Saturday, May 10, 2014

Living the Minimalist Life and Loving It

Living the Minimalist Life and Loving It
            Several years ago when I made the monumental move from Poulsbo, Washington to Harlem, Montana with several truckloads of stuff, I unpacked and created a home that was also a library, an art gallery, a virtual grocery, a tool shed, a fabric store and a workshop.  My life was as complicated as that sentence. 

Jokingly, I swore that if ever I relocated again, I would take nothing with me. I would become a minimalist. My life would be defined by sparseness and simplicity. I envied people who lived with few possessions and a minimum of fuss. I envied them but I wasn’t one of them. I was a clutter-bug, a congenital collector of disparate and unrelated beautiful objects, which I arranged, placed, and displayed in pleasing manner. 

Imagine my surprise when I landed in Mazatlan with a van packed with a minimum of clothing, kitchen tools, sheets (wrong size for the bed in my furnished apartment), towels, bathroom necessities and a “minimum” (there’s that word again) of items absolutely worthless to anybody but myself. I brought one painting, one clock, one wall hanging and a deck of cards. Get the picture.  I became one of those whom I envied.

That was never my intention. I figured I’d scout the area, buy a house and proceed to fill it with wonderful art items, heche en Mexico. The longer I camped in my little rented apartment, the less I wanted a house with all that home ownership entails. Then I unpacked my boxes and took possession of my rental space. 

In that process I pared down even more. “Why did I bring this 3,000 miles? What was I thinking?” Unwanted items placed at the curb soon disappeared. I renegotiated rent and paid a year ahead. When I see Oscar, the handyman, I’ll ask him to remove the television, the lamps I don’t want, the window blinds and, maybe, even the bed. Spare. Simple. 

Friends had asked me, “How could you do it? You have so much that is wonderful and precious.”

“Yes, true. I treasured and enjoyed every bit of it. Now it is time for me to try something different. Stuff is just stuff. Stuff accumulates like iron filings to a magnet. But I’m seeing things differently. How much do I need?” 

Brave words, I thought to myself. It’s possible I’ll end up screaming at myself, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” 

Was it painful, walking away from a lifetime of accumulations and memories? I felt twinges, more like irritating mosquito bites than amputating a leg. Now and then I wish I’d brought this or that with me. Mostly I improvise with what I have. 

I’m going to paint my walls a muted shade of clay, to warm the atmosphere and soften the backdrop for the dark wooden furniture, sturdy but ugly against white. Other changes I’ll make with fabrics and plants. 

Overall, I feel lighter, free, like I have a new set of glasses. I’ll not recreate my former life. Minimalism fits my skin for now. Rather than buy art, if I feel a need to spend, I’ll buy travel and experiences. 

A friend helped me to be able to make this big move to another country, a move I had wanted for years. He helped me find my way around town, explained unfamiliar customs and conventions. I would have had a harder time without him. We had hoped our friendship would develop into something permanent and loving. Sadly, too many small differences accumulated, cluttered up our time together, eventually eroded into a rift that separated us. 

To me, the most important thing is to be able to share a sense of humor. I find that humor is hard to translate. Maybe my brand of wry, deadpan wit is even harder to bounce across language barriers. Misunderstanding was often out of control by the time I realized translation was necessary. So I move forward, alone.  

I didn’t realize I had embraced a minimalist life until I was living it. Would I recommend it to others? Heck no. A change like this is an inside job. One must be ready, even chomping at the bit, to transplant one-self like I have. 

If one is not ready, one’s experience would be similar to outsiders buying property in Montana for a “get-away” retreat. Generally newcomers stay the summer the first year; one month maximum, probably September, the second year, and skip the third year. The fourth year the owners pound a “For Sale” sign next to the front gate. There is a wide world of difference between a change of pace and a change of life. Me? I’m happy. 

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
May 1, 2014

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