A Blythe Coach

My Minimalism Memoir

“Whatever you stockpile–be it diamonds, big houses, fame, money, proficiency at advanced yoga poses, or less flashy things, you will inevitably encounter two certainties. First […], all will be lost. Second, these things, in and of themselves, will never satisfy your cravings, which are expressions of your fear and emptiness.” -Judith Lasater in Living Your Yoga** (p.107)

Hiking from West Virginia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail with just a daypack of gear

I’m pretty excited to talk about minimalism in the blog today, as it’s an important principle of my ideal life, to be unburdened by excess things and free to move through the world with, as I say, balance, grace, and power!

Just as I was never a “perfect” vegan, so too am I also a very imperfect minimalist, but what is important to me is the process and the results that I have seen in my life, not appearing a certain way or having some specific number of belongings. I want to critically edit and focus on what is most important, but not live with nothing.

You can also hear my “Minimalism Memoir” in Podcast form, and just scroll to the bottom of this blog for more of my favorite resources on the topic. 

I have always enjoyed an elegant, minimal aesthetic, and making things happen in my life in the simplest way possible. Though the pursuit of a materially minimal lifestyle is ongoing (it will never be complete and finished, and that’s the practice!), further it has become a mindset and approach to all that I do, asking myself, “how can I make progress on this with the minimum of time, effort, and materials?”  

This is concordant with yoga philosophy and the sacred texts of yoga which I have read, according to which nothing really belongs to us anyway, and detachment and lack of greed are key tenets. Other world philosophies and religions also share this ethic, including Biblical humility, faith in being provided for, and priorities. As Jesus stated, “ For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

My Simplicity Story

But more on the theory and practice as we go along, I’d like to share my personal path with minimalism with you (and hear yours!), the challenges I face with it, and resources that have provided inspiration.

Aspiring to be Organized as a Child

Always a fan of life-optimization and effectiveness and wanting to make the most out of my time on earth, as a child I read Don Aslett’s engaging books on de-cluttering such as Clutter’s Last Stand** and proceeded to organize my room.

In elementary and middle school, I was a little nonconformist and my minimal tendencies sprung from valuing anti-consumer bohemian creativity. I loved animals, and was a vegan, too, striving and advocating for a small environmental footprint. I sought items that were high quality over quantity, keeping with basic needs and timeless pieces rather than following trends of the moment, and keeping focused on my interests of reading, study, the performing arts, and the environment. 

This all served me well when I left home to pursue pre-professional training in ballet at UNCSA, when I moved clear across the country from Hawai’i to North Carolina, and arrived to share a dorm room with two roommates (that’s right! 15 years old and living in a “triple” with two other dancers!). It was a good thing that I only had two suitcases and two small trunks in tow, as there wasn’t a lot of room for things in the midst of the bunked and lofted beds and ballet gear. 

Low-Impact as a Teen

I maintained this low-impact lifestyle through my teens (except the jet fuel of going home twice per year, ahem), keeping with a minimal aesthetic in ballet/dance and a focus on my art, a low budget and little space in my room or my life for material things.

I prioritized my education, a love of biology and value of preserving biodiversity, and also mobility, allowing me to move cross-country yet again, this time to Washington State to attend Whitman College.

Everything that Jamey and I brought with us ultralight backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 2002

Traveling Lightly into Early Adulthood

Preparing to backpack on the Appalachian Trail for the entire summer of 2002, my then-boyfriend (future husband and ex-husband), Jamey and I eagerly studied Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine’s Guide to Lightweight Hiking**, collected the lightest gear we could find, and were ruthless with our minimal packing. 

Ultralight travel was a shared value as well as a necessity, as we would be completing the nearly 1,000-mile trek without having actually trained for it. We made sure to carry no more than 20 pounds of gear (as I recall), since food and water weight can also really add up (this I remember all too well) and we didn’t want to pack more than we could handle. It was a beautiful and challenging experience that I will always remember!

This is a great metaphor for all of life, as the less I owned, the easier it was moving from state-to-state, school-to-school, room-to-room, house-to-house, even country-to-country. Not that I ever feel that moving is “easy,” but there is certainly a spectrum of difficulty, and knowing how to only carry what I need made it easier to study abroad in Italy in 2000, to tramp around New Zealand for three months in 2005, Peru in 2011, and to relocate my life where and when I felt called to do so.

Though I did accumulate things while in college (hello, textbooks!!!), I still needed and wanted to keep my possessions minimal, and was reinforced by what I was learning in my Philosophy major, specializing in ancient philosophy including Aristotle’s ethics of moderation, environmental studies, reading of the transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau, and self-improvement literature pleasure-reading, such as Three Black Skirts: all you need to survive** 

Related to focusing on what is most essential (and perhaps this should be part of a future blog, as it is related to how I paid all my undergraduate student debt off in two years), Jamey also introduced me to the book Your Money or Your Life**, which helped me to get clear on my own financial and life priorities, essentials, or minimal requirements for satisfaction in the same way I did in minimizing my belongings.

I enjoy making the most of compact spaces, from living on campus as a student, Sorority Member, and Resident Assistant, then as partner of a Resident Director, with frequently-changing living arrangements. After I graduated from college, I loved my tiny rooftop studio loft while working in Admissions, and it only required a very small U-Haul to lug our junk to California with Jamey’s family while we decided where to land next, which after time in New Zealand and with my family in Hawai’i, wound up being Portland, Oregon. 

Coaching Myself in Portland…and back to Hawai’i for my MFA

We found a wonderful, central little one-bedroom apartment in Portland, which is also where I discovered a new career of Life Coaching with InsideTrack and Accomplishment Coaching and continued on my path of discovering what is most meaningful to me, simplicity, travel, community, and artistic expression. I supported other people in achieving their educational and life dreams as I unfolded my own.

During this time, I saw the emergence of a new magazine about simple living, called Real Simple and grew addicted to a blog called Zen Habits by Leo Babauta and a sadly now-defunct YouTube Channel called Light by Coco. These discussed a materially minimal lifestyle as well as cutting back on tasks and activities that lack meaning in order to use our energy toward what is most meaningful.

I weathered many changes in Portland, including a divorce and falling in love again, which led to moving back to Hawaii and pursuing my MFA. What a life! My new flame, Nicole (future wife/ex-wife) and I made the move without a shipping container, but weren’t certain just how long we would stay, so put things not urgently needed into storage (gratefully, in a friend’s garage free of charge). Ultimately we decided to remain longer than a couple of years, so returned to Portland for a visit and and to give most of our things away to friends. What was most important, we mailed (mostly books, no surprise!).

Living in Honolulu was even more expensive than Portland, and we were a student and a teacher, so we lived in shared houses in Pearl City, had our own studio in Waikiki for a time, then ran an Airbnb at our “compound” shared with friends in Kalihi. We had shared values of minimal spending on nonessentials, focus on experiences, the arts and the outdoors, and using community resources to minimize spending and environmental impact through the sharing economy.

While earning my MFA and dancing and teaching all over, I also learned about The Minimalists and Matt D’Avella through their first documentary and books (both of which have multiplied, and they have a great blog and podcast), and became even more obsessed with small capsule wardrobes through Courtney Carver‘s Project 333, (and later her blog, newsletter and Soul + Wit Podcast), as well as the YouTube Channels of Use Less‘ Signe and Justine Leconte. A low-maintenance stance suits my academic and artistic lifestyle so well!

At this point, Minimalism was a full-on cultural phenomenon, and I rode the Konmari/Marie Kondo Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up** wave with enthusiasm, keeping only what sparks joy (except for those last couple areas in which I’m still working to soften my grip). The Minimalists also introduced me to the idea of the Minsgame, which really came in handy when my second marriage abruptly ended and I underwent subsequent drastic changes.

Rufio helping me sort schoolwork during my pre-move Minsgame in 2019

That is, events unfolded to present the opportunity to move abroad and I took it, so I had to pare back again, after eight years on O’ahu! I spent a month playing the game (eliminating one thing the first day, two the second, and so on, to release hundreds of belongings), and then continued to purge down to a few bags to store at my family home, and a few to take with me, plus media rate boxes to follow. You can check out the results of my first trip through the Minsgame in spring of 2019 on my personal IG 🙂

Minimal Move to Germany in 2019

Everything that flew with me from Hawai’i to Germany 20 months ago

A minimalist approach freed me to move to Germany, to live in an urban apartment while teaching and creating here. I do have certain collections that have stayed with me, but they are very specific: books, keepsakes/nostalgia/correspondence. And I’m keeping my accumulation of physical books to a minimum with a Kindle, ever an avid reader. 

Since the move, I had the chance to complete a yoga teacher training, learn German, and continue to teach, coach, and study my passions of dance, pedagogy, and spirituality. 

Yoga Philosophy & Current Spiritual Growth

Reading classical texts of yogic philosophy while in my training program and since, I found much that resonated with my minimal mindset. In the Yoga Sutra**, Patanjali counsels practitioners to follow aparigraha, greedlessness or non-covetousness, a relevant Yama or avoidance, and also a relevant Niyama or observance called santosha or contentment (which is also the theme I have personally declared for 2021).    

Lasater explains, “When we seek contentment, or what Patanjali calls samtosha, we are closer to experiencing our own wholeness. In book two, verse forty-two, he writes […] ‘Through contentment unexcelled joy is gained.’” (Living Your Yoga** p.108)

The Bhagavad Gita** also admonishes against attachment to the material world, for example in 5:22 it states, “Pleasures that come from sense contacts, Arjuna, actually are the womb of pain. A wise person does not delight in pleasure that comes and goes.” (The Living Gita** p.76) So the path to wisdom is indeed a simple one.

Additionally, Lasater shares wisdom from Zen Buddhism regarding The Five Remembrances of Shakyamuni Buddha (presented by Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, in The Plum Village Chanting Book), of which I find the fifth most relevant to this minimalist meditation: “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.” (Living Your Yoga** p.97)

However, as I said at the start, I am human and as such, do tend to cling to certain things! I always struggle to let go, as I have emotional attachment to so many things, but I also always find it worth while to eliminate as much as I can.

Paperwork and Nostalgia – my “last bastion” of clutter

My achilles heel of minimalism is all things nostalgic- photos, albums, schoolwork and proof of my accomplishments, as well as other paper records. I am working to digitize and minimize in these areas to enjoy maximum freedom in my current lifestyle in Germany. 

My journey to simplicity is ongoing, and this month I’m tackling one of the last bastions of hoarding, playing the Minsgame again, this time focused on my paper clutter, including assignments from my MFA, notes from teaching and coaching over the last ten years, financial documents, and more. You’re invited to join me in a Spring Cleaning minimization fest! Let me know what you’re working to remove from your life to live more lightly here or at the A Blythe Coach Facebook Page

Two of the ten boxes of books, papers, and gear that followed me to Germany

Minimalist & Simplicity Resources

Living Your Yoga** by Judith Lasater 
Clutter’s Last Stand** by Don Aslett
Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine’s Guide to Lightweight Hiking**
Your Money or Your Life** by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez
Transcendentalists Collection** Thoreau & Emerson 
Three Black Skirts: all you need to survive** by Anna Johnson
Real Simple Magazine
Zen Habits by Leo Babauta
The Minimalists: Joshua Fields-Milburn & Ryan Nicodemus
Matt D’Avella: Minimalists’ Documentaries, YouTube Channel
Courtney Carver: Be More with Less, Project 333, Newsletter & Podcast
Use Less YouTube Channel by Signe (capsule wardrobes)
Justine Leconte YouTube Channel (capsule wardrobes)
Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up** by Marie Kondo
The Yoga Sutra** 
The Bhagavad Gita**
Never too Small YouTube Channel
Living Big in a Tiny House YouTube Channel
Exploring Alternatives YouTube Channel
Simplify Magazine

“When you allow yourself to see things as they really are, then–and only then–can you love yourself and others without hidden expectations. Detachment is the greatest act of love.” (Living Your Yoga** p.19-20)

Blythe Stephens, MFA
she/her or they/them

** This blog is not sponsored. Amazon Affiliate links potentially give me a percentage of the purchase price if you decide to buy a book.

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