Are you a minimalist?

Posted on 7 min read

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

That was the question my husband asked me when I told him that I have decided to run a website with this name.
Now, mind you, he has his reasons. The fact that I came up with the name around three in the morning, probably put the question to the whole minimalist thing. Including my sanity.

A MINIMALIST? WHAT IS THAT?

I came from an Indonesian family of ‘hoarders’. I say, hoarders, because they loved collecting stuff, and refused to get rid of them. Well, at least my late mother was one. The house where I grew up has always been colorful with lots of things. Tons of decorating items, lots of plants, bright colors, and a messy kitchen. They are not minimalists at all. 

My late mother, like any Indonesian mother in her generation, spent an incredible amount of time in the kitchen.
She loved to do everything on the floor while cooking. As you can imagine, you will need to do some acrobatic chicken dance entering the kitchen. You will avoid onions on the right side, a chopping board in front of you. There would be a stack of vegetables on the left side, and a mother who went back and forth in every direction. Not to mention, some herbs that were lying around on the floor. It was; however, one of my fondest memories as a child.

HAVING MY OWN SPACE

As I grew up and had the luxury of having my own place (I bought my first house when I was 27), I made it as I ‘knew’ it. The same thing happened when I got married and moved to Germany. Our first apartment had different bright wall colors in every room, tons of decorating items, lots of plants, and other kinds of stuff.
What made it worse, of course, were my personal belongings.
My background is in fashion. My wish was to have a walk-in closet. I had one in Indonesia, and it felt like it was what I needed to have, wherever I am.
I could imagine having rows of shoes and separate accessories drawers. My colour-coded coats would hang beautifully and I will put some fresh flowers and an array of perfumes on the open shelf.
I don’t have a walk-in wardrobe in Germany, so I came up with boxes to store my hats, shoes, accessories and everything else.
These boxes would ‘beautifully scattered’ around the house. In the corner of the bedroom, in the home office, and everywhere else where I could stack them.
Those boxes are cute, but the place looked like an overloaded canvas. Both homes were clean and tidy, but cluttered.
Clutter in the corner. Beautiful, but far from the minimalist lifestyle I pictured.
Photography by Huy Phan

If you read it up to this line, you might notice how I used past-tense describing my wish of a walk-in closet. Yes. It was a wish in the past. I don’t want that anymore. The thought of having a walk-in closet makes me dizzy. The imagination of me having to do colossal spring or winter cleaning, or folding many laundries gives me shiver. When it comes to clothing, I have reduced so much and keep things I love or need. In fact, I have started to reduce a lot of everything.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

WHAT CHANGED – PART ONE

In 2016, I had finally read Marie Kondo’s first book. Yes, I was one of the Konmari victims. Go figure. Her method, although isn’t minimalism itself, speaks to me. Konmari was the first step into my minimalism journey. My first eye-opener to reason with the value of my possessions and be more intentional with my purchase. By the time this book became a hype, I couldn’t understand why. People raved about it, some people even quit their jobs and claimed to have this epiphany of life. Some became hardcore minimalists. Thinking that was much, I ignored the book. I wasn’t sure how I come to find the book again, or why I decided to read it. I know I was in Chiang Mai, a beautiful city north of Thailand.

My husband and I worked remotely at the time, and we decided to travel for three months. I remember we were in this gorgeous Airbnb belongs to a fantastic guy named Nutth. We loved it so much we extended our stay for three weeks.
Nutth’s place is well hidden, beautifully decorated and gives you a sense of peace.
I am not sure if that was Marie Kondo’s magic, or Nutth’s place or the combination of both. After I read the book, I told my husband I can’t wait to go home and throw away all of my stuff.
Which I did, and it felt fantastic.

Reading Marie Kondo's first book was my door to minimalist lifestyle.

IT DIDN’T WORK

The story would have ended there. I would live happily ever after with my newfound way of decluttering, inspired to live in a more minimalistic approach. It hadn’t. 
I started my old habit of buying and or collecting things I didn’t need.
It felt overwhelming cleaning up the house. I freaking hated it because it seemed there was always something on the table, on the corner, behind the counter, everywhere.
I was good at tossing or re-selling some of my belongings, but I also was good at collecting and buying new things. It was a never-ending process.
Clothes started piling up and the shoes were too many. Papers started scattered around, makeups were expired without being used. Our garage was so full of items and pieces of stuff we didn’t need.
It went on for a couple of years. Only sometime later I realized that my decluttering action didn’t come with the right mindset. Hence it only lasted a while. 

 

WHAT CHANGED – PART TWO

2018 was an extremely difficult time for me and I decided to go to Indonesia. I checked myself for ten days at one of Vipassana centres on the island of Java.
For those of you who don’t know what Vipassana is: it is a technique of meditation.
During those ten days, I woke up every day at four in the morning, meditate throughout the day and evening until before nine p.m.
It was a silent ten days. Nobody talked to anybody.
I came to the retreat with a chaotic mind and was hoping that I would calm my mind a little. It worked. Vipassana didn’t solve my personal crisis. It took some time for the crisis to be resolved. However, Vipassana gave me a strong foundation for self-assessment.
During Vipassana, I started to realize that I didn’t need everything I was having at that time. Vipassana, just like Marie Kondo, cemented more and more of my desire to live ‘enough’.
Have enough to live a happy, peaceful life. Live enough with a calm and organized mind.

