Six Months to Minimal

From cluttered homes to choice paradox paralysis, modern humans are stifled in every area of their lives by the presence of ‘too much.’ The malady of affluence is, without doubt, a ‘first world problem’ – but it’s a problem which can have both global knock-on effects and more personal ramifications. Is minimalism the answer?

How I arrived at minimalism.

My defining moment and the first step on my journey into a minimalist lifestyle came when, after nearly four months of medical leave, I decided to resign from my high-stress travel industry job in Japan and move back to the U.K. I’d been in Japan for five years, and settled in Kyoto city for three years.

For these most recent years, I’d been living in the same apartment – an apartment I’d arrived at with only two suitcases and no furniture. During my first year, visiting friends would look around questioningly at my one table and one futon and ask if I was ‘going for the spartan look.’ Eventually, I gave in and made the ‘adult’ decision to buy furniture – something I’d avoided doing thus far in life, as I felt it tied me down too much.

A minimalistic white chair and desk in a white room.
I managed a whole year with a futon and low table. Minimalism is surprisingly do-able.

And so came the furniture, the desks, the shelves – the stuff. Ultimately, after making the sudden decision to leave after three years, I had to figure out how to get the contents of my apartment back to my temporary home in England. With the price of container shipping coming in at thousands of British pounds, I could see it wasn’t going to happen easily.

Where did all this stuff come from!?

I initially purchased five large cardboard boxes, opting to ship with Japan Post using their affordable surface mail service. These five large boxes became eight, plus another five smaller boxes sent via EMS containing more valuable items.

It was a nightmare. The packing and sorting was endless. I had to wheel these boxes from my third floor apartment and across town on a train to the central post office at Kyoto station, all the while being so physically ill and exhausted that one trip would leave me bedridden the next day. The cost of shipping each of these boxes built up, but the nastiest surprise came when I had arrived back in the UK.

Loading palettes into a white van.
This is what an international relocation feels like.

Japan Post had insisted I estimate an ‘insurance value’ for all of my shipments. Over in the UK, Border Force (that’s the Tax Authority and Parcel Force) had decided to charge me import taxes, for items I was simply shipping home.

Following this was five months of wading through the stacks of paperwork and sitting through myriad unhelpful phone calls with extremely unpleasant Border Force staff. I was chasing endlessly in a vicious cycle of contact details that were outdated, staff who claimed the problem ‘wasn’t their department’ and late and damaged deliveries. After this onslaught of admin, I’m owed refunds, but the process still hasn’t ended. I’ll spare further detail – it was a total shit-show and a fairly poor way of spending my first months back home. And it was entirely my fault.

Lesson learned.

Ultimately, I only had myself to blame for this mess. I’d slipped into the poorest of habits, spending my spare time shopping to fill the huge void in my life left by close friends who had moved away, a job I could no longer excel at and the healthy, active lifestyle that I could no longer lead. I used commodity and objects to craft a band-aid solution to the loss of identity I was feeling, and it weighed heavy – in a literal sense.

The accumulation of physical stuff is often a manifestation of countless deeper issues – this much is obvious. But how do we begin to excavate the core problems from the tightly packed earth of all of our physical detritus and material attachment? How do we find out what it really is that compels us to continuously buy, to hoard and to always be grasping for more?

The solution?

This experience in itself was enough to prompt me to re-evaluate everything. Stuff, acquisition and paralysis had become integral parts of my life and key features of my avoidant habits. They were willing distractions, preventing me from seeing a number of things clearly. I vowed to take responsibility for my life once again, and found that the ‘less is more’ approach was the right fit for me.

Minimalism sounds like a spartan, bare-bones approach to problem solving that only the most militant Zen dedicates would wish to adopt – but it isn’t. It is malleable, ambiguous – a tool that can be used to re-work a wide range of dynamic and challenging problems.

A minimalist planner and stationery.
Getting organised is easy when you have less to organise.

I want to try minimalism – can I still enjoy material things?

I am as much of a material girl as I am a pragmatist; changing this would be an upheaval that just isn’t genuine or practical. I like skincare and makeup. I like my sneaker collection, my photography books and my cameras (without which, I couldn’t do my job). But I have discovered that there is a thin line that can be easily crossed in which having things I enjoy rapidly becomes the mindless pursuit of more. And sure, I love my kicks, but I don’t need 20 pairs. I love lipstick, but I don’t need 15 different shades of ‘nude.’ I love skincare, but I’m coming round to the idea of not needing a table full of acids and peptides. Coming round, by the way – I’m not there yet.

The disastrous move from Japan back to England was a whole new kind of wake-up call. Becoming ill and overworked had backed me into a corner. I had lost sight of all the things I truly cared for in life. Health, freedom and friendship – I was sick, housebound and alone. I had wrapped myself up in the comforts of consumerism, and the weight of ‘stuff’ was crushing me.

No stuff, no problems… right?

Don’t I wish. Wouldn’t it be great if life was as simple or as complicated as the number of possessions in your suitcase? Sadly, it’s a deeper mess to clean. Perhaps you can relate not only to having too much ‘stuff,’ but also too much ‘mental noise.’ Too many life choices, too many tempting finance options, too many ‘passions’ to pursue, too many identities to juggle. Minimalism is a tool not only for clearing out your apartment – it can spring clean your entire life. But learning to mourn lost options appropriately before pursuing something deeply is an entire ocean of terror, and a topic for further along on my (your, maybe our?) journey into minimalism.

Coming along for the ride?

I launched the Pure Land blog in March 2019 and in late 2019, I plan to move to Australia. This leaves around six to eight months for me to put minimalist practices into the main areas of my life before packing everything back into a suitcase. I’ll be simplifying skincare and makeup routines, selling off, donating and recycling clothes and selling my beloved sneaker collection and cameras I don’t use anymore (shit, what am I doing).

If you’re new to minimalism and (much like myself) have no idea where to start, you’re in the right place. More importantly, if you want to know what minimalism feels like (the pain of donating sentimentally valuable items, or the lightness and clarity of a bright and empty room), be sure to add your email address to the Pure Land mailing list to have a first look at the blog’s weekly posts.