Start Your Minimalist Journey on the First Day of Spring

Spring is a time for new beginnings.

This spring consider turning over a new leaf by choosing to become a minimalist living happily with less stuff.

As spring approaches I realize that I do not need to declutter this year. Plus I may never need to declutter again. “Really, how so?” you ask. The short answer is that I am now reaping the benefits of deciding to become a minimalist in November 2016.

If you are interested, you can read about decluttering vs. minimizing and why you might want to become a minimalist in the posts Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 1 and Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 2.

During the first three years of my lifelong quest to live happily with fewer belongings, I divested myself of stuff I do not need, use, or want, changed my shopping and buying habits, and organized the stuff that I still own.

“Minimalism is about intentionality, not deprivation.”

Dejan Stojanović

You can choose to begin your minimalist journey this spring. If you do, next year you will have less to declutter and perhaps you can give up decluttering forever. More importantly, Mother Nature smiles every time you, me, or anyone else chooses to live more lightly on Earth with less stuff.

Photo credit – Dreamstime/Sashahaltam.

There is no one-size-fits-all or “right” approach to minimalism so go about it in a way that works for you. If you are looking for ideas to help you get started, continue reading this post.

Three Years of Minimalism

Initially, my spouse was not enthusiastic when I announced my intention to become a minimalist. I was probably too pushy in the beginning, however, once she realized that I did not intend to get rid of our joint stuff without her say-so she agreed to participate.

In the first two years, we focused on divesting ourselves of excess stuff including items that we owned individually and as a couple. Last year was more about reinforcing our new not shopping and not buying habits.

As you will see, that does not mean I did not buy anything.

Below are some of the challenges we faced during the first three years of our minimalist journey and how we addressed them.

Your Stuff vs. Our Stuff

If you live with at least one other person, your desire to minimize your possessions will likely affect the other person or persons sharing your home. A good way to begin the process is by talking with your spouse, partner, or family. Explain why you want to be a minimalist and ask them if they want to participate or not. Listen to them and respect their ideas and concerns.

Do not be deterred by a lack of support from others. You probably have plenty of stuff that belongs to only you so start with that. Your spouse or family may get on board at some point or maybe not.

Orange and Green Apple
Photo credit – iStock/Simone Capozzi.

I began by divesting myself of stuff that I owned. The first joint divestment project my spouse and I tackled together was the kitchen which is more my spouse’s domain than mine because she is the family chef. I recounted this experience in Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff.

Depending on how much stuff you have amassed, who else is involved, and how much time you are willing to devote to the process, the divestment phase could last a couple of months, several years, or indefinitely.

One benefit of owning less stuff is that space opens up in your home allowing you to organize your things so that they are easy to find and access. Your spouse or other family members may notice this and be encouraged to join the effort.

To Buy or Not to Buy

While you are divesting yourself of stuff, you will also need to figure out how to plug the acquisition pipeline or you will end up back where you started.

When I decided to become a minimalist, I did not magically morph into a different person and you probably will not either. Consumerism is heavily ingrained in our society. Removing yourself from its gravitational force may prove to be more difficult than you anticipate but once you do it you will be free.

Early on, I realized that being a careful and mindful shopper was not enough. I would need to radically change my shopping and buying habits. But before I could do that I needed to understand what they were.

Photo credit – iStock/cybrain.

I decided to track what I bought for myself and my family and why I bought it for a year using a simple spreadsheet as my journal.

In the post entitled, Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy, I shared what I learned during my yearlong assessment and provided some ideas to help spreadsheet averse readers evaluate their habits. Minimalism for Couples – Buying Less Stuff and Minimalism – Living More Lightly on the Planet cover repairing things and deciding when to buy or not buy new items.

I know I said I was not going to tell you what you should do but I do want to mention one thing. If you find yourself justifying buying new things by getting rid of older things, you may be keeping the number of your possessions in check but do not kid yourself that you are living more lightly on the planet.

Letting Go of Gifts

Initially, I felt guilty and stressed out about divesting myself of things that people had given me as gifts.

For me, learning to live happily with the less stuff means divesting myself of things that I do not need, want, or use regardless of whether I bought the item myself, someone gave it to me, or I inherited it.

