Tag Archives: minimalism


By Maile Sundquist

I remember watching an episode of Hoarders where a counselor was talking with a woman who hoarded, who still had her young teenage boy under her roof.  They were discussing her behavior and addressing the piles and boxes filled with everything he had ever owned or created.  The counselor asked the woman about the significance of several items from one of the boxes and the woman gave an excuse and reason why each item was special and had to be kept.  The counselor then said something I’ll never forget.  In so many words, “Your son is here, with you, still alive, and you are missing out on making new memories with him by holding onto all of these items from the past and clinging to the memories of yesterday.  You and your son’s relationship is being suffocated by your stuff”.  It was heart breaking and tragic, as most of those episodes are, but the counselor made such a good point!  

You have to grow with things, whether it be a child or your circumstances, and embrace the change.  If we fight or deny the only constant in life other than death and taxes, we will always lose, being left resentful, frustrated and stuck in the past.

Change can seriously suck sometimes.  Like trying to fit into your wedding dress 5 years, or in my case a year later and not being able to get it past my ankle, or getting crows feet or a divorce.  I love feeling in control and having things just so, a perfect orchestrated masterpiece of efficiency and harmony that I can rely on.  Alas, this only lasts a short time before “change” rears it’s ugly head.  We can only control so much for so long before the winds of change put a snag in our plans.  But maybe it’s not always for the worse.  I know I could benefit from letting go and letting God more often.  Change can bring beauty and healing as well as frustration and stress.  Think of the changing of seasons!

Often people are shocked to find out that Fall is my favorite season.  “Everything dies in Fall.”, they always say.  What I love about Fall, other than the crisp air, blue skies and beautiful colors, is the fact that it makes room for new growth and rebirth come Spring.  Without the dying off of the old, bad habits, there’s not room to create new good habits.  Without the letting go of regrets of the past, there would not be time or mental and physical energy to create new memories and live each moment to it’s fullest!

Although I live simply in a minimalist lifestyle, I can relate to the hoarding mom a bit now that I have a son of my own.  Seriously, watching my son grow up has been insane!  A total emotionally charged blast!  Now that he is over a year old my husband and I are already finding ourselves reminiscing about when he was a newborn, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months.  And what I would have never thought of before being a parent is just how much there is to reminisce about in such a short period of time because they grow and change so incredibly fast their first year of life.  Sentimentality kicks into overdrive when you become a parent, and I definitely have felt the hoarding bug crawling up my leg more than once, but every time I do I recall the words of the counselor in Hoarders and remember how much better it is to embrace change in life.  Cherish yesterday, but live in today embracing every facet of the now.  

Don’t lose the present by holding too tightly to the past.

“Live BRIGHT!”

A Drawer Full of Dreams

A Drawer Full of Dreams
By Maile Sundquist

My son has entered the stage where he’s catching onto the fact that there is a big, crazy world going on around him.  I’ve noticed lately during feedings that he’ll suck for a moment then pop off my breast to flash me an adorably gummy grin then pop back on only to pop back off at the movement of my husband through the room then back on, oh, but not before a detailed examination of his hands.  A truck drives by our street – off again, on again.  A knock at our neighbor’s door two houses down – off again with another quick smile to me before popping back on, just to pop back off at the sound of a flea fart.

After reading up on this phenomenon, which is apparently pretty common for this age, I found that infants will often lose weight and a mother’s milk production could decrease all because this wide-eyed infant is being so distracted by and excited about the world around him.

It got me thinking about distractions in general, and specifically how they inhibit goal completion.  In my case, being multi-talented and having a broad range of interests, I’ve often found myself jumping from unfinished project to unfinished pursuit and back again.  I’ve collected tools and clothing, equipment and books for big and small hobbies, arts, crafts, business ideas, and dreams I’ve had since I was 16.  One big trend through it all was how little I got accomplished and how much stress, shame, and clutter I caused myself.  Not unlike a distracted infant during mealtime, I was sacrificing progress for the excitement of a new idea.  

I blame my childlike wonder and short attention span for making me giddy when I see something fun and new or when inspiration strikes.  I find myself powerless against its advances and compelled to add it to the “buh buh buh bum” dreaded to-do list!  Over time these ambitions made up the backbone of a to-do list that not even the most efficient, talented, and productive person could hope to accomplish in three lifetimes.  As my list grew longer, I realized that the idea of the idea had become an idol, so when these ideas didn’t come to fruition they became less inspiration and more condemnation.  Reminders that I failed to follow through and now somehow my life will not be as full or has less value and meaning.  My beautiful ideas, dreams, and pursuits had become a heavy burden in the back of my mind that nagged at me for attention, in turn causing me mental exhaustion and depression.  I was setting myself up for frustration and failure and life is too short to feel that way!

