Becoming Minimalist

I have always been a “just in case” type of person.  My dad taught me this.  If you go camping with me, I have bandaids, stomach medicine, a pocket knife, and an emergency water purifier.  When I go to protests, I bring bandanas and a small jug of milk in case of tear gas.  I’m a stellar bridesmaid because I bring a make up bag that has everything from a Tide-to-go pen to bobby pins.  This might seem like a lovely quality but, in reality, my desire to be prepared for all situations stems from anxiety.  There is no need to fear the unknown if I am prepared for all situations.  But it is impossible to be prepared for all situations.  I have experienced plenty of things that I was not prepared for – sexual assault, the loss of my mother, failing relationships – and I have a feeling that with each personal tragedy I’ve steeled myself to be more prepared “next time.”  My emotional and physical arsenal of “just in case” items has become too large.

For upwards of five years, I’ve wanted to shrink what I own.  When I entered seminary, I had the goal of getting rid of an item each time I bought a new one so that I wouldn’t amass any more volume, but rather simply rotate out the things that no longer served me.  I didn’t stick to this resolution, but I also didn’t have much room to grow.  My first apartment in Atlanta was shared with two other people and two cats.  My current apartment is a whopping 500 square feet and is also shared with two cats, so you can probably see the issue here.  I do not have the luxury of space in which to keep my “just in case” mentality.  I barely fit what I own into the space to begin with, so I do not have much room to grow my possessions.

Perhaps the most influencing factor in my transition toward minimalism is that I work with people experiencing homelessness.  Every day I see people who are carrying everything they own in a backpack while I come to work concerned if I’m wearing the same shoes more than two days in a row.  My daily encounters with people who have nothing have taught me two things about my own scarcity mentality: first, that it is possible to survive on much less than what I have and, second, that I have more than enough.  Each time there is a special event, I do not need to buy a new dress.  When I can’t find a sweater in my closet that looks like the one I saw my friend wearing, I don’t need to buy a new one.  It is possible to be content with the things I have because what I have is more than enough.

This past week I participated in the #winter10x10 challenge hosted by Instagram influencers Caroline Joy Rector and Lee Vosburgh.  The guidelines of the challenge were to select ten items from your existing wardrobe including clothing and shoes (but not including accessories, undergarments, and coats) and create ten different outfits out of these items over ten days.  I was a little bit terrified of committing to the challenge, which felt ridiculous considering that I see people every day who have been wearing the same clothes for weeks, but I was.  I not only survived and enjoyed the challenge.  (Find me on Instagram at @meowitsbrenna to see my outfits!) It also served as a catalyst for me to finally begin the process of becoming more minimalist in what I own, keep, and buy.

I started with my clothing.  As per suggestions I found on Pinterest, I made four piles of my clothing: 1. Things I love that fit me well and I wear often.  2. Things I like but don’t wear much or don’t fit me as well as they should.  3. Things I want to give away.  4.  Things to trash.  Using this process, I cut my wardrobe nearly in half.  I expected to feel uneasy and anxious (what if I needed one of the things I gave away “just in case”?), but instead I felt liberated.  I felt organized.  I felt at peace.  To ease the process, I put pile two away in a container under my bed.  If I don’t look for or miss any of these items over the next three months, they’ll go in the give away pile too.

I now have three bags of clothing to sell and giveaway in my trunk and a newly organized room.  I was afraid to take this leap because of my anxieties about preparedness, disaster, and scarcity.  However, if I can grow to accept that I cannot be prepared for all situations, I allow myself to live with only what I need as well as learn to be a more spontaneous person.  If you know me well, you know that I like to have a plan.  I’m not the type of person who just “wings it” and “rolls with the punches.”  Everything is written down, prepared in advance, and has a place.  But I’m learning that things can come together even when I am not properly prepared and that they can fall apart even when I am.  Having a closet full of clothing that I only wear a third of does not protect me from pain.  But getting rid of things that no longer serve me can both allow me to let go and meet the needs of others who really are experiencing disaster.  I plan to go through everything I own over the next few months, getting rid of things I haven’t touched in years, and hopefully also shedding some of my own pain and anxiety about the unexpected.

Author: Brenna Lakeson

writer. theologian. activist. cat enthusiast.

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