Exploring Minimalism

Less is more.

Shopping was something of a pastime for me. When I was living in Japan, everything was in close proximity to each other because cities are built around trains. After school or work, I’d stop by the shopping district to window shop before heading home. Ten years of my life, represented by a stockpile of clothing in which some rarely saw the light of day. I realized that I had a problem, so I developed strategies to limit spending. For example, I only brought a certain amount of cash or I’d spend long hours in stores to delay buying anything. Both strategies worked pretty well but I never realized the real impact of accumulating things until recently.

I moved to the U.S. in December 2013. This forced me to bring only a fraction of my wardrobe. My collection of dresses shrunk from 30 to 10. I brought a handful of shoes and 4 bags. Unlike in Japan, shopping malls are farther away, and because I don’t drive, I can’t go whenever I wanted to go. This was a good thing because I shopped for clothes less. BUT, I compensated by shopping for other things. Soon enough my collection of things started to grow. When I worked at an arts and crafts store, I’ve accumulated things I bought from there: fabrics, supplies and sewing patterns.

Recently, I have come across the video “the Story of Stuff“. It was a little talk in school that I participated in for extra credit (yay!). I was shocked to learn how consumerism is potentially destroying our environment and creating unhappiness to others around the world. I felt guilty, and a little hopeless. Black Friday was just around the corner at that time. Although I have never been to a Black Friday sale before, I was tempted by the large amount of deals and coupons that came with the Sunday morning paper. I am guilty of clipping coupons I found on the paper and online. I did go shopping the days following Black Friday, because the deals were just too good to resist. Although in my defense, I shopped for things that were essential at the time and the items I bought weren’t even for myself. Regardless, I fell into the sale trap.

A little moment of weakness didn’t let me down. In fact, it made me more determined to lead a minimalistic lifestyle. As I was researching the Internet for tips and advice, I came across the Minimalists and the KonMari method. The Minimalists is a blog run by two friends from Ohio. They have essays which include tips, advice and concepts that paved the path towards minimalism for me. The KonMari method is developed by Marie Kondo, a cleaning consultant based in Tokyo. Her book,  “the Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing“, truly is life-changing.

Both of these sources have helped me develop a clear idea of what I hope to achieve through a minimal lifestyle.

  1. By spending less on things, I can save money to invest in experience.
  2. Less items means less decisions to make, which will hopefully give me more time to spend on living my life.
  3. Decluttering will help me discover what I like and it will help me cherish more the things that make me happy.
  4. I will feel good both physically and emotionally to come home to a clean, organized and simplified home.
  5. I hope to contribute in improving the environment by consuming less, donating often and recycling more.

Insights from the KonMari Method

I stumbled across the KonMari method by browsing the Internet in hopes of finding advice that will aid me in my journey towards living a minimal lifestyle. Through Google searches, I found out that the KonMari method is developed by Marie Kondo, a Tokyo based cleaning/tidying consultant. She is also the author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”. Immediately, I went online to request the book from the school library.

The goal of tidying up is to rid your space of unnecessary items and keep only those that “spark joy”. This concept was very appealing to me because I have recently felt burdened by my possessions. The clutter in my room, specifically in my closet, made dressing-up in the morning a frustrating chore. Simply because I can’t tell what I own due to the way that things were arranged, or more truthfully, due to how messy my things were.

A little fact about myself: I’ve moved from the Philippines to Japan, and from Japan to the U.S. I know that I will move again in the near future, and so I plan to make the next big move go smoothly by simplifying my life through having less things

1.Discard before you organize

Like Marie Kondo in her early years, I’ve always thought that the way to solve my clutter problem was to organize my things efficiently. I now know that this was a mistake. The only way to reduce clutter is to own fewer things. And so I planned to do just that. Marie Kondo suggests starting with things that have less sentimental value, like clothes, first before going into items that possess sentimental values such as photographs. I started with my closet, because I felt that of all the things in my room, it was the one that gave me headaches the most.

The first step is to empty your closet completely and put all your clothes in one pile. Then, sort through the clothes by putting them into three categories: keep, donate and throw away.
The KonMari method suggests holding a piece of clothing with both hands to see whether it sparks joy or not. This came easy for me, though it was pretty hard to let go of things that I knew didn’t serve their purpose anymore but held sentimental value: Like the dress I wore when my family went to see the Sakura blossoms at Tsurumai Park. Ultimately, I was able to let go of those items, thanking them for giving me memories that I know I will cherish forever.
In the end, there were one or two items I kept that didn’t necessarily spark joy, but I held onto them anyway because I felt that I could make it work. What changed my mind was wearing the item, and realizing that I didn’t feel good in them. The KonMari method doesn’t advice you to wear the clothes to see whether you should keep them or not. However, one should keep in mind that tidying up to simplify your life is an ongoing process. It’s okay to miss an item or two, but when it hits you that you need to get rid of that object, you must do so right away. I believe that delaying that step can result in the accumulation of items that will only lead back to clutter.

