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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Very Real Possibility of Backsliding on the Path of Minimalism, Simplicity & Organizing

I know that you’re probably thinking, “Backsliding? Isn’t that a religious term? What is she talking about? Is this some kind of cult thing?” Nope, I promise you, it isn’t. I’m not out to convert you. And I’ll never condemn you. If you simplify one area of your life, consider yourself a success. If you’ve looked over your life, realized that’s it’s complicated, but you’re okay with it, more power to you. If the life that you’re living is a consciously-chosen one, than I believe you are on the path you need to be on. Who I’m really writing this for are people who feel, like I’ve sometimes felt, that I’ve gone astray on my path of organizing my life, simplifying each area to it’s max, and in living as a true minimalist. Everything that I write is going to be advice. Sometimes it’s going to be a system that I know of to help you get organized. Other times, I’m going to warn you about potential landmines on the path. I would be doing you a tremendous disservice if I only painted half of the picture. If I didn’t let you know about the mental & emotional changes & difficulties surrounding this lifestyle choice, I’d be potentially setting you up for failure. I truly believe that in not addressing the very real mental & emotional effect of organizing- especially the so-called negative ones- that I’ll not be able to help you. Many good authors have addressed the “how-to” & the positives of organizing. But I’ve read few that delve into the true reasons of why people can’t make it a lifestyle change for good. And that’s what I want to address here.

Society, as a whole, believes that the bigger, the better (with the notable exception of a person’s size). In general, we are taught from the moment we’re born- both consciously & subconsciously- that the more money we earn, the more formal education we have, the more networking we do, the more contacts we make, the more friends that we have, and the more work that we do, the better our chances of success will be. We are taught that whoever has the best, biggest & cleanest house is the person who wins the prize in homemaking. Whoever has the most beautiful & expensive wardrobe, and can wear clothes well, is the beauty queen. We’re taught that whoever has the brightest, beautiful, most quiet & obedient children got the luckiest. Now, even if your own parents & community didn’t espouse such beliefs, being the global culture that we are today, these transparent beliefs have very likely driven you at some point to do something towards meeting those societal goals. In other words, as I’ve said before, your goals may really have not even been formulated from your own mind. Somebody may have told you so many times that this is what the successful people do, that you just blindly went & did what they said. Don’t feel bad about this. I’m only trying to pass on knowledge that made my life better & different after I knew it. I’ve done that follow the leader thing, too- lots of times. Many, many times, I went against my intuition because I was convinced that I “needed” to do something. Virtually every time, it led to a crash-and-burn situation, or something else negative occurred. Be it taking on debt to make my home more attractive, buying more clothes than I had room for, having more makeup than I could ever wear before it expires, taking on more work than I could ever finish- I’ve done it all. Many motivations drive us to do such things. Fear is as big a motivator as anything I’ve ever seen. And the fear of failure is probably the biggest fear that many of us have. And our personal failures are the last thing most of us ever want the people we know to learn about us. Which leads me to the topic of backsliding.

Backsliding on the road to organization & simplicity is to be expected. Nobody ever told me that. I didn’t know that when I took on this journey, that I’d have so many lifelong, ingrained beliefs to counteract. I had no idea that I was so “programmed”. I even got angry at myself for being such an automaton. But it wasn’t my fault, I know now. You may be one of those rare souls who commits to this lifestyle of minimalism & never looks back, but odds are, at some point, you will choose to do or buy something that goes against your goal of simplifying. One of the biggest reasons for this is peer pressure. Peer pressure isn’t just for teenagers, and it’s a whole lot bigger than just family & friends telling you how to live. It’s abundant in magazines (“30 days to thin thighs!”, “Freshen Up Your Spring Wardrobe With These Five Pieces!”, “Here’s the New Must-Have Makeup for Summer!”), lots of books, religious groups (“Here’s the latest must-have Christian book, DVD or CD set!”, “You Need to Buy This to Get Your Life Right!”), TV commercials, and in Hollywood. We are all influenced by something, for better or for worse. Influences can be good, but they can also be bad. That something which compels you to take action may or may not be consciously chosen. If it’s not conscious, the odds are that you won’t get the joy out of the item or project that you thought you would. The “high” that a new purchase, a low number on a scale or a promotion produces is typically short-lived. And for everything we gain, almost invariably there is something that we lose. When we buy a new piece of furniture, we have to care for it- clean & polish it w/ a certain cleaning product, protect it from damage, make sure we have insurance money to replace it if something bad happens, etc. If we buy new makeup, it will be taking up space somewhere in our bedroom, bathroom or purse. If we buy new clothes, then we must wash or dry-clean them, maybe iron them, make sure they don’t get holes in them or let it get stained, and have closet or drawer space set aside for them. If you bought this item consciously- it was something you really needed, had set aside money for it, had space for it, and planned for the purchase of it- than you’ll usually end up happy with the item. Especially if it fits you and/or your lifestyle well. Otherwise, bad feelings may indeed set in, after the initial “shopping high” is gone.

