I grew up in Tokyo where public transport and bicycling are the main modes of transportation, so I’ve only had my US driver’s license for a few years. About a month ago I was driving home from a place I’m not super familiar with, on a highway I rarely take, by myself, at night. My limited experience driving combined with these conditions were already putting me on edge.
Then out of nowhere, a zippy sports car started weaving around my car and two others, one of which was trying to merge onto the highway. My hands gripped the steering wheel as I gave the situation my full attention, worried that this guy was going to cause an accident.
At one point he slid across three lanes between us, narrowly missing one of the cars, but then he sped on ahead and was out of sight. Whew.
Just then I realized, “Oh, this is my exit!” But it was too late—I had missed my turn and had to keep going. My GPS started recalculating as I drove down a stretch of highway I had never been on before into a great expanse of darkness. I was stressed. I managed to get home okay though, albeit late, thanks to that map.
I can’t help but be grateful for it, because what would I have done if it were a paper map or handwritten instructions like we used to use before smartphones were a thing? Or worse, I was trying to drive based on my fuzzy memory alone?
Sometimes we just need someone to show us the way, especially when we’re lost, overwhelmed, or stressed out. I find that to be true with all kinds of things, not just driving. I certainly felt that way when I had to downsize our household in the span of a few months for our international move.
Do you feel that way too, when you look around at your stuff? Is there never enough time to get to the things nagging at the back of your mind? Do you feel like, “I know I need to get out of this mess, but I don’t even know where to start”?
Let me offer you a map of practical first steps you can take as you start to declutter your life.
I wrote about how I found minimalism, but in that post I didn’t define minimalism. I think most people have a loose idea of what it is, but it’s tricky because minimalism is different for everyone.
Here’s what it means to me.
Minimalism IS a tool to help me make my life and my style more me.
Minimalism is NOT an aesthetic to be cloned or copied.
Minimalism IS defining what’s important to me and placing value on those things.
Minimalism is NOT the attempt to be austere.
Minimalism IS about gratitude.
Minimalism is NOT about suffering.
Minimalism IS about making life easier for myself.
Minimalism is NOT about meeting strict standards.
Minimalism IS creating space or margin in my life so I can fully appreciate what I’ve kept, and let go of guilt for what I haven’t kept.
Minimalism is NOT getting rid of things just to get rid of them, or being antisocial.
Minimalism IS congruent with the Christian faith.
Minimalism is NOT secular, new age, or some kind of cult.
Let’s break these down.
In 2010, my husband and I were only three years out of college and living in Illinois. We didn’t own much, and very little of it was precious. Just hand-me-down furniture and a one-bedroom apartment’s worth of stuff. So when we discovered an opportunity to move to Japan—to Tokyo, where I grew up and still considered home—it didn’t take a ton effort to let it all go. We ended up leaving 8 boxes of various things in a relative’s basement and only taking 4 suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and a sense of excitement with us to our new future.
But when it came time to move back to the US in 2016, we had grown to a family of four and a house full of stuff, as well as furniture we loved and had purchased with our own hard-earned cash. And now we had to downsize all over again.
It was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to begin.