The Truth About Minimalism

My first purging attempt is in college. Dressed in a bandana and cutoff jean shorts, I survey the stacks of class notes, old photos, vacation journals and books that line my wallpapered closet. I sing along to the Beach Boys on repeat – God Only Knows – and I carefully cull through years and years of ephemera to find the hidden gems I want to carry with me.

What will I want to stuff into suitcases that might offer padding, support, stability, for the uprooting of a sheltered childhood in this small town? What will keep me safe? What will keep me happy?


I begin by tossing aside hand-me-down skirts that feel dated and worn. I leave behind favored stuffed animals, meticulously glittered scrapbooks, award ribbons and trophies from years spent swimming laps in our local pool.

Everything that makes it into a box has been approved for new life, for the college version of Erin. Yes, the college version Erin will wear studded jeans. Yes, she will wear the brambleberry lipstick. Yes, of course, she will hang a DMB poster on her wall. Why would she not? She is becoming. Shh, quiet. Let us watch her bloom.

With every sheet of bubble wrap, with every newspaper-wrapped belonging, I decide who to be. With packing tape in hand, I purge for transformation, for renewal, for change.

Do you want to know a secret? When we purge from this place, when we allow the objects in our life to dictate the trajectory of our life, when we assign too much value to studded jeans and DMB posters, do you know what we’re doing?

We are changing what we have, not who we are.

Curated objects do not create a corresponding lifestyle.

The very same hands that have stuffed platform sandals and a hair dryer into overflowing cardboard boxes in late July are still, unchanged, the hands that would later unpack them in a humid dorm room in August.

I organize make-up into top dresser drawers. (No time for lipliner before 7am Sociology class.) I stack new-to-me reads that seemed college appropriate but do not offer comfort. I unroll the poster that felt collegiate in June, but now, look, who am I kidding? Give me the glittered scrapbooks.

I find that, on this day in August, I am surprised that the contents of my cardboard boxes do not make me a college kid. Going to class, it seems, is the only act that will make me a college kid.

I will run full-force into this desire to transform many times again, over and over, for years to come.

When I became a mother, I decorated a meticulous nursery with coordinating crib bedding and paper flowers hanging from the ceiling. I organized onesies in drawers labeled 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months and beyond. I lined bookshelves with Dr. Seuss and wooden toys, I stocked our pantry with organic rice cereal and glass bottles.

I changed what I had, not who I was.

I curated a perfect version of motherhood.
I did not then realize that curating perfection would do nothing to assist in actually creating perfection.

I did not then realize that surrounding myself with baby quilts would be a feeble attempt in fluffing the nest I am utterly unprepared to rule. I did not then realize that swaddling a newborn in a miracle blanket would not miraculously transform me into a mother, and that no amount of back-up diapers would shield me from the sleep deprivation of changing them at 3am.

I did not then realize that, to become a mother, you must mother. You must do the work, with or without Dr. Seuss, Dr. Bronner, Dr. Phil.

George Eliot once wrote of this. “It will never rain roses… When we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.”

I have a tendency to want more roses. I have a tendency to strive for ease and simplicity, for an effortless life of capsule wardrobes and minimalism and Konmari.


This is not a worthy goal. Minimalism is not something to be mastered. It’s a learning, a re-evaluating, a practice that comes easier on some days than others.

It’s not a raining of roses. It’s a planting.

We are changing what we have, not who we are.

I hear from so many of you that you’re tired. That you’re weary. That you’ve spent so much effort creating boundaries and striving for simplicity and searching for a slower way of life that you’ve made it just as exhausting as the fast living you used to do.

I get it.

Simplification is not simple – it is a focus, one that requires energy and endurance and mindfulness. It is not a goal to top. It is not a box to check.

It is not about the roses, the beautiful garden, the fruits of your labor.

It is about the planting.

It is about the work.

One of my favorite destinations for capsule wardrobe inspiration is Capsules by Cladwell. It’s planting at its finest – a surveying of your lifestyle, your actual needs, your ideal colors, the clothes you default to time and time again. By signing up, you commit to begin taking stock of you – not the curated version of you, but the actual you.

It’s an honest look at what your closet already has, and it’s an honest look at what might be missing. And after the taking stock, the inventory – the planting – a shopping list is generated based on what you have vs. what you need.

(Mine came back empty. Turns out my “needs” have always been dressed up “wants.”)

Slow living is a slow process. We will get it right and we will get it wrong. Our garden will bloom for months and then we’ll lose focus – life will get busy, or hard – and we’ll forget to pay attention to our efforts. We’ll wish for the roses to rain again, for life to be simple again, for the work to get easier, and when will it get easier?

Planting will never be easier.

But the roses are worth it, nearly every time.



p.s. This is an essay for Capsules by Cladwell, a new Beta subscription service that offers advice, resources to start a capsule wardrobe and wisdom to shop intentionally. Thanks for reading!

  • WOW! I never comment on blog posts, BUT THIS spoke to me! Thank you for putting my thoughts/feelings/needs/wants into such beautiful words!

  • Your posts always make me think. I love the idea that minimalism is work, a slower life is work – and it’s OK. Beautiful writing.

  • Phew – this was hard to read. But then I thought, “WHY is this hard to read? WHAT emotion is it that I’m feeling?”

    And, upon reflection, it was a deeply felt sense of relief… Like, I didn’t miss the Pinterest solution for easy living. I didn’t wimp out when reading Konmari and will now suffer an eternal fate of too much. It’s relief because I’ve always known the answer to the good life wasn’t buried in a blog or on the last page of my favorite self-help book – but, and you stated it so eloquently: “Planting will never be easier.” And that’s fine by me. Work isn’t something to escape – it’s investing in our dreams with the gifts of our abilities.

    Thanks for this one. :-)

    • Ahhhhhh, I LOVE your thought, Kate! “I’ve always known the answer to the good life wasn’t buried in a blog or on the last page of my favorite self-help book.” <-- what a wise sentiment!

  • When I find myself on the edge – of motherhood, wifedom, friendship, self-evaluation – I’m finally realizing my best bet is not to change it all, but to look closely at what I already have. Cheers to planting those roses. = )

  • Yes! I can’t count the number of times that I’ve purged in order to create some kind of image of myself. I have dabbled with the capsule wardrobe thing and found myself getting rid of items and buying more than usual – the “perfect” things I needed to complete my capsule – and then I’d never shop again! Or at least until next season. A little while ago, I gave up the rules, I gave up the rigidness. And instead, over time, I find myself asking better questions. Will this bring me joy? How often will I wear/use this item? Sometimes I make the right decisions and sometimes I make the decision that teaches me. I love the dance between starting a new practice and then engaging in self study, reflection and finding more answers. Thank you for sharing this post.

    • “Sometimes I make the right decisions and sometimes I make the decision that teaches me.” Holy wow did that strike a cord. I’ll remember this idea for sure, thank you!

    • “Sometimes I make the right decisions and sometimes I make the decision that teaches me.” <-- this is such a lovely way to reframe the things we often guilt ourselves over. thank you for such a lovely, uplifting note for us all!

  • But doesn’t my hand-painted, adorably glossy ceramic, *unused* muffin pan define me and my tastes? I promise I’m not being facetious. I was going to wrap it today for safekeeping until it is shipped to me or I come back for it–from another country!! It is a struggle to face “We are changing what we have, not who we are” and that simplification is difficult. Ponderous ideas! Thank you, Erin.

  • This. <3 I'm new to the idea of minimalism and capsule wardrobes, and I have to say, the transition has been difficult. "Simplifying" definitely isn't simple, and this post reminded me that it will take more than just a few purging sessions to really reframe a lifestyle. A beautiful piece, truly!

  • erin, erin, erin … this was wonderful to read … so many similar thoughts i have had … i long for simplicity and less and quality and ease … but life adds and adds and adds and sometimes it takes a lot of work to keep it simple … or make it more simple … i just wrote about this … and need to free up again … i am wanting to part with 1000 things … not to pretend i am something i am not but to help uncover who i know i am … you are a wonderful writer and i so enjoy visiting your little corner of the world !! x

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