I got over the guilt and wrote about it in Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts.

My philosophy is that a gift is something freely given with no strings attached. The receiver may choose to keep it or not. It is their choice. I have shared my feelings about exchanging gifts with my family and friends. Occasionally I give gifts and sometimes I receive them. When someone gives me a gift, I thank them and then decide if the gift fits in my life or not. If it does not, I donate it or give it away.

Is this talk about letting go of gifts making you feel anxious? If so, take a breath. You are the guide of your minimalist journey so if you do not want to deal with gifts or inherited items, then don’t.

Annual Assessment

Each year, I do a review of the previous year determining what went well and deciding if I want and/or need to do anything differently going forward.

This year I am sharing my evaluation with you to demonstrate that minimalism (at least for me) is not a game and does not require specific or perfect behavior. I am doing the best that I can to live happily and more lightly on Earth with less stuff and you can, too.

Earth Shaped like a Heart - Original
Photo credit – iStock/pearleye.

Back in 2017, I wrote Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing – Clothes and Shoes describing the agonizing and cathartic process of minimizing your wardrobe. In that post, I admitted that as an inspiration to lose weight I was keeping two pairs of jeans that did not fit my heavier post-breast cancer body. Last year, I decided to donate the jeans so someone else can enjoy wearing them while I attempt to return to my more slender self.

We have not sorted through our eight boxes of photos residing in the master bedroom closet or the several plastic tubs filled with our kid’s artwork and toys that are stored in the garage. There does not seem to be a compelling reason to tackle this stuff so it may be a while before we get to it.

The only item I regret buying last year is a pair of dress shoes that I do not currently need. I bought them for insurance when the only store in our area that carried shoes for my narrow feet was holding a going-out-of-business sale.

Christmas 2019 came and went without me buying any new decorations. I am proud of this accomplishment because I used to be a decoration churner meaning I would give away decorations to justify buying new ones.

Two big-ticket items joined my belongings last year. A mini iPad and an electric bicycle. I could write several paragraphs defending these items but I won’t. Let’s just leave it at I believe these things enhance my life.

I feel satisfied with what my spouse and I have accomplished during the first three years of our minimalist journey. And the cool thing is that I have zero decluttering to do this spring.

Minimalist Spring Challenge

Now that you have had a chance to read part of my story, are you considering starting a minimalist journey yourself?

Coffee Cup, Pen, Piece of Paper with Begin Saying on Wood Table Top
Photo credit – iStock/marekuliasz.

If you are, here is a 15-minute challenge to help you decide. You can easily accomplish this in the morning while drinking a cup of coffee, during a break at work, or in the evening after the dinner dishes are done.

If you like jotting down your thoughts, grab something to take notes or doodle on. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Spend the next fifteen minutes contemplating how you could benefit from owning less stuff. 

When the timer goes off, ask yourself this question “Do I want to try living happily with less stuff?” If the answer is yes, then pick one of the tasks below (or come up with your own) and make an appointment with yourself to do it in the next seven days.

  • Talk with your spouse, partner, or family about why you want to become a minimalist and ask for their support.
  • Click on the links within this post or the “Related Posts” section below for information, ideas, and perhaps a little inspiration.
  • Clear a staging space in your home and obtain some boxes.
  • Call a friend and tell them you are going to become a minimalist and why.
  • Minimize or eliminate your kitchen junk drawer.

If you start now, on the first day of spring next year, you will be able to look back and admire how far you have come on your minimalist journey.

Featured Image at Top

A strip of blue paper is rolled back revealing the words “A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.” – photo credit iStock/IvelinRadkov.

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A Future Forest Resides within a Tiny Seed

Think globally, plant locally.

Growing a tree from a seed and then planting it is good for you and the planet. Try it and you will understand what I mean.

My tree planting experiences began after my spouse and I moved to the California Central Coast over a decade ago. We live in the midst of one of the few remaining native stands of Monterey pine trees in the world. This is a special place.

Drought, disease, and climate change are stressing our forest. Mother Nature needs assistance or our forest will die. This means we must help take care of the forest that remains and we need to plant trees to replace those that have died. We also need to plant trees to restore previously forested land that was cleared for some reason but is no longer being used for that purpose.