We are only one person, we have two hands, one brain, one heart, one life, and limited time in a day so unfortunately we just can’t do everything we’d like before we die.  That is why we need to choose wisely.  It takes focus and discipline to reach goals and if we strive for too many, the likelihood that we will reach them is hindered and usually something or everything, including ourselves, will suffer.  Mozart didn’t become a great composer and pianist by tole-painting, learning how to cut hair, and writing a graphic novel while doing magic at kids’ birthday parties and teaching yoga on the weekends.  He focused on piano and made his time, resources, and mental energy align with this goal.

It has been a long, stressful, painful process trying to reduce and streamline my dreams and ambitions.  I remember poring over my list with my husband for moral support, trying to figure out what to pursue first, and how, and what to let go of.  In my case, I used to think it would take hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, shock treatments, and a miracle to get me to limit my ambitions.  It wasn’t until I began prayerfully being more thoughtful and intentional and pursuing simple living, AKA minimalism, that I started seeing reduced stress and feeling more in control of my thoughts, desires, resources, and life.  Paraphrasing Clare Boothe Luce and Leonard Thiessen, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

I began with the low-hanging fruit, which for me was clothes.  It was a straightforward weeding-out process.  Old, ratty, unfixable?  Garbage or rags.  Fixable?  If it wasn’t fixed by the following weekend, garbage or rags.  Hadn’t worn it in awhile, didn’t feel great in it, wasn’t my style, or didn’t fit anymore and I wasn’t within 5 pounds of fitting into it again?  Give to a friend, sell, donate, or consign.  My wardrobe now only consists of items that reflect my personal style, fit me well, make me feel good when I wear them, and go together so I can form outfits with limited fuss.  Because I also have fewer clothing items, it makes caring them easier and forming outfits faster.  Plus, they take up less space in my room, I know what I have, and I only replace items as I need them, which has prevented me from impulse shopping and feeling powerless in response to sales, saving me money.  I found that this positive domino effect played out in every area or thing I minimized or, as I like to call it, curated.  I went through every room in the house and every possession I owned asking myself, “Does it serve me, is it useful, does it bring me joy?”  If the answer was no I let it go and freed up not only tangible living space but, surprisingly, mental space as well.  There’s a peace and clarity that comes from knowing what you own and why you own it and not letting your possessions own you.  There was a time when I felt like my life would be over and that I’d have a breakdown if I lost my belongings to a fire or theft, and now I no longer feel that way.  It would be heartbreaking to lose truly irreplaceable sentimental or handmade items, but even then, as long as I have my life, my memory, my family, and my faith, life will go on.  Most categories except for sentimental items were easy to minimize, but then came reducing my ambitions.

What I came to realize was that I was a hoarder, not of things, but of ideas and ambitions.  I asked myself the same questions stated above, but I was also forced to ask myself harder questions like, “What are my core values?  What are my goals for the next year or five?  What are my deepest, truest passions, and how do these ideas, hobbies, and pursuits fit into the bigger picture of my life?  What do I want the majority of my precious and finite time and mental energy and resources to go to?”  I rated them all against one another based on the above criteria and only the highest rankers for joy, passion, fulfillment, and calling remained in the running, namely building up Soul Scribes to make a positive impact on individual’s hearts and in the community, finishing my books (writing and art), and making music and music videos with my husband for our band.  Gone were my scrapbooking and card-making supplies, my candle- and soap-making tools, various musical instruments that I didn’t feature in the music I made, fabric paints, the rocks I was going to paint animals on, and the life-sized cardboard cutout of Tony Danza.  It’s better you don’t ask.

Letting go of all of the things that I had invested in for the many pursuits was hard, but I figured it was a sunk cost and remembered my goals and truest passions, took a deep breath, and let them go, hopefully to someone who will actually need and use them regularly.  The hardest part, however, was letting go of those great ideas that I didn’t have time for, the hobby that brought up good memories of the past but that I hadn’t picked up in three years, or the hopefulness behind the dream that was to make a positive impact to society or for a cause.  It is a daily struggle as a dreamer, artist, and visionary to not take on more “great ideas,” but since I decluttered, the physical aspects of these ambitions and fought against them reentering my mental space I have felt freer and happier and more inspired to pursue the few ambitions, hobbies, and dreams that remain.  Which are really quite a lot still.  There’s no rule saying I have to pick three and that’s it until I die.  I recognize I have to leave room for my interests to evolve along with me and my life circumstances.  I could put one down and pick up another or meet my goals in one and start to pursue another; as long as I’m in control and keeping my pursuits manageable and curated like my possessions, then I will feel awesome and be successful.

