Wednesday, 1 June 2016

My Mid-Year Resolution and about a journey

I have embarked on a journey. A journey to minimalism. :)

This journey has started in 2007, when I travelled for nearly three months through South-East Asia. I couldn't really put the finger on it at the time, but I wasn't happy. I knew that the general direction was right, but the way I was going felt all wrong. It felt like dancing out of rhythm. Or singing out of tune. All at the same time.

Circumstances (that I regarded as very hindering at the time) meant, that my work/studying was on hold for more than 3 months and I couldn't do anything about it, neither was I directly responsible for it. It  just happened that way. I couldn't do courses, I couldn't do tests. I felt stuck. I felt rejected by everyone and everything, even by university. I said to myself, if I am feeling miserably and university doesn't want me to continue my studying and puts me in this place, I might as well go and do something entirely different, neither work nor study related. That'll teach them. ;)

So I booked a flight, packed a backpack, and set off. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos.

My backpack was huge. I don't know how many litres content, but probably 50 litres or more. And it was full to the top. It sometimes felt bigger than myself.  And it was really heavy. It was ridiculous. Really, it was a hindrance. But although I realized that a lot of people were on the same route with a lot less baggage I just couldn't bring myself to leave behind freight. I thought I needed all the stuff I was carrying. Desperately. I came to talk to other travellers about their backpacks and their contents and what they need and don't need. I was impressed, I admired how they were content with a 30-40l backpack. Some travelled with even less. Nobody travelled with more than me. I was indeed carrying an awful lot of luggage. And I didn't want to leave anything behind. In fact, I even sent 2 parcels with things home!!!
After the 3 months travelling, I came home and sat down. I made a list of what I had really needed on that journey. And realized, I could have easily done with a much much smaller backpack. And I could have done without getting the stuff I sent home in the parcels.
I also realized a lot of things about my life here in Germany. I can drink the tap water just like that. Clean and healthy food is available everywhere at nearly every time of the day. Electricity is available all of the time. I feel safe. A lot of my every-day-life "normalities" are luxuries. I realized how spoilt and naive I had been all the time before Asia, all the time in Asia. And still was. I felt bad about all the stuff I had been carrying unnecessarily. Because I didn't need it and because it was hindering me. And because I began to wonder why I thought I needed all those things in my uberhuge superheavy backpack.

But to be honest with you: There were no big changes in my lifestyle after coming back in late 2007. It is so easy to come back home and just fall back into your own routine. I was back on track with the studying, everything seemed to be back to "normal". Somehow though, I didn't go shopping as often as I used to go. In fact the joy of going shopping just for it's own sake ceased. It wasn't a conscious decision, but slowly shops I would usually drool over and couldn't leave without buying something, would make me think "this is a lovely thing, but really I own something that serves the same purpose already"  or "this is nice looking, but what would I do with it?". I slowly stopped consuming for its own sake. And began to treasure items for their quality and purpose.

Just 2 years later (on the 9th April 2009) my then-boyfriend, now-husband, moved from England to Germany. I knew it was a big step. An enormous, huge, daring "I-have-no-words-for-it"-step. He just moved over. He didn't speak a word of German, he hadn't made any job provisions, he just packed his stuff and moved over. He packed what he needed... This has a completely different meaning for him, which I was soon to find out. I picked him up from the airport. He was carrying two bags. One was handluggage and one was the backpack he had been travelling Asia with. The total weight didn't exceed the airline's limit, in fact the handluggage bag was half empty. And there was nothing else to come, no boxes, no nothing. He also didn't need to buy much. He had everything he needed with him. I was in awe. I was in disbelief, I was in shock. How is that possible? He is leaving his country into a new life, and he doesn't need more than this? So much could go wrong, why doesn't he need more things with him? My picture of the world began to shake heavily. Is it possible to be balanced without having lots of reassuring "treasures" around you? "Comfort knickknack"? If I would have had to move over to England at that point, I would have probably sent huge boxes in advance. Or a truck. But here this wonderful, quiet and strong man was standing with his two bags over his shoulders and me in his arms. I am still in awe.

So, he moved in with me, into my chaos, into my "I have all these things that I think I need or maybe not, or so, but I have them anyway, but I can't throw them away, can I? - oh, yes, they are totally the way and they collect an awful lot of dust, but I thought I could do something really great with this... and I am keeping this for... and that... and we might one day be wanting something just like that... and... what was I talking about?"

1 year later we got married. I made my own wedding dress because I couldn't find one that I really really liked and also found they were terribly overpriced. I got into sewing. I enjoyed it. A lot. I got into sewing historical clothes (18th and 19th century). I learnt about fabrics, materials, techniques, economical fabric cutting, patterns, drapes... I still am learning...

2 years later we had to give away our car (complicated story). I didn't miss it. We were mainly using our bicycles anyway. And we have a great public transport system here, which we started using.

3 years later Little Miss No 1 arrived and I started making contemporary clothes for her and eventually myself. I started enjoying that i could make whatever i wanted for her. That I knew where the fabrics came from, what material they were made of. How that material was chemically treated (or not). I started being more aware of  under which circumstances clothes are made. And  that I could make a difference. Maybe a small one. But every little counts. I started being aware of lots of blogs, where people made their own clothes because you have more control over the materials, potentially better fitting and you can be a conscious seamstress, you can produce ethical clothes yourself!

