An Exercise in Holiday Ascetism

I've spent the last two weeks living in one tiny room.

In preparation for my move to Rotterdam, I'm staying in a very good friend's home. A very good friend's empty, echoing, 3 bedroom, 1920's era rowhome.

Our buddy (my husband's coworker Rich, who hails from Jamaica), owns a house in the Columbia Heights section of DC.

Rich is making the move to Rotterdam along with my husband Brandon - the two of them left just over 14 days ago. Rich's things have all been shipped and are on their way (along with the sum and total of our worldly goods) across the ocean. Rich's rowhome is almost monastic in its bareness.

In the face of almost hysterical holiday overconsumption, my current lifestyle is an exercise in holiday ascetism.

I'm spending the majority of my time at 'home' in one small bedroom on my sleeping roll.

Supplies includes a camping bag rated to 0 degrees (F), a large down comforter, and two pillows. No pad, no air mattress - just me, the bedding, and the hardwood floor. I roll this up tatami-style before leaving every morning for work.

A suitcase's worth of clothing hangs in the bedroom closet, and my laptop is stored next to my bedroll. Other than the bathroom, I'm living in a space smaller than most people's offices. And here's the really interesting part - I'm loving it.

I've lived out of a suitcase before - traveling for former employer HRC, I did stints from 2 to 5.5 weeks on the West Coast. I actually enjoy the spartan nature of this type of living.

Ruthlessly requiring yourself to cut down on possessions is a great exercise...an increasingly busy lifestyle (Health 2.0 internship, interview with a Dutch medical center three days after I touch down in Rotterdam, recruiting/training my replacement, etc.) absolutely necessitates such a tradeoff.

This also is not the first time, as a family, that my husband and I have decided to pare down. (We are blessed and privileged enough that our sloughing of goods has always been voluntary rather than necessitated by hardship or disaster).

Last year we moved from a two-story, 3 BR (with deck) single-family home in Southern Maryland to a 1 BR, single floor English basement apartment in DC.

At a yard sale (and via frequent donations to local thrift stores) we jettisoned about 75% of our furnishings and home goods. (I could only bring myself to eliminate 50% of my clothing though....nobody's perfect).

When the movers arrived last month to pack us up for Holland, we eliminated even more goods.

Deciding to take only one vase, a cut-glass heirloom from my great grandmother, was one of the first painful steps in paring down. After a few opportunities to eliminate stuff, however, giving things away starts to feel surprisingly refreshing.

With today's weighty lives (and waistlines) and even heavier expectations (of success, of sharing time and self), we do ourselves a disservice by weighing ourselves down with 'goods.'

It's the holidays.

Your home may be decorated. Traditions abound. You're dragging out a tree, or a menora, or whatever else symbolizes a celebration relevant to your lifestyle and faith - you're baking cookies, shopping, arranging family meals.

Mountains more stuff is about to make its way into your home.

Why not take an evening this week to personally pare down?

Look through your closet and put anything you haven't worn in 6 months to a 'donate' pile. I recommend Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or your local shelter. Same goes for things that have been collecting dust unaltered, or you've allowed to hang around in disrepair.

This is an easy way to gradually transition yourself into a more streamlined mindset for living.

We have, after all, begun to live for stuff, and the ability to accumulate more stuff.

This holiday season, consider "Celebration by Decluttering."

My family is taking up the gauntlet - my mother no longer uses a microwave. My sister has done away with paper towels.

These are extreme examples, but I look to them as amazing instances of what is actually possible when you consider eliminating unnecessary stuff - you end up finding out very few 'things' are as vital to your way of life as you thought.

We decided last year that instead of giving gifts, we would either donate to each others desired charities or spend time/money used for shopping to travel - spending that time instead with each other.

Along with fellow bloggers Lisa Haneberg (Management Craft) and John Halamka (Life as a Healthcare CIO), I want to recommit myself to decluttering - to only having stuff around that augments a greater quality of daily life.

Shed old sports equipment, kitchen items and electronics you don't use regularly.

And while you're at it, shed the albatross.

Too often quantities of stuff shield us from the fact that we're not living in a way that measures up to our desired quality of life.

The happiest, healthiest, and sparest of holidays to you all, dear readers.

May you have an abundance of friends, family, success, and support, and time to share not worrying about the pursuit of stuff, but rather the pursuit of selflessness.

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