I've long been interested in minimalism because of its natural relation to frugality, its focus on intentionality, and its value system that echoes Christianity (focus on what REALLY MATTERS). Like many societal trends, however, its the sort of thing that you can pick and choose what works for you and what doesn't. While I love the frugality/intentionality aspects, I'm less keen on the classic all-white decor (at heart, I'm a colorful, maximalist decorator).
But I've recently been challenged by one of my favorite minimalist bloggers, Miss Minimalist (aka Francine Jay), to consider "The Joy of One." Can we live with only one of any particular item? One pair of shoes, one car, one coffee mug, one umbrella, one necklace? Can we let go of excess and just have one? Miss Minimalist is pretty intense - she has one pair of shoes for each season and one coat. She wanted to eat all her meals out of a single bowl. At first, I prematurely dismissed this idea as completely crazy. Of course I could never have one pair of shoes, what with work and snow and ultimate Frisbee and swimming and gardening and church. After I used up all my self-righteous indignation I finally got to the actual point of Jay's article - are there aspects of my life in which one would suffice?
So I tried it. In the most inconspicuous and easiest ways I could think of - one chapstick and one pen. Now stop laughing - I know these are totally silly and inconsequential aspects of life, but stick with me...
In my life tubes of chapstick are just one of those things that "appear." People gift them to me and every winter I discover long-lost tubes in my coat pocket or backpack. I always have multiple chapsticks through no effort or decision of my own. But right before my birthday this year I (1) destroyed a couple chapsticks in the drier, (2) lost the rest, and (3) forgot where I stashed my backup chapsticks (I seriously could not find those buggers). So I decided to do something I have never done before - I bought myself a chapstick for my birthday. It was the kind of action that is not exciting in any way unless you have never done it before! I went with Burt's Bees Coconut & Pear flavor, and it was a great choice. I love the scent and I love the texture, and every single time I use it it feels special.
I was really paranoid about losing my one chapstick (because of the aforementioned terrible chapstick track record). So for awhile I obsessively checked on its welfare, patting my pockets and looking in my bag. But then I created a tiny chapstick system. During the day the chapstick lives in my pants pocket or my purse - at night it goes in the little incidentals bowl on my piano. It's been three months and I haven't lost it yet!
I have, like most people, an average of 8,000 pens at any given time. I have hilarious pens from China with ungrammatical English phrases. I have lovely pens gifted to me by friends and everyday pens from hotels. In my frugality, I believe I should just use whatever pen I have whether I really enjoy using it or not. It's just a pen right?
But my favorite kind of pen of all time is the Pentel RSVP. A pen that was last cool in the 1990's, much like myself. (Just kidding, I was only cool for a brief period in the early 2000's). It's big and kind of bulky, but the cap stays on the end of the pen so well and it has a great inky fine tip point that writes wonderfully on newsprint (an absolute must for this crossword-puzzle nut). Despite my great love for this pen, the last time I actually owned one was decades ago (see point about frugality above). But when I recently saw a 2-pack of Pentel RSVPs at Dollar Tree I just couldn't resist. Guess what? They are just as great as I remember.
So I decided to try out life with one pen. I kept all my other pens because I was really skeptical about the practicality of only having one pen, but I tried not to use them to see what would happen. Would I lose it? Would I get bored? Would it be too difficult?
What actually happened was...
All my writing became more enjoyable because I was using my favorite pen. In fact, writing became completely delightful - I started hand-writing more. I didn't expect that.
I kept much better care of my pen because I knew it was the only one (with one hidden back-up from the 2-pack, of course). For the most part I kept it attached to my calendar (the place I would use it most often), so I always knew where it was and always had it with me. Sometimes I would have to walk into a different room to get the pen when I wanted to do a crossword or make notes, which was kind of annoying at first, but always worth it to get to write with my favorite pen. I didn't expect this.
I stopped thinking about pens. I was never scrambling to find one. I was never annoyed because I couldn't find one I liked. I was never returning multiple misplaced pens to the pen mug. It's not like pens were a big part of my day, but it was just one more tiny niggling annoyance that was gone. I feel ever so slightly more relaxed. And when it comes to stress every little bit helps! I just never think about pens anymore. I really didn't expect that!
I was actually really shocked at how successful my "Joy of One" experiments were and I am going to keep assessing my life to see what else can be reduced to one. It felt powerful to say 'no' to the physical and emotional excess of unnecessary duplicates and inferior multiples of the same item. I felt like I was taking back power over my own choices and space and daily stresses (even if they were tiny). I realized too that some things aren't practical to have just one of - like books or nail polish or yarn. But what if I just had one container of these items? One drawer of yarn? One bag of nail polish? One bookshelf of books? What if I found my boundary for each item and stuck with it? There's a lot of power in saying 'no' to my own personal forms of excess. It's about making deliberate choices about what I value and letting go of things that are a distraction.
I'm really excited to keep thinking about the "power of one" in my own life. But don't take my word for it - try your own experiment! What items in your life could you survive (and maybe even thrive?) with only one? Could you do something small like one lipstick or one purse or one travel coffee mug? Or something larger - like one car or one set of golf clubs or one television? And definitely let me know how it went...I'm really curious!