Simplify by Sarah

The Simplify Series: An Introduction

The Simplify SeriesSarah Anne HayesComment

When you think about simplifying your life, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Is it the end result of an uncluttered home, a reasonable but not overly full schedule, time to focus on the things that are most important to you? Or does the overwhelm of the clutter stop you in your tracks before you even get there?

You want a more simple life. A life that isn't dictated by other people's choices and expectations — even the choices and expectations of your past self. A life with margin, white space, room for spontaneity and adventure. A life lived in the moment. A life that, when you look back on it, allows you to say without a doubt that you lived.

Maybe you see those images of curated wardrobes and homes or just witness people who seem to always have time for the things you only wish you had time for and you can't help but wonder how they got there. 

Take it from someone who's been there, I know that simplifying your life can seem overwhelming. Decluttering the house, curating a wardrobe, reducing calendar commitments — it's a lot to think about all at one time. You might be exhausted and burnt out and running on fumes, but something about that seems easier than simplifying because at least the burnout and exhaustion is familiar. It requires work, sure, but it's a known entity. Not only that, but everyone else is exhausted and burnt out, too, so if all else fails, you can commiserate together, right?

For most of my life, I was extremely averse to change. If my mom wanted to rearrange furniture in my room, she would talk to me about it literal months in advance so that by the time she made the change, I thought it was my idea. Otherwise, I totally freaked out. So trust me when I say I understand that change is scary.

But what have you got to lose? Better yet, what could you gain? And what could you lose by not changing Simplifying can be overwhelming and change is scary, but the alternative is worse.  

The best way I've found to battle the overwhelming nature of starting to simplify your life is by starting small. Trying to tackle the entire house in one weekend is only going to perpetuate the exhaustion and burn out and then you've given up before you ever really began. Picking one thing, like your closet or the bathroom, gives you a tangible goal and the more you progress through small areas, the more the momentum builds. Next thing you know it, nearly three years have passed by and simplicity has begun to touch every area of your life.

Every Friday for the twelve weeks that's what we're going to do — start small and go one-by-one through your home, your wardrobe, and your life to get the simplification process started. This isn't intended to be a comprehensive deep dive into simplifying any one area of your life, but a bit more of a broad brush to get you started.

The topics we'll cover are:

  • Your Closet
  • Your Bedroom
  • Your Common Space
  • Your Office
  • Your Kitchen
  • Your Bathroom
  • Your Style
  • Your Makeup
  • Your Inbox
  • Your Schedule
  • Your Diet
  • Your Exercise Habits

If you have specific questions about any of the above topics, comment below or send me an email and I'll be sure to address them when I get to the specific topic.

Next week we'll be kicking things off with the place I started my simple living journey — your closet!

Decluttering v. Minimalism: What's the Difference?

DeclutteringSarah Anne HayesComment

Decluttering. Simplifying. Minimalism.

For a movement that's focused on removing excess from our lives, we certainly seem to have a lot of words to describe ourselves, don't we? The thing is though we often use words like "decluttering" and "minimalism" interchangeably, they're not exactly the same thing.

I spent a good chunk of time decluttering my home and my life before I officially called myself a minimalist. I also know a lot of people who have decluttered their homes in recent months — many as a direct result of Marie Kondo — but would not consider themselves a minimalist and have no intention of becoming one.

It seems that one can declutter their home or life without becoming a minimalist, but one can rarely be a minimalist — and certainly not become one — without first going through the process of decluttering. 

So what, exactly, is the difference between decluttering and minimalism?

To be honest, it's pretty simple: decluttering is an action, while minimalism is a lifestyle.

THE ACT OF DECLUTTERING

Let's start with decluttering. After all, that's where most people's minimalism journey begins.

There are a variety of different reasons you might begin to declutter your home. Perhaps it's because of a life change — you're preparing to move to a new city, you're getting married and need to consolidate belongings, or you find yourself no longer needing items you once considered necessary.

Your desire to declutter might also come as a result of a feeling or shift in perspective. Perhaps a parent or relative has recently died and, in the midst of sorting through all of their belongings, you realize that isn't the kind of legacy you want to leave for your own children. Or maybe, like myself, you simply find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of unnecessary stuff in your life and you feel a little bit like you're drowning.

