Friday, April 20, 2012

My 'Living Simply' Journey: Full Version

Alright, it's time to reveal how things really went down, eventually leading to my current goals for Living Simply

Growing up, I had a bicycle, and an abundance of books and stuffed animals. I was also lucky enough to have my own room. I loved the things I had, but after some "tsk-tsking" from my siblings and parents, I also became quite the declutterer. I organized things in boxes, categorized them, and donated to charity. Although certainly no minimalist, by the time I was a teenager, my room had evolved from a chaotic mess to a neat little haven. I decorated with little treasures from second-hand stores, and a vintage Life Magazine took center stage on my desk. I loved my room and saw it as my own personal  statement and sanctuary. 

Just like any college kid, I was plagued by the biannual move, into and out of the dorms. Perhaps my happiest time in college was when I took a summer course and lived in a strange but interesting house belonging to a music professor. I didn't bring a lot of stuff with me, just clothes that would fit in a suitcase, along with my bike, an alarm clock and small refrigerator for food. I spent the morning in class, had lunch, then went biking for about two hours. I would come back, read, work on papers, have dinner, go for a two-mile jog, then read some more at night. I had very little money of my own, so I only ate the food I had cooked myself. Not only did I lose ten pounds that summer, but I discovered new ways of amusing myself and honed a great sense of adventure.  

When I went to grad school things changed. I finally earned money that didn't just go towards textbooks and tuition. With the help of my amazing parents, I brought a lot of my stuff with me when I moved out to the midwest to begin my grad career. I had my own little apartment with the nice things I had collected, and this made me really happy. However, after a really stressful and exhausting first semester, I was more than ready to come home to rest and spend time with family over Christmas. 

But when my parents picked me up to go home, they told me the unthinkable. The house where I had grown up, and that they had lived in for 35 years, had been completely gutted by fire. I couldn't believe it. I spent most of my winter break helping my family sift through what was left, sad and exhausted. It was a strange time, because although it was a pretty depressing Christmas, it was also one of the best. The fire may have claimed our home, but everyone in our family was still there.   

Still, back at grad school, I struggled. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt being there, while my parents were at 'home' still sifting through ashes and cleaning up the remains of our belongings. Having had most things I had left at home destroyed or otherwise ruined, I also felt cheated. I knew it was just stuff, but I had been saving those things for my future, when I would have a home of my own. How would I replace them?

I spent the next few years intently shopping at antique stores and the Goodwill trying to do just that. But fast forward to my last two years of graduate school, I realized I had accumulated too much stuff. Due to stress and feelings of depression, I had also 'accumulated' 20 extra pounds on my small frame.

Frustrated and overwhelmed, I decided that things had to change. I started by donating several bags of clothing to the Goodwill (yes, I do realize the irony), along with quite a few other items. After several failed 'all or nothing' diet and exercise plans, I also decided to simply walk (much!) more and cut down on the amount of food I ate for dinner. Over the next two years, I donated more than two carloads of items, sold clothes to consignment shops, and lost 15 pounds and kept it off.

Despite these efforts (and believe me, I am very proud of them), I realize that there is still progress to be made. I never allowed myself to become a 'hoarder' or go into debt, but I would love to have the same feelings I did in my old room. As we get older life gets more and more complicated, but as far as possessions go, I want return to simple, cherished, and less.

So here I am again, having gone almost full circle, at least in my thinking. I would have rather not gone through all this, but in in terms of living simply it's good that I did, because now I see things with a little more clarity.

What I learned (and re-learned):

If possessions are taken from me due to situations beyond my control, waiting before trying to replace them (rather than acting out of attachment) can be helpful.

Material possessions should serve me, not the other way around.

Everything in my home should be either useful, cherished, or both.

Excess material possessions can hinder relationships with other people.

Consuming food can be a great source of enjoyment, but food should not be consumed for comfort alone.

Eat to live well, but don't live to eat.

The main purpose of clothing is for comfort and protection from the elements. However, clothing can also be worn to adorn our own natural beauty, as opposed to the sole purpose of impressing others.

Small, frequent positive changes are much more effective (and less exhausting) than large infrequent changes.

Fewer high-quality items are better than many cheap, inferior quality items.

Fewer possessions, less time cleaning, more time for loved ones and cherished hobbies.

A house containing fewer possessions and a greater emphasis on life more easily becomes a home.


Have you had a similar experience dealing with excess material possessions? Have you resolved any difficulties dealing with them, or are in the process of dealing with them? What are your goals?

May all beings be happy!


"Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul." ~ Democritus

"There is no fire like greed.
No crime like hatred.
No Sorrow like separation.
No sickness like hunger of the heart.
No joy like the joy of freedom.

Health, contentment, and trust
Are your greatest possessions 
And freedom your greatest joy.
Look within, be still
Free from fear and attachment, 
Know the sweet joy of living in the Way."

~ From the Dhammapada


  1. This post of yours I found very positive and I really enjoyed it! Thank you!

    The positive changes I've made for myself is to let people see my actual name, label myself for what I truly am which is a Buddhist and nothing more, turning my diet over to a vegan one, and the fact that I've lost several pounds.

    1. Hello Lon! I am so glad you enjoyed this post. Some of it was difficult to write, but I felt it was important to share my experience with others.

      Thanks for your kind comment, and for sharing the positive changes you are making - very inspiring!


Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment! If you enjoyed this post, please share with others. -With Metta, Renata

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