Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems.


The Long Road to Minimalism – Part 1

I’ve cleaned off one shelf, can I clean off another?

I’ve emptied a drawer, can I empty a cabinet?

I’ve freed up a chest, can I free up a closet?

Can I live without this spoon? Yes. This bowl? No. This shirt, these shoes, this necklace, this book case, these videos, this mug, this plant, these sheets, this rug, this sofa, these pillows, this blanket…this complicated and over-full life?

Over the past 12 months, as I’ve prepared for life in a yurt, I’ve slowly purged my belongings. I’d been trying to get organized off and on for several years, with only marginal success. I knew I’d need to adopt a minimalist lifestyle, at least on some level, in order to live more freely. But I was having a hard time getting my de-cluttering efforts off the ground. I’d read articles, bought books, tried systems. But I always seem to get bogged down. What if this document is important later? I might be able to use this ugly, ill-fitting t-shirt for yard work… For months, I struggled with everything: media, shoes, kitchen utensils…you name it. Desperate to make some kind of progress, I tried the “Japanese method for tidying up.”

My Resistance to Eliminating Clutter

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondō suggests a very different, very disciplined approach to de-cluttering. The central tenet of the book seems, at least to me, to be focusing — in this case on the things, not their location in the house, which is the traditional way of tidying up and often results in nomadic, rather than reduced, clutter. Focus is not my strong suit, to put it mildly. So, the approach made sense, at least on the surface. I set off to give her system a try. And almost immediately failed.

Discard by category, not by room? Right. I ended up wandering the house aimlessly, distractedly looking for all the items in the category. By the time I found them all (or remembered what I was looking for when I started), I was too tired to care. And what if I missed something? Or mis-categorized it? Hopeless.

Hold it in my hands and see if it sparks joy? Heck, I’m not even sure I know what it is. Or was. When it was attached to the thing it belonged to. When that thing was in working order. Soooo…I’d better hang onto it. In case I ever find that one thing again and need the…whateveritis. (Back into the drawer it went.)

Tidy all at once, not a little every day? OK, but if I’m gathering all of the items in a category in one space so I can look see what-all I have, I’ve just rendered that table/sofa/bed unusable while I (inevitably) agonize over my decisions. And she’s telling me it might take six months to complete the whole process for all our possessions? Some of us have day jobs!

I seriously thought Kondō was a nut-job.

As time slipped by, and the pressure to get my possessions under control increased, I started panicking. Why was I struggling so hard? What, really, was my underlying resistance to discarding my belongings? The answer was simple, if not easy to resolve: My anxiety and scarcity-thinking (“what if?”) were holding me back. I was continually delaying, even avoiding, making decisions, and the wheels fell off the whole process as a result. It was frustrating.

The 20-Foot-Diameter Motivator

So, how would I get around this barrier to my successfully becoming a minimalist? Oddly, it was the practicalities of moving into my dream home — a yurt in the mountains — that provided me with the clarity I needed: What will fit into a 20-foot-diameter space with no closets?


Sobering, right?

And an effective motivator. I took a deep breath and dove back into my clothes and shoes — one of the “easy” categories, for me, since I have few emotional attachments to my clothes. Soon, I was carting boxes off to Goodwill a truckload at a time and paring down to the bare essentials like a pro. I was even managing to work for a living as I sorted! Clothes, kitchen utensils, jewelry, shoes — gone. Board games, craft supplies, sports and leisure equipment — all of which had been gathering dust in various and sundry closets and corners and plastic storage containers– found new homes.

I dug deep. As I did, I felt lighter and freer. But I still had — no, have — too much stuff.

Multiple Passes: Cheating at Tidying Up

At some point, I realized that Kondō and I have different goals: She focuses on tidying; I’m focused on gutting. So, while her system is extremely useful, it stops somewhat short of the degree of minimalism I’ll need to achieve if I’m to preserve the open spaciousness a yurt offers. I also have to walk a very careful line between keeping just what I need to live and making my life uncomfortably Spartan. Financially, I won’t be able to replace things on a whim, so my selections for the discard pile must be carefully considered. And I’m too old and soft to comfortably go hard-core with my minimalism, making my task harder, in some ways, because I can’t — or won’t — just ditch it all and walk off into the sunset with nothing but a backpack and my dog.

Nonetheless I’m making progress, albeit by cheating a little. With my 20-foot-diameter motivator firmly in mind, I’m making multiple passes through my house, category by category, sometimes mentally earmarking items for later removal. This process often involves packing items away for a few weeks to see if I go looking for them later. If I do, they come out of the box; if I don’t, they get hauled away. Furniture items need to stay in place until I’m ready to move, although some of it will be donated rather than come along for the ride. So I’m not clearing my house all at once, but I’m making steady progress toward the end goal.

