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  • Writer's pictureJaime Pollard-Smith

Malfunctioning Minimalist

And I want to tell her to do more than just believe it,

but to enjoy it!

That changing your mind is one of the best ways

of finding out whether or not you still have one.

-Taylor Mali, “Like Lilly Like Wilson”

I started off in January declaring 2017 to be my year of minimalism. My best friend also adopted this goal. Well, she won. She swept through her entire house in less than a week. She made a budgetary plan to minimize spending. A third of her belongings were at Goodwill by mid-month. She is so annoyingly efficient and productive.

I get really excited and talk about doing things but then fail the actual doing part.

I minimized approximately two closets, one cabinet and a few junk drawers. I never even got to my own closet, which is currently exploding and overflowing with clothing from another lifetime. The rule says if it hasn’t been worn in six months, toss it. I don’t even know who wore these clothes. There was the all-black NYC Jaime, the REI Colorado Jaime, the runner Jaime, and so on.

I am not sure why I thought this concept would ever work in my life. When I leave the house in the morning, I have a gym bag, computer bag, writing bag, grading bag, lunch bag and my purse. My friend, Angelina, says that our bags should never cross contaminate. I agree. I need to keep things compartmentalized so I don’t wear a sports bra and spandex to a workshop or show up to a CrossFit competition with a creative non-fiction piece and red pens. Minimizing my load would simply create confusion and potentially embarrassing situations.

While I agree with some of the minimalist philosophies, I have become intentional in adopting only what works for my family. I am completely on board with spending our money on making memories (trips, adventures, etc.) rather than on things. I also agree that we are pursuing a feeling, not the attainment of a certain goal or material object. Simply owning something or checking it off a bucket list does not mean I will experience the bliss or joy I was hoping to find.

Yes, I can appreciate the minimalist redirection of our energy to our present moment and mindfulness over attachment to physical objects. However, I also know that happiness is not found - it is created. For me, that creative process occasionally requires stuff.

Recently, I converted our guest room into my “spirit room.” As Virginia Woolf reminds me, I need a room of my own. I schlepped a random chair and leftover, odd furniture pieces up to our second floor. These eclectic misfits were on the list to be donated but instead have been refurbished as my glorious, creative workspace overlooking the trees. It came not from minimizing but from revising (literally meaning ‘to see again’) some of the objects in my life and reframing the way I use them. “Mom, it’s like those shows on tv. You took all these old things and used them to make something new.” My son is such an old soul.

“Half my life is an act of revision.” True dat, John Irving! The ability to change our mind is necessary for learning to trust ourselves and to become the authority in our own lives.

It is easy to be tricked into giving away our power to experts and authorities. We jump on the latest trend or follow the newest fad in an earnest attempt to improve ourselves. As demonstrated by my fleeting experimentation with minimalism, I am the WORST.

Anything I do, I do it with complete gusto. Give me an idea, and I will have fifteen books on hold at the library in seconds. Sometimes, this quality is helpful. Other times, I just come across as unstable and manic. This process is teaching me that I can look into something, try it on for size, and then decide to change my mind. Every time I find a theory or philosophy that doesn’t fit, I get one step closer to determining what I would like to fit.

I never claim to have it all figured out.

I tell my kids what I believe to be the best answer and then I add a big fat asterisk, much like the note at the bottom of my syllabus: *SUBJECT TO CHANGE. If we find a better way of venturing through life, we will adjust. No minimal requirements.

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