It is just dawning on me that my life will never look "chic," "effortless," or "minimal." Though I like to think that Future Claire will have a wardrobe of expertly-tailored basics in muted tones — shirts and sweaters in shades like "pebble" and "bone" — I will always be the girl who impulsively buys doughnut sweaters at Target and dinosaur necklaces from Tatty Divine.
So I've given up on having a pared-down "capsule" wardrobe, but I still think it would be nice to have a minimalist head space. I'm easily distracted, always on my phone — "I write on the internet! I need to know what it's saying about me!" — and I feel like my ability to hold a conversation like a human is declining.
I stumbled on Into Mind, a lifestyle blog focused on "all things minimalism and living a slower, simpler life with less stuff." The blog is run by Anuschka, a very chic and happy looking woman who looks like she has it all figured out.
I wish to learn her ways, and I poke around the site until I find her 30-Day Minimalism Challenge, which seems to be exactly what I need.
Come along with me on this journey. Maybe it will involve buying chic, flowy shirts.
Day 1: Stay offline for one day.
Oh dear. I kind of assumed we would work our way up to something like this, but I guess not.
Being someone who writes and exists on the internet, I couldn't exactly start this during the week. I waited until Saturday, so I wouldn't be freaking out about the important emails I was missing from editors or angry Internet people.
I turned off all of my social media notifications and went on a hike with my husband, where I focused on enjoying the hike instead of Instagraming it. I did take a couple of pictures — it was just so pretty — but they were of nature and not my face, which I feel like counts for something.
By not documenting the hike online, I was able to focus on looking at all the trees and streams and not tripping on rocks. Once we were back home, I started to get a little more antsy. Images of hostile Twitter eggs and mocking commenters filled my mind; what if someone was being mean to me on the internet right now and I wasn't there to defend myself/obsess over it?
The next morning, I checked all of my accounts and found that nothing of consequence had happened, which made me feel very silly.
Day 2: Meditate for 15 minutes
I have meditated exactly twice. Once in a yoga class (I didn't know we were meditating) and once using a guided meditation app. I thought about downloading another app for this, but instead I Googled "How do I meditate?" and read about it on WikiHow. I really wanted to try staring into a crystal, but I don't have any, so I settled on just sitting there and concentrating on my breath.
It was raining, so that provided a nice soundtrack, but it was pretty hard. I kept getting songs stuck in my head (mostly this one) but hit my stride halfway through. Sounds that usually drive me insane, like the dog gnawing on her paw, didn't really bother me, and I started to feel kind of sleepy.
I didn't notice a huge difference, but perhaps felt a little calmer. The main takeaway was that despite how "busy" I think I am, there is always time to take 15 minutes for yourself; nothing will blow up. (Probably.)
Day 3: Declutter your digital life
I used this opportunity to unsubscribe from a bunch of email lists, including Groupon and Living Social. Then I attempted to zero out my inbox. I say "attempt" because — while I carefully combed through pages and pages of unread emails — there are still two unread messages somewhere in the ether that I cannot find.
This bugs me greatly, but a little red "2" is less worrisome than a little red "1,723," which was the number of unread emails I had in my Gmail.
Day 4: No complaint day
I'm not sure how I did on this. I'm unclear on what constitutes a "definite complaint" and what is merely "an observation of something that is non-optimum." I decide to err on the side of saying mostly positive things, only making negative observations when the situation truly warranted it, say, if my foot was on fire or something.
Things were going fine until a friend messaged me to tell me that someone else was talking shit about me on the Internet. I told my husband what was going on, but then I remembered that I wasn't supposed to be complaining. After giving Sean the bullet points with as little emotional commentary as possible, I decided that nothing could be done and quit talking about it.
I don't know that it made me feel better about the situation, but it did prevent me rehashing it with Sean a million times, which I'm sure he was very appreciative of.
Day 5: Identify your 3-6 main priorities
This one was a little difficult. I wasn't sure if they meant daily, monthly, yearly, lifelong, or ongoing priorities, so I made lists of three different categories: immediate (now-three years from now), near-ish future (three to 10 years), and life goals. From those I identified the five main things I want to be working toward or maintaining at all times. Those are:
- My book
- My fitness (specifically, training to run a half-marathon next year)
- My finances
- My marriage (continuing to be good partners to each other, etc.)
- Family (making time to talk to my parents, siblings, etc. Eventually having or adopting a child)
Day 6: Follow a morning ritual
When I first started working from home, I had grand visions of getting up early and doing yoga every morning, followed by a sensible breakfast. If any of you read What Claire Ate, you know that I rarely eat breakfast, much less do yoga beforehand.
Anuschka recommends starting the day with "relaxing and energizing morning ritual, instead of immediately checking your email or social media feeds." (How did she know?)
