I have never considered myself a minimalist. I’m not a big fan of clutter, but I have owned my share of “stuff” in my lifetime. Books, mostly. I used to also buy food staples in bulk (rice, beans, dried legumes…) before I started eating all raw, when bulk buying became impractical. And while I didn’t have a walk-in closet full of clothes, I see now that I always had well more than my share of decent things to wear.
Now that we’re here in Costa Rica, I can’t seem to give things away fast enough. Most people we’ve talked to here feel the same way. Part of it’s practical: things mold here. More stuff means more things to wipe off, more things to wash, and it means buying (and trying to find) more “stuff” to prevent the stuff we have from molding.
There are ingenious ways people have dealt with this without purging. My favorite is the beautiful curved shelving unit some friends of ours designed to keep air circulating around their books constantly. It works. Most people have at least one small space heater (often in a closet or pantry) meant for use on boats that uses minimal electricity but gives off enough dry heat to prevent mold. And then there’s always the single air conditioning unit idea, put in the window of a room containing books or linens.
But when our things were beset by mold in the first rental house we lived in here, we were simply disgusted, and so we started purging. Now, we cannot stop, even though we’ve pared down sufficiently to avoid mold. Perhaps one reason is our new designation as “empty nesters.” I know I felt that I needed a lot of books, art materials, picnic items, party favors, cookie cutters, and on and on to feel like a competent mother. (The funny thing about that is our son is a true minimalist, wanting to own no more than he can fit into a small backpack.) I do see, of course, that those assumptions stemmed from my own insecurities, rather than from necessity. You don’t need cookie cutters to be a good mother. And maybe that’s what feels so good about this new trend of ours. With our letting go of “stuff,” we’re beginning to let go of the idea that we need improvement. Or at least that we can be improved by something outside ourselves.
One thing we have yet to do here, and we’ve been in the new house almost three months, is to buy mirrors. We have none in the house at all. I might occasionally catch my reflection in the big windows, but I can’t see details. On the rare occasions I put on make-up, I use the car’s side mirror.
Seriously, this is a big change! I can’t believe how much more relaxed I am in general because I don’t see myself every time I enter a bathroom. I’m far less body-conscious, and I’m becoming more comfortable with my naked face. I wonder how accurate the mirror really is, and what part the mirror plays in our tendency to disparage or at least worry about our looks. My favorite reflecting medium has become water.
Related to this lack of mirrors, perhaps, was my purge of books. My fiction collection fit half a shelf in Wisconsin, and now it fits half a smaller shelf. It’s not fiction I buy compulsively, but information – and mostly information on how to be a better… whatever. I still have a relatively small shelf of spiritually oriented “how-to-be-your-best-self” type of books, and another about how to be a better writer, but compared to enormous bookcases full of these books at our old home, the cull is pretty impressive. And with it went a lot of my insecurities about how to “be.” I did keep most of the poetry, which is probably the best advice on being there is.
Clothes. So funny, now that I’m in a position to reflect, how much time I used to spend thinking about clothes.
Muy extraño, I think now.
Though after a seven-week cycling tour of France, I vowed never to wear shorts again, I now have a wardrobe consisting of two pairs of shorts, two pairs of jeans, four pairs of knee-length pants (those aren’t called “capris,” right?), a small stack of short-sleeved shirts, four or five sleeveless tops, two dresses, and three skirts. This seems like a lot, as I write it, but I have given away at least three garbage bags full of clothing since I arrived. Before I came, I had given away at least twice that much, plus shoes. I’m sure I will get rid of more soon, because some I don’t like so much, and I really have too many clothes if I’m not wearing each thing at least once every few weeks. Specific clothes are not needed for any function here: the basic female couture is a t-shirt and those knee-length pants I mentioned. No one ever need wear heels (though I sometimes wish I’d kept a pair for the rare occasions I find myself in San Jose).
We purged a bunch of kitchen items this week, including cutlery (who needs twelve forks when our dining table seats four?) and our Kitchen Aid stand mixer. No necesitamos ahora. The portable massage table may be the next thing to go, as we use it only on occasion, and the bed is a pretty decent substitute. Maybe a Tica could use it to begin a new career.
So many people have written about the joys of clearing clutter, the freedom inherent in fewer possessions. I suppose I just had to experience it for myself to believe it.
*As an addendum, some people have asked what items we really do value and are glad we have here. This is my list:
Vita-Mix blender (for smoothies, frozen banana “ice cream,” juicing, etc.)
Roomba vacuum cleaner (because we keep the doors and windows open all the time and we have pets and would have to vacuum at least once a day if the robot didn’t do it for us – a luxury, but one I’m glad we have, even if it means we can’t really be put in the “minimalist” camp)
Make-it-yourself items (by which I mean things that make it easy to create my own concoctions, like soap, oils, health care preparations, etc. – bottles, jars, essential oils, a food processor and grinder)
Meditation cushions (the three zabutons and two zafus have been invaluable in creating comfortable and ergonomically superior seating, even though they feel like luxury items)
Essential oil diffuser (because I really appreciate and believe in this tool for physical and emotional support and get a lot of pleasure from it)
Pottery bowls and the few art pieces we kept (because we kept only those that give us a wave of gratitude every time we look at them)
Stainless steel pots and pans (the heavy versions are difficult to find here, and I have confidence that they’re a healthy cooking medium)
Good knives (there’s just something about a good chef’s knife)
I checked with Steve, and he has nothing to add to the list. I suspect he could do without the essential oil diffuser, but otherwise, his list would look like mine. Okay, sure, we could live without these things, and it doesn’t give us the freedom of stuffing everything into a backpack and taking off, but it is a huge change from where we were. And where we were was pretty minimal already, compared to most Americans.
So, from 1800 square feet (plus a basement) to 1100 square feet (and no basement) is perhaps only the beginning for us. We’ll see whether the list above dwindles with time, and if we can manage to get rid of all the things we still have that are not on that list!