How I found minimalism

A cat sleeping on a green armchair

Photo via Visualhunt.

Back in autumn of 2015, my husband and I had to make a decision: Were we going to sign a contract to work another year at the international school in Japan that employed us, or were we going to move back to the states? We struggled over the choice (especially me, who grew up there and considers Tokyo home), but ultimately we chose to finish out the 2015-16 school year and then move to the US that summer.

When we moved to Japan in 2010, we had brought 4 suitcases and 2 carry-ons of stuff, and left 8 boxes in a relative’s basement. We didn’t own much as a young couple only three years out of college, and our hand-me-down furniture had been easy to let go of. But when it came time to move back to the US in 2016, we had grown to a family of four and a house full of stuff, as well as furniture we had purchased with our own hard-earned cash.

It was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to begin.

Being a perfectionist procrastinator, I have trouble starting something until I have all my ducks in a row. So, as I always do when overwhelmed, I ignored the giant to-do list and chose to read about the problem instead. About that time, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was quickly gaining popularity (also known as “the KonMari method”). I purchased a copy in hopes that it would help us downsize.

She wasn’t kidding about the life changing part.

If you’ve never had to downsize, let me put it this way. Every single item you own has become several questions. Do I love it? Do I need it? Have I used it in the last six months? Is it broken? Is it repairable? Will I repair it? Will I have space for it in our new home? Will this still be useful after we move? And in our case, will it cost more to ship this back or to replace it once we get there?

Imagine asking all of those questions about every single item you own, from your couch, to your plates, to your books, to your socks. The decision fatigue is incredible, and on top of that there’s the physical exertion of sorting and removing and cleaning and packing those things. Add hesitation and doubt to that mix, compounded by the number of questions you have to ask yourself for each piece. Oh, and don’t forget about your toddlers, who “help” by rearranging your piles—or who suddenly and desperately get attached to an item they didn’t care two bits about a week ago and was in the “to get rid of” pile.


So to simplify a process that makes you want to go boneless and lay there sobbing on the floor down to one question and no doubt is, as an understatement, an incredible relief. Just one question: “Does it spark joy?” And it either does, or it doesn’t. The end.

We were quoted by movers for a full shipping container before we downsized (since it was an international move, it all had to go by boat). After the KonMari purge, we had less than a quarter (equivalent of about 50 diaper boxes), too small for them to take on. We packed and shipped them ourselves.

It felt great. I felt accomplished. Our new house was free of clutter, and only had the things we really needed in it. I loved it.

But I blinked and found us a year later, in the states, with our new home feeling a little crowded again. How could that be? Didn’t we get rid of everything? Where did this stuff come from?

About that time, someone recommended the documentary “Minimalism” on Netflix to me. I watched it and the last pieces of the puzzle Marie Kondo had started clicked into place. She had taught me how to choose what to keep and how to get rid of the rest, guilt free. Minimalism freed me from the addictive need to bring unnecessary things into my life in the first place, and to make space for the things that really mattered to me.

Another reading binge.

I read every blog on minimalism I could find. I read several books on the subject (Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things was my favorite). I watched YouTube video after video about it.

“This is it,” I thought. “This is what’s been missing from my life.” I’ve always craved order, but found it too overwhelming to maintain the order I wanted. Minimalism made so much sense to me. With less stuff, I’d have less to manage, and it’d be easier to create and keep order.

My home underwent another purge and tidy. But as I learned more about minimalism, I began applying it to more than just my stuff.

I started reevaluating my priorities and my values. I learned what things make me go nuts and began drawing clear boundaries to protect myself. I started considering actions I did out of habit instead of out of necessity. I began to view people differently, and was able to listen past the noises they were making to hear the need they were really asking for. I learned to breathe and to appreciate quiet.

Most importantly, I developed an attitude of gratefulness.

It’s 2018, and I’ve changed so much since that autumn of 2015. My home is not a stereotypical minimalist home with white empty walls, minimal pieces of modern furniture, and only the belongings that fit in a backpack or a car. I have kids after all, plus a maximalist husband. But the empty box for a home isn’t even the goal.

I want to make space for what’s important in my life—literal, physical space for the objects I own, figurative space for my relationships, schedule, and goals. As a minimalist, I don’t get rid of everything. I just remove the stuff that gets in the way of the things I love or the activities I choose to participate in or the relationships I value.

I’m a cozy minimalist (a hygge minimalist?). I keep just enough to be comfortable—not too much, not too empty.

I am happy.

What is something that makes you happy? Has something you read shifted your perspective lately? It doesn’t have to be about minimalism. I love reading about things that expand my perspective or help me to grow as a person. I also love fairy tales and YA fiction, so there’s that too, ha. I’m in a reading mood, so if you’ve got a great book to share, let me know!