Morning exercise is really not my thing, and writing before I start my writing job every day sounds kind of stressful, so I decide to make my morning ritual very simple, and allow myself to cuddle and talk to my dogs every morning before I get up.
It may not seem like much of a "ritual" but it does relax me and put me in a markedly better mood.
Day 7: Streamline Your Reading List
At first I assumed that Anuschka means for me to streamline my books, which makes no sense, but she means my "internet" reading list and wants me to "unsubscribe and remove bookmarks."
Given that I am subscribed to only two blogs (both of which I enjoy and bring me no pain) I decide to focus more on my bookmarks, which have gotten very cluttered with research. I make an "old" bookmarks folder, a "current" folder and a "random projects" folder.
I sort everything accordingly and revel in how neat and clean it looks.
Day 8: Learn to Enjoy Solitude
Done. I fucking love solitude.
Day 9: Downsize Your Beauty Collection
Anuschka's instructions for today are horrifying, and at first I am unwilling to comply:
Write a list of everything you use on a regular basis from the top of your head (without checking your beauty cabinets). Throw out or give away everything else.
But then I find a loophole, and make a list of slightly vague products such as "lipstick" and "Birchbox samples." Once that is out of the way, I do manage to find some things I don't use ever, including some lipsticks that have begun to smell weird and a "chemical peel" that did nothing but change colors on my face.
Day 10: No email or social media until lunch
I kind of cheated on this by checking me email first thing, just in case I had an important email from Emily or Lesley. But I stayed off of social media. It helped that my notifications were still disabled from Day 1.
I got a lot done that morning, and I'm beginning to suspect that social media is a real distraction, just like my father told me.
Day 11: Evaluate Your Commitments
Without being too specific, I let go of a gig that just wasn't what I needed it to be. I wasn't being compensated for my time, and though I initially felt good about the "favor" I was doing, the lack of compensation was beginning to affect my work. When there are so many paying things I could be working on, focusing on the non-paying task becomes difficult.
Day 12: Define Your Goals For This Year
That's easy. This year, I would like to get paid for a print piece (Something is in the works!), finish my damn book proposal, and learn how to butcher birds and pigs.
Day 13: Clean out your closet
Similar to the cosmetics situation, I had already done this semi-recently in preparation for our cross-country move, but that didn't negate the fact that my closet was a mess.
You can't tell from the photo, but there was a huge amount of crap shoved in the back-right corner of the closet. Removing it let me push the hamper further in.
I do feel much better.
Day 14: Take a step towards learning a new skill
As elucidated on Day 12, I really want to learn how to butcher. Sean had bought me a book on the subject for Christmas, so my "step" was finally cracking it open.
Day 15: Examine your daily habits
Um. My daily habits are sleeping past 9 and not drinking enough water while hunched over a computer. Now that I have examined them, I doubt they will change much, but I make an effort to sit up straighter and buy more La Croix.
Another, positive, not-so-daily habit I've recently picked up is running. I finally broke past 5K and though I hate to admit it, I am really enjoying it.
Please encourage me in this habit.
Day 16: Don't buy anything for 24 hours
This is almost impossible (mainly because I am continuously buying ingredients for articles) and I was not able to do it until Day 19. It didn't particularly make me feel good or bad, it just made me feel nothing.
Day 17: Practice single tasking
I'm usually the type of person who has 10 tabs open at any given moment. I constantly check social media when I'm writing, and am always keeping an eye on my inbox. I practiced single tasking by closing all tabs while writing and I'll be damned if those words didn't come faster once I was no longer distracted.
It was hard though, and I felt physically uncomfortable not knowing what was happening in my inbox.
Day 18: Unfollow and unfriend
I unfollowed about a hundred people on Twitter. It felt really good.
Day 19: Go for a walk and practice mindfulness.
I didn't technically go on a walk. I had a long (for me) training run scheduled and I didn't want to also walk so I decided to practice mindfulness on the run.
It turns out that mindfulness is actually a great help while running. I had set out to do four miles (which would have made it my longest by 0.7) but ended up doing five. Being mindful — paying attention to my body and surroundings — allowed me to check in with myself on a second-by-second basis and make changes to my posture, pace, and muscle engagement as needed and I honestly think this is what allowed me to add the extra mileage.
Day 20: No TV all day, read instead
This was kind of tricky, as I wasn't about to tell my roommate that he couldn't watch TV because I was doing a "minimalist challenge." As a result, I heard and (peripherally) saw a bit of the news while cooking, but after dinner I took my book ("Gulp" by Mary Roach) and read in the tub. (I learned some interesting things about spit!)