Onward, Despite a Hitch or Two

I still have significant challenges to face. For instance, although Kondō strongly cautions against adapting her system to our personalities — the very personalities that created our cluttered environments to begin with — our emotional attachments are real (and valid) factors in our ability to follow the program. My emotional attachment to my books (and, even more strangely, my socks) must be processed and dealt with, which I talk about in Part 2 of this post. (Books, not socks. I really, really don’t need to discuss my socks…)

In the meantime, I keep doing my research into composting toilets (They don’t all stink!), grey-water catchment systems, solar power…and all of that stuff, much of which lives (or will live) on my Pinterest boards.



The Yurt Project

The reaction is often the same. A pause, a raised eyebrow, a cocked head, and then:

What’s a yurt?

When I tell people I’m putting my 2200-square-foot home in the city up for sale and moving to the mountains, they generally assume I’ve joined the tiny home movement or the nomadic life of the camper dwellers who move freely about the country, parking their ultra-miniature homes in remote locations with spectacular mountain views. All reasonable assumptions, if you know me. I love the outdoors. I’ve done a fair amount of backpacking. And hiking with my golden retriever, Bodhi, relaxes and replenishes me. So it makes sense that I’d follow the trendiest of trends by simplifying my life, converting a boxcar into a compact luxury home, or driving off into the sunset hauling a trailer the size of a large dresser behind my old Toyota SUV.

The yurt throws them.

Depending on my mood — and the person asking — I might launch into an explanation of how yurts are the traditional, highly portable homes of the semi-nomadic peoples of the steppes in Central Asia. I might tell the inquirer that yurts were traditionally made of felted yak wool to protect their occupants against the elements. I might compare the hole in the center of its roof with those of Native American tipis and lodges, which allow smoke from interior fires to vent up and out of the dwelling.

Or I might just respond with: “It’s a big-ass, round tent.”

Lots of anxious, logistical questions follow:

Will it have running water?

How will you heat it?

Will you have electricity?

What kind of toilet will it have?

Will you be able to take a shower? Wash your clothes?

Will it have internet? How will you work? Are you still going to work?

What will you do with all your stuff?

And then the big one, usually tinged with a note of disbelief, discomfort, even a little wonder:


Simple question. Complicated answer. It’s one I’ve been exploring for better than a year now as my vision for the future started getting clearer. The seeds were planted before I ever recognized that I’d been preparing the ground for them. I’d already begun the process of shedding self-limiting thinking, self-diminishing habits, false and broken masks. I was learning to better manage my finances, set goals, live debt-free. I was starting a business, experiencing failures, building on successes, redefining my work. I was rekindling friendships, making new ones, letting go of the ones that no longer fit.  I was rediscovering parts of myself I’d left sleeping for so long they were practically comatose.

And I’d started challenging myself: What were my values? Was I living in accordance with them? Or was I simply carrying them around like some kind of worn-out membership card to a club for which I’d long ago stopped paying dues?

Shoot: Who was I, really?

Then, recently, it occurred to me: I’m divorced, childless, work for myself, and, therefore, beholden to no one. I should really be having more adventures than I do.

Living in a yurt qualifies.

And, so, I started researching. Where should I put my yurt? What should it be made of? How big should it be? Should it have a loft? Kitchens and toilets and gray-water catchment systems and power and heat and…

There’s a lot to learn.

And, so, for this new chapter in my life, I’ll be using this space primarily for thinking out loud about preparing to live in a yurt. (Not to say there won’t be the odd poem, as the mood strikes me.) I intend to post updates here, with product comparisons and changes of direction and advice from random strangers — none of which should be surprising to friends and family. And I’ve started a Pinterest board for Yurt-Worthy Ideas, with a jumble of yurt plans, design elements borrowed from tiny homes, and the occasional meander into Japanese baths. (Because, seriously, why wouldn’t I meander into Japanese baths?)

Anyway, it’d be nice to have you along for the ride. And for the advice. Y’know, if you’re a random stranger.


Big-ass round tent, a.k.a. “a yurt.”

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From the kick-off meeting for a client work group:

<JG introduces himself and explains his role to the group.>

JG: “I represent Corporate Communications.” <glances around the room; then, deadpan> “And I represent The Men.”

<Roomful of women laughs.>

JG: <more seriously> “I’m not directly on this project, but I’m managing the Media Center project, which another vendor will be building for us. I’m here so I can listen and take things back.”

TW: <chortling a little> “To The Men?”

JG: <again, deadpan> “What?! We have meetings, too, you know!”