4 years later we had to move into a different flat. I had to pack boxes. I had to sort through drawers and parts of the wardrobes I hadn't opened for years (!) ... and i had to face my past. I unfolded shirts that I hadn't worn more that once or twice. Or hadn't been wearing for 10 years. I also found tons of things that I had absolutely no use for. Sometimes I didn't even know what they were for. The flat we were moving into was 20% smaller. Also we had decided that we wanted to create as much space as possible, so the little one has enough space to play and run. My husband started talking about "breathing space", "de-clutter" and "unnecessary stuff that is catching dust". When I packed the kitchen, I started counting the mugs, we had. I stopped at 20. I donated the rest. I sorted through the books. I gave all of the books away that I knew I had read but that didn't mean anything to me. And of course I sorted through clothes. Everything with unmendable holes or otherwise damaged went out (a tiny part...). Things that didn't fit anymore (and had never fit or would never fit again...) went.
Then I packed a box that I had labelled "misc. decoration". When the box was full I was really unhappy. I realized I would never ever under any circumstances put any of that stuff up in the new place. Not because there wasn't the space (there's always the ceiling...) but because I didn't want to. I couldn't stand that decoration any more. Especially "misc. decoration" that didn't mean anything to me, really. I re-labelled the box "give-away - take it if you like it" and put it in front of our house by the street. People came and looked at the things. Some took what they liked and smiled. It made me smile. Then we ran out of time for the packing (we had to move within 3 weeks). The rest of the flat's content was literally just thrown into many many boxes, hastily labelled and stacked up. We rented a Fiat Ducato type vehicle and had to drive 3 times back and forth. Luckily we didn't move far away (1,2kms). We moved into the fourth floor. I was cursing myself and my stuff with every floor I had to carry box after box up. And everyone else was, too. I think by the end of the day me and my stuff in boxes were enemy No 1. Not even self-made chocolate cake could entirely reconcile. It was worrying. :)

To be able to move in "properly" we deposited a lot of boxes in the attic space first and then brought everything we needed down bit by bit. Some of the boxes in the attic have not been opened since we've moved in (3 years ago). I vaguely know what must be in them. Sometimes I need to search for something I keep up there that I actually need (e.g. manuals). I have to rummage through the boxes. It's really strange. I find a box full of empty folders. And another full of papers and sketch blocks. Where do they all come from? It's bit like in a storage room of a small "we sell everything and more"-shop. Of course there is also the shelf with the drill and other tools that are acutally useful. I am not saying anything against the box with the christmas decoration or the one with the climbing gear. But next to it sits a pot especially made for cooking asparagus (not been used for about 5 years) and a baking tray in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head (not been used for 10 years). There's a box with boxes (plastic for food storage, about 20). And a box with candles. Why do I own 10 mint-green candles? I could go on like this, but I think you get the gist. It's clutter. I have to admit it makes me feel sick, it is suffocating. The past years we've not bought many unnecessary things (we've tried to make sure the things we buy are well made and add lasting quality to our lives). Most of the clutter actually predates my trip to Asia (sic!). I meditate about where I am coming from and where I am  heading to and why. I contemplate about consumerism and happiness and contentment. About modesty, about minimalism, about asceticism, about what I need in life. And I look at the boxes of things a little puzzeld and a bit perplexed.

By the end of this year (2016) we are about to move again. I have to pack my stuff in boxes. I have to label them. We have to think about which furniture to take, where to put them, what to put in them.

I am going through a catharsis.

I look at my desk. I know I won't be able to take it with me. It is 2mx0,6m big. I have my sewing machines on it, my laptop, sewing equipment that I am using (or have used and not tidied away...), my post-inbox whose content I should have tidied away for the last 2-3 years. 2 IKEA MOPPEs that I hardly access (apart from 1 drawer). A flower pot with pens and pencils and felt-tip pens in (probably all empty/dried out), not been used for... a long time... underneath my desk are drawers with ... more pens... what on earth do I need all these pens for and where do they all come from??? I feel this feeling of perplexity and suffocation rise again, I start wondering where i will put all these things.... and I come back to the same thought: But why do I own them? Do I have to take all these things, if I don't need them? Why do I wonder where to put something if really I know, that I won't use it again in the next 2 years? Why?

Because i am trapped in the thought of "having to own lots of things". I fell in the trap of consumerism. And it is a trap that I seem to be dragging with me with every box I fill.

So, my Mid-Year Resolution is: I am going through all the rooms, all the drawers,boxes, shelves, the attic, everything - and I will look at each item I find and answer these questions:

1. Do I want to keep this item? When I can't answer the question with a simple Yes or No, I continue with the next questions.
2. When is the last time I used this? How long have I owned this and how often did I use this?
3. Does this item add some value to my life or does it take value/time away from my life?
4. If I get rid of this item  now and in 2 weeks I need it, could it be replaced?

I have 3 big bags when I sort through. "Keep", "Rubbish" and "Donate". I have decided to donate the things I don't want to keep. Why? I simply don't own anything of exceptional value. The things I don't want to keep and that are still in good condition (e.g. a lot of clothes) will help someone who needs it and for me, that fills it with meaning.
I feel if I would put it online to sell it, I would jump on the consumerism-wheel again, just for a few pennies. We have a big charity "department store" here in town, where you can bring furniture, clothes, DVDs, CDs, anything really, during their opening hours. They also offer longterm unemployed people the chance to be reintegrated into work-life, they train them, offer apprenticeships. I think it is a win-win situation. If you're interested (and German speaking) here's the link:

Last but not least, I would like to share these three links, because they contain a lot of interesting information. I don't agree with everything they say and sometimes I think you can overdo minimalism (a funny thing to say, that...), but they are worth reading to get an idea.

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