Regardless of the personal tipping point, decluttering is an action you take as a result. You might declutter a certain aspect of your life, like your closet, your home, or your schedule, or you might declutter all of the above.

A lot of people assume that decluttering is a one-time thing — that once you rid your home or your closet or whatever from the unnecessary extras, you'll never have to do the same thing again. And it's true you might never go through a major declutter or purge again, but only if you maintain.

It's in the maintenance that I believe many people transition from simply decluttering to becoming a minimalist.

A LIFESTYLE CHANGE

Like I've mentioned before, I decluttered a lot of areas of my life before I considered myself a true minimalist. And there are even days where I look around my home, still feel a little bit overwhelmed by the excess, and wonder if or when I'll be a "real" minimalist (whatever that means).

I don't know if anyone who begins to remove clutter from their life specifically starts with the goal of becoming a minimalist. It's possible that is the case for some, but I think it's probably rare.

Rather, what happens most often, and what happened for myself is that, as you travel down the path of decluttering and removing excess from your life, a shift in perspective happens.

You begin to see how much calmer your home feels without clutter and mess all over the place. You notice how much easier it is to choose an outfit in the morning and how much more confident you feel when you purge and curate your wardrobe. You see how your heart and soul can breathe a bit easier when you narrow your commitments down to only the essentials. You recognize how much better your body feels and looks when you nourish it with simple, whole things. You find you can hear yourself think again when you choose to consciously consume by unsubscribing, unfriending, and unfollowing.

Sooner or later, these moments of clarity and revelation add up and you begin to see that the old adage "less is more" has some serious weight behind it. You begin to see the possibilities open to you when your life isn't always filled to overflowing. You begin to see just how much you were missing when life was packed full of unnecessary things, commitments, information, and ideas that added no real value to your life.

BECOMING A MINIMALIST

It's in these moments that I believe minimalists are born. As we remove the excess from our lives — no matter what area — we begin to see that a simpler, slower, quieter life offers far more lasting value than a life that never stops.

No one wants to live a mediocre life. Even if we all aren't destined to change the world on a global scale, I believe, deep down, we all want to know that we didn't waste the time we've spent on this earth. We want to know that we've focused on the things that have lasting value — family, friends, memories — instead of things that will fade away.

Sometimes I still feel a little bit weird when I tell people I'm a minimalist. If they're in my home, they usually raise their eyebrows and not so subtly glance over at my bookshelf, which, admittedly, has a not-so-minimal number of books on it. If we're somewhere else, I can almost see the images of what they think minimalism means floating through their head and all the ways I don't match up to it.

But here's the thing, minimalism isn't prescriptive. There isn't a formula and a right or a wrong way to do it. My minimalism, as a single, 20-something bibliophile, looks different than the minimalism of a married couple without children which looks different than the minimalism of a family with young children.

The important thing isn't how you do it, what you keep, or the number of things you ultimately wind up with. The important thing is allowing that shift in perspective — fighting against the cultural message that the things you own represent your success, that you must be busy in order to be productive, that who you are and what you have will never be enough — and recognizing that the most important things in life were never things.

How I Became a Minimalist

Simple LivingSarah Anne HayesComment

I grew up as a military brat, the daughter of a naval submariner. Until the age of 12, we moved every 2-3 years, which meant we took stock of our lives and our possessions and rid ourselves of the excess as we prepared for our newest destination.

If I'm honest, I hated it. I hated moving. I hated packing up our life and having to let go of people and places and things.

AN ADVOCATE FOR MORE

Perhaps because of growing up in that environment, I rebelled against the idea that I had to let go of things. Instead, I was an advocate for more — more things, more activities, more time, more people, more books, more adventures. More of anything and everything you could throw at me. As a people-pleaser, I didn't know how to say no, but I didn't really want to either. 

Simultaneously blessed and cursed with an interest in and aptitude for a variety of different things, I was always trying new activities and filling my calendar as full as my parents would allow. When I was finally old enough to control my calendar for myself, it meant one thing — I didn't really know how to control it. I simply filled it up, never stopping to think about how detrimental saying "yes" to so many things could be.