“When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be.”

Peter Wohlleben

Over the years, my spouse and I have planted trees in our yard for various reasons that include doing our part by attempting to restore our tiny patch of forest and to fulfill our commitment to plant at least two trees every year we buy a Christmas tree. In addition, we have planted Monterey pine tree seedlings during volunteer days on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near where we live.

But I had never grown a tree seedling from seed—until last year.

It gave me a new appreciation of how awesome Mother Nature is and that in my own small way I can give her a hand in keeping Earth beautiful and healthy. You can, too, and so can everyone else.

I have been recounting my tree seedling growing experience on Green Groundswell. This is the final chapter of the story that began on a cold January evening in 2019 when I met Rick Hawley from Greenspace at a Cambria Forest Committee meeting and began coveting his rack of 98 tiny Monterey pine tree seedlings.

A few months later, my spouse and I became the stewards of our own rack of newly planted seeds.

Monterey Pine Tree Seedlings on Our Deck - January 17, 2020
This is our Monterey pine tree seedling rack on January 17, 2020. The rack holds 100 seedlings (there are two tubes with two seedlings). We transplanted six seedlings that were doubled up. Four have been growing in 1-gallon pots and two went to live in our yard.

If you have not read the previous posts and want to find out what it was like trying to grow itty bitty tree seedlings from seed, then you might want to read Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees, Arbor Day 2019 – Let’s Plant Trees, and Imagine if Everyone Planted One Tree. Otherwise, pick the story up here, put on a raincoat, and grab a shovel because it is time to plant tree seedlings.

This is Your New Home

Unlike their wild cousins who live their entire lives wherever their seeds land and find acceptable growing conditions, our tiny tree seedlings have grown up in yellow plastic tubes in a rack on the deck outside of our kitchen. I do not know if they have been conversing with the mature Monterey pine trees in our yard but if they have I can imagine a conversation going something like this.

Seedling: “Have you lived in that spot all your life?”

Tree: “Yes and do I have some great stories to tell.”

Tree: “What is that yellow thing around your roots and why are you living in that weird formation with your cousins?”

Seedling: “I don’t know, but I heard that we might be moving soon.”

Tree: “Really! I wonder what it would be like to live somewhere else.”

Before Moving Day

Since Earth Day in April 2019, my spouse and I and some thirty-odd other individuals and families have been growing Monterey pine seedlings at home. The local schools have been participating, too.

Rick and other Greenspace volunteers made it easy for us. They provided the seeds, potting soil, and rack of tubes. All we had to do was plant the seeds in the tubes, place the rack in a sunny location, and provide water.

The seedling growers had been informed that we would be planting our seedlings sometime during the winter after the rainy season began so the seedlings would have a chance to become established in their new homes before the dry summer weather set in.

Land owned by California State Parks was chosen for the planting location. The land had previously been deforested and grazed by livestock animals so at this point it is basically grassland near a Monterey pine forest.

Greenspace Monterey Pine Seedling Project Google Map Showing 30 Planting Plots
This is a Google map view of the planting area on California State Park land outside of Cambria, CA. My spouse and I planted our tree seedlings in plot 13 – image Greenspace.

Before we could plant seedlings, several things needed to occur.

The area was covered with 4-foot tall dead grasses and plants that would make trekking through it and digging holes very difficult. Cal Fire did a controlled burn to clear the land.

Then Rick and a small band of volunteers measured out thirty circular plots and placed 2,940 yellow flag markers to show us where to plant our seedlings. This is to ensure that the trees have adequate room to grow without crowding their neighbors.

Greenspace Monterey Pine Seedling Project Volunteer Plot Flag Setters
Greenspace flag setting volunteers – photo Greenspace.

The next thing was to set up a schedule and communicate it to the seedling growers. You can imagine how chaotic it might have been if we had all showed up on the same day at the same time to plant almost 3,000 tree seedlings. Again Greenspace made it easy. We received an email with a link to a list of available planting days and times and were asked to pick one. After conferring with my spouse, I signed us up for a 3-hour slot on Monday, January 20, 2019.

