By sister Abigail Trumbo, American Muslimah wife, mother, and writer.
A Layperson’s Perspective On Minimalism & Moving Towards Sustainable Living
I can’t remember exactly when I started discovering minimalism, but I’m guessing it was around 2015, when it became “trendy.” That was also around the time I started really trying to understand personal style, because I had begun working in a retail environment where it was my job to style clients. I had never been very thoughtful about what I bought, where I shopped, or my impact on the environment – I thought mainly about prices, and I also had an inherent preference for fully using things instead of throwing away perfectly good items. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching me that! It has definitely been a key part of my growth and greatly informed my current choices.
As I developed a sense of personal style and a “look” (for lack of a better word) for my little family home, I became increasingly aware with how excessive the typical lifestyle in my country is. People are constantly bringing home knick-knacks, believing that they need “a special touch” to turn a house into a home. They have to buy entire pieces of furniture just to hold and display items that only serve maybe one purpose, if any! And fashion? I love it and spend much more time exploring it than I should, but even I am astonished that people shop for fun every single week, buy multiple pieces of new clothing just to try out and purchase items they don’t even like just to be trendy, and who go through textiles and accessories like babies go through diapers. I realized that all this input had created the expectation, even in my mind, that a home was meant to showcase things. I had felt like I needed this thing or that, shelves of trinkets, and so on, to have a really beautiful home that we would enjoy being in. How thankful I am that we did not actually go down that route; alhamdulilah for the financial constraints that barred me from it. Because now I understand better and have learned an entirely new, but to me, so much more natural, approach to style and living comfortably.
My life revolves around my children, and so must my home. I quickly learned that even the most essential pieces of furniture will be subjected to heavy use by busy babies learning to walk and later developing fantastical toddler games! There is no chance for the carefully arranged shelves of things that so many people keep in their homes. It also dictates what I wear, naturally. I downsized my hijab collection significantly because I realized that I was only ever wearing 3 or 4 of the scarves I had, and was just keeping an untidy box in my living room to be dumped out and picked up in an endless cycle. It also took too much time to sort through what I had in my closet for something I was comfortable in, when my little ones were screaming to go outside. I learned how to streamline my wardrobe so that everything could be easily reached and easily used, and I think I’ve finally also understood how to put pieces in it that really reflect who I am and suit my appearance as well. For example, I love colors and I think they are beautiful, but I feel so uncomfortable wearing them that I’ve finally decided not to make them part of my everyday wardrobe. This also limits my interest in changing fashions significantly, since I know what I like and what works for me, and I don’t feel nearly as tempted to get things just because they’re trendy or I like the way someone has styled them. Goodbye to the “will this hijab go with my outfit” dilemma, especially when (like today) we notice it’s snowing and want to sprint straight outside to play!
The longer I live with what would be considered bare-bones essentials and a tight sense of personal style, the more I have enjoyed it. I love that our home has as much open space as possible for rowdy boys to run through and build train tracks and play ring-around-the-rosy. I even divided up their toy collection – which is pretty small – between the bedroom and living room, so we don’t have masses of stuff everywhere but something fun to do wherever I am. (Wherever Mom is, there the little ones go.) Most of all, I love that my children can play freely and my infant can crawl around and discover things without being constantly checked and told not to pull on things! We’re all happy and healthier because everything we own now (for the most part) is useful and oriented to us.
And what we don’t use or need, I either give away or donate, so that we can actually bless someone else as well.
I also like that now, when I get dressed and look at myself in the mirror, I feel happy and beautiful. I don’t feel frumpy in florals or prints that don’t suit me, or childish in a rainbow of colors, or inhibited by jewelry that gets ruined by my constant running, playing, cooking, and cleaning. And I love being able to look into my closet and see a rail of pieces that I enjoy wearing, with each one expressing some part of my taste or personality, instead of trying to fit into what other girls are saying is “in” or appease the caprices of my society. I love that my hijabs are easy to hang up and reach in a second, and best of all, that more than half of them were gifts so each one reminds me of someone I care about.
I readily admit that I have been drawn to minimalistic living because of personal preference. While I experimented with style, I found that I always kept coming back to the most basic and simple kinds of things. In my house, too, I literally feel suffocated if things aren’t tidied up and there isn’t plenty of open space. I can’t rest with a lot of things around me – they feel chaotic, weighty, and angry. There is something about the visual of space and natural light that is more soothing than any kind of décor I have ever seen. But as I recognized the kinds of things that worked for me, I inevitably learned why so many other people were moving in this direction, and how the minimalist movement expressed much more than personal tastes.