Living simple has changed the way I look, not only at my belongings, but at my life, myself, my time, my resources, and my ambitions.  Life is short and we only have a finite amount of resources to accomplish our truest calling and desires before we die.  You are in control of curating your life, of editing out the negative and making room for the beautiful.  Let what you own, how you live, what you spend, what you eat, the people you hang out with, and your ambitions support the lifestyle and beliefs you choose to promote in your life so that you can reach your goals and live your dreams.  When you are not weighed down and overwhelmed by physical or mental clutter and distractions, you are free to live your life more fully and pursue the things that are most important.

“Live BRIGHT!”

More Time, More Money, More Meaning: Living Simply to Simply Live

More Time, More Money, More Meaning: Living Simply to Simply Live
By Maile Sundquist

Aloha Stars,

I read a Facebook post the other day by a friend who was reflecting on an article in the New York Times which tells the story of a few Stanford students who, although accomplished, buckled under the pressures of campus life and took their own lives.  It then proceeded to state that campus suicides throughout the U.S. are on the rise.  My friend spoke about how mentally unhealthy Silicon Valley is, and how he, although at an extremely successful point in his life, still struggles with the sense of feeling like a failure.  He then suggested that we take a sledgehammer to the whole facade and “get real,” as our lives and our children’s lives could depend on it.  With this sentiment I wholeheartedly agreed.  It broke my heart to read about these beautiful, talented kids with so much potential snuffing their lives out over something that has no value in the spectrum of things – and surely no value compared to the valuable life they once had.  They bought into the lie of perfection which people are killing themselves literally and figuratively to reach. 

I could relate to my friend as well.  As a self-employed artist, musician, writer, and perfectionist, I’m my own worst boss, and a horrible employee to boot!  I get hung up on the fact I’m not producing at the level I should, I hold myself to unattainable standards and get down on myself if I don’t reach them, or I just get overwhelmed by all the things I want to accomplish but know I can’t before I die.  If only I could borrow a few extra lives from a cat.  No doubt the length of my to-do list on the day I die will earn it acclaim in the Guinness Book of World Records.  But to what end?  Who am I doing it all for, and why? 

Many people, even if they are not ruled by it, still feel the pressures of society and its definition of success.  Some of these pressures are born out of our fundamental need for love, acceptance, and purpose, but others come from society or culture such as corporate and government attempts to keep us in a perpetual state of discontent through advertising to spur economic growth.  I recognize that without a healthy economy the U.S. couldn’t offer us the opportunities, provisions, or leisure time it does.  Nonetheless, this race for continued self-improvement, better grades in school, higher numbers at work, this bigger-better-newer-nicer mentality, has eaten away at more than just our pocketbooks. 

Of course obtaining success in life is awesome!  Thankfully we live in a country where people can make their own choices about how they will make and spend their time and money.  The problem comes when we lose sight of ourselves and the big picture of what is truly important in life.  Seeking out superficial aspects of success such as good looks money and popularity leaves the spiritual, mental, and emotional parts of us longing for substance. 

In 2005 I suffered major work and car injuries within a few months of each other, setting the course for the chronic pain, weight gain, stress, and anxiety that I struggle with to this day.  Coupled with my growing discontent regarding my slow rate of artistic-goal completion, these injuries and my physical limitations due to them drew me into a depression.  During that time I questioned life, my character and purpose.  I had to pray and remind myself of what was most important to me in life to regain perspective and keep from giving up.  One of the more unproductive things I did to cope with the way I felt was to use retail therapy.  Although it was against my value system, I had been sucked into believing that a tangible item could make me feel better about myself, make life easier, or remind me of a better time in my past.  As anyone who has shopped to make life more bearable knows, the positive feelings are fleeting and they leave you with less money and more junk and stress, especially if you are going into debt while doing it.  I’m not saying that shopping is bad, but when it started to control me, and in turn kept me from accomplishing what I wanted to in life, I knew it needed to be addressed.

