Everything I own fits inside a backpack.
I decided to sell, give away, and donate everything I own and leave my apartment in Denver with only this pack on my back.
My minimalism journey started with my closet.
For years I wanted to do a huge, more permanent “purge” (as my Mom calls it) of all my stuff and I’ve always felt that my closet was what needed it the most.
I stumbled upon a Facebook post about a woman who minimalized her closet to only thirty-three items and the more I read about her experience, the more I realized that this was exactly what I needed to do.
My closet in high school, in college, and now post-college had always been stuffed to maximum capacity. Very rarely did my clothes ever have any room to breathe. I liked the idea of having just thirty-three carefully chosen pieces of clothing delicately hanging on only thirty- three black felt hangers each with miles of space from the other.
Every time I’ve moved, the most laborious and loathsome part of the process has been lugging all the hanging clothes from closet to car to car to closet. And in this most recent move, as I walked up three flights of stairs with each trip to and from my car, I decided I was never going to move that many clothes again.
As I stuffed all my clothes into my tiny closet in my tiny one bedroom apartment that made all signs of hoarding obvious, I knew something had to change. I knew I needed to live with less.
And besides, in reality, I probably only wore the same thirty-three things anyway.
I had my favorite shirts, pants, and lounge wear that I very rarely traded for something deep in my closet or something stuffed in the bottom of my dresser drawer. I liked what I liked and wore what was the most comfortable and the most fitting.
So, with this rationale, I decided I wanted to have a minimalist closet.
I called my friend Katie to come over.
Katie was the perfect person to help. I’ve always loved her Free-People/Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie style and we will forever share a love for jean on jean outfits.
I trusted her style and honored her opinions. I also knew she would be honest and tell me if something was hideous and conversely would make me be honest with myself about the chances of me ever wearing something again in the future.
She came over and we had a Sex in the City moment (similar to when Carrie moved out of her apartment) as she sat on my bed snacking on hummus and cucumbers while I tried on outfits that were each given it’s own trial.
I followed the directions from the website article and (with Katie’s help) I separated all my clothes and accessories into four piles: Love, Maybe, Donate, and Trash.
Katie and I spent hours going through everything. We put similar items with similar items (I had five black tank tops) and picked the best one of the bunch. We debated, justified, un-justified, and argued over which items to keep and which ones to toss.
Anything I clung on to, not willing to let go of, Katie made me try on, stand in front of the mirror and be truthful about the way it looked and how it made me feel. If it didn’t make me feel good, or if Katie decided it wasn’t the best of the best in my closet, it went into the “Maybe” pile. The things I hadn’t touched in years went straight to the “Donate” pile and the items that were too worn to donate went into the “Trash” pile. The idea was to eventually turn my “Love” pile into my thirty-three-piece wardrobe.
Katie eventually had to return to life outside of my closet and although we weren’t done, we certainly made huge progress. Everything was sorted into their respective four piles and all I had left to do was to go through each pile and make final decisions. My “Love” pile had more than thirty-three items, so I had to reduce it down to the final number. I had my final moments with my “Maybe” pile and practiced letting go as I moved it all to the “Donate” pile. I also needed to decide what to do with all the newly unwanted clothing.
I couldn’t believe how cathartic of a project it turned in to. I’d come home from work and go straight to my closet, each time moving more clothes into the “Donate” pile.
I bagged everything up and donated most of the clothing to the Goodwill on Broadway. Some I took to Buffalo Exchange, some I sold on ThredUp, and most of my nicer items I gave away as gifts to my friends.
It felt good to give back.
My friends were so grateful for the things I gave them and it made me happy to know that my clothes were being worn and loved by people who I loved.
With every gift given, donation, or item sold I felt freer and one step closer to the idea of a de-cluttered liberation.
As my closet dwindled and became more spacious, I was slowly starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I was feeling the joy that came with having only the items necessary to my life.
I was left with only the things that I loved to wear, that I felt good about wearing, and that brought me joy when I put them on.
Getting ready for work became so much easier. No longer did I spend thirty minutes every morning trying on outfits and pulling them off in such a rush that left me only in a state of stress thinking about the mess I’d be returning home to. I started seeing firsthand how nice it felt to have less options and less choices to make on a daily basis.
I had no idea that reducing my closet to a more manageable size would give me the urge to follow suit with the rest of my life.
I slowly started applying the same minimalistic methodology that I used with my closet to everything in my apartment. At first, I planned to make as much money as possible for everything I was getting rid of, but eventually the need for money dissipated and the need to be free took over.
I started ruthlessly cleaning out my kitchen drawers, my cabinets, my bathroom, the rest of my bedroom, my bookshelf, everything. I wanted to get down to having only what I used every day.
Anything that I hadn’t touched in over a month was put into question. Did I really need this spatula? Do I even use these mugs? Will I honestly ever use this blanket? Does this wall decor bring me joy? Does this chair have a purpose? Would these books benefit someone else?
And with these questions constantly presenting themselves in the forefront of my mind each time I looked at an object in my apartment, I slowly started getting rid of all the unnecessary items in my life.
With fewer things, I felt less stressed and much happier. Decluttering my home decluttered my mind.
I wasn’t constantly thinking about things I needed to clean up, organize, fix, or buy. I was content with what I had (and didn’t have). I was happy to come home to fewer things in my apartment. It created more space for me to do the things I enjoyed (yoga, art, meditation, random projects, etc). I eventually got rid of my TV, which only created the opportunity for me to tackle the books I had wanted to read for years or listen to all the records I had accumulated, or write letters to my friends. It was amazing how I filled my time in creative ways amidst the absence of my stuff.