Meditation has been a huge help during my crisis, which led me to being a minimalist.

EVERYTHING SEEMS GREAT, BUT….

Since my crisis was resolved, I was determined to live better. So I started small and started by organizing my self. I was working full-time at that time for a fashion brand and needed to commute every day. I made use of my time by planning how I was going to spend my minute.
My plan was to set keystone habits and tackle all the decluttering, again. Hopefully, I would get my minimalist life going for good. I had a few goals and embraced early 2019 with a lot of hope, a written plan, and a hell of a positive attitude. It looked like everything was in motion. Then something happened. 
We found out around early April that my mother was diagnosed with a nasty blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma. She was in the last stadium.

HOW GRIEF CHANGES YOU

It turned my world upside down. I didn’t care about anything anymore. All those goals, those plans, those habits I have built and all the routine I have perfected. I was terrified of losing my mother. I knew it was going to happen, and I couldn’t accept that reality. During that time, I walked like a zombie every day, trying my best at work, which wasn’t working. I also had trouble sleeping and diagnosed with a slight depression.
Supported by my husband, I asked for a non-paid holiday and flew to take care of her for a month.
I lived at the hospital together with her. I feed her, watched movies with her, feed her and changed her diapers. We cried, and we laughed, we were mad at each other, and we talked about the past sometimes.
It was a funny, overwhelming and one of the most heart wrecking moments I had with her. I was so happy to be with her and so sad at the same time or something in between, and it can’t be explained.
I returned to Germany, knowing that I might not see her again. So I plotted a plan with my husband to return to Indonesia to spend time with her before she died.
I quit my job and came back with my husband a month later. During that time, her condition was worsening. She was in a coma twice, and they manage to get her back.
We landed around seven in the evening, and hold her hands until she died early morning at four. I planned to stay for a year. Instead, I got nine hours.
That was last August.
Photography by Thomas Kinto

The song is ended, but the beauty lingers on.

Irving Berlin

THE AFTERMATH

I stayed in Indonesia for four months afterwards. In my house where my mother used to live, everything was cleared out. I only kept the furniture that I needed and a few family photos.
I donated more than five hundreds of my books collection to the local library and gave away the rest.
In those four months, I wore and re-wore ten pieces of clothing, two pairs of shoes and a bag. In the house, there was one couch, one television, one bed, one working table and a working chair, plus a dining table. The kitchen had appliances and a few utensils for two people. For the first time in my life, I lived with so much fewer things. I didn’t miss any of the things I always thought I got to have, nor have I felt that I lived with..less. For the first time in my life, I grasp the true concept of being a minimalist.

STARTING THAT MINIMALIST LIFESTYLE

When I came back to Germany, I didn’t have any job to return to. It was the end of the year again. Funny how time flies and just from one year to another, you could be in a really different place.
While applying for jobs, I then decided to do the thing I always wanted to do last year. You know the one I plan to do after I established my routine and habits and whatnot: I declutter.  We have three floors, a garage and a basement. So I worked my way up. I declutter every place, every corner, every shelf and every storage space I could.
I checked every box, every drawer and every item and separated those to toss and to give away.
By the time I am writing this, I am 95% done.
I didn’t have any resolutions like last year, I didn’t have any specific plan. I just knew I need to declutter. Why declutter?
Because funny enough, I saw it as a first step of achieving the lifestyle I want. I needed to start somewhere. 
After my mother died, I realized how I took time for granted. I knew what I wanted, but I was too lazy finally got into it. Too many detailed plans, too many to-do lists, and not enough perseverance. 
See, I want to live in a tidy, stylish and homey space, where I know everything has its place.
I want to have a calmer mind, an organized self. The lifestyle I pictured also involve in living with purpose and care. Care to the mother nature, serve others.
I don’t know how to do all those, yet. But I know one thing I could do to start.
Why wait?

Living in a decluttered space is one of the goals of my minimalist lifestyle.

SO AM I A MINIMALIST?

Yes. In my own way. 
There are a lot of arguments out there about what a minimalist is or should be.
Those arguments could be accurate or not, and in my opinion, it solely relies on you. Simply because you should define what minimalism for you would be.
For me, minimalism and minimalist lifestyle is a sustainable state of mind. This state of mind will create a concept that suits the person itself. I could argue that now I am a minimalist because I now live with fewer things that I need and most value. Somebody who lives with even fewer items would say that I am still slightly a hoarder. I could also argue that I am a minimalist because I now truly grasp the concept of minimalism that works for me. Somebody who has different concept might think I am just half minimalist. 
You need to define this concept and make it work for you.
I said yes and I always consider that this is still a process and a journey for me.
A process that started back in 2016 with a book, that was cemented when I was introduced to meditation. And it reached its momentum when I lost my mother.
I hope, along the way, my process and this journey can inspire you. I wish that we can do this journey together. 
If not, at least it can be a sweet story for you to read sometime in your own journey of life.

Are you a minimalist?

 

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