Expat

My minimalism journey // part one

my-minimalism-journey

In 2009, I left the United States for a life abroad. I culled down my already pared down possessions without knowing when I’d be back. I haven’t been back. When I arrived in Thailand, I didn’t have much. I ignorantly made my clothing choices, grabbed a few books and a heavy HP laptop which is now pretty much obsolete.

Since then I’ve acquired a full wardrobe with an entire rack dedicated to my work dresses, amazing speakers, furniture, a kitchen like I had back in the States, more books and loads of teaching materials. Teachers very easily accumulate a lot of stuff. Let me tell you that expats don’t necessarily live lighter than their home country counterparts – ohhh no.

I’ve been feeling rather icky and annoyed at myself for having so much crap. When you move frequently, you notice these things, your stuff that just sits there collecting monster dust bunnies. I went through a wardrobe organizing frenzy when I realized I couldn’t see all of my clothes and everything was just spilling out like an overstuffed suitcase.

But the thing about moving a lot is that even though you feel you are giving away stuff, you are accumulating more stuff like furniture to accommodate your new home. And each time I thought, “Okay, this is it! We are settling!” only to discover some new problem that we hadn’t anticipated.

When moving to Cambodia entered our picture, I knew this was my chance to cull, carve and really dig myself out of all my stuff. I wanted to be lighter again. What was interesting though was the well-meaning questions from friends, “Are you going to mail stuff over there? Are you going to get a moving container?” Hell no, I thought. I don’t need to lug all my junk to another country. Things can be bought again, yes it can be expensive to start over, but it’s a bigger headache to try to coordinate a major move and frankly it’s not necessary. Many apartments or homes for rent come with things already. I can get by with less. I know I can.

// Step one, for me, was the incubation phase where I told myself I was going to only take: a suitcase, a carry-on and a school-sized backpack (as my purse). I started to read the minimalists’ 21-day journey into minimalism.

// Step two involved thinking about what I was going to do with all my stuff. Who was going to get what, as I knew I didn’t want to sell anything. I knew I wanted to give it away. I also had a motorbike that I stopped using. I knew I had to coordinate my family picking it up.

// Step three was having a new resident to CR come by the apt. I gave her some things and offered more things when we were ready to move. I began talking to more people about my stuff, who was interested and the great thing about having this “thinking and reaching out” phase was I started to get better ideas about how to deal with all my stuff.

// Step four was starting to conquer and divide. At this point, I’m about a month out from the big move. My b/f is wondering why I’m starting so soon, but I told him I didn’t want any last minute surprises. I already had a last minute change of travel plans. I know all too well the horror of discovering a whole drawer full of knickknacks that you forgot about.

Starting this process, as in just getting going, was challenging because I simply stared at everything and started to wonder, “Where the heck do I begin?” I went to the post office and got two boxes and started to fill them up with things I wanted to give to a couple of friends in CM. Then I told myself that it was really my clothes that I needed to slay first. It was a doozy and essentially where the serious work needed to be done. Everything else would fall naturally in place, but the clothes, I had limited weight and space.

I should mention that I discovered around this time, Jess Lively’s podcast. Her episode with Caroline was the first one I listened to with rapt attention. Caroline blogs about her seasonal capsule wardrobe (37 pieces!) and it was so great to hear about how she did it and what she does and expand my knowledge of the minimalism movement.

Now I follow a few more minimalism blogs. It’s exciting and I think it fits into my lifestyle much better. After all, I left the States to get out of the “rat consumer work work work race”. Although, Thailand, over the years that I have been living here, has sped towards the customer/shopper/buyer mega-mall mentality of more, more and more. So, it’s perfect for me to recognize where I’ve headed and just full stop.

//Step five involved me creating a list of things I wanted to give away and emailing it to a friend who is helping me with the big purge. I’ve also continued to slay different areas of my apartment like my office space, another doozy. And the point of all these steps, for me, is to illustrate for those who are interested in getting back down to the basics (or making a serious move) is that this doesn’t have to be a big one day bonanza.

I know the minimalists did it this way (sort of), but I’m enjoying this process of giving and discovering what is important. Even more interesting is putting aside a pile of clothes to give away and then waking up the next day and opening my closet again to take out more. And I hope all the scouring I’ve been doing serves as a reminder not to go down this road again because cleaning some of this junk out is kind of gross.

Have you gone minimal? When was the last time you did a big purge and clean of your stuff and space? Or do you have a rattlesnake/rat den in the dark recesses of your home?