In early 2014 my health was extremely poor and my stress was out of control.  I had reached a breaking point.  I was convicted spiritually about the life I was leading, or not leading, as the case may be.  I concluded that one area of my life that was having the most negative affect on my spiritual, mental, and physical health was stress.  I began to research stress reduction techniques and grew interested in meditation.  This got me considering Christian monks who live their lives devoted to God and service, with minimal possessions.  I wanted a more serene and simple existence free of distractions.  Through my beliefs as a follower of Jesus Christ, I strive to live up to his calling, which is to set my mind on things that have eternal meaning; life, people, love, and matters of the heart, mind, and spirit, de-emphasizing the physical world and its belongings and concepts of success.  The phrase “store up your treasure in heaven” rattled around in my head and convicted my heart.  I knew I needed to do and be the best that I could with what God had given me up to that point and not focus on what I didn’t have anymore so that I could start to heal and move forward.  I needed to live each day with humility, thankfulness, and love for myself and those around me.  And I needed to live simply.

In December 2014 my aunt bought me a book entitled Do Less, which helped me to refine my efforts and gave a name to what I was pursuing: minimalism.  I had never heard the term before, but I recognized many of the book’s suggestions as things my husband had always done to help us keep our home tidy – like allotting ourselves a given amount of space for a certain kind of item – say, one bookshelf for books – and requiring that, if we exceed that limit with a new book, we have to get rid of one we have.  We may have been reaping some of the benefits of minimalism since we were organized, but what I was missing was a sense of peace and purpose over my possessions.  I was not living intentionally or mindfully and was allowing my anxiety to dictate my actions, which caused me to shop for things I didn’t need.  What made it worse was that, because I needed to get rid of something old to make room for something new, a “purge and splurge” cycle started that ended up being a waste of time and money and causing tension between my husband and me.  This habit, combined with my search for methods of de-stressing and my sense of wanting more out of my life, money, and time, was the driving force behind why I embraced minimalism, simple living, or living light. 

I think we can all agree that the majority of us are in search of more time, more money, and more meaning in our lives.  Who would have thought that one big path to meeting these desires would be less stuff?!  For some, the term “minimalist” brings about visions of stinky “green”-obsessed vegan nomads carrying all their possessions on their backs and obsessing over the fact that they can’t own more than 100 items.  This is not the face of minimalism.  To me, the goals of minimalism are to free us from the bonds of consumerism and the discontent that comes with it, to help us recognize that we don’t need a lot to live or be happy, and to free up our mind, time, and resources for what’s most important so that we can lead happier, more fulfilling lives with less stress.  The positive impact on the environment is a plus of course.  Living simply is a lifestyle and takes re-training our mind and habits away from the overindulgent society we have grown up in.

I started my simple living journey by praying and considering what is most important to me right now and what will be important to me in the future.  I made sure I didn’t rush myself and focused on stripping away any denial or social pressure and was honest with myself about the things that really matter to me.  I concluded that they were as follows: God, my family, my health, helping others in need, spending quality time with those I love, enjoying nature, and making meaningful traction with my dreams and artistic ambitions.  Once I had my priorities, I made sure that they remained in the forefront of my mind daily, by creating a photo collage of images and words that I keep on my smart phone and on my wall.  It encourages me, no matter what struggles or circumstances come along, to ensure that my actions, the money and time I spend, the faith I practice, and the people I surround myself with are in line with those values.  I found it helpful to involve my husband in this new lifestyle, for encouragement and accountability.  He was a bit resistant at first, so I made sure to give him space and time while positively encouraging him in the lifestyle rather than forcing him to embrace it, and he’s been warming up to it.

Next, I removed all physical possessions (with my husband’s approval of course) that did not support my new vision for myself and my life.  That included my fashion sense, hobbies, business, spiritual and philosophical convictions, and home aesthetic.  I went through every room, drawer, closet, and shelf, touching every item I owned and asking myself if I had used it in the last year, if it brought aesthetic beauty and joy to my life, or if it was practical and useful in aiding me in the life I am focused on leading.  For the items that didn’t fit into the prior criteria and were not enriching my life, I threw out the garbage, sold what I could, and gave away the rest.  A motto I like is “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”.  The one area that I have allowed myself to keep “just-in-case” items is in our 72-hour emergency survival bags.  Other than that, I buy things as I need them (except for Costco toilet paper of course) and don’t buy duplicates of things unless I know they’ll be used up in a week.  Technology makes this process a bit easier by offering the ability to replace CDs, movies, and books with digital versions that don’t take up tangible space, and the ability to scan documents rather than have a file cabinet.  I am always refining my digital organizational system and keeping “digital clutter” at bay, as it can be just as overwhelming as physical clutter.

