Over the summer, I got rid of about 85% of my belongings. I did this with the intention of living a more minimalist lifestyle, freeing myself of all the things I do not use, want, need, or could stand to live without. This was not for the sake of bending toward the trend of being a ‘minimalist,’ rather it was more about a letting go and a honing in on many different levels. Now, everything I own is what is in my small, Brooklyn apartment bedroom. That is all. And it feels so good. Especially as someone who has moved more times than I can count, whose sense of home has been so transitory and temporary for so long, all my stuff gave me so much anxiety; I would go to bed stressed and mentally planning how I would move it all months in advance of every upcoming move — which was basically all the time. So doing this felt so freeing and clarifying. But the journey did not end there. In fact, it was just the beginning.
What I love about minimalism, or whatever you want to call it, is the focus on self-care, authenticity, passion, purpose, and fulfillment as a lifestyle. On decluttering your life, rather than just decluttering your house. Because to be real, life does not get in the way of things. Things get in the way of life. And I don’t just mean physical objects or possessions when I say ‘things,’ I also mean relationships, self-talk, baggage, socialization, you name it. All restrict our ability to live full, authentic lives. Figuring out how to do this is really hard. It takes an endless amount of checking yourself, of unlearning, questioning and challenging your own mind. But it is so deeply necessary.
Getting rid of most of my shit was the first step and now I’m focusing on living better and more intentionally. So, how did I get here? Well, to be blunt, I’ve been really unhappy. I’ve been tense and anxious and stressed. I have been and am utterly alone in so many ways. I feel deeply lonely; I’ve been sad and angry and I’ve been sad and angry about the fact that I’ve been sad and angry. I’ve been tired. I’ve been feeling frustrated and empty in a lot of my remaining relationships with people. I’ve been at my wits-end about what to do about all this because I usually think I’m really hard working and very giving in all these aspects of my life. A few weeks ago, I was so restless and at a bottom with these feelings that I decided I really needed to be proactive, strategic, and honest about where to go from there.
So I went to my favorite cafe in Bushwick, down the street from my apartment and wrote “things that make me happy” at the top of a page in my composition notebook. I almost gagged at myself for this because it seemed so flowery, and for someone who has struggled, I’d like to think of myself as a bit more hardcore than this. Anyway, I tried not to wince at how hokey this activity was and to just take a breath and think about what brings me joy. I wanted to call attention to these things, to feel grounded, and to take action on it by seeking out opportunities for those things or making the time to do them more. To prescribe self-care for my own self, rather than reserving it as this thing I tell other people to do. I literally wrote sessions of self care into my Google calendar to hold myself accountable, like every Wednesday I take a bubble bath and moisturize because, God, have you ever taken a bubble bath? HOLY SHIT. The act of being submerged in water, enveloped in soothing smells and heat, forcing stillness deep into your core — damn. Heaven is a fucking bathtub. Other daily calendar events include a ten minute guided meditation and reading poetry for at least ten minutes a day. At first these sounded silly, but being real with myself that I truly do have 20 minutes a day for self-care really helped me hold myself accountable to actually doing them. I even bought an adult coloring book that is currently coming to life with various hues.
And what ended up on that list of what makes me happy? Poetry, art, music, food, being outside and in nature, traveling, social justice events, political talks, podcasts, deep conversations, learning, cultural immersion, dancing, leading, mentoring. All of these things are not things. They’re activities. They’re experiences.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not entirely un-materialistic. I love finding clothes or accessories in a way that may come off as vain, but it’s more about how they make me feel. So, even then, it’s not just about owning whatever that article of clothing may be for status or show, but rather how it makes me feel, the joy it brings me, the way it reminds me to carry myself. And I think that’s great.
And so, what if I refocus my time, energy, and finances on experiences, on what showed up on that list?
And so, what if I refocus my time, energy, and finances on experiences, on what showed up on that list? I thought I was previously really good at this and super aware, that I’d had my priorities in the right places. I mean, hadn’t I just spent a year abroad, basically living out of a suitcase, pretty much alone just ‘doing me,’ not doing any of the things I’d just worked four years to get a degree in? I suppose. But, there is more work to be done, and I wasn’t even happy then, either. I need to work more on pushing past doing things for measurable success and goals and getting ahead in school or at work. I need to stop confusing things that simply excite me with things that are my true passions. I used to focus so much energy on throwing myself into every opportunity I could, setting my breaking point to further and further end points, amazed at how much I could get done, no matter the cost to my physical and emotional health. A lot of this came out of trauma and struggle — needing to be the best, to control whatever I could, to secure my future, to sacrifice so that I did everything I could to be successful and take care of myself on my own. I understand why I did that and why, still, I instinctually lean towards it. But now I am trying to live from a different center and to resist the anxiety that pulls me back to that place. I need to find a balance that honors the intellectual with the physical with the emotional. I need to see me as a whole and living being.