Many of us have designed our homes, careers, wardrobes, lifestyles, vacations, and more to impress others. At least for women, a great deal of us don’t really enjoy putting on makeup, getting our hair highlighted or spending hours in a tanning booth, but we do all of this so that society approves of our looks. A lot of people do this to simply get approval from the opposite sex. And I am most certainly not immune to this. I started wearing makeup when I was ten years old- at the insistence of my mother. At that time, it was just foundation, concealer & powder. Within a couple of years, I was wearing a full face of makeup every day. I don’t think I ever went out without wearing it. I didn’t then (and still don’t) have a great figure, so I was taught to make the most of what beauty I did possess. I’m a an old-school Southerner- and we believe in looking our best at all times, in that culture. At age thirteen, I began getting my hair colored or highlighted blonde. The more blonde I was, the more praise & attention I got, especially from my mother. The nicer my makeup looked, the more people commented on how attractive I was. The more I dressed up, the more people said I was beautiful. It made people be kind to me- which had always been a big issue. I was no longer invisible, or considered plain. I cannot tell you how many times, when I was dressed to the nines, with my hair beautifully set & makeup applied to perfection, that people were automatically nice to me. It wasn’t me they were impressed with- it was simply the way I looked. I’ve been on both ends of the prejudice pendulum. I’ve experienced the pain of being left out, made fun of, even abused for being fat. But I’ve also had people want to be around me for the image I projected later on, of beauty & elegance. I also cannot tell you how many times I was called “a porcelain doll”, “a Mae West beauty”, a “beautiful buxom blonde”. With blue eyes, fair skin & blonde hair, people automatically assumed that I was sweet, innocent, young & even superior. Not everyone thought this way, naturally. But I have had uncomfortable situations where I felt as if I was being held up as some sort of Aryan ideal.

Of course, people often were just saying something nice to me out of sheer kindness, and the compliments were meant to be taken as a positive display. I don’t deny that I loved the attention, and it was certainly a welcome change from the way I got treated as a less-than-beautiful child in elementary school. I’m still driven by that desire not to be made fun of, to make people believe that I’m pretty, to override what people might believe about overweight women, to prove that I’m worthy of love. But now I’m aware that I’m driven by that at times. Knowing that, I was able not to lose the desire, but to minimize the cost to myself financially & emotionally in that quest. I’m not completely free from the desire, but I am less influenced by it than ever. I still wear makeup when I go out, but I’ve cut back on what I buy, and how much I spend. I no longer color my hair (which is naturally dark blonde). I started dressing to be comfortable, although I’m still pulled-together enough to “pass the test” with others about attractiveness & appropriateness. It’s a compromise. I still care about what others think of my looks- I haven’t lost that desire. But I no longer buy clothes thinking “Oh, I’ll get attention dressing in this beautiful outfit!”. Actually, my clothes & shoes shopping diminished a great deal. I will actually wear a tank top & Capri pants on a hot summer day, even though I “don’t have the figure” for it. (As told to me many times by my mother!) I’m no longer willing to suffer to make people believe something good about me.

My compromise was this- I have one neutral set of makeup, a set of high-quality brushes & one organizer that keeps everything in it’s place. What I do buy is of good quality, but my overall amount of items owned has diminished tremendously. I wear a polo shirt, black slacks & plain black sneakers most of the time. I try to wear colors close to my face that are attractive with my coloring, but mostly, I buy what appeals to me. I no longer buy items purely for the attention I get. I think out my purchases in advance, and if I don‘t have the money for them, I don‘t buy them. I didn’t give up dressing decently- but I now dress consciously. I don’t wear uncomfortable clothes or shoes, even if they do “look great”. I have one high-quality black purse for the fall & winter, and a tan leather one for spring & summer. I own one black evening bag. Society (especially stylists, wardrobe consultants & celebrities) will say this is boring, predictable & too “safe”. However, those people don’t have to pay my bills every month- I do. And I know, if I gave in to every whim, however passing, that comes along in my mind as a way to please this type of person, I’d be broke & in debt. I KNOW that I’m not going to please these people, and I’ve come to terms with that. This is my point- backsliding usually comes from an attempt to please others, make others like you more, compliment you more, or to make things look a certain way.

I backslid many times before coming to this fairly comfortable compromise. Despite my goal of simplicity, I still made purchases for awhile that were not needed. It is an ongoing battle in my mind, but I’m winning it- I’m not letting society win it. I still have to tell myself that it’s okay if people think I’m too fat, that I could be better looking if only I did such-and-such, or think that I’m not stylish enough. My value doesn’t come from the way that I look, the way I dress, or in the size that I am. Your battle may be entirely different than mine in context, but the emotions & mental difficulties will likely be the same. Just know that in choosing this life, you are choosing to deal not just with physical stuff, but you are challenging the very core of your belief system. You are challenging a society, and possibly your own circle of family & friends. They may not approve of the changes you make. You may get criticism for it, or even made fun of. But follow your intuition anyway. I’m not saying it’s easy. But I promise that in choosing your own standard of simplicity, living by your own chosen core beliefs, and being truly organized- it makes all of the hassles worth it.

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