Minimalism

December 3rd, 2009

travelclothing

 

It began when I was not even 20 and I was in a very unhealthy, scary relationship that was complicated and difficult to get out of. I looked around at an apartment full of stuff that was owned by both of us. I felt trapped. That is an understatement. I felt underwater, overwhelmed and helpless.

So I began packing boxes — for him.

I threw everything in that apartment into his boxes and walked out of there with my clothes and a boxspring.

I was free. I was free of him. I was free of all the “stuff’ and belongings that trapped me.

Good for me. Except what I brought with me was a neurosis about owning things. If I began to accumulate too many belongings, I started to feel trapped again.

One of the best experiences in my life was when I backpacked through Europe for two months. I carried everything I needed to live for 2 months on my back. I didn’t buy souveneirs — I took pictures. It was a wonderful time in my life. I was free as a bird, so to speak.

But that was not real life. In real life I had more than what fit on my back. I would move from one college apartment to another with what would fit in my small hatchback. I had discarded the boxspring early on and had a small, twin roll up futon mattress that rolled up in the back of my car.

I think I lived like this for another 15 years as I moved from apartment to apartment in L.A., then Seattle, then Monterey, then Oakland.

Then I got pregnant. For some reason this allowed me to relax a little. I didn’t feel like I had to be ready to run at any second. I didn’t feel trapped by my belongings anymore. Well, maybe a little.

Now, what I do, is I declutter. I only keep what I love and find useful. But I still know deep inside me there is the desire to own nothing and to be able to leave in a heartbeat.

I love those exercises where you look at your belongings and have to decide what to take if you have 20 minutes to pack before a fire consumes your house. Because there is always a mental list in my head.

So yes I am a minimalist in the good sense where I would rather be on my deathbed and remember all the “experiences” I had instead of the things I owned, but I also am a minimalist in the bad sense, where I fight within myself to be able to live a life where “stuff” doesn’t own me, I own it and it doesn’t take up space in my thoughts — it just is.

  1. Marsi
    December 3rd, 2009 at 12:17 | #1

    Wow, interesting post. You certainly sound like a vagabond — or an American in the Foreign Service! Are you a retired CIA operative, Kristi? ;o)

    I’m curious about that “mental list in your head” of the things you’d take if you had 20 minutes in a fire. What would they be?

    For me, my recipe file, my Proust books (heavily annotated from my two years of reading them), my address book, and photo albums. Funny that three of the four things (recipes, addresses, and photos) could all be scanned to electronic files, if I had the inclination. Sure would make the fire drill exercise a whole lot easier!

    How goes everything in The House that Sick Built? Better, I hope!

  2. aaonce
    December 3rd, 2009 at 22:32 | #2

    Interesting post indeed. I wish I could remember where my desire to frequently get rid of things originated. I didn’t keep mementos from old flames either. In fact, every time I start feeling overwhelmed with life, I find myself downsizing. My husband often jokes that he will one day find himself out on the curb, if I haven’t found a need for him “w/in 6 months”. Luckily, he isn’t in any danger.

  3. December 3rd, 2009 at 22:41 | #3

    Kristi- I love this- I think I am an aspiring minimalist- I am in so many ways in my life but in others- I need help.

    Thanks so much for your comments on my blog- sorry I have not been able to get back to you quickly. I am no longer going on my London trip but when I was ;( The majority of the colors I brought were black, midnight blues and emerald greens- I love wearing those colors in the winter. And that fab suitcase was by Tusting- made in England. It’s such a great high quality little case.

  4. December 3rd, 2009 at 23:18 | #4

    Hey Kristi, I want to be more of a minimalist, too, and I really try. When I was younger, and when I was single, I didn’t really think about it, I just accumulated “stuff” like crazy. But now, maybe it’s because I am now a mother, with two little beings to be responsible for besides myself, I understand the burden of all that stuff and I am constantly trying to “downsize” to the essentials. I am by no means close to the ideal I have for myself, but I just keep going toward the goal. As for what I’d save in a fire, you’ve really got me thinking. I should write out that list!

  5. December 5th, 2009 at 10:53 | #5

    Growing up military I was used to packing up every 2 to 3 years so I learned early on all the stuff you accumulate just has to be re-packed up, some a minimalist approach is better – for me. As an adult I moved apartments nearly every year and it was a matter of sanity! Less was easier to move! I understand that people need to hold on to stuff, it comforts them, provides memories, I just have never been one to feel that way. I like a clean, stark look and I want to be ready to move to Paris, Honk Kong or across the street at a moment’s notice without too much difficulty. But my husband has a tendency to be a collector, so it is a bit of a challenge 🙂

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What is it about those Italian women? You know the ones I’m talking about: beautiful, sexy, dressed to the nines just to take the kids to the park. They have a certain something that is indefinable. It is in the way they dress, the way they prepare their meals, the way they spend their leisure time.

It is because they know the importance of la bella figura. Roughly translated from Italian, it means putting you best foot forward in everything you do. It means cutting a beautiful figura. The opposite of la bella figura is la brutta figura, which is what someone might say about the falling down drunken guy at the party or the super tackily dressed woman at church. It means ugly figure.

La bella figura is much more than your appearance. It goes much deeper than that. It is about how you act. It is about how you treat others. It is about how you care for yourself, your home and your family. Living a life in line with la bella figura doesn’t take money. In fact, it is more about how to have class without a lot of money.

Someone who exudes la bella figura will have clean, pressed clothes and be well groomed. They will not be rude or sloppy. Their fingernails will be impeccably groomed. Their hair shiny and clean and their shoes will be polished. They will not have stray threads hanging from their suit hems. They will not be driving a car in need of the car wash.

La bella figura means driving that 15 year old car and meticulously cleaning it and caring for it. It means keeping your belongings in good repair. It means taking time to clean your house and not cluttering it up with meaningless objects.

When you focus all your spare energy, time and money on the things that bring you the most amount of pleasure, then you are truly living a life in line with la bella figura. The best part about it is that you don’t have to be Italian to do so. You just have to think like an Italian.

Italian children are raised to present la bella figura in whatever they do. From the time they are small and are groomed perfectly to attend church or school, they know that appearances count. They count because it is the first thing people judge about you. That first impression does matter. Appearances are also important because when you take the time to look nice, you are showing that you care about yourself. When you care enough to look good, it shows you have good healthy self esteem. Nothing is more attractive than self confidence.

In addition, dressing nice also shows respect for others. If you invite people over for dinner and greet them in flip flops, baggy sweats and a stained shirt, it is really disrespectful to them. The same if you dress sloppy to go to church or even to the market. By dressing nicely and being well groomed, you show respect for everyone in your world.

Having la bella figura means presenting yourself in the best light possible in all your interactions.