I need to recognize all the ways I have neglected myself physically and emotionally. To apologize to my body, my mind, my heart, for all of it. For at times both the glutton and the starvation, the idleness when my legs beg to move, the doubts and insecurities, the myriad ways shame and fear control me. My silences and the disservices I do myself simply to save face or keep other people happy and comfortable.I want to be more tender towards and liable for, me. How many parts of myself have I let die simply by not listening to what I needed? By failing to honor the importance of every part of me?
When I truly listen to myself and stop ignoring or pushing down what I want and need, I recognize the places where I’ve faltered and where I can do better. For me, so much of this is focused on the body and allowing myself certain experiences.
I want to be more tender towards and liable for, me. How many parts of myself have I let die simply by not listening to what I needed? By failing to honor the importance of every part of me?
For example, the other day I “splurged” and got a Groupon for a 60-minute deep tissue massage. The amount of time I debated about buying this for myself was ridiculous. And after I did, I literally was like, “oh, you know what, I should give this to someone else, that would be so nice.” BISH, WHAT? You know what would be nice? Giving it to ME like I intended. So, anyway, I went and got this massage and Dear. Lord. Almighty. If my face wasn’t pressed up in the face pillow thingy, I would’ve been making some serious facial expressions. The masseuse went IN on my body. She ground up like a decade of stress and knots in my shoulders and back. It sounded like someone was stomping around on some crunchy ass snow. There was oil, warm towels, and hot stones; chiropractic cracks, twists, and strong kneading and pulling and stretching of my muscles, from my arms to my legs to my head to my back. And her hands were all up on my BUTT! I mean, she really went for it. And I was naked, and at first tensing because I was embarrassed and self-conscious and had never been touched or cared for like this, but then I just leaned into the discomfort and let it happen. And it was fucking amazing. Earth-shattering.
It made sense, though. I have for so long ignored my body and my body’s experience of this earth. For so long, I have ignored myself. Thinking back on a lot of the things I’ve been missing and needing, like nature and physical movement and care, they are also all reflective of some of my best memories. In my past year(s) of traveling, it was never the cities that filled me with something indescribable or marked my memory, it was the Earth and the cultures that grew from it, and the way my body existed and felt in it. It was lying on the beaches of Croatian islands, traversing the valleys and mountains of Morocco, the strangers I dined with in Rome, paragliding off the cliffs of Gran Canaria, the generosity of people in Greece. These were so much of the body and of the heart. These simple things, like relaxing on the beach, felt glamorous and self-indulgent, just like the massage did, at first, yet they are so clearly what I desire and yearn for.
I am still alone, and I am still sad. But I’m trying to make myself the best me I can be regardless of who is or who is not around, and I am doing what I can to self-cultivate joy, but more importantly, fulfillment.
And the thing is, I would buy or do these things for other people in a heartbeat, but before I never would for myself. Why? Well, honestly, partly because I feel undeserving. That I need to keep my head down and will deeply guilt myself for any way I treat myself or invest in me, to see this as irresponsible, selfish, and frivolous. And is this not just so typical for a woman? I’m pushing back against these notions. I’m gonna buy myself a god damn massage every now and then. I recently enrolled in a five-week poetry workshop and it will not be the last time I do so. I want to buy a new trumpet and play in a jazz band again after all these years. I will continue to juice and take the time and care to make healthy and wholesome food. Catch me in the bath every Wednesday. Or deep in the woods somewhere, on the sands of another country’s ocean’s edge, writing in a cafe, asking panelists questions in some lecture hall, eyeing the art on gallery walls, hiking whatever literal or metaphorical mountain that presents itself. I will bear witness to the world, and I will bear witness to myself. I am still alone, and I am still sad. But I’m trying to make myself the best me I can be regardless of who is or who is not around, and I am doing what I can to self-cultivate joy, but more importantly, fulfillment.
I will allow myself to come alive in every way I crave to. After all, it is so lucky that I am here, now, alive; alive to see, hear, know; alive to ache, want, struggle; alive to enjoy, inspire, and love. In every possible way.