Our cultures pound consumerism endlessly. Women are especially targeted, as homemakers and as people who are already beautiful and want to accentuate that.
We’re inundated with changing styles, with expectations to look updated, with an urge for new.
And that is so unhealthy not just for us but for the earth that’s bleeding out resources for our seasonally changing interests, and for the mothers and children with sore hands and hungry bellies and aching backs (and worse) who produce those things for us.
Thinking about what we consume and why, moving away from that mindset of entertainment and focusing instead on facilitating our actual lives, has a much bigger impact than our own comfort. It shows that we are aware of who we are and of our connection to everyone else — and to the planet as well!
The things we put in our homes and on our bodies make a visual statement about who we are, and respect for human rights and for nature is a huge part of that. We don’t only use style to show our creativity, but our perspective on our place in the world. Ultimately, we express our sense of morality even through the clothes we put on.
I started developing a minimalistic style from selfish reasons, because it suited me and my budget. But now I feel like my eyes are a little more opened and I am learning how to change the sources I look to for our needs. Now if and when I shop, I feel even better about it because I am doing it meaningfully and thus bringing conscience into the most intimate aspects of my family’s life. From cutting up worn-out clothes to use as cleaning cloths instead of buying wipes, to making sure that every piece of furniture in our home is beautiful and speaks for itself (so that no decoration is needed), to buying secondhand for myself and my children, I am embracing a way of living that is much more in accord with how Allah intended us to be and in harmony with reality. I still have progress to make in how I respect the environment, but I am now equipped with knowing how and why to move forward. Best of all, I’m loosening the stranglehold of consumerism in my life and adjusting my mindset to cut out the frenzied buying and changing to which my generation has been conditioned.
I am sometimes surprised at how far I’ve come in adjusting my life and expectations to minimalism. Just a few years ago, I would have felt like this was a waiting-room period of life and eventually I could finally have a “dream home” filled with things. But now, even if I were rich, I would prefer this kind of life, more or less. I would rather have our beautiful granite-look table that my husband brought, where we eat and learn languages with friends and play and celebrate Ramadan, with my one candle on it that gives off beautiful light and reminds me to be thankful, than decorations everywhere. I would rather buy second-hand clothes that are too good and lovely to be abandoned than keep cycling through new things in the store which burn through our rapidly changing world. I would even rather my children not be inundated with toys, so that they learn to play happily with what they have and use it imaginatively and experiment. I like that everything around us carries our memories and actually means something to us, instead of being “just” a thing.
Gratitude is key, and so is slowing down and seeing the beauty that absolutely fills the world. I have learned to stop and just appreciate the harmony of colors, the way light plays on a surface, and the smell of fresh air through an open window. That’s the kind of life we all want in the end, isn’t it? And that is why minimalistic living is such a wonderful thing. It helps us achieve more contentment and it focuses our eyes on what really is a splendid creation.
I strongly believe that reducing what we consume is a must for the future of our planet, if not for our sake, for our children’s.
But I also believe that it is beneficial for us as people and that it’s not about being monochromatic, boring, or hard on yourself or others. It’s about recognizing who you are and what you love and celebrating that. So when you think about minimalism, please don’t think that you have to have a white and gray Scandinavian aesthetic, or that minimalism means only modernism and tight living. Just look around you, notice what really makes you smile and what brings that sense of delight and rightness to your eyes, and recognize what supports you in being fully you and living out who you are, and free yourself from the rest.
Abigail Trumbo is an aspiring writer from Richmond, Virginia, USA, and became one of many American Muslims in 2013. She’s worked in a variety of settings: an accounting office, a university office for international students, as a home health aide, and in retail. She returned to school in 2015 to study for a career as a teacher, but decided to be a stay-at-home mother when she had her first child. Since then she has begun writing again and dreams of compiling a book of short stories as well as a novel geared toward Muslim young adults. She also started a blog where she writes about growth and identity as a Muslim woman and plans to advocate and educate for mental health from an Islamic perspective. You can follow her work at https://authorialaspirations.blogspot.com/.