The first time I stumbled upon minimalism, it was by accident. And I didn’t know it had a name.
In 2011, I quit my fancy corporate job in Seattle to move to NYC because of my husband’s career. It was not a martyr situation. Quite the opposite. He got a job offer in another city the same week I typed The End on my first book, and was itching to pursue my dream of being a full-time author. It felt right. It was right.
Our apartment in Seattle was a spacious 2-bedroom, with plenty of storage.
The only apartment we could afford in the super-pricy-NYC on one salary was a studio with no storage.
Time to purge. Because nothing forces you to downsize like having to fit all of your belongings into a rental car to drive across the country with a 350 square foot apartment awaiting you.
I don’t know that we were true minimalists, in that if minimalism is about being deliberate about what you allow into your space and life, we were more in the camp of, “we don’t have much stuff because we don’t have much space, or money, and by the way, we accept cash donations.”
It stayed that way for 2 years out of necessity, both because of the studio floor plan and tight finances. Lest anyone thinks writing romance is a get-rich-quick scheme, my first two years of my writing career I had seven published books with BIG publishers … and my annual income was well under $10k. We were basically entirely reliant on Anth’s salary while living in a brutally expensive city.
But we were happy. Financially strapped, yes. In debt, yes. Money stressed, yes. But happy, in that soul-is-full kind of way.
As happy as we were, our reasons for living the way we were came out of necessity. We assumed that once our finances got a little less scrappy, our happiness would only go up.
So, slowly, we started to go back to “normal.”
Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Make more money. Get a bigger apartment. Get more things. Grow.
Eventually, we moved into a bigger apartment. And then a slightly bigger apartment. And then we got a storage unit for “seasonal items and extras.”
And then, years of writing around the clock, driven by passion, not paychecks, began to pay off. For the first time in years, we were able to actually afford not just the bigger apartment, but things.
Not big things. We haven’t owned a car in years, neither of us collects anything, and we’re a mostly paperless household. We’ve never aspired to own a big house. We currently rent a 1-bedroom apartment, and by most people’s standards, we’re probably pretty lean in terms of our belongings. We’re both very tidy—we’ve never ever gone to sleep with dishes in the sink, and we always make the bed, even in hotel rooms.
But slowly, the stuff accumulated. Fancy new champagne flutes. An espresso machine. Hot pink stilettos for me, another suit for Anth. New nightstands. Lamps to go on the nightstands. A cute Kate Spade coffee table book.
All good stuff. I liked the stuff. I’d even go so far as to say the stuff sparked joy. 😉
Something’s been amiss. We’re not unhappy, or even stressed.
Anthony and I both love our lives, and if you asked how things were going with us these past couple months/years, we’d have said, “great!”
And we’d have meant it. We love living in New York City, we’re financially sound, we both have our dream jobs. All good things.
In hindsight, I think the seed was planted when I read Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner earlier this year. I thought I loved it because of her writing style (there’s something about her use of words that I find incredibly beautiful).
I assumed it had to be her writing I was drawn to, because I certainly couldn’t relate to her identity as a mom. Her religious/spiritual inclinations aren’t my jam. And she lives in Montana (I think?) and her book is all about “turning away from fast and fame and frenzy.” And, um, I live in Manhattan. As we’ve established, I love living in Manhattan, and don’t anticipate that changing any time soon.
And yet. And yet.
I kept thinking about her story.
Thinking about my story.
Sensing that something wasn’t quite right.
I kept thinking back to those early days. The ones where we had no extra in our lives. I missed them.
I never did identify the precise problem with my current life. But I’ve found the solution:
Simplify. Slow down. Breathe.
In the past few months, Anthony and I have begun a minimalist journey. This time, by intention, not necessity.
It started with the way I think it does a lot of people: my closet. The realization that I was wearing the same 10 or so items every damn day, but owned 5x that many.
Boxes and boxes went to goodwill.
And then I noticed something odd.
Every time I looked at my nearly-empty side of the closet I took a deep breath and felt … wonderful.
I wanted more.
I wanted more of less.
I turned the purge towards my shoes. My makeup. My office supplies. Even my freaking Dropbox.
It was contagious, and Anthony caught it too.
We’ve gotten rid of almost everything.
The huge bulky, blobby couch I’ve never loved but kept because it was easy? Gone. The dining room table that was gorgeous but rarely used? Gone. The 4 dining chairs that went with it? Gone. Bar stools I didn’t like? Gone. Coffee table? Gone. Dresser? Gone. Nightstands? Gone. Sideboard to hold our serve-ware and beautiful stemware? Gone. Everything in the sideboard? Gone. My “beloved” Christmas decorations? Decreased from 5 huge boxes (+ artificial tree) to 1/2 of one box of only the most sentimental of ornaments.
The kitchen? Reduced to a 1/4 of the stuff we used to have so that we now have entire shelves that are empty.
Read that again:
In the end, we kept only our bed, our wine rack (priorities!) and a desk.
We lived that way for a month, in a wonderfully barren apartment while we figured out what we really needed and wanted.
Eventually we did end up getting another couch, a smaller, sleeker “more us” one. And a coffee table. Again, smaller, so that it contributed to our space rather than simply taking up space. We didn’t replace the nightstands. Or the dresser. Or the dining table. Or the sideboard.
We have an entirely open wall in our living room, that gave us pause for a moment. What to put there?!
The answer was wonderfully clear: Nothing.
And when we were confronted with an entirely empty room in our one bedroom apartment, wondering what to do with the extra space, that became clear too:
As in, we now have so few belongings, and so much extra space, that we moved our bed into the main living space, leaving the bedroom entirely empty save for a small container holding our bulky NYC winter coats, and another small container of my sentimental Christmas decorations and our childhood photos.
In all, I think we’ve reduced our belongings to about 1/3 of what we had a few months ago. Our apartment is practically empty. Same for the closet. I don’t even have a dresser. I don’t have a junk drawer. I have six pairs of shoes, and that’s including my winter boots and running shoes. We handwash all of our plates and glasses, because we only have four.
And we’ve never been more productive, more creative, or happier.
Our lives are more full, because our home is more empty.
I know. It surprised me too.
At the start of 2019, it was on my #GOALS list to move to a 2-bedroom apartment.
In August, we’ll be downsizing to a studio apartment.
Not because we have to. Because we want to.
We finally have room to breathe.