The Art of Minimalism: 5 Things Germany Taught Me About Living With Less

Pilar Piece Berlin Wall 2011

Photo courtesy Pilar Harris

This is a guest post by Pilar Harris, a healthy lifestyle blogger in Los Angeles. Please welcome Pilar to the HBW Community!

I come from a very creative, woman-centric tribe of stylish black women who love to thrift shop and collect. Growing up, garage sales and flea markets were frequent happenings. I can recall my grandmother and aunties having several closets filled with clothes, much of it never worn, and knick-knacks, many unused.

The very day I arrived for my year-long stay in Germany, I knew I’d be forced to confront and reconsider my own habits of consumption. I quickly learned that minimalism isn’t just about living with less. It’s about making room for more of what really matters. I’m pleased to share some of the lessons learned from this experience of downsizing. I’ve been able to find more time and space for what matters most – the things I’m passionate about and the experiences that bring me closer to an understanding of my divine purpose.

So, here goes.

Lesson 1: Buy Only What You Can Carry Home

I lived in a 6th floor apartment in a beautiful pre-war building. You know, the kind with lots of windows (for letting in natural light) and no elevator. I developed the habit of only buying what I could comfortably carry home, up five flights of stairs. This meant buying less and making multiple trips to the grocery store in a week. Now that I’m back in the States, I try to maintain this mentality because it prevents impulsive buying. It really comes in handy when I’m at those big-box, super-saver stores that stock everything under one roof!

Lesson 2: Carpool

It’s not uncommon for Europeans to carpool with complete strangers. They even have websites, similar to Craigslist, that allow folks to post their trips and the number of open seats they have available for the ride. Coming from California, where it seems everyone has at least one car, the idea of this totally blew me. But I learned that it makes perfect sense, once you put your pride aside. Why not ride with someone and split the costs, especially for long distance trips? I can’t say how many times my girlfriends and I have gone someplace, the four or five of us arriving in separate vehicles! For safety’s sake, I still wouldn’t carpool with strangers. Yet, I have learned to be a lot less shy about the whole “can I get a ride” thing.

Lesson 3: Modesty is Sexy

This is not only a lesson learned in minimalism. It also relates to cold weather living and mindful dressing. I watched chic German women maintain their sexy through the long winter season while covered from head to toe. I discovered this culture of understated femininity where form-flattering turtlenecks, eye-opening mascara and waist-high trousers reign supreme. No punchy eyeshadow, trendy handbags, or statement accessories needed. It’s all about mixing conservatism with classics and basics for a wonderfully becoming wardrobe, instead of doing an overhaul in favor of the season’s biggest trends.

Lesson 4: More Experiences. Fewer Things.

Each of the friends I made in Europe had a rich past experience of travel that, in the States, is typically reserved for the well-to-do. The secret, I found, is not in having more money. Rather, it’s about leading a simple lifestyle and splurging on the experiences that enrich our understanding of the world. I watched a young couple lock up their humble one bedroom flat, headed for a one month winter holiday retreat in Denmark. My sweet university-aged friend, who lived at home with her parents and did not own a car, returned from spring break refreshed, after having spent a week in the Mediterranean (Mallorca) with her brother and cousins. It’s a tradition they’ve kept since the youngest of them turned sixteen.

Having seen this for myself, I feel I have an important choice to make when the latest gadget, perfume or platform shoe is released: to buy? Or to save for that South American expedition I’ve been dreaming of?

Lesson 5: Live Small

Small is the name of the game in most European urbanscapes. If you’ve ever shopped at Ikea, you probably have an idea of what I’m alluding to. Small are the cars and the kitchen cabinets. Small is every home appliance, shower and stairway. I practiced being more selective of the things I purchased and the junk I hung on to simply because there was no space for excess. It’s kind of like switching to a smaller purse. Inevitably, some of the things you’d normally carry around just have to go.

Now, whenever I find myself feeling “too big” for my surroundings, I immediately look for things I can get rid of. As I work on healing the packrat within, I am really enjoying this clutter-free way of living. It’s a one-way street toward the freedom of having more brain space and energy to dedicate to my work, relationships, and dreams.

***

pilarinmotion lifestyle bloggerPilar Harris is a healthy lifestyle blogger who is passionate about vegetarianism, travel, books and black womanhood. She is a twenty-something healthy lifestyle advocate in the making who loves hip hop music as much as she loves steamed cauliflower and independent bookstores. Stop by her humble web home, Pilar in Motion and say hi on Twitter @pilarinmotion.

 

Comments

Comments & Feedback:

  1. Danielle

    Excellent article!

    The link for Pilar’s site doesn’t work. Can anyone provide me with a working link? Thanks!

  2. Yes, I am working on healing my inner pack rat too. I just moved AGAIN from NJ to FL and I can’t believe I had so much stuff even after moving from another state just a year and a half ago. I came to FL for more sunshine and a lower cost of living, so I had to chuck the stuff. And I’m okay! LOL! A great read!

  3. D Sampson

    Hey now, Pilar! You’ve peaked my interest and attention and have me inspired to re-evaulaute my lifestyle of (over) abundance! Well written piece and definitely thought-provoking.

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