My actions became more purposeful and meaningful and were progressing me towards a better life. I reclaimed my time in a way that only helped me become a better person. I began working on myself. I noticed and rid myself of bad habits; I meditated more and worried less; I focused on my health and personal growth; I formed new goals and acted on them; I discovered new passions and hobbies, and I helped others by volunteering and giving care packages to the homeless on my block.
I stripped my life down to the basics and began discovering the essence of what makes me, me without things to distract from the core of who I am.
No longer could I hide behind the curtain of my stuff. No longer could I use stuff as an excuse to buy more stuff. I was left with only the things that represented a piece of me; only the things that held true meaning to me.
Eventually, though, even my most meaningful objects started to pale in comparison to the joys of life.
The more I meditated, the more I realized that stuff is not what is supposed to be meaningful.
Relationships, connections, and experiences are what hold grand meaning… Life itself is what is meaningful, not my favorite coffee mug or even my favorite book.
I started getting rid of the few things I had left. I was no longer attached to these things. I thought about what each item meant to me as I let go of it (pants I bought in Italy, or a photo of my best friends and I) and decided that I could always hold these things in my heart. I experienced Italy firsthand; I didn’t need pants to symbolize my experience. I was there in that photo and remember the day clearly, getting rid of the photo doesn’t diminish that experience.
By getting rid of these things I was clearing up space for new and better things to enter my life.
Minimalism was no longer just about my closet or even my apartment, it was quickly becoming a lifestyle that I knew I could never let go of, only work harder towards. I was becoming happier and happier and my grief and discontentment towards life was slowly dissipating.
I began minimalizing other aspects of my life.
I minimalized my bills. I called and negotiated lower rates for my Wi-Fi and phone bill, which I eventually did away with altogether.
I minimalized my friends. I distanced myself from those who were negative or did not have a positive influence on me. I focused on those who lifted me up, supported me, and cherished our friendship.
I minimalized my appearance. I cut off all my hair, I rebuilt my wardrobe, I got rid of the mountains of products in my bathroom, I threw out my makeup and opted for a handful of natural products.
I sold my car.
It made sense that I was becoming happier with fewer things. I mean why did I need all this stuff anyway? It just seemed like wasted money. Everything in my apartment felt like a weight keeping me bound to a life that wasn’t making me happy.
All this stuff, all these things, were actually distracting me from what really mattered and it was keeping me from the life I really wanted to live.
The life I wanted to live, I decided, was a nomadic one. And this life finally felt possible when I didn’t have to factor in moving furniture, clothes, TV’s, a record player, boxes of kitchen and bathroom supplies, etc. Traveling seemed more feasible without an apartment left behind to pay for and worry about.
Soon, I was down to only furniture, one box of books, essential kitchen items, and my clothes.
And just as soon, all these items departed my apartment.
The end of my lease was approaching and I knew I didn’t want to renew it. I knew that I was going to walk out of that apartment on the last day of April with only a backpack of things. Where I was to go next, I wasn’t sure, but I knew it wouldn’t matter because I would have everything I needed on my back.
When I decided to focus on my happiness, I asked myself some hard questions. And even harder, I acted on them. I took a discerning look at my life and figured out how I had gotten to a point of misery. Where did I go wrong? What turns led me to such a dead end? When was I happiest? What was I doing? How do I get back to that?
And I decided after much weeding of negativity and deep introspection, that I was happiest when I was traveling.
I cried the day I was assigned vacation days and rejoiced the day before I was to use them. I looked back at the time in college when I lived in Italy for a summer and when I took an internship in New York City. I knew that seeing new places, experiencing new environments, and meeting strange and diverse people and encountering different cultures was what filled me with the most joy.
So I started taking action.
How can I become a full-time traveler?
I wanted to turn traveling into a lifestyle, not just a vacation.
With my new minimalistic lifestyle in place, this finally felt reachable. I always knew I had the travel bug, but it always seemed so out of reach and only an unrealistic dream that I constantly complained about not being able to have. I needed a job to pay for things. I didn’t have enough savings to go anywhere. But now, without the need or want to buy things and the opportunity to build my savings because I no longer had many expenses, I knew I could do it. I knew I could become a full-time traveler. And now, with all my belongings fitting in a backpack, the dream felt all the more real.
Embarking on a minimalistic journey allowed these dreams to become reality. It led me to realize what I really care about and allowed me the opportunity to take action. No longer did I have any physical baggage and my time was freed to work on my emotional baggage.
I felt lighter, freer, and more in control of my life than I ever had before. I was energized by my choices and confident in my decisions. I felt emotionally healthier than I ever had and I finally felt like I could live the life I wanted, the life my soul needed.
Happiness became the forefront emotion and my sadness and depression slowly took a back burner. I knew that no matter what I chose to do with my life, it would all be possible and it would all be okay.
Minimalism opened my eyes to a way of life I never knew existed. By detaching from all worldly things, I attached to all positive emotions. I looked deep within myself to decide what truly mattered to me and figured out how to go after it.
I no longer put money, emotion or effort towards things that didn’t contribute to my greater joy and instead channeled these efforts towards what does.
Now, my thirty-three items of clothing are being rebuilt to suit my traveling lifestyle and each piece I buy has been well thought out, hard-earned, and brings practicality and poise to my backpack.
Minimalism was the catalyst to helping me find my true freedom.
As “The Minimalists” put it, “Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”
Each day I progress towards real freedom and work to become the person I want to be, that I am meant to be. The person that is free from worldly possessions, material belongings, and unnecessary suffering.. The person that finds freedom through expressing anger, feeling pain, and letting go of angst. The person that is combats hatred, disgust, and judgment with abundant amounts of love and compassion.
The me that is free, the me that is Emancipated Emily.