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40 thoughts on “My minimalism journey // part one

  1. When I moved to Finland it was minimal. Just my car, 2 suitcases, a backpack and my laptop. Now when we moved to Germany again it was slightly different…two big SUVs full with stuff (also on the roof) some friends taking dozens of moving boxes to Germany for us and still much still left in Finland right now such as my books which I collected over time in those 8 years there. We actually gave or sold over half of our stuff but still too much left over :p

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    1. It’s crazy, isn’t it? How much we accumulate! I think we must be good at collecting and hiding things in our spaces. Getting rid of half is good though!

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  2. You are very organised through all of this. Step by step planning to purge all of yourself – very serious about it and I suppose that’s why your friends are ready to help you. No dramas 😛

    I’m a bit of a hoarder. I still have my university books in the cupboard, and a few physics and mathematics high school ones that I brought over from Singapore. All of which I have not touched in years. I also have more than twenty pairs of jeans in my closet, some of which I’ve had since I was twelve and yes, brought over from Singapore as well. I would love to do a big clean-up of what I have at some point. As a sentimental person, I find it hard tearing myself away from what I have. Think practical. Think practical.

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    1. I was hoping to hear from the hoarders because we all know someone who loves to keep everything! I think in a tropical climate it gets a bit more challenging as bugs and dirt get into nooks and crannies and cardboard boxes deteriorate or get eaten by critters. And I consider myself a clean person…but opening boxes of long forgotten stuff has been icky and obviously I didn’t need them if they were in boxes, you know? We’ll see though. I hope I can keep this lifestyle up!

      20 pairs of jeans!!! 😛

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      1. The weather, that is an important factor here. It tends to rain a lot in tropical climate and if your house leaks water, then you might be in a nasty surprise when opening boxes you haven’t touched in ages.

        Mmmhmmm. 20 plus pairs of jeans. Now, don’t get me started on the T-shirts… 😉

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      2. 20 pairs of jeans? Girl you only have one pair of legs :p you need to befriend some middle and highschool friends and become their mentor.. Subsequently, when you give away your old clothes they give it new lift and it’s cool to see them reworn in diff ways. I had a fav pair I used to wear in college and gave it to a high schooler; she wears them as shorts. I was happy to see the clothes get a 2nd life. You can do it! 🙂

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      3. Ah, I used to have more than 20 pairs of jeans. And converted quite a few of them into shorts. Thinking about doing the same with the rest… Don’t think I need to buy bottoms for the rest of my life 😀

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      4. That’s funny that you mention the leaking roof because the house of horrors we moved out of had leaks. In the room with all the boxes, of course. GAH!

        Mabel, maybe, just maybe you could give 10 pairs of jeans away? 😛

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      5. Oh dear. Hopefully your new place is much better. Apart from water leaks, there’s always the cockroach issue…

        I think I won’t be buying anymore jeans for a long time. Let alone casual pants 😀

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  3. When I decided to move to South Africa I literally dismantled my entire life, whittling a three-story townhouse down to three suitcases. Now I’ve been living in the same house in Joburg for five years and I’m about to move again, albeit just up the street. Despite my best efforts to accumulate as little as possible over the years, I also have a lot to get rid of. So thanks for the inspiration! I need to check out the minimalists.

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    1. I swear things multiply when we are not looking. I’ve been too sentimental and kind in taking in things from expats going home and as a result I have a lot of stuff. But I’m getting there and it feels good.

      Hope the minimalists provide thoughtful/meaningful prompts for you, too. 🙂

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  4. I don’t think I have much stuff. I only buy what I need… most of the times xD I am able to save a lot so that means I don’t spend a lot. However, things tend to accumulate, haha.
    I came to China with 2 suitcases. 6 months ago we moved houses and we needed a van to carry everything… uh. But the thing is… I am happy and satisfied, so I don’t think I need to go minimalistic yet 😛
    A friend went back to Spain last week after 7 years in China and she had so much stuff… I got 2 suitcases full of clothes but she could have filled a shipping container!

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    1. Yes, I have gotten more than half of my wardrobe from friends leaving and hand-me-downs. It’s glorious, really. Expats are very good at recycling and reusing. But every once in a while, it feels great to purge and share what I don’t need with someone else who hopefully will benefit from something I no longer use.

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  5. I hear you about having less stuff. Sadly, I’m a hoarder. You never know when something is going to come in handy, whether it’s old notes about WWII movies or old dance costumes. Especially when I’m blogging about my past under a pseudonym.