Day 21: Journal for 20 minutes
This was kind of depressing because I just kept writing all the little worries that popped into my head, making this the least successful day by far. This is why I do not journal. I always end up writing negative things, and once they're out there on paper, they feel so much more real. If I write something even slightly mean about someone, I feel terrible about it until rip up the pages and flush them down the toilet.
Maybe I'm journaling wrong.
Day 22: Create a relaxing bedtime routine
Currently, my routine is watching Netflix until I can barely keep my eyes open, then doing a half-ass job at both dental care and face washing. It's not super relaxing.
I decided to change that by making pampering a priority. I wash my hands a lot, and they're not used to this new, dryer climate. I have a million little bottles of hand cream that I never use, so I lay one out next to my face wash, lip balm, and face cream so that it is incorporated into my routine.
The timing of it all is important as well. Instead of rushing through evening hygiene after a couple of hours of Doctor Who reruns, I make a point to do it all before I sit down to watch TV. This not only resulted in flossing, but eliminated mindless snacking.
Day 23: Go bare-faced
No one screamed or ran away in fear, so that was good. It was also nice not to have to remove my make up before running. (There may have been a smudge of eye liner from the night before. Is that cheating?)
Day 24: Practice gratitude
I made a long list of things I am grateful for. There are big items that I always take for granted like "an able body" and "a supportive and loving partner," but I take stock of the little things too, like "Lush bath bombs" and "all the daffodils."
Day 25: Leave a whole day unplanned
This is kind of awkward, as I made a to-do list the night before. I decide to not exactly "ignore" it, but to be open to changes and see where the day takes me. I end up working on something completely different than what I had planned, but nothing note-worthy happened as a result of the day's "open-ness."
Day 26: Identify Your Stress Triggers
Just off the top of my head, the following are the things that stress me the eff out:
- Unanswered emails (either by me or the person I sent them to)
- A messy house
- The fact that my living situation is not ideal at the moment
- Reading my old writing (WHAT IF I FIND A TYPO?)
- The sporadic finances that go along with being a freelance writer
- A disorganized fridge full of questionable items that no one is eating
Some of these are easy to avoid (like answering my emails and cleaning the fridge) but "finances" and "living situation" are going to take a little more doing. Perhaps keeping the smaller things under control will help with my overall stress levels.
Day 27: Clean out your junk drawer
I don't currently have a junk drawer, but the refrigerator and cabinet have been giving me mild feelings of panic whenever I open them, so I cleaned those out instead. Honestly, nothing soothes me like a fridge straightened. (See above.)
Day 28: Let go of a goal
Many years ago, when I realized I didn't want to be a veterinarian, I replaced that goal with "being a PhD of some kind." That obviously hasn't happened yet, though I've toyed with the idea of going back to school for many advanced degrees, their subjects ranging from food science to communications.
I feel like I can let this go. I am never going to do this. I don't want to go back to school. At all.
Day 29: Turn off notifications
I did that on Day 1! It has been one of the most freeing things I've done in a while; I've spent way less time looking at my phone, now that I'm not being interrupted by Instagram likes and Tweets.
Day 30: Evaluate your last five purchases
The last five "non-essential" items purchased and my resulting satisfaction were as follows:
- "Run River" by Joan Didion ($9.99) -- I am enjoying this book immensely and never feel bad about purchasing books.
- A bottle of sparkling wine, shared with a friend while watching a documentary about champagne ($20.00) -- It was a very funky bottle, with hints of blue cheese. It sounds kind of gross, but I really liked it.
- Dinner at Aviary for Portland Dining Month ($30.00) -- Quite disappointing actually. I don't know if their normal menu is better, but this did not encourage me to try it.
- This bathing suit from Mod Cloth ($85.00) -- A complete disaster. I'm returning it though, so at least I get my money back.
- A new desk ($93) -- Very satisfied. I was sick of working at the dining room table.
Based on the above, it seems that I should quit eating out so much and just stay home and read while drinking wine. This is not a terrible plan, and would indeed make my life a little more simple.
Not every day of the challenge was life changing, but I did learn a few things about myself. Major takeaways:
- My face actually looks fine without foundation, especially for day-to-day operations.
- Keeping the fridge clean does wonders for my mental well-being.
- Running by myself is more therapeutic for me than meditating, and is often the only time when I pay attention to how my body really feels.
- 90% of the time, I do not need to be looking at the internet. There is almost nothing on there that can't wait.
Overall, I feel a little more focused on the things I need to be focusing on, and hope that the habits I've picked up stick. I'd say the challenge was a success overall, though it did not cure me of my tendency to dress like Claudia Kishi.
Have you ever done a challenge like this? Do you wish you could live more simply? Do you long to own flowy shirts in "pebble" and "bone"?