Embracing Impermanence

woman with curly hair, embracing minimalism

When I first started this minimalist experiment a few months back, I wasn’t sure how it would go. I have always loved organizing, rearranging and giving things away to friends and family, so I seemed like a natural candidate for this minimalist movement.

However, there was one big caveat – my little “stuff purging” sessions were usually followed up by a hefty trip to Target where I would immediately replace most of those items with shiny, pretty, new things. I mean, Target’s marketing department is on point, am I right?  But this time around would be different. I had a goal to save money and lighten my load, and in order to do that I needed to release objects that were no longer serving me and – this is key – NOT replace them. Challenge accepted.

I can’t exactly pinpoint when or why this minimalist experiment began, but I’m thinking it had to do with an ex-boyfriend of mine who led a pretty minimalist lifestyle. He was the kind of guy who relished in the fact that he was a lightweight backpacker, who only owned only enough clothing items to get him through seven days and who had one coffee mug to his name. You get the idea.

As someone who loves fashion and variety (in clothes and in life), I always wondered if he got bored with that lifestyle, but he insisted that it made his life simpler.  Instead of spending time thinking about what to wear every morning he could spend more time doing the things he really wanted to do. Traveling, learning new skills, drinking coffee on the front porch and hiking. This seemed reasonable, but at the time I wasn’t ready to jump on the bandwagon.

After our relationship ended, I started that well-known, age-old process of removing all reminders of my ex from my apartment. Normally, I would tuck those pictures and trinkets away for safe keeping, just in case I wanted to look back on them. But this time around I felt the urge to actually say goodbye to these items – to release them to the wild (Goodwill and Facebook Marketplace, being “the wild” in this situation).

The process looked like this: I would pick up an object, relish in its memory for as long as necessary, be thankful for that memory, and then decide whether I could make peace with saying goodbye. Did I really need it? Was it serving a purpose? Ten years down the road would I still be lugging it from place to place, hanging onto a memory? Don’t those memories simply live in my heart, no matter if the object is still in my possession? If I decided I could let it go, I would let it go.

As you might imagine, this escalated quickly and went from purging our relationship trinkets to everything else in my apartment. Did I really like that painting on the wall, or was it just something I picked up at a garage sale a few years back and could now do without? Did I really need four pots or could I actually make do with one? Why do I have six coffee mugs when I live alone? And what’s up with those five pair of socks that I always seem to skip over and never seem to wear?

For me, letting go of things produced a rush of adrenaline and relief…that is until I found myself itching to make my pilgrimage to Target to buy more things. My apartment suddenly felt so empty – the open spaces uncomfortable and naked and lacking a sense of coziness I had come to know. I identify this as the fourth stage of grief – depression. What have I done!? What if I actually end up needing those five extra coffee mugs when all five of my friends come over for coffee at the same exact time (which, of course, has never happened).

But the longer I resisted the Target urge and the longer I sat with those newly unoccupied spaces, the more I came to love them. I now look around my apartment and have less stuff to dust, clean, put away, organize and think about. Many of my rooms are nearly blank canvases and I’m finding that pretty refreshing. It’s amazing how much time you get back in your day when you aren’t running room to room, putting things away, and how much your mind opens up when it isn’t being bombarded with visual aesthetics.

I think it’s probably in our nature as humans to try to hold onto things and people, to build our little cocoons of comfort, to find steadiness and a sense of permanence in anything and everything. But I’ve realized these past few years that the only constant in life is that things will always change. Plants grow, bloom and then die. Buildings are constructed, enjoyed and then slowly crumble. Accomplishments and failures happen and soon become a thing of the past. Your body is one way when you’re young and changes into someone new and different as you age. People come into your life, leave some sort of impact, and then move on in one way or another. To expect anything or anyone to stay the same, look the same, act the same, etc., is to set yourself up for disappointment. Where did we ever get the idea that anything is permanent, anyway? That permanence and comfort is owed to us in some way? And do we really, truly, deep down want things to always stay exactly as they were?

Letting go of this idea of promised permanence is probably one of the most terrifying and freeing feelings all at the same time. Attempting a more minimalist lifestyle has helped me work through these feelings, realizing that I can live with less and still have a very fulfilling life.  I’m not totally there yet (I just bought a big, new comfy chair to add to my cocoon of comfort and am currently wrapped in a cozy blanket with a purring cat on my lap, sipping a delicious hot coffee. #minimalismfail).

But the more I think about this concept – the concept of fluidity and impermanence – the less scary things seem. Take risks. Go for it. Why not? What do you have to lose? Failure, fear, embarrassment – the only reality is that all of these things are totally impermanent in the long run (unless it’s on YouTube; then it’s permanent as hell). So go for it. Try that new hobby or career. Speak up in that staff meeting. Sing karaoke in front of that crowd. Venture out on a solo trip. Skinny dip. Make a genius or a fool of yourself. Evolve. Change. Grow. And say a warm goodbye to whatever it is that is holding you back.

…and for those counting – I haven’t been to Target in nearly 6 months. #success.

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Sarah Chahy

Born in the 216, I'm just your normal Midwestern girl. I’m awake most mornings at 2 a.m. because I'm a terrible sleeper. I’m guilty of midnight snacking. You’ll find me drinking coffee on my front porch with my cat, Pirate, dreaming of selling all my possessions to live in a van. I suffer from ‘the wanderlust’, am an avid traveler who must try ‘all the foods’, and am the #1 fan of my two nephews. Writing for me is like an insatiable itch that needs immediate scratching. Sharing truths can be scary - but no regrets - so here goes!

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