Call it what you will – de-clutter, simplify, minimize – they mean the same thing in the everyday sense of the word, which is to go back to the basics, prioritize the things most important and ditch the rest. That is what I’m in the process of doing.
But why, you ask.
I mean, why get rid of perfectly good stuff that I have use for…or even do already use from time to time?
1. The Guilt
I’ll tell you why: it’s the GUILT.
All around my house, everywhere I look lie unfinished projects and stagnating hobbies. On the bookcase sit – accumulating layers of dust and attracting floating cat fur – books that I bought but didn’t read or left half-read; my cooking blog, the source of so much pride for me in my life, has not been updated in five months; in a corner of the second shelf of my fridge sits the decaying remains of my sourdough starter that I starved to death in the very Mason jar it I created it in by not feeding it more flour in time; the Illustrator™ tutorials that I bought but didn’t complete. On my desk in lab sits a stack of research papers that I have barely skimmed through that are supposed to help me pick better experiments to run in lab so I can someday finish my PhD. Oh, and there are the unfinished Python programming assignments from the self-paced course I’m taking. Yeah, that one; I’ve been on the same lesson for three weeks now. My black cat, Kaiserin Shivani, follows me around meowing and chirping, her way of begging me to play with her, but I only do play with her for a rushed five minutes each morning before running to catch the bus to go into lab. I have also lost a friendship because I wasn’t able to find time to help a friend back home in India with some market research for the new business he started that I had promised to do. A few days ago Keith, my husband, got the worst stomach ache of his life from the Chinese take-out we got because I didn’t feel like cooking, which, ironically, is my biggest hobby.
These are just some of the things I feel guilty for. In fact, I don’t think there are many waking moments when I don’t feel guilty. Feeling guilty has become my default state in life. There are so many things I am interested in. I think, barring video games, fanfiction, and all American sports, there isn’t much that does not interest me. And each time I stumble upon something new that catches my attention, I try to squeeze it into my life. But there just isn’t enough time to do all the things I’ve started or committed to. It’s physically impossible. I do my best to get to do a bit of each – or at least six or seven projects – each weekend or from 5:00 AM – 7:00AM in the morning before I have to jump into the process of getting ready for work. So, I do six or seven things poorly and without being able to devote enough time to any one thing.
2. Refocusing on the things I care about the most
Last month I stumbled upon the documentary-movie TINY: A Story About Living Small where one twenty-something year-old built by himself an 8 ft x 16 ft (180 square feet of usable space) house on wheels and parked it in the Colorado countryside. It is a real house and not a camper or a trailer or a tricked-out luxury RV; it’s made of wood and has insulation and even has a little kitchen and bathroom. Christopher, the guy from the documentary did it to be able to afford to live in the place he felt most comfortable in.
There are others like him living in tiny houses. Different people come to it for different reasons and via different paths. Jay Shafer, the father of the modern Tiny House movement (everybody knows that Henry Thoreau was the original founder of the Tiny House and deliberate living concept) is a minimalist: he wanted to see how little he needed to live comfortably on. Dee Williams – author of The Big Tiny and now a Tiny House builder – decided that less is more after she discovered she suffered from congestive heart failure.
8 ft x 20 ft is the most common size for tiny houses. What can you fit into a house of that size? Not much, really. What can you fit into a house that size if you are living there with your spouse? Even less. Which led me to the question: What would I keep if I were moving into a Tiny House?
In other words, what are my priorities in life?
- Cooking and bread-baking
- My food blog (The Whistling Pressure Cooker)
- Photography, to capture moments in our life and to take food photos with
- Camping gear for hikes and backpacking
- Travelling to new places and experiencing different cultures
- Cooking my way through a few select cookbooks
- My family and my pets
There are things that will be easy to throw out. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never, no matter how free or busy I am, go through with a ckin care regimen that includes using in order a cleanser, toner, astringent, face wash, under-eye cream, anti-aging cream and a night cream. It’s just not going to happen. In the same vein, I’d rather cook something in a low oven overnight than put it into an electric slow cooker occupying prime kitchen counter-top real estate.
Others are a little murky. Somewhere along the way I have acquired so many cookbooks that they do not all fit on a single shelf of a large bookcase. While they are all nice, not all of them are essential and mostly, they just get in the way of me achieving the act of cooking everything I like from the really good cookbooks, like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which cuts out a lot of the crap that celebrity chefs add to make their dishes look overly complicated. I love all my cookbooks and it is heart-wrenching to toss out a single one. On a similar vein, I love my teeny little deep fryer with its fry basket and built in temperature controls, but I can deep fry just as well in my Dutch oven. Also, I’d never hear the end of it from my mother if she found out I needed a thermometer to tell when oil was at the correct temperature.
3. I just don’t care that much about stuff
This can be a rather touchy subject. People get very defensive when you comment on how much they consume. The good thing is that it is also a very personal one and each person should be at liberty to do their own thing. Some revel in single-use, specialty kitchenware, while others will not buy anything that does not have at least two uses. And of course there are people who fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
For me, I have noticed that I don’t mind much when I have less stuff, or less expensive stuff when it comes to most things like couches and tables. I’d rather have all Rubbermaid outdoor furniture if I ever had a house with an outdoor component to it than have to run into the rain to retrieve cushions from deck chairs. Plus, I would rather live with Ikea furniture forever than have to restrict my pets from getting on a table because they may scratch the expensive wood. I spent four years in college in a Spartan studio apartment the size of a matchbox and a thin, threadbare, springless mattress that served as the couch at which I entertained every single night.
Yet, somehow I have acquired a lot of stuff. When we moved into the little Waltham apartment we live in now, the walk-in closet looked so big that we called it our second bedroom. Now, there’s zero space on the floor along the walls. There’s also stuff piled on top of the stuff that is on the floor. And of course there’s stuff on the shelf above where the clothes hang. Christmas presents we don’t use and boxes of old clothes and books.
I often think about the end of 2006 when I had been in the US for not even five months; I had to move from my current apartment to a different one. Keith, who I had just started dating, helped me move. Everything I owned – and I mean absolutely everything – fit into the back of his Nissan Pathfinder and there was still room left there for some more. Moving was a cinch and it was fun. Now it’s a chore. It takes a week to pack and longer to unpack. I’d like to go back to the essentials. I’d like to toss out the pedicure machine that I have used once and the Keurig that brews sub-par coffee at a huge environmental cost. Hell, I’d like to even toss out the kettle and just boil water in a saucepan with a lid on it.