Simple life is about getting real, not about reducing stuff.

I have been dealing with the big questions for years: Who am I? What is important? How should I live? I never found one right answer, so decided to rid of the wrong ones first. (Don’t we all do this when picking our significant others?) Who am I not? What is not important? How should I not live? There, they have become much easier to handle.

I started to let go of (1) relations and (2) things that weren’t working any more. The former is another story; I just say that I made the right decisions, and that it wasn’t about cutting everything off but rather about recognizing that our priorities have drifted apart. For now, let’s focus on the latter: tangible items. A stuff met either of the two criteria below, or it got kicked out.

  • It works for me
  • I used it at least once in the past year

I almost created a third category for “unusable but meaningful objects”: old photo albums, gifts, handmade items… Ultimately, they were included in the “It works for me” category. No matter how big and important memories those items carried, if they tied me only to the past, I parted with them. If they connected me to the present or to the future, I kept them (hence, they “work”).

Here is the result, borrowing the format from the Minimalists website.  I now (still) own around 200 items.

  • Furniture (20): 4 chairs, 1 table, 1 desk, 1 sofabed, 2 bookshelves, 4 racks, 1 refrigerator, 1 washing machine, 1 vacuum cleaner, 1 heater
  • Bedroom (60): 5 pairs of shoes, 10 shirts, 10 pairs of socks, 5 coats, 10 pieces of underwear, 10 towels, 1 mattress, 3 blankets, 1 sleeping bag, 5 bags
  • Kitchen (30): 5 cups, 10 saucers, 5 bowels, 1 mixer, 1 toaster, 1 coffee maker, 1 water filter, 1 set of cooking utensils, 1 set of seasoning, 3 sets of eating utensils
  • Books (50) : 49 + 1 Kindle (which contains many more ebooks)
  • Electronics (10): 1 laptop, 1 DVD player, 1 router, 2 hard drives, 1 mobile phone, 1 speaker set, 1 headset
  • Hobby (20): 1 wet suit, 1 set of scuba diving gears, 4 paintings, 1 painting set, 2 sketchbooks, 5 small figures, 1 set of Buddhist items, 1 collection of funny flyers
  • Bathroom and Others (20): 1 cat house, 2 blooms, 3 sets of cleaning substance, 3 sets of tools and supplies, 3 rolls of papers, 1 set of bathroom items, 1 weight scale

I did feel somewhat empty after throwing stuff away. Even though they weren’t functioning, they did fill places in my apartment as well as my heart. But very soon, I naturally started to look for something that could fill the void. I started to re-invite new items into my life, such as cooking, which turned out to be a surprisingly rewarding habit even though eating out in Taipei is cheap (and sometimes cheaper).

The real catch here is that reintroducing cooking into my life and recognizing its importance happened only after the downsizing. My body had been sending a message requesting a better dietary habit for years, but previously that weak signal was buried under the enormous amount of noise emitted from the junks I had accumulated. And as a lazy slob, I was still skeptic of taking up cooking until the last moment. All I knew was that my then eating habit wasn’t working for me any more; I wasn’t sure cooking was the right answer. Why give up all the conveniences? Why not just go to vegetarian restaurants or pick more salads?

But because I had emptied out so many items in my life, my desire to introduce something new was stronger than my hesitation. I reluctantly took a bet, and only after I started cooking I realized that I wasn’t just getting sick of eating out all the time; I also wanted to explore learning new skills, eat simple yet tasty food, rediscover Japanese home cooking, so on. My body wasn’t just saying no to my outdated habits; it was also saying yes to new experiences. I could figure out the former, which was still a major challenge, just by thinking. But I could have never figured out the latter if I did not roll my sleeve and take up the knife.

Leading a simple life isn’t about reducing stuff; it is about getting my life back into arm’s reach, because sometimes—well, most of the times—I could understand what’s important only after doing that very stuff myself. Getting down to the bare bones is just the beginning. The real work, introducing new (and forgotten) habits that I did not know I needed, starts from there.

Everything points toward getting real. Simplifying is just the first step, to clear out the noises (clutters) on the surface so that we can listen to something more profound. After all, if reducing is the only task, our lives resemble the tactics of a defensive soccer team. Yes, they sometimes get results (Greece did win Euro 2004). But were they ever exciting to watch, or play?