Once a person has lived through being a war refugee, they will tell you that they had all of their belongings in one bag, agile and ready to mobilize at any moment. Think of it as a go-bag. I know this because I was that person, and I’ve now come full circle to living and sharing my journey and lessons learned of minimalism and a zero-waste lifestyle, but this time it is my choice. The emphasis here is on “practicing” because it’s a journey, and for each step I’m taking, I’m improving my version of agility, but the work of fine tuning minimalism doesn’t stop, it’s a continuous process of mindfulness, as life ebbs and flows.
Hello, I am Chi.
Hello, I am Chi. If you met me now, you would never know that I once fled Vietnam to avoid political persecution when the North Vietnamese Communists won the decades long civil conflict. I’m in mainstream America now. I have raised two successful Millennials, married my high school sweetheart, and feel like I’ve achieved the American Dream. I’ve always thought that I was somewhat a minimalist and not a wasteful person, to American standards. However, I have discovered the unsettling truth when I left my “other” career to publish my refugee story.
Kick the Clutter for Focus, Sanity, & Serenity
Step 1: Purging from Years of Collecting
My first few weeks of being a full-time and full-fledged author, I sat down to edit years of writings and couldn’t concentrate. I was surrounded with such an obscene excess from years of raising two kids, being married for thirty two years, and pursuing the American dreams that my household gradually and slowly indeed stored more stuff than I can comfortably admit, most of which is no longer needed. I stopped writing and started sorting, purging, and repeated the process from one room to another. It’s a process I’ve always used, but now I do it with hyper vigilance.
I will readily admit that like everyone else, I was busy working full-time with competing priorities that left me too tired to maintain some semblance of minimalism. I had become complacent and let things go and they eventually got out of control. From this admission, I declared to my family that I’m now on my renewed journey of minimalism, and made a point of not asking them to join or preach about it (by this point, there’s only my husband and I living at home). Besides purging my household and donating it to my favorite charity, the Disabled American Veterans, I have subconsciously been undergoing a zero clothes purchase hiatus for seven months now.
Step 2: Mindfulness & Deliberate Consumerism
Once I mindfully practiced minimalism, I reclaimed my sanity and have serenity in my home office environment. Now, I can comfortably focus on writing. Instead of taking a writing break to work on severe purging of my home, I began to share my journey and lessons learned with others on my author’s page while working on my book. It became my new found passion to share and discuss minimalism, not only it’s therapeutic personally, but it’s rewarding to have a community with whom my thoughts and experience resonate as I made this lifestyle change.
It’s not only about purging physical goods, but about a mindset change of deliberate consumerism, of only purchasing well-made and functional items that we love to have in our homes, where every piece has a purpose, instead of acquiring the latest gadget, or mindless consumption, which sets us back from achieving our financial goals and freedom, in order to pursue our life’s dreams and purpose.
Step 3: Repeat!
The next phase in my minimalism journey can be compared to peeling an onion. I started with the first pass in one room. I got rid of the obvious excess, followed by the second pass in the same room weeks later, and more get added to the donation bags. Each subsequent pass, more of what I previously held on now became extraneous and donated.
Minimalism Came First, Then Zero Waste
Five months into minimalism, I’m now compelled to live even a leaner existence, minimizing what I send to the landfill that couldn’t be composted or recycled. I declared to my family that I started my new zero-waste and zero-plastic lifestyle, which proved to be extremely difficult to do, especially with our legacy household inventory. The pet food bags are not recyclable. Their poop bags currently aren’t. The thermal store receipts aren’t, as well as other “green” products shipped to our house with non-recyclable packing materials.
I kept track of the items I couldn’t recycle or compost. Not shockingly, a lot goes to the landfill, even though I’m quite conscientious about it, mostly because of the said “legacy” purchased household items. Most products are packaged in plastic containers like clothes and dish detergents, yogurt containers, etc. Albeit, some are recyclable as post consumer product materials. Read more about my lessons learned from my first 15 days of zero waste here.
My Simple Zero Waste Switches
- Plastic Tupperware >> Mason Jars & Stainless Steel Containers – Plastic containers leach harmful BPA into food and water.
- Plastic Toothbrushes >> Bamboo Toothbrushes – This is a greener, compostable, farm produced alternative.
- Say No to Plastic Straws When Eating Out
- Carry a Stainless Steel Water Canteen
- Carry a Stainless Steel Food Container When Eating Out for Leftovers
- Use Cloth Napkins and Kitchen Towels instead of Disposables
- DIY Skincare & Household Cleaners
- Bringing Mason Jars & Cloth Bags for Grocery Shopping & Farmer’s Market Visits
- Husband Maintains Garden, Hunts, Fishes, Cures & Pickles
- Conscious and Deliberate Purchase of Selected Natural Fibers Clothing
Freedom in Minimalism
Even though I don’t wish to be live the austere, monk like lifestyle, I embrace the freedom of the one bag, go anywhere, at anytime ready state, and not be holden to material goods. Now, I can. I do what I love, writing about my refugee experience and minimalism, my lessons learned, and its benefits to me thus far.
I’m doing this because I love how it makes me feel. It has nothing to do with how anyone lives their lives. I started this journey to reclaim my sanity and serenity, not making a statement or a protest; I’m not making an apology for it. I most definitely not judging those who do not share my point of view and lifestyle. I’m happy, content, feeling sane and finding serenity. This is enough and sufficient for me, and I hope that my experience resonates with you. I wish you well in your life’s journey and that you will also find peace and happiness.
Bio: Hoàng Chi Trương is the author of TigerFish, a memoir of coming of age in America as a Vietnamese refugee (The book will be available March 30, 2017). Prior to writing, she served as the GIS Chief to the California Office of Emergency Services from 2013 to 2016. Her current mission is to advocate and bring awareness to the issues of refugees in America. Learn more about her writing at www.chibeingchi.com
Also, please check out Hoàng Chi’s latest article for Huffington Post on What it Means to Be a Refuge!
Connect with Hoàng Chi and her community at these Social Media platforms:
Facebook: https://facebook.com/beingchi (Author Page)
Facebook Group for Minimalist + EcoConscious Living: