Gullfoss Iceland

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I'm an expat whose goal is to visit every country in the world.

86 countries and counting!  

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How Minimalism Changed My Life (For the Better)

How Minimalism Changed My Life (For the Better)

Possessions mean little to me.  In fact, I actually enjoy doing regular purges and cleanouts of my apartment to get rid of anything and everything that is not absolutely needed.  I tend to feel a lot of stress and discomfort when I am surrounded by clutter.  For me, the fewer items that are in my possession, the better, happier, and less stressed I am.

I didn't used to be this way though.  I first discovered the idea of minimalism ten years ago and have gradually adopted it as something of a lifestyle.  It has actually turned out to be blessing, especially since I am an expat and travel relatively frequently.

The author (age 22) with some books (2005)

Prior to that, I was a definite packrat and collector.  I had shelves packed with fiction and non-fiction books (as can be seen on the picture to the left...the library was not at its largest at that time), a large collection of shotglasses, a large binder filled with MAD magazines that were in protective sleeves in case they one day went up in value, and all kinds of other miscellany.

However, my biggest vice was books.  I would buy new books like there was no tomorrow.  At that time, I had little concept of money and would have no problem dropping $20 or more on books that more often than not never got read.  My goal at that time in life was to become a professor.  All the professors I had ever seen or known always had tens of hundreds of books, and I wanted to be like that.

When I was in graduate school in the southern US in the late 2000s, I acquired a huge amount of academic books in my field of art history.  If one added up the amount of books I had at my apartment at graduate school and what was at my parent's house, I am certain that my personal library comprised approximately 500 books.

While these books looked great on bookshelves, they were almost never read.  In my apartment, I only occasionally paged through the books to find information related to my research at the time.  In retrospect, I could have simply sent off for Interlibrary Loan to get what I needed, but hindsight is always 20/20.  Once I was done with them, I rarely if ever looked at them again, but I still kept buying with no real reason.  Gradually, those books became excellent dust magnets.

Upon completion of graduate school in 2008, I moved back to my parent's house because I was unable to find a job (this was at the height of the Great Recession).  I vividly remember moving 30 boxes of books in extremely hot and humid weather.  It was during that move that I made a promise to myself.  I would do a major purge and get rid of unneeded books since I vowed never to move this much stuff ever again.

At this time, I was not in a good place.  I had come out of graduate school a few months after the US economy really went down, spent almost 8 months trying to find work, and got rejected from all the PhD programs I had applied to.  During that time, my job was trying to find a job.  I had an enormous pile of rejection letters, and as time went on, I looked for different ways of trying to make at least a little bit of money.  Getting rid of my books was one of those solutions.

Initially, I really did not want to get rid of any books.  After all, a lot of them had been in my possession for years, and I loved having them and looking at them.  However, while a part of me wanted to keep them, another part of me knew that they were just collecting dust.  Few if any were getting read, and while they looked great on bookshelves and made my bedroom look like a private library, it was mentally suffocating.  Plus, I was constantly worried about the loss I would incur if some kind of disaster or fire occurred.  To be honest, I was getting stressed and exhausted trying to keep track of all them.

Therefore, in 2009, I took a small step and decided to get rid of several books that I had bought years earlier.  I knew of a place that would buy almost any book.  That day, I took these books in and got some small money.

Much to my surprise, I found it surprisingly easy to get rid of the books.  I didn't miss them at all or regret my decision like I had been fearing.  On the contrary, I actually felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  Plus, it gave me a sense of satisfaction knowing that someone else might be able to benefit from them.  I just now had to get rid of about about 495 more books.

That initial sell really set me on the path to try and live a minimalist lifestyle.  Over the years, I made regular purges of my personal library.  Each time I would return to my parent's house, I would collect more and more books and get rid of them.  It was always the same thing.  I never regretted my decision to sell them, and I felt the stress of worrying about them slipping away.  Rarely if ever did I regret getting rid of them. 

It gradually got to the point where I expanded operations and started to get rid of other items that I knew I would never use or need again.  Slowly but surely, my bedroom in my parent's house started to become more empty.  As a result, I started to feel less stressed since I felt like I had room to breathe and move around.

In 2018, I am happy to say that my personal library has been whittled down to approximately 25 books, and most items that no longer had a use to me have been donated or sold.  The things that tend to be left are things I would like to hang onto.  However, even though I do not live in the US anymore, my "possession purge" and decluttering continues fairly regularly in my apartment now with excess items typically being given away or donated.  Of course, when I go back to the US, I continually search for things of mine that I no longer need.  I go by the idea that if I was able to live comfortably and successfully without it for over a year, it has no place in my life.

I am now a big advocate of minimalist living and living a simple life with relatively few possessions.  This is especially important to me since I am an expat.  Therefore, possessions can be a burden for me since the more I own, the more work will be needed when it comes time to move.  I want to be sure that when it comes time for me to move somewhere else, I won't have to worry about shipping items.  I can simply pack what I need in two bags and move on.

Minimalism has enriched my life immensely since I don't worry about incurring a major loss if some kind of disaster should strike.  Plus, I know that if I want to move somewhere, I can fit most necessities into two suitcases.  Everything else will either be gotten rid of or left in the apartment for the next occupant.  This makes life significantly easier for me, especially when I travel.

Minimalism has definitely changed my life for the better.  What about you?  How often do you engage in decluttering?

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