Moving Day

That afternoon my spouse loaded up the car with our seedling rack, four 1-gallon pots holding our overflow seedlings, and some shovels. I donned jeans, a California Native Plant Society t-shirt and hat, and my hiking tennis shoes. After filling up my reusable water bottle, I grabbed a jacket and a pair of elbow-length gardening gloves. I was ready to plant tree seedlings.

Almost the instant we got in the car it began to rain.

As we drove to the planting site a few miles north of town I wondered if the day’s planting would be canceled. As we turned the corner onto the state park road I could see cars parked ahead on the side of the road and a group of people milling around.

Greenspace Monterey Pine Seedling Project Volunteer Group on January 20, 2020
This is our group of Greenspace volunteer seedling growers and tree planters getting ready to plant tree seedlings on January 20, 2020. The photo was taken by Rick using Ron’s phone.

We joined the group and added our seedling rack to the staging area. I noticed that most of the other seedlings were taller and greener than ours and wondered if we had done something wrong. Rick assured me that maybe the parent trees from which the seeds were harvested were not as hardy as some of the other seeds. That was a nice thing for him to say.

Rick showed us how to dig a hole the right size for the seedling, get it out of the tube, and plant it correctly. He explained the flag system and pointed to a distant spot with a red flag marker in the center and 98 yellow flag markers radiating out from it. The group headed up the road behind Rick carrying shovels and lugging racks of seedlings.

My spouse and I spotted a red flag maker on a slight rise and peeled off from the group. It did not take long for me to realize that I was not going to excel at digging holes so my spouse agreed to do it. My job was to carry the rack around and plant seedlings. Rick came over at one point and helped us dig some of the holes. In between digging holes, my spouse planted some of the seedlings.

Greenspace Monterey Pine Seedling Project Plot 13 before Planting on January 20, 2020
This is plot 13 where my spouse and I planted our tree seedlings. You can see the post with the red flag in the upper-middle of the photo and some of the yellow flag markers surrounding it.

The rain continued to fall gently stopping periodically. Soon the knees of my pants and my gloves were smeared with mud. Later on, I noticed two guys wearing knee pads. Hmm, they must have done this before.

Slowly the rack became lighter and after a couple of hours, all of our seedlings were in the ground. I stood next to the pole with the red flag and surveyed the area that we had planted. In the distance, I could see the other groups planting their circles. I was wet and muddy—and exhilarated.

My spouse volunteered to carry our stuff back to the car while I hiked around the field asking the other tree planters if they would be willing to have their photo taken. Some were and some were not. I also asked them if they would mind sharing why they were planting tree seedlings.

The responses I received included several variations of “I love trees and/or forests.” and “I want to give back to the community.” One person expressed concern about the climate crisis. Someone else answered the question by saying “Two words, Australia and Amazon.” following up with the statement “Forests are the lungs of the planet.”

Greenspace Monterey Pine Seedling Project Leader Rick Hawley on January 20, 2020

As I headed back to the car, I spotted Rick Hawley digging holes with another group. I thanked him for all of his hard work putting this whole thing together, suggested we do it again this year, and told him I would love to learn about collecting seeds.

Later that night, I began feeling the effects of kneeling and getting up 60 or 70 times over the course of a couple of hours. My legs hurt so bad it was painful to go up and down the stairs in our house for a day or two. Still, it was totally worth it!

I am looking forward to visiting our trees and watching a forest reappear where once there was none.

You can grow tree seedlings and plant trees, too. There is sure to be a group in your community or region growing seedlings and planting trees. So look for them. Then join tens of millions of people all over the world who are growing and planting trees.

“There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us.”

E.O. Wilson
Featured Image at Top

I took this photo on January 28, 2020, while walking with my spouse through the Monterey pine forest on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA.

Note for Readers

I was fortunate to be at the November 2019 meeting of the San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Native Plant Society when Nikki Nedeff gave a presentation about Monterey pine forests. At the meeting, I bought a copy of The Monterey Pine Forest: Coastal California’s Living Legacy, second edition published by The Monterey Pine Forest Watch in 2018. If you are interested in Monterey pine trees and forests, this is an excellent book chock full of information and wonderful images.

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