Minimalism in NYC: It’s Addictive.
Discarding, purging, relinquishing, and giving away your worldly belongings is better than taking drugs.
Personally, I find the process to be intoxicating, euphoric even.
I feel no anxiety over the loss or absence of my material possessions. With each item gone, my happiness quotient increases. I find myself smiling joyfully, embracing adventures, building better relationships, and embodying the most authentic version of myself when living intentionally as a minimalist.
My obsession with minimalism began as literature major at university when I developed an infatuation with Hemingway. I spent years trying to emulate and build a life based around his words from A Moveable Feast, “We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”
And damn, I was good at maintaining that lifestyle. I lived a life of shared experiences, and everything I personally owned could fit in a vehicle the size of an SX4. With the notable exceptions of 19 boxes of books, a mattress and a bed frame, all of which could be discarded at the drop of a hat.
So imagine my surprise when nine months ago I stood in my Brooklyn living room on a Thursday evening after work, and realized that I, as an individual, now owned an entire, large one-bedroom apartment’s worth of stuff. And worse, that I had spent the last year taking care of and accumulating that stuff instead of living in and experiencing the singular phenomenon that is New York City.
I remember feeling completely overwhelmed, and that the shopping mecca known as New York City had won without me realizing I was participating in a battle of wills. I stood there, newly out of a long-term partnership, eager to start an exciting new adventure on my terms in an incredible neighborhood, and the only thought going around and around in my head was that I now needed to negotiate with an unresponsive New York City moving company to bring a larger truck?!
Being a pragmatist, I skipped the tear-filled meltdown, and went straight to self-medication with a glass of whiskey and my mum’s chocolate mousse recipe.
Funny thing though, by the time that chocolate mousse had set and was ready to eat, I had remembered that everything surrounding me in that apartment was just stuff—items I neither needed nor wanted, and that I could, in fact, re-home.
So over the course of four days, I did just that: I re-homed. Couch to the next-door neighbor, kitchen rubbish bin and baking implements to the upstairs neighbors, unworn clothing to the consignment store, toaster and bedside table to friends, wardrobes and bookshelves to the next tenant in the apartment, and so on. At the end of four days, I was right back where I had expected to be: with all my life possessions able to fit in an SX4. Except that I had given the SX4 to my parents and no longer owned that either.
Year two has been my proving ground for minimalism in New York City. Every day I walk through the fashion mecca that is SoHo and choose not to buy the latest dress or shoes or eat at the trendiest restaurant in the Village. Honestly, no one seems to notice one way or the other. If I do choose to buy, for every new item that comes into my apartment, an old one must be re-homed. Not discarded, actually re-homed.
Instead of consuming, and maintaining that consumption, I’ve spent my time with friends and loved ones: paddling outriggers and kayaks on the Hudson River, picnicking by the lake in Prospect Park, visiting the farmers markets in Union Square and Grand Army Plaza, building sand castles and playing Frisbee on the beach, exploring museums, biking through the boroughs (hoorah for city bikes), sitting quietly on the Brooklyn Promenade watching the Manhattan skyline, and wandering through the multitudes of outdoor festivals in the summer months.
Only three-quarters of the way through, and this has already been a meaningful year full of new experiences, love and laughter. Rebuilding a minimalistic lifestyle in a bustling city like New York has opened my eyes, teaching me to:
- Take the time to wander aimlessly.
- Experience the city in each moment as it occurs.
- People watch and drink in the views from the highline.
- Explore new neighborhoods.
- Smile at street performers.
- Stop and play a game of chess in the park (and lose).
- Make new friends in unexpected places.
- Smile at everyone.
- When someone speaks, stop and engage in a conversation.
- Listen with an open heart.
- Connect with a different stranger each day.
- Be present and engaged in every moment.
- Give time and energy freely without expectation.
- Enjoy an experience without comparison to past or future.
- Place those in my company in the focus of my
I’m here to say that it can be done. Yes, this is my personal narrative, but I firmly believe that anyone can live as a minimalist in a city like New York, even though it never stops. In fact, no longer having to spend time thinking about possessions has allowed me to slow down, opening a space for more authentic, genuine connection with my community and my city.
As a minimalist, I can fully experience life and love with attentive joy in this city that never sleeps.
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Ed: B. Bemel