I spent most of my college and early post-grad life insanely busy. I prided myself on my ability to function on only four hours of sleep. There was no greater compliment than being told how amazing it was that I got so much done, that I could "do it all." 

This desire for more eventually produced a restlessness that came to a head at the start of 2014. I was frustrated with so many areas of my life — my job, my living situation, my relationships — but I didn't know what to do or how to change them. I spent January 1 on the couch, still recovering from a cold that had killed my New Year's Eve plans, surrounded by books, my Bible, my journal, and an endless supply of hot tea.

I prayed the smallest and biggest prayer of my life that day: "Lord, teach me to trust You."

Within a month, I'd accepted a new job in a small town in northeast Georgia, and by May I had packed up my entire life and moved from the Washington D.C. metro area down south. I settled into my job, my apartment, and my routine, not yet noticing how different life was in Georgia.

THE TIPPING POINT

Four months after arriving, I found myself packing up my belongings again and moving across town to a new place with new roommates. Right around that time, I began reading the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. That was the tipping point.

The book punched me in the gut. Surrounded by boxes of stuff, overwhelmed by the excess in my life, I started making steps toward change. I began reading and researching and on March 29, 2015, I took the first tangible step — purging my closet. In one afternoon, I more than halved my wardrobe. And in that one afternoon, I felt so much lighter.

In the months that followed, I continued to declutter my home and purge it of excess. I went through my office, my bookshelves, my bedroom, my living room, and my closet twice more.

The more I decluttered my home, the more I felt an increasing lightness in my physical space that transformed into a desire for lightness in the rest of my life. I began decluttering my digital spaces — deleting files I no longer needed, unfollowing hundreds of people on Instagram and Twitter, unsubscribing from numerous emails and blogs.

Again, the more I decluttered, the more the desire for simplicity in every aspect of my life grew. I simplified my schedule by saying no to things that didn't make me come alive. I researched fast fashion, ethical fashion, and simplified beauty and skincare products. I donated and sold over 1000 items.

I kept saying I was on a "minimalist kick," but after more than two years, it's no longer a kick. It's a lifestyle change I intend to keep forever.

FROM MINIMALISM TO SIMPLE LIVING

To say a lot's changed since I began my minimalist journey would be an understatement. At the time I was living in northeast Georgia working for a missions non-profit. Over two years later, I'm back in the D.C. metro area for just a few more weeks, prepping to head down to northwest Florida for a few months and, after that, who knows?

Since that day in March of 2015, I've purged my closet at least three more times, but to be honest, I do mini-purges every so often and I'm on a weight loss journey that will likely require me to replace upwards of 90% of my wardrobe when all is said and done. I've gone through every room of my house, including the kitchen, which I finally tackled during my most recent move. I've even done two major bookshelf purges, selling or donating over 30 books each time (which is a big deal for this bibliophile).

As I've prepared to make my transition down to Florida, I made my biggest downsize yet — getting rid of about 70% of my furniture and keeping only a dresser, two nightstands, two shelves, and a desk chair.

Though this is the story of how I became a minimalist, I don't even call myself that most of the time anymore. Not because I don't have a minimal number of items or I've changed my mind about the lifestyle or anything like that, but rather it's because what began as me researching minimalism has transformed into me simply desiring and pursuing simplicity in every area of my life. So after a couple of years of calling myself a minimalist, I now use the term simple living advocate, because I feel it better captures what I'm after.

Simple is not my default setting. I'm really good at making things super complicated and the queen of overanalyzing just about everything. But after over two years of simplifying my life, I now know simple makes my soul feel more at ease. It helps me breathe easier — literally and figuratively. When the aim is to keep things as simple as possible, it forces me to identify what really is the most important thing.

So that's how this journey began and where I am today. I'm excited you're here and I hope you'll continue to join me. Here's to simplicity and building a life filled with the things that matter most!


I'd love to hear from you! Where did your minimalism or simple living journey began? Is it still something new or a journey you've been on for a few years, like myself?