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Minimizing from More to Less by Courtney Cotton

One of the joys of having old friends is that you get to know their children and learn from them too. Kathy Edwards, one of my BFF from Junior High, has a daughter, Courtney Cotton, who has mastered living with less, and now you can too, for what Courtney has to say about minimalism will fascinate and hopefully challenge you as her knowledge has me.

Do you consider yourself a minimalist?

I’ll first explain what minimalism is. Minimalism isn’t simply living in a small space, setting a strict budget, or embracing a contemporary design style. It’s truly a way of life and requires embracing a mindset that encompasses every facet of one’s day. This mindset necessitates thoughtful discrimination against the world's noise and dedication to leaving less of a footprint than the average American counterpart. The practice of being mindful is the cause; the effects are such things as living in a small space, being sparing with a budget, and preferring simplistic design styles that create a refuge for thought. And yes, I am proud to call myself a minimalist.

Have you always been this way, or what was the impetus for starting this lifestyle?

I was in a nasty relationship and marriage for seven years, where I’d escape the emotional pain by being a consumer, whether that was mindlessly surfing the internet, purchasing the next gadget or new wardrobe, binge-watching the most popular TV show, or filling the house with new furniture. When I finally decided to walk away from the relationship, I was able to stay at my sister’s condo while she traveled abroad for a few months. While I used to think her apartment was sparse and overly simplistic, there was something fascinatingly peaceful and inviting about her space. Everything always seemed clean and in order, and I could think with more clarity each time I was there. During those few months, I realized that no amount of excessive purchasing, surfing, and binge-watching would add more value to my life and that life is too short to spend on things that don’t matter.

Do you see this as a permanent lifestyle choice or a fad?

I’ve never turned back from those days at my sister’s condo. As I mentioned earlier, it’s absolutely a lifestyle choice, and my husband and I could never see it any other way. As a side note, if you’ve ever watched tiny house shows on HGTV or DIY, there’s no doubt that these homeowners have adopted a minimalist lifestyle; however, I’m not sure how long the tiny house movement will last due to increasingly strict regulations about dwellings and land usage.

What are the benefits, and what are the downsides of this lifestyle choice?

I’ll start with benefits. Here’s one that everyone can identify with – less to clean! Less stuff means less to clean, less to maintain, and less to organize. This, in turn, means more time, more money, and more clarity.

A result of practicing minimalism is the ability to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and physical state. Because minimalism allows us to have clarity in our surroundings, it is easier to practice mindfulness. I believe the two are incredibly interrelated.

Downsides – not many! In previous years, I filled my closet with trend-focused pieces from stores like Target and Old Navy, leaving me with items that fell apart after one wash. I’ve now adopted what’s referred to as a “capsule wardrobe."

Second, one might ask about living in a small space and having parties or many friends over. Well, you get creative!

How do you decide what material things will be in your life?

Generally speaking, we have a minimum 6-month plan for fairly large material purchases, aside from our home's necessities. Purchases such as these could include travel, experiences, or things that contribute to experiences, such as a camera, hammock, or bicycle. It all comes down to being usable, memorable, and well-made.

Read this staggering statistic: In 2009, the Self Storage Association reported that with more than seven square feet for every man, woman, and child, it’s now physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time – under the total canopy of self-storage roofing (New York Times). The most popular response I hear when discussing the absurdity of storage units (this goes for packed garages and attics too) is, “But I might need it one day!” Stop kidding yourself. If you haven’t used it in 12 months, it needs to go. It’s selfish to hold on to items that we never use – especially clothing, blankets, or necessities that could be donated to those in need.

Even now, in our minimalist home, we have a designated Tupperware bin in which we deposit items that we haven’t used in a few months, such as items of clothing that may not fit well anymore or a kitchen tool we may no longer need. When the bin is full, we donate it. We’ve found that once something goes into the bin, we completely forget about its existence, further validation that the item truly isn’t needed or missed.

Challenge yourself by asking why you’re a consumer? Are you seeking approval from others by having new clothes, a new phone, or new furniture? Are you obsessed with the hunt and pursuit of a particular item? Are you falsely filling a void with consumerism's constant noise and the immediate gratification of buying? Overall, the benefit of embracing this lifestyle is that it lets you spend your time, energy, and resources on things that truly matter.

Do others judge you? What type of reaction do you get from friends and family?

Friends encourage this lifestyle and often declare intentions of adopting similar habits. My mother is a different story (sorry, Kathy). Surrounded by items in her home that haven’t been picked up or looked at – in some cases, in half a century – she claims that they are sentimental so therefore should be kept. I do not understand how something can be important to you yet hasn’t been interacted with within decades. We don’t have children, but if we did, we wouldn’t want them to be saddled with combing through excessive amounts of items after we passed on.

However, socializing with friends can be challenging, like in an expensive new restaurant or bar. There hasn’t been a time we’ve gone out to dinner, and my sweet husband hasn’t said, “This was fun, but we just spent four times what we would have had we stayed at home, and your cooking is a million times better, anyway.” Eating meals at home or packing lunches is usually better than mass-cooked restaurant meals, always less expensive, healthier, and more personable and intimate. If you can read, you can cook, and if you can’t read a recipe, millions of YouTube videos demonstrate everything from how to boil water to how to prepare sea urchins. We love having people over to our house for meals – and a server never rushes us.

Do you feel minimalism and frugality are the same? Explain.

Embracing a minimalist lifestyle allows one to be mindful of a budget. Spending less on unnecessary items frees up both time and resources; minimalism and frugality are clearly interrelated.

Please share your “put an egg on the top of it” recipe.

Eggs are an inexpensive and delicious source of high-quality protein, vitamins B2, B6, B12, selenium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, and copper. We’ve put eggs on just about everything – from wild-caught trout to macaroni and cheese to vegetable soup in our house. It sounds crazy, but trust me!

As with any meal, it’s ideal to have a grain, vegetable, or fruit and a protein source, especially for breakfast. Most evenings, I will end up cooking a little bit too much rice or pasta and may have a few leftover vegetables that we couldn’t quite finish. Depending on the leftovers, we either freeze them to use later in soups or stocks or save them for breakfast. Just reheat the leftovers and, at the same time, crack and fry an egg. Then add it to the top of the leftovers.

Last night I made chicken, rice pilaf, and broccoli – and ended up making too much rice pilaf. I had some leftover tomatoes, so I just dumped it all together and threw a fried egg on top—a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And a drizzle of good olive oil over the top of the fried egg adds even more flavor and sustenance – and it ends up being no more than $0.60 per serving!

Courtney Cotton lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband. They work together in downtown Nashville and enjoy cooking, spending time outdoors, and traveling in their free time.


Martha Wild King, M. Ed., Author

The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.

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