Living lighter: Reduce stress and save money with minimalism

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FARGO — For many, the American dream is a large home (with a payment attached), a storage unit full of belongings (they have no use for) and the opportunity to buy what they want when they want on someone else's dime (thanks to credit cards and loans).

However recently, many Americans are envisioning a dream that looks much different. Minimalism has become a hot topic on podcasts, Facebook groups and in the Netflix documentary "Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things."

The definition of minimalism seems to be different for everyone. For Miranda Roen, owner of Roen Photography in Moorhead, minimalism is a lifestyle choice.

"Minimalists try to inspire others to live a life that allows for more freedom and more meaning," she says.

Ann Marie Stewart, a teacher at Ulen-Hitterdal Public School, says minimalism for her means tapering down life's physical and mental distractions to avoid the anxiety they cause.

In critically analyzing her buying habits, she recognized a repeated cycle. In the fall, her family takes advantages of sales and stocks up on school supplies to last the year. Come the holiday season, they begin buying and receiving gifts from friends and family. When she gets overwhelmed by seasonal decor and gifts, they pack it away in storage for the winter.

In the spring, Stewart gets motivated to clean, organize and have a garage sale to get rid of the items her family has accumulated and, by summer, they've forgotten about what they've bought because they're busy enjoying the outdoors.

Roen has experienced a similar cycle, which motivated her leap toward minimalism. "We spend all winter shopping just to sell all the stuff we bought in the spring," she says.


Yearning for less

Many reasons exist for pursuing the minimalist lifestyle. Roen's inspiration came from wanting to reduce her debt. While in the moving process, she began selling her belongings to make extra money.

"Before long, I had reduced my possessions by like 60 percent," she says. "I sold stuff I loved and I wanted, but I wanted to be out of debt more than I wanted my stuff."

Not only has less consumption led to more money for regular travel, the lifestyle has served as an educational opportunity for her son. Every month or so, she'll lay out five toys at a time and let her son choose one item to give away. At 5, she says he's smart enough to pick out toys that are broken, missing pieces, duplicates or no longer age-appropriate.

"I want him to have a life of freedom — freedom from debt, freedom from stuff," she says.

In the near future, Roen hopes to downsize on a home that's fewer than 1,000 square feet. "Our goal is to pay cash for that so we don't have a mortgage anymore," she says. "I want to show people you can do it moderately and still have it affect your life massively."

Travis Moore, an aspiring minimalist from West Fargo, pursued the lifestyle to foster creativity in his art. "I threw myself towards this lifestyle after a deep need to escape the noise and colors that surround me everyday — iPhones, social media, constant media perturbations, etc.," he says. "Reducing the distraction so I can create more purely was my goal."

He started the process with small steps.

"First, I reduced my wardrobe. I now own six white tees, two pairs of khakis, two pairs of shoes and two nice shirts for significant occasions," Moore says. Items that didn't serve a purpose were discarded, including comic books, mementos, greeting cards from grandparents, picture albums and other memorabilia.

For Stewart, reducing clutter and, therefore, anxiety was her No. 1 goal. With a 1- and 3-year-old at home, she found the amount of toys and time spent cleaning up overwhelming. She learned she needed to focus on herself.

"One of the hardest parts when you're starting off with minimalism is realizing that you have to be about you first and not trying to control the way the rest of your family members consume," she says.

Many fear giving away gifts. Stewart says the reality is, family and friends don't come over to search your home for the items they bought you. Stewart encourages people to give gifts that can be consumed, like favorite foods, candies or drinks or to give the gift of activity with zoo, gym or other memberships.

In the end, minimalism can be practiced on various levels. There are no set rules for what you can and cannot do.

"You don't have to pack up your whole house and throw it all away," Roen says. "Grow slowly at a pace that's comfortable for you. In a year or two years, if you keep taking teeny tiny little steps you will be in a better place, guaranteed."

How and where to begin

Ann Marie Stewart says there are two approaches to minimizing one's belongings. Most people choose to start with easy spaces: bathroom and bedroom closets, kitchen drawers and cupboards, the pantry and other smaller areas. Those items typically have less emotional attachment.

Although it may be more challenging, starting with sentimental items — diving into the purpose behind keeping them — makes it easier to go through everything else. "It's like ripping a Band-Aid off," Stewart says.

Roen says people don't have to get rid of their memories altogether. Instead, take a photo of sentimental items before letting them go. "Take a picture of your kids' drawings they made for you and email it to yourself so you'll always have it," she says.

In going through items, Moore says not to second-guess decisions. "You will have to challenge your comforts. If you haven't touched it in over a week, give it away," he says. "Learn to live in empty space. Learn to derive pleasure from being a human in a simple box."