I used to do the whole corporate thing. You know, the thing you think you should be doing. The thing that destroys your soul a little bit more every day. The thing that makes you swap your Converse and torn jeans for pencil skirts and heels. The thing that makes you count the days until your next holiday and until your next paycheque. The thing that makes you question whether you’ll ever be happy as a grown up.
Luckily, somewhere along my long and winding corporate road, I had a moment of pure clarity. Or utter madness, hard to tell. I fell pregnant. We were about to incur more expenses than ever before. And that’s when I decided to leave my high paying job, jump in the deep end, and learn to be a mom and an entrepreneur at the same time. You know, like any sane person would. A few months and a resignation later, I was working from home in the obligatory yoga pants / messy bun uniform as dictated by Pinterest, baby boy and coffee mugs by my side. I finally had the career I’d always dreamt of and I was pretty good at it. I had a steady flow of clients, people enjoyed my work and I was learning more than ever before. Most importantly, I was proud of building something of my own from scratch while managing to keep a little human alive.
I had everything I ever wanted: why was I not happy?
I had everything I ever wanted: so why was I still not happy? It turns out, new situations bring on new problems. My problem was, I never had enough time. Chasing time quickly became an obsession, and complaining about it became second nature.
I was working as much as I possibly could, and I spent every minute that I wasn’t working breastfeeding, preparing baby food, playing and caring for Louis. I felt like everyone was fighting over my attention. I was constantly exhausted and used to collapse into bed at night, waiting for the next time Louis would wake up. Which with a newborn happens rather frequently. I had no time to exercise. No time to work on personal projects. No time to read. No time to socialise. And often, no time to eat. I was stuck in a spiral of more work, more commitment, more invoicing. I felt like being this busy meant I was successful. I thought that to be a “real” entrepreneur, you were supposed to struggle.
I failed to notice I was neglecting a pretty important person: me.
You know how they always tell you to put on your own mask before assisting others on a plane? Well, that’s a pretty deep and meaningful statement about mom life. Moms completely suck at it. Moms are great at forgetting that they have basic human needs. Moms are great at stopping mid-bite and conceding their balanced meal (i.e. box of crackers) to their puppy-eyed toddler. I was doing the mom thing, and in a weird way, I was proud of it: I was doing everything on my own, giving everything I had to my business and to my child. I was wearing it like some weird badge of honour.
The hours were long. The days were short. My patience was dangerously approaching a momzilla level. I started to resent work. I started to resent motherhood. And I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore.
My quest for time was actually a quest for white space
One night, I felt like the walls were closing around me. I could not physically stand the sight of any of the things in the room and the thought of full cupboards made me sick.
I said to Tim:
“I feel so cluttered. I feel like there’s too much stuff around. Stuff we don’t need. I can’t breathe. We need to get rid of it. I can’t think clearly.”
Tim looked at me somewhat puzzled, not sure where this was coming from, and suggested that I probably shouldn’t add anything to my ever-growing list of things to worry about.
“Just forget about it.” he said.
Needless to say, I did not. I had this unshakable feeling that the clutter around me was a direct reflection of my headspace: a beautifully organised mess. And that’s the most dangerous type of mess. Because it is subtle. It doesn’t jump in your face. Then it hit me: I didn’t need more hours in the day. I needed to take control over how I spent those hours. My quest for time was actually a quest for white space in my life.
That’s when I started reading about slow living. About mindfulness. About living with less. I’d always been drawn to minimalist art and music, but never really gave a thought about minimalism as a lifestyle. I quickly found blogs, essays, podcasts to dive into. And every word I was reading was resonating with me on a much deeper level than I could ever have expected.
I realised the change could only come from me. This white space I was so desperately craving was not going to come from more income, or from more childcare. I had to start saying no, set boundaries, regain control. I had to entirely re-design my life.
The life-changing magic of minimalism
Fast forward a month or so later.
I am putting Louis to sleep at my parents’ in France. It is just after Christmas, Tim has gone back to South Africa in preparation for our move to Zambia. It is bitterly cold outside and deliciously toasty inside. The bedtime playlist is making both Louis and I drowsy, but he won’t let me leave the dark room yet. I need to hold his little hand. While I wait for his eyelids to admit defeat, I start mindlessly scrolling through Instagram.
I stop dead in my tracks. Two words on the cover of a book. Two words jump at me.
These two words validated what I’d been thinking about for weeks. Joy has to be sparked. It won’t just make an appearance like your drunk friend on the couch the morning after a big night out.
I have to work for joy. I have to design the life I want. Nothing is going to change unless I do.
I immediately googled the author, Marie Kondo, and found out that:
- She is Japanese
- She is a total neat freak and a tidying rock star
- She is clutter’s worst nightmare
- She can fold anything and make it look like a piece of origami art
I knew straight away Marie and I were going to be imaginary best friends, and that this was my entry point into a simpler, uncluttered lifestyle.
Before I could notice the little man in the cot was snoring peacefully, I bought both her books on my iPhone and started to plot my decluttering journey.
At that time, our entire life was packed in boxes, waiting for our imminent move to Zambia. I knew I would not get a better opportunity at a clean start.
I phoned Tim and told him all about my revelation. The books and how he’s going to have to trust me with unpacking the house. Tim’s the most amazing person when it comes to supporting my (sometimes random and out of the blue) endeavours, and he told me he was on board. I suspect he secretly liked the fact this was putting him off the hook.
A few weeks later, Louis and I made our way to Lusaka, everything still packed as per my instructions, except for our bed, Louis’s bed, some linen, toiletries and bath towels. I feel dizzy just thinking about the mountain of boxes that was sitting in the living room. Anybody who attempts to pack every single thing they own and stare at them in the face may come to this realisation. The sheer insanity of it all. The things we accumulate over the years for the sake of it. For the “just in case” moment that never comes.
We unpacked the boxes gradually, only taking out the immediate essentials at first, like some clean clothes, a few pots and a bottle opener (crazy how fast this one made it out of the box).
As we kept unpacking, I found discarding items much easier. Either I couldn’t remember we had them (so what would be the point of hanging on to them?) or I reacquainted myself with things we never used because we kept them “for a special occasion”. You know, the one that usually occurs right around the same time as the “just in case” moment. We decided to part with the not so special items and enjoy our nice things daily.
We discarded over 50% of what we’d packed. We didn’t sell a single thing. Having moved to a relatively poor country, we thought we might as well bring a little bit of good in the world at the same time. This reminded us of the simple and often forgotten pleasure you get from giving. The surprised smile on someone’s face as they ask “are you sure you want to give this to me?”.
Our massive decluttering mission made me love our home so much more and made us appreciate the things we decided to keep for their practicality or the joy they sparked.
As a result, our house is always tidy, and much easier to clean. We don’t feel like we need to buy anything like we used to, so we are saving money. We also found we needed a lot less storage than we initially thought. We know we can go further in our decluttering journey, and we will carry on over time – but I believe this should be a relieving and joyful process, not another source of stress.
Most importantly, the visual space it creates makes me calmer, more focused and allows me to think clearly, be more creative and reminds me to take some time for myself.
I may not have called it minimalism then, but this was my first step into a life-changing journey. There is so much more to minimalism than a clutter-free space, but it is a great place to start.
So if you want to remember one thing from my first date with minimalism, let it be this: if you feel overwhelmed, if you lack direction, if you are stressed or feel like happiness keeps eluding you: have a good look around you. By letting go of physical clutter, you’ll be able to have a much clearer insight of what’s going on inside and work towards designing the life that brings you true, simple joy.