    Andy is NOT a hoarder (except for spices). He sold my bed without my permission at our first joint garage sale. (“But I got a great price, honey!”)

    He’s always trying to persuade me to get rid of stuff: “You’ve never even worn those dance shoes!”

    “No! I might need them someday!” And I did. I needed them for my staged photos about our wedding dance in my blog. Hoarding is good. 🙂

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    1. Hoarding is not good! *laughter* But I understand the need. I don’t like clutter and too much stuff. I’m not Better Homes and Garden enough to keep it clean, organzied and beautiful.

      And since I’ve moved a lot, it gets a wee bit exhausting and embarassing to keep lugging around the same things I never use. I think going minimal is WAY more challenging if you are settled and cozy.

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  6. This is a fun read for my lunch break! I am in the middle where I don’t buy much stuff so I’m not a big hoarder but at the same time I don’t throw stuff away because it’s hard to let go.

    About the clothes though, I have a rule that if I buy a new piece of clothing I have to get rid of an old piece of clothing. Not quite minimalist but it’s a start!

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    1. My friend JP is the same way with her wardrobe. I think it’s a good rule. So many of us have these crazy closets (see Mabel :P) like me when I was trying to organize my shirts so I could see them all.

      I mean, I go for the same ones anyways. So, giving away all those other things don’t make much of a difference. If anything having less makes you wear the clothes you have a tendency to forget. Isn’t that odd? Less, but greater variety.

      Glad you liked it 🙂 Thanks!

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  7. Ha, we just moved to a smaller home, which gave us a perfect excuse to get rid of stuff we don’t need. And even though I am not a hoarder, there was still plenty to get rid of. And it felt good. It also felt good to buy new furniture, furniture that fits the new home rather than “making it work”.

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    1. Absolutely. Making room for newer stuff, better stuff, stuff that fits you right now.

      When we move into our new digs I’m looking forward to creating a home b/c here I never did. Life in CR was too transient and stressful.

      Smaller home. Yeaa! 😀

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  8. When I sold my condo home in Toronto to move across Canada…4,800 km. west to Vancouver BC, I gave away some furniture to family, some books. But I threw out a perfectly good mattress *14 yrs. old, a large heavy stained glass art piece I made…

    The tough part where you live, is you don’t have immediate family to give away stuff if they want it.

    Since then, I’ve had to accumulate more stuff because I moved to Alberta where I accepted a job. So I had to buy a bed, etc. Yes, physical assets can weigh down a person psychologically. I have to do more culling for clothing I haven’t worn in 10 years..

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    1. Yeah, no doubt, we need our comforts. It’s funny my old b/f kept his bed because it was a good bed and now it’s just sitting in storage since he’s overseas, going on 5 years. I wonder how good it is (as far as smells) at this point.

      That’s what I hate about getting rid of stuff or deciding to keep it. We don’t know what the future holds.

      At the end of the day though, I’m a practical gal and it has to make sense. I’m not very sentimental so that helps. But I’m not perfect by any means, I had my family keep some clothes that I probably should have just given away…parting with things that were gifts is probably the hardest for me.

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      1. Clothing is a big deal for me because some of it I sewed it from scratch while others took time to find the off-the-rack clothing that fitted me, with right colour, etc.

        But after reading this post, I was reminded and stuffed 2 shopping bags with clothing I haven’t worn in past decade for donation.

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  9. I hear ya! It is amazing the amount of belongings you accumulate as an expat. When my husband and I decided to move from Taipei to where we live now, we started the moving process 6 months in advance. Every time visited his parents, we would take a load of stuff with us [his family home is not far from where we live]. By the time moving day rolled around, we only had our big items of furniture for the movers.

    Now, however, we only buy the things we truly need and throw away the things we don’t use. I don’t really like clutter.

    But the crazy part about it all is I moved to Taiwan all those years ago with two suitcases and a backpack.

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  10. I have gone minimal… when we left the states we had 2 large suitcases for all three of us. Admittedly our keepsakes are in my sister-in-laws attic. But besides that we had nothing but what we carried. Now that we settled for a bit though we have accumulated quite a bit more. We refuse to buy anything big unless we are willing to have it shipped to our next settling place though.
    Sounds like you are being smart about this! Good luck with everything!

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    1. Thank you Jenny. I was just telling the man that today is the first day I woke up not worrying about everything 😛 Finally, I feel like I can trust everything will be taken care of. This is when having a lot of stuff is stressful!

