< = > (less equals more)

< = > (less equals more)

If you’ve talked to me at all over the past month or two, you’ve probably heard me mention the term “minimalism” once or twice. Part of my excitement over this concept started during the research I did for a Dayton City Paper article that came out last week. I had the pleasure of interviewing two amazing Daytonians who embody the very essence of minimalism in their every day lives. The first time I visited theminimalists.com I was completely hooked…I read Ryan and Josh’s essays for two hours straight and felt like I got to know them before I’d even met them. And their insights about downsizing and living a more meaningful life were fascinating and inspiring…and pushed me to continue on the path I’d started to forge in my own life – and closet.

If you’re like a lot of people who hear the term “minimalism” you might instinctively think it’s something only fanatic people undertake in order to prove that they don’t need much to live on, or maybe you simply write off the idea as impossible or impractical. Regardless, I encourage you all to stop for a second – I mean really STOP- and take a very literal inventory of your lives. What is it you could do without? And more importantly, why are you hanging onto all of it?

For me, it all started because I recently decided downsizing is a necessity. Somehow over the past ten years I went from being able to fit all of my earthly possessions into a 10×14 dorm room, to filling a three story house (and attic) with stuff. It’s completely excessive. It’s wasteful. I realized that I had five tv’s – yeah, five – and I don’t even have cable! But somehow they accumulated and there are now three sitting in my garage. I’m currently looking for a smaller house. I bought a smaller car. I have painstakingly gone through every closet (some twice) to rid them all of excess. Why am I doing this, you ask? Because I realized one thing: I. Just. Don’t. Need. It. And it’s taking up space…space in my house, space in my life, space that could be happier free-flowing around itself in pursuit of better ways to spend the days than being distracted with a lot of things that I frankly don’t use, didn’t know I had, and most importantly would be better off in someone else’s hands. Because that’s the thing about it- most of the stuff we keep in drawers and closets and don’t ever touch might make a difference to someone else who actually needs it. When was the last time you used that “extra extra” set of dishes? Or the long wool winter coat with the intense shoulder pads? But mark my words- there is someone out there who would use it, need it, and possibly even cherish it.

You might be wondering, “How does having too much stuff clutter up your life and distract you from what’s really important?” Here’s how: every single thing in our lives serves a purpose. And if it isn’t actively serving a purpose (like a toothbrush) then it’s passively sitting there, creating stagnant energy, and occasionally drawing our attention away from other pursuits of happiness. How many minutes have you wasted digging through a drawer looking for something? How many hours have you spent flipping through channels without really seeing what’s on? Those moments add up, my friends. They eventually take up hours and hours of our time…and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend that time sharing experiences with people who matter to me and building relationships. I’d rather spend that time out in the community trying to figure out how to make it a better place to live, and exploring cool places off the beaten path and supporting local businesses. I’d rather get to know other free-thinking people, share ideas with them, and pursue interests that I had no idea would provide so much satisfaction once I actually paid attention to them and allowed them space in which to flourish and grow.

Another way I’m doing things on a smaller scale- I decided not to send a mass holiday card this year. Instead, over the next few weeks I’m going to send handwritten cards to people that I actually need to say something to…friends I have missed, people who have performed amazing acts of kindness, anyone with whom I have a message to share. And I hope it’ll mean more than a mass-produced impersonal card. This year, writing cards represents my personal desire to emphasize quality over quantity.

I find tremendous happiness and fulfillment in the fact that my garage has stacks of stuff in it waiting to be loaded up and delivered to Goodwill, Agape for Youth, Bethany Lutheran Village (they take tv’s!) and other friends who might be able to use the clothes and toys that Ryan has outgrown. Trust me- it feels GOOD to downsize. And once you get started, it becomes progressively easier to just say, “Nope, don’t need it. Yep, that can go too.” It makes me feel lighter, freer. It actually gives me energy. And it emphasizes that there’s no reason to hang onto things that I simply don’t use. We could all benefit from realizing that memories shouldn’t be attached to objects – memories live inside our hearts and minds, where we can visit them whenever we choose.

One thing I will hang onto as a sentimental and simple reminder is the t-shirt Richard gave me for Christmas that so succinctly states, “< = >” ….in other words….less equals more.

Cheers to all of you in 2012, and may you find happiness and simplicity in the things that truly matter.