One thing I was mindful of while purging was the endowment effect.  That is the phenomenon in which, once someone owns something, it means more to them than it would if they didn’t own it, which then makes it harder for them to let go of, even if they don’t really like the item or wouldn’t buy it again.   I had to be honest with myself and step back from my attachment to the item and look at it objectively.  When deciding on sentimental items, I reminded myself that the item itself does not hold the memory that I love, but that it’s in my heart forever.  If an item is truly special I might frame or display it in some way, otherwise I will write about the memory and item and/or take a photo of it to remember it by.  I found viewing YouTube videos on minimalism and decluttering super helpful in this process.  Lastly, I made sure I paced myself and didn’t set unrealistic goals, and chose a level of minimalism that was right for me and my family in which to thrive.  We have gotten rid of so much that we are planning on moving into smaller quarters!

I then made a promise to my husband and myself that I would only buy an item when it needs to be replaced, when it adds measurable value to my life or actively aids me in reaching my goals and maintaining my vision for myself and my life.  Definitely easier said then done!  I started by unsubscribing from retail emails and mailings.  I have begun to do other things with friends such as hike, play a sport or craft instead of shop, and stay away from retail stores as much as possible to prevent browsing and impulse buying.  I try to work on a hobby or watch a movie when I feel the urge to splurge.  Distraction is a helpful tool when trying to break a habit.   Also, keeping a short list of a few big purchases and our dream vacation we are saving for helps to remind me of the cost of buying something now.  I try to think of the things I buy taking money from the big thing I want.  It also helps to remind myself that a penny saved is a penny earned.  Even if I saved $50 off of a $100 item, I still have $50 less in my bank account.  I have begun to choose quality over quantity!  

Lastly, to prevent “clutter creep,” I remind myself of all the soul searching and hard work it took to get myself to this point on my simple living journey and of all the benefits I have gained thus far by embracing intentional living such as:

1. Mental Clarity and Energy:  I concluded that even if something is out of sight, it doesn’t mean it’s out of mind.  All the things we possess – their use, state, storage place, and where we obtained them – take up mental space that could be used for more important information.  Also, every time people make a choice it uses mental energy which can deplete focus and the ability to make good decisions.  Minimizing the choices I had to make throughout the day gave me more mental, emotional, and physical energy. 

2. Empowerment:  By embracing this lifestyle where the main objective is to help me focus my life and energy on what I most value, I found a renewed sense of resolve to fight against consumerism and society’s concept of “success.”  I was motivated to focus on my health and my personal and professional goals, and to prioritize and set healthy boundaries in every area of my life, including diet and relationships.  It made me realize the extent to which stuff was controlling me, as well as areas of my life where I had lost control, and made me recognize that I have the power to improve my life. 

3. Contentment:  I have experienced less stress due to fewer distractions, less stuff that can pile up or get lost, and less things to manage, clean, and maintain.  It has reduced my sense of discontent through rebooting my focus and objectives onto the things that are important in life as well as reminding me to be thankful for what I do have and not focus on what I don’t have.  It has contributed to a sense of peace and hope for a bright, more productive future. 

4. More Money and Time:  I realized how much of my life, mental energy, and money were spent working for, searching for, buying, displaying, storing, moving, and maintaining stuff I can’t take with me when I die.  Just thinking of all the memories I could have made, the art I could have created or the people I could have blessed with the time and money I wasted on the above process over the last 20 years was mind-blowing.  It made me more mindful of opportunity costs and helped me to consume less and produce more.  I have more money to spend on the things that matter to me, such as experiences, gifts for others, donations to charities, items of higher quality that will last longer, and equipment and tools that will help me reach my goals.  I have more time to spend with my loved ones, to learn new skills, to pick up old hobbies, to work on bettering myself, to do community outreach, and to be more productive in ways that are meaningful to me such as starting to blog about real topics.

It takes time to learn how to navigate life, others, and ourselves on this messy, mysterious, and beautiful journey called life.  My ultimate hope and prayer for myself and you is that we will have grateful hearts, not lose sight of the important things, and have peace, hope, healing, and success in life.  Not “worldly,” temporary, shallow success, but success that is lasting and meaningful, that makes us happier, more productive, mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy, balanced people who are able to love ourselves and those around us. We mustn’t forget that we alone have the choice to opt in or out of anything that comes our way, and that it’s never too late to change our course, our habits, our beliefs, and ourselves for the better.