      It’s good that you all are thinking about where your stuff will be/go in the future. Hope your visit with your mom is smashing 🙂

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  11. I appreciate the candor and openness of your posts. You really do speak from your heart. We have been thinking of you often lately and wishing you the easiest of transitions for your move to Cambodia.
    We have been in Thailand for a year and have moved twice since our initial landing site. I understand your feeling of “Giving Away” your things. We also gave away when we left the US and when we moved 10 hours south from Chiang Mai to Hua Hin. The big things I bought because I said, “We are home!” had to be left behind.
    The place we call home now is feeling very cozy and comfortable with the furnishings that were already here and I have put out a few personal items that make it feel more like home. I think we are going to be here for some time to come.

    I have the two carry on size suite cases under the bed with some “winter” clothes packed away. We try to travel twice a year to Japan and other places that are not nearly as hot as Thailand. I have long sleeves and jeans and one light weight down jacket that fits in a small stuff bag, several pair of wool socks and a couple of pashmina scarves. Vince has more clothes than me!

    Two things I brought with me and have not used are a double size quilt I made and a lap quilt that my daughter in law made me for Mother’s Day years ago. I just can’t part with them. I might move to a cold climate some day! 🙂 But for now, If I feel the need for a cozy wrap up and a cup of hot coco I can crank up the air conditioning and have a snuggle!

    As much as you want to minimize…….Remember, having a few special things around might help you feel at home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vince probably has more hats than you, too, eh? 😛

      Thank you for thinking of me! You are too kind. Yes, I have those special things and I kept a few more irreplacables with my family in Lamphun.

      Nevertheless, an awesome reminder that those little things make a big difference in making a house feel like a home. Hugs ^^

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  12. It’s crazy how stuff multiplies! I went minimalist when I moved abroad. . .but I still have a ton of crap in my parents’ attic that I need to go through someday. We just moved to a new apartment last weekend and we’re trying to use it as an opportunity to get rid of all the stuff that we just don’t use. Except my books. The nice thing about being back home is that I can have almost all of my books at my disposal 🙂

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    1. Yeah, books don’t count – at all. I miss that about having a sedentary lifestyle. And having art on the walls.

      Although the next place we move into, I don’t care, I’m putting up some art.

      Yeah, read about your move. I hope it is fun! New space! Time to decorate! Woohoo!

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  13. So yeah, this is pretty darn applicable right now. Putting most of my stuff in boxes to give away or store long term (books, darn them, just can’t get rid of), seems like it’ll leave me with so little to take, but I think I’ll end up with more than I want. I have art supplies and stationary and essential oils and other crafty things that would be a hassle to re-purchase…

    But I think I’m going minimal, for all that. Leaving behind all this furniture, the extra clothes (talk about getting rid of stuff and then waking up to get rid of more..BEST feeling), all my books, tea cups, etc. Once I’m away from them for a year, maybe I won’t feel the need to bring them over. That’s what I’m hoping.

    I think, for me, part of the draw of downsizing before a big move is the chance to start new. I’m the type who loves starting things. I love blank slates. I love making something my own in slightly new ways each time. I hate my current furniture. Most of it was mine from a long time ago or thrift store finds. I can’t wait to start in a fresh apartment and buy my own furniture that I like, with colors I like, and not have to worry about anybody else’s tastes. Then, doing it again in five years or however long – well, it will be fun again, and knowing my semi-impermanent state will keep me from becoming too attached and weighed down with stuff. Hopefully.

    Good luck with the last stages of your move!

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    1. You brought up a good point. I think minimalism is not just getting rid of clutter, but also shaping your stuff to fit your needs now.

      Yes, my wardrobe has been thinned out significantly, but I now have room for thoughtful pieces and clothes that will work better for my environment/age/lifestyle.

      And this includes the home! I’m excited to find new digs and decorate. It sounds like you are, too. Woohoo. Can’t wait to swap decorating ideas. Hahahhaha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yaaasss. (<<sorry) Actually it's funny, my best friend just got her first apartment, and we went shopping together. Her style is the exact opposite of mine. She's all into tans, leather, neutral, minimal, modern stuff, and I like colorful, patterned, cute, whimsical stuff. I told her we'd have to Facetime when I'm in Korea so she can shop with me too, but she'd probably have a heart attack if she saw my place (the one I want).

        Yes to the thoughtful pieces! Let's vow to be intentional in our choices, eh?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I like color, too. I could never live in a neutral home, unless there were pops of color. Yes, we will be intentional! Yaassss.

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