The Uncomfortable Side of Minimalism

Minimalism can be uncomfortable, especially at first. It isn’t easy letting go of stuff you love, like a special dress worn to a wedding, or a framed photo that once graced a wall.

I’ve had many uncomfortable moments since I started exploring minimalism. Like the day I decided to sort through my children’s old cards.

I pulled out the suitcase stuffed beneath the guest room bed. Piles of cards, tied together in silk ribbons, were placed inside. In another little box were necklaces, pins, and magnets, created and glued by little hands.

I hadn’t seen these items in years, and had, in fact, forgotten I had them. That day as I sifted through the cards, I got a funny kind of twinge in my stomach, that combination of guilt, nostalgia, and letting go, the kind of twinge only a parent understands.

Papers with scribblings and misspelled words, pictures of a child’s interpretation of what a mom and dad look like. Tiny wooden magnets colored with crayon. Plastic beaded necklaces on a string. Memories of childhood, of little ones now grown.

I sifted through the cards, one by one reminded of when my children were little. I couldn’t throw them away, at least not all of them. A few cards were dropped in the recycling bin, the rest placed back in the suitcase. I cried. What if my memories disappeared with the cards? But that’s not what happened.

Memories flooded back, one after another, and not one of them was related to the stuff inside that suitcase. I remembered Christmas programs, a shy boy in front of a microphone; I recalled a son with grasshoppers in his backpack, and how he proudly displayed them to me when he got home from school; camping trips, and tiny feet learning to walk; memories I thought were long gone.

A month later, a few more cards were placed in the bin. And once again, tears were shed. But like before, memories came tumbling back.

The more I let go, the stronger my memories became. It’s as if they’d been stuffed inside a suitcase. I guess I’d relied on my stuff to create my memories, when truth is, my memories were inside in me all along.

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The Stories in Our Stuff

This is a story of clutter and confusion, a brain muddled by too much stuff.

Inside a pocket sits a story, a place where a child’s toy once rested, a spot for a special gift given to a special someone. Shoes tell stories of trips to malls, journeys to other countries, trips down a hospital corridor, runs on a sandy beach.

Our stuff is our story. Objects turned to fragments of our lives. Inside a book once read, now soaked with tears. Barrettes worn by a little girl. Bracelets given by loved ones no longer on earth.

I once owned a lot of stuff, which held a lot of stories. Closets and cabinets overflowed with items I didn’t need. But after my brain injury, I could no longer comprehend what everything in my home was for, and clutter became nothing more than a source of tension for me. Piece by piece I let go, books, papers, a pile of material, though at the time, I didn’t understand why, or what I was doing.

A few years later, my husband and I moved. I looked around our new home and all we owned, and decided, more than anything, I wanted a life of less. I began to purge.

Even then, I didn’t understand the true impact of my actions. With each item placed in a box or bag, emotions overwhelmed me. I cried, shedding tears for a vase bought on vacation, dresses worn to weddings, tiny paper ornaments created by children now grown.

My stuff was being given away bit by bit, my life, my stories, my memories.

Memories are hard for me, holding pain and grief, and most of all, loss. After my injury, I lost many memories, falling from some obscure slit in my brain. I have worked hard to try and get them back. That day, as I placed items in a bag, I was scared. What if I lost these memories, just as I’d lost the others?

But that’s not what happened.

When I released bags and boxes from my life, needless to say, my physical world changed. My home was cleaner. But what happened next was unexpected. I experienced a clarity I hadn’t had in a long time. A freedom came over me. I could think. Reminisce. Remember. Recall. Images appeared, remnants of a life I thought I’d forgotten. Doctors’ visits, a son’s far-away move, another child’s career change. Memories I didn’t know I had.

My brain had been cluttered by all I owned. When I let go of clutter, it let go of me.

I don’t have all my memories back, and probably never will. But I have more than I once had, more than I could hope for.

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Why This Simple Hippie Will Always Own a Christmas Tree

It is the countdown to Christmas and I couldn’t be more excited. Honestly, I’m like a kid sometimes. I love everything about this season, lights that shimmer off tinsel, trees adorned in holiday attire, cocoa capped with mounds of marshmallows. I love the shy, excited faces of children as they stand in line to see Santa, the joy of someone buying a gift, the get-togethers with family. There’s almost nothing I don’t like.

Almost. Because this year, for the first time, I struggled with decorating my home. My husband and I purged much of what we owned, including most of our holiday decorations, some broken, some just very, very old, and what is left fits in one small box we can fit in the corner of a closet. That, and one tall, artificial, pre-lit Christmas tree.

I’ve never been much into holiday decorating. True, I’d owned a few wreaths, always had a tree, set candy canes out, and even made gingerbread houses. Never an extreme amount of holiday glitz. But this year, I didn’t even want that. I wanted nothing to do with decorating. Not one single thing.

We weren’t having Christmas at our house. It was only my husband and myself. And our home was as simple and clean as I liked it. Besides, if I set up a tree, and filled our home with decorations, wouldn’t that be hypocritical as a simple hippie? What would that be saying about who I really am?

Yet, it was Christmas. And I love Christmas. And in my heart, I knew I needed a few pieces to remind of why I loved this season.

I pulled out the box, emptied the few contents on the bed: a tiny elf, two tiny white trees, a candle, a framed picture, a fluffy little owl, and two glittery glass balls. Each item something I cherished, and for whatever reason, held meaning for me. I placed the pieces around our home. Everything except the large green artificial tree.

We wouldn’t be needing a tree this year, and truth is, I didn’t want to mess with it. In fact, I was struggling with whether or not to give it to the thrift store when I received a call.

