I thought it would be a good idea to start having conversations with people that you know, especially on things that interest you and might of interest to others as well.
On that note, I thought I would chat up with Ajita – a friend who lives in Ahmedabad, India. I had followed her posts on Facebook, where she talked of stripping down her belongings, from clothes, handbags, jewellery, utensils, gadgets and such and in general, trying to live a simpler life. It had caught my interest and since we had many things in common, from being former journalists to a love for books, I thought I could ask her a couple of questions about the changes she brought about in her life and how it impacted her and her family.
Deeply grateful to Ajita for a very honest, no holds barred conversation and also for showing me around her flat and her pared down possessions via a video call!
Things – inherited, acquired and accumulated
When I moved to Pune after my marriage, our apartment already had a lot of stuff. My mother-in-law had stocked up the house for my husband and we had kitchenware, bedding, gadgets, furniture – and over the years, we acquired things of our own as well. For a couple of years, say about a decade, we both had corporate jobs and lifestyles. We earned enough for ourselves and it wasn’t unusual to have two shopping weekends in a month – where we would go to retail outlets and buy a considerable amount of things, spending Rs 10,000 at one go. For me, it was mostly clothes and accessories (like handbags). I could justify it at some level – we needed those clothes and accessories in a corporate set-up. But deep down, I knew we had more than enough, we could do with less.
I think there were two. One, was when my daughter who was then four years old fell very sick and she had to be admitted in the ICU. She was on the highest level of antibiotics and though she made a full recovery, some thing in me changed and I knew I wanted a different life, a more meaningful one. I quit my full-time job and started freelancing so that I could spend more time with my daughter, be more involved on a day to day basis. The freelance scene wasn’t really going that well, but I gave it a shot. This was in 2014. Towards the end of 2015, we took a big decision. We decided to relocate to Ahmedabad. Jabal’s father wasn’t keeping well, his parents needed him and so did mine.
This move set in motion a number of things. One, I started giving away things that I had accumulated over the years and had hung on to. The more I gave, the more I realised that I didn’t need them at all and I felt lighter and happier. It was almost like several kilos had been lifted off my back.
The second, was that we decided that we don’t want this to be a one-off thing, something that was limited to a move. We vowed to make a conscious choice – reflect on what was really needed and what wasn’t, how we shopped and spent our money and if we could live with less stuff, a little more simply, and not slip into the accumulating pattern again.
Small is enough, small is beautiful
We moved twice once we shifted to Ahmedabad. We first rented an apartment and started looking for one that we could buy. In the meantime, we sold off our apartment in Pune.
From a 1,000 square feet plus apartment in Pune, we narrowed down on a 700 square feet one in Ahmedabad. We bought two identical flats on the same floor – one for us, and one for Jabal’s mother (we lost his father). That also gave more fodder to the internal shift – we are all going to end up in the same place and eventually leave this world. Why do we want to accumulate so much stuff? Do we really need it?
I was happy that I could strip down to one handbag and two shelves of clothes that included what you would wear at home, on an outing and for weddings and such. Jabal hasn’t bought any clothes in the last two years. We didn’t want any more crockery and didn’t feel tempted to buy at all – a huge shift from what we used to be. We could also give away a lot of utensils, clothes, toys, bedding to anyone who needed without feeling that we would miss it.
Something changed, something stirred
I realised recently that when you make small but conscious changes in your lifestyle, children imbibe them in ways that may surprise you. For instance, a month or so ago, I took our nine year old daughter shopping. For her sports day at school, she was required to wear a certain kind of blue T-shirt. We were at the store looking at the T-shirts and she suddenly said, ‘Mummy, I think we have two blue T-shirts at home. Why don’t we check them again and see if the shade matches the school’s requirement? We can always come back but there’s no point in having three blue T-shirts or overloading our wardrobe shelf.’
While our daughter has always been a content child, this was something that brought me a lot of happiness. It was something that happened organically, something that honestly I hadn’t foreseen or expected.
Patience, acceptance and contentment
When we moved to Ahmedabad, Jabal had to let go of his secure and growing career in IT. As you know, there are relatively little opportunities for IT professionals in Ahmedabad – the IT hubs are cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Delhi and to some level, Mumbai.
We faced a number of challenges on the work front; things that made us question ourselves, who we were and our sense of security. It wasn’t easy at all and it isn’t perfect at the moment as well. However, since we had made this shift towards trying to live simply, it helped us in this phase and continues to do so.
Our smaller flat translates into low maintenance and electricity bills. We don’t feel the pressure to compete with other people or feel that we are lacking in anything in life. We don’t take international vacations but the ones we do take bring us a great deal of joy. I take each day as it comes, with total acceptance and patience. Acceptance for things that work out and those that don’t. I have no expectations. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and it doesn’t seem to bother me.
Of course it is a journey in progress. I am still learning how to let go of objects, things, gifts that hold an emotional attachment for me. I know there are lots of things in my kitchen that need paring down. We still face occasional questions like ‘why do you live in a such a small place, can you not afford a bigger one?’ or ‘why did you leave your jobs in Pune?’ I don’t get irritated by these questions.
At each and every instance in our daily lives that we are able to be of help to our parents, I know we made the right decision. And the biggest takeaway is that we are so much more content, in spite of the challenges and setbacks, and our partnership as a couple is stronger.
A small tip or two
Living simply or having a minimalist wardrobe doesn’t mean you look shabby. If that’s a concern, I would say it may just be about thinking about what your needs are and then buying, instead of impulsive buying. You have good outfits, just that you don’t have too many of them. And for every outfit that you add, you try and give one away to someone who would find it useful.
When you are giving away things, it wouldn’t serve the purpose if it ends up in a dump. For me, I found takers for toys, clothes, kitchenware and bedding in the people who worked for me, but of course, you could find a NGO and donate.
Living simply doesn’t mean that you don’t have your passions. I am passionate about plants and I have created little corners in my apartment where I have them in pots. It could be something else for you. Again, the same principle would apply – how much can you have without it cluttering the space, your life and how much time do you have for maintaining what you have collected.
That’s about it. And just to note – this is not a judgement on you; everyone has a way of bringing joy in their life, it could be something different for you. This is just a tip or two if this particular one appeals to you. Love and light.