2. Organize your clothes the right way

I’ve always been proud of how I folded my clothes. I mimicked the way clothes were folded in clothing stores and stacked them on top of each other. Marie Kondo says that this is not the way to fold clothes. The right way is to fold them in a way that they can stay upright. This can be achieved by finding the “sweet spot”. There aren’t any diagrams on the book that shows the proper way of folding clothes. Fortunately, the Internet has come to the rescue! I found Youtube videos and blog posts  with more videos that give instructions in detail. I developed my own methods as well. The key is to store things vertically instead of stacking them on top of each other. This way of storage makes it easier to see everything easier, thus contributing to efficiency and in my case, peace of mind.

The Breakdown

  • Clothes should be folded and stored vertically in drawers so that they are easy to see.
  • Clothes that are flowy, jackets, coats that should be hanged are put in hangers.
  • Clothes in hangers should be arranged so that they rise to the right (long items to the left, and they get shorter as you go closer to the right side of your closet).

3. Have a designated place for your items

One source of a major headache about to happen is not knowing where anything is placed. This becomes a huge problem when you’re in a situation in which you’re running late! I think most people have been in this state before, and I think we can all agree that it’s not a very pleasant one to be in. The KonMari method suggests designating a place for your things. Clothes should belong in the closet, not on top of the bed or a chair. All your bags should be kept in one location in your house instead of all over the place. I’ve followed this advice and organized things in my bedroom and bathroom. I’m so glad I did, and I’m not going back to how things used to be.

Since I don’t own a lot of items, this is a bit easier for me. I’ve put all my bags in the closet, hats on top of a bookshelf, all my accessories, make-up and toiletries go in one corner. It’s so much easier to navigate in the morning! No more pseudo-treasure hunts for me.

4. Keep your workspace and counters clean

Our bathroom sink used to be a mess. Contact solution on one side, next to is our toothbrushes, followed by contact lens containers, hand soap and face wash. This was the usual mess, though things seem to find their way on the bathroom sink adding to the mess and confusion. Marie Kondo says to keep all counters empty of objects. The best place to store those things are in drawers. I proceeded by emptying all the drawers and storage cabinets in my bathroom, then I threw out things that we don’t use anymore: used razors, old deodorant sticks, and so on. I realized that I had a ton on storage space, and that all I needed was to utilize them effectively. I also have two little flower girl basket that was used in my wedding which I now use as a storage for my husband’s items and my own. I place these baskets on top of the toilet bowl, which makes the items in them easy to access. Now, I only have out toothbrushes and hand soap on top of the bathroom sink.
I followed the same process when I tackled my workspace/study space. Empty all the drawers first, trash things that needs to be thrown away, and organize things vertically.

5. Clean by room not by category

On a final note, I just wanted to point out that the KonMari method says to clean by room not by category. I know that may sound confusing since I mentioned to start with clothes first, making it sound like we’re starting with a category. However, tidying up your clothes means translates to cleaning up your closet and maybe for some people, their bedroom.
By clearing a whole room, you’ll be able to see everything all at once which makes cleaning a breeze. I found that I was able to sort through my things easier and I was also able to use storage space much better this way. I used to clean by category myself, but it never seemed to work very well.

Tidbit:  Realize that it’s a process

Ultimately, there is no one right way to tidy up. KonMari’s methods in her book offers a fresh perspective that helped me declutter my life. Some people may want to do this in one go, while others may need to take their time. In my case it took me about a week. It was a couple of weeks before finals, and I think that I channeled all my nervous energy through tidying up. It truly made me relaxed and refreshed. I managed my time so that I’d still have study time while I was cleaning up around our place starting from one section to the next.
There are still areas that I need to improve on, and I actually haven’t gone through what I think is the most daunting task in this whole ordeal: photographs and memorabilia. I have come to realize that even though I was “done” with tidying up our room, the fight against clutter isn’t over. I’ll be starting school in a few weeks, and soon enough I’ll acquire a substantial amount of paper again. But that’s okay. I recommend doing a deep-cleaning once a month, and designate a light-cleaning day once a week. The process of decluttering is only a small step, and what matters is what you hope to accomplish through this. May it be a healthier lifestyle, a relaxing oasis from the chaos of the day and so on. Best of luck, and I hope that you learn to enjoy the process along the way!

Seven Things Yoga has Taught Me

“True happiness is to learn how to live beyond the imperfections.” — Rita Maatta.

I’ve been practicing yoga for 3 months now. I have to be honest though, I didn’t faithfully attend class every week. There were times when I only did yoga once or twice a week. I realize that when it comes to exercise, consistency is key. So recently, I’m trying my best to do yoga as often as possible.

I know this will sound very much like an excuse. Well, maybe it is. Most of the classes at the YMCA start early in the morning. Okay, most classes start at around 10-11 AM. I’m not exactly an early bird. There are also afternoon classes, but my husband and I aren’t particularly keen on going to the gym twice!

The reason why I am doing yoga more often now is because my mother-in-law does it, too. I’ve taken classes by myself, and I didn’t mind it at all. I guess I just lacked willpower, and I felt more motivated when I’m not doing it alone.

Being the slacker that I was, I kind of think that I’m not in the position to talk about yoga. Still, I want to share how it has influenced my life outside of the mat. Practicing yoga has enriched my life in so many ways and I hope that it can do the same for you.

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