t own? I borrow my parent’s every once in a while, since I work only 5 minutes from their house. What about the paper towel holder? We avoid using paper towels, we have old rags instead. What about this and that?! I can survive. It’s hard to gently say no to loved ones. Trust me, I know. But if you don’t start the conversation, it will be an endless cycle of waste production. I just don’t want to be a part of that anymore.
How much has really changed?
From the minute I started working until the first time I de-cluttered, I used to buy an average of 5-6 articles of clothing a month, maybe more. That means each year, I purchased 60-72 articles of clothing. That doesn’t include pairs of shoes, or jewelry, or house décor, or anything else. Before de-cluttering, I owned over 60 pairs of shoes. Last year, I bought less than 10 articles of clothing. I now cycle through 3 basic pairs of shoes, all of which are ethical brands, with an extra pair of sneakers for outdoor activities. Since the beginning of this year, I have purchased one article of clothing, from another ethical brand, Eileen Fisher. One article of clothing in the last two months! I wear that article of clothing 1-2 times a week. But it’s not just the spending habits that have changed. Because every item in my house is so dearly loved, I take care of my things so much more. I don’t throw clothes willy nilly on the floor. I fold them with care and display them proudly on our closet with no doors. I wash them in mesh bags and hang dry most of them to prevent them from aging too quickly. More important than any other change that has resulted is the change in lifestyle. Our lifestyle is one that is simple, yes. Mike and I spend most of our nights in our beloved space, on the couch, actually LIVING instead of running around cleaning and organizing. We prefer to have guests over for dinner and boardgame nights instead of going out to eat or party. We like to invest in people, not things. By simplifying, we were able to hone in on what kind of life we really wanted to live. And we found the time to allocate our resources to only things we love to do. He is learning coding, I am learning guitar. I can take more art classes, he has time to work on cars with his friends. We have time to talk about our dreams and what we want for our futures. Because de-cluttering gets rid of all the distractions. And life will be fully lived, as it should be.