Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.
I found myself enamoured by minimalism before I knew it was called that. As an avid experimenter with removing or changing up things in my life, I began my journey into the realm of “less” by resolving to not buy anything for a year. More as a statement to myself about vapid and mindless consumerism than a want to de-clutter my life.
Typically I experiment with things for 7 days, and previous experiments have included: not using a cellphone, turning off all notifications on all my devices, not going to the grocery store (eating what’s in the pantry and garden) and meditating for 5 minutes per day. I’m not sure why I do these or what the catalyst was, but I keep doing them because I’m afraid of complacency. And although I love routine, I get scared routine will turn into mindlessness. This is why I experiment. And I felt the experiment into not consuming required more than 7 days to really get into it. So I did 365.
The first thing I did after I resolved to not buy anything (except groceries and gas) was start writing a cookbook. This became problematic because when I required photos of the dishes in the book, I didn’t have dish-ware that was worth photographing—so I had to borrow all of it from friends, including a chef who worked at a local 5-star restaurant (hence the fancy plates in the book).
The next thing that happened was all my clothes started to wear out or rip. What’s an experiment without a few unexpected variables? And I didn’t start with a large wardrobe to begin with (I’ve joked with Courtney that I unintentionally have done Project 333 my whole life). So when my shorts tore beyond repair at yoga class, then my jeans wore through in some places, then my raincoat ripped… I went as long as I could without replacing them, but in the end I had to. Then a few more things around the house broke (why is nothing made like it used to be? and why is it now cheaper to replace than repair?), I had to give in again. Then my computer died…
All told, I ended up having to purchase about a dozen things during the that time. But I did so only after careful consideration and questioning if I truly needed them. And only after I figured out if I could make due by borrowing or going without. I didn’t feel guilty because I thought each purchase through. The goal of the experiment wasn’t deprivation but more mindfulness.
The “year without” was a catalyst for realizing how open my life and thoughts could be if the clutter was removed. And even more importantly, if I really thought about anything first, before I bought it, I’d end up with far less things.
The less I have—in my house, in my office or in my thoughts—the more open I can be to what truly matters. Without a TV, I’m open to spend more time actually interacting with my wife and pet rats. Without a desk and office full of “stuff”, I’m free to sit down and get down to work easily. Without notifications on my computer or phone, I’m free to write and design without interruption. Without a house full of things, I’m free to have a smaller place that feels more open (and costs less to rent).
Possessions now feel like tethers. And if something’s going to be attached to my life, I make darn sure it’s worth it.
Paul Jarvis is an author and web designer. His upcoming book, Everything I Know, is a guide to navigating the wicked and often intoxicating world of working for yourself. It’s currently on Kickstarter, check out the campaign here.