My son and daughter-in-law, who were to have Christmas dinner this year, ran into some unexpected circumstances. Would I be willing to do it?

I didn’t hesitate. Willing? Yes! I was ecstatic. This year our whole family would be together. I loved cooking for them, loved the laughter and chatter that filled the house, loved the sound of little children in the background.

The children. I thought about them as I looked around our home, our quiet, clean, simple home, a home that didn’t look much different now than any other day of the year. A home that certainly didn’t look like Christmas.

I wondered what they’d think when they bounded through the door. I wondered what they’d see that Christmas morning. Would they know it was Christmas? Would they see twinkling lights and holiday decorations? Would they hear soft music in the background?

I thought how important senses are to a child, how inside every little sight and sound, in the mix of every smell, rests a memory waiting to be made. What would they see? What would they remember?

No glamor. No glitz. No twinkling lights. No Christmas tree.

It was a dilemma, one between the simple hippie in me, and the one who didn’t want to disappoint family, or children.

The next day, my husband pulled the tree out of the garage and placed it on the living room floor before leaving for work. I passed the tree many times that day, but every time I walked by, I couldn’t bring myself to set it up. I dragged it back to the garage.

What was it about the tree that bothered me? Was it that I felt like a hypocrite, or was I truly tired of having a tree?

Then it hit me. I wasn’t tired of the tree. I loved Christmas trees – the green, the magnificent presence, the lights that glittered on the branches. And whether others saw it as hypocritical or not, the fact is, for me, there was meaning in that green plastic artificial tree. I knew then, Christmas wasn’t about the tree, the lights, the gifts, the glitter and glitz. And it certainly wasn’t about me. I knew what I had to do.

Once again, I had my husband pull the tree into the house. This time, I watched as he put it together, branches over branches, plugging each piece in until it was lit up. When he was done, I draped thin silver garland across the branches, sparkles of glitter against holiday lights.

As I stood back and admired the tree, I recalled when my husband and I bought it, a year that, like many of my memories, is vague and washed-out. What I do remember is a husband who took me to buy a tree to replace the real ones I could no longer be around. A husband who celebrated the season with me, a season in which I appreciated life like I never had.

I will always have a tree. It is more than fake branches in our home. It is a symbol of life, celebration, and the One True Gift we’ve been given. It is a reminder that Christmas is not about me. It is family. It is memories made, and memories yet to come. And sometimes those memories rest inside the green plastic branches of an artificial tree.

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A Simple Way to Relive Memories

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was eight and opened my first pink journal, complete with lock and key. My heart pounded as I wrote on the crisp, fresh pages, stories about a tiny stuffed bear, and my neighbors I thought were aliens.

As I grew older, my little journal was replaced by a notebook stuffed inside my fringe-covered purse, changing my writing from childish fantasies to dramatic phrases like, “My mom doesn’t like me,” and, “I met a boy.”

In high school, I carried college-lined paper with me from class to class, filling the pages with short stories and love poems written to no one in particular.

In my twenties, I owned a typewriter. The black keys click-clicked beneath my fingers as I wrote about motherhood, young marriage, and my dreams.

And after my children were born, my husband and I bought our first computer. It was then my real writing began, not because of the computer, but because I’d finally figured out what I wanted to write.

I had forgotten those memories. I thought they were gone, lost in some corner of my mind. And though it sounds silly, I’d always wanted to relive my childhood, at least partially, to see the world again, far from kid-coated eyes.

Sometimes, life has a way of helping us remember. I think it’s when I decided to get back to my roots that it happened for me.

Not long ago I was talking to a friend, complaining how difficult writing had been for me lately. She’d had the same issue, she said. When I asked how she fixed it, she said it was simple. She started writing in a journal.

What did I have to lose? I picked up a few journals at the store. Over time, I picked out a couple more. They are no longer little and pink with a tiny key, for like me, they have grown. I have a simple, one-toned notebook from the drug store, an eco-friendly journal with soft cream pages, a teal journal filled with notes I will someday use, and a leather-bound journal with trees etched on the cover, one I’d received as a gift from my husband.

My journals are like going home, back to my roots, to the place it all began. As I write, I remember pieces of my life: Sitting beneath a tree, pouring my heart on the pages; journals hidden beneath bed covers, a flashlight’s beam on each word; stories written of family, friends, and relatives, some no longer on this earth; and at this moment, I am reminded of late nights, my father in the kitchen reading, I in my bedroom writing in my journal.

My journals became my roots. My roots became my memories. And through them all, I was able to see the world one more time.

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Never Give Up

July 14th marked the six year anniversary of my accident. It’s funny how simple things, like peaches and a water bottle, are the few memories that remain from that day. And for three years after, all I retain are snippets of time, little empty holes that others try to fill.

During those few years, I had to learn to fight. I fought for health, for life, for memories. I fought to read. I fought to write. And when doctors said I’d never improve, I fought harder still. Because if there is one simple lesson this accident taught me, it is this: If you don’t fight for yourself, no one else will.

Every aspect of our life is like that, filled with tiny battles we need to overcome. We encounter naysayers, in our jobs, our homes, our lives. Others criticize our dreams, crush our inventions, kill our creations.

Yet, we fight. We fight because we believe. Because we know with all our heart it’s what we need to do. We fight because if we don’t, if we let others get us down, if we let others suck our dreams away, then our life, too, is sucked away.

So never give up. Fight. With all your life.

Fight for love.

Fight for health.

Fight for crazy, ludicrous dreams that rest in your mind.

Fight with blood that courses through your veins.

Fight with every breath you have.

Never give up.

You are the warrior.

Fight.

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