Minimalist Interview: Sal Crosland at One Empty Shelf

One Empty Shelf

Meet Sal Crosland, blogger at One Empty Shelf.

Sal says One Empty Shelf began as a side project to question living a simpler life as a distraction from a high-pressure, stressful worklife.

Over the past few years, Sal decided to begin to live more thoughtfully, decluttering and learning more about minimalism, trying to become more mindful of her intentions. Eventually, she was able to leave her stressful life behind and develop a life where she does what she loves, every minute of every day. She now has the time, and space, to focus on what really matters.

She writes about all of this on her blog, One Empty Shelf.

You resolved not to buy anything in 2015. Even with your exceptions, I imagine this is quite difficult sometimes. Have there been any items you’ve needed and had to buy?

I have to admit I have bought 2 things this year. The first one was a car after mine broke down, and the second was a dress for my brother’s wedding. I did manage to borrow a dress, but it didn’t fit in the end, so I made the decision to buy one. I donated 3 bin bags of clothes in its place so I didn’t feel so bad, but I think I could have done more to work around the situation. I felt like a big failure at the time, but I’m learning to look at it as an experiment! I’d approach it differently next time, mainly by planning a lot more!

The car was more of a necessity…depending on your outlook! I’m pretty busy travelling in between jobs to see clients, and not having a vehicle was impacting on that, meaning I was getting late or having to turn work down. For the time being, a car has a big benefit to my life. I bought a used one for quite cheap and it’s exactly what I need.

That’s all for now though, I think the next 6 months will be easier provided nothing else breaks!

I haven’t found it that difficult really overall, apart from the inevitable cravings to buy stuff that hung around for the first few weeks. Once I got used to it, I started to appreciate the items I already have a lot more. Sort of like looking at them with fresh eyes. I’m still paring down throughout the year too.

This is the second time you’ve challenged yourself to avoid buying for a year. Is it easier this time?

When I started the challenge in January this year I thought it would be a lot easier. In fact, I’ve found it harder than the first time!

I’m not too sure why and it’s still a long, fascinating journey. I think that the first time, I was in a stable job, with a stable income and assured circumstances, even though I left all that behind during the first challenge! This time around I think the main challenge is my work situation. I work in a charity warehouse where not only do I witness the wastefulness of society firsthand, I am also surrounded by thousands of really, really good value items. It’s very hard to resist temptation!

I’m still learning and growing and finding things out about myself. I’ll complete the challenge but I’m finding out different things this time around. I’ve got to learn not to be so hard on myself if I find I’m really craving a consumer binge. It’s a process and every part is fascinating.

You used to have a stressful job, working 14 or more hours a day. Do you miss anything about that job?

Bizarrely, I do in a way. I spend most of my time feeling very glad that I’ve actually had the opportunity to realize that there is a real life outside the 9-5, and loving working part-time for a charity and part-time self-employed…but there’s always that pull of a decade in management.

I think that once you’ve experienced something you’re actually really good at, even in a corporate environment, it’s so hard not to miss at least some aspects. You spend so long conforming to that work identity that it becomes you. For that to be suddenly wrenched away, even voluntarily, as in my case…it’s really difficult to adjust.

For me, I miss the status, hard as it is to admit. I miss feeling important and the feeling of achievement, and I miss the thrill of working in a focused, amazing team with the same goal as you. Even if the targets don’t mean anything outside of that work environment, it’s a thrill that’s hard to beat.
Having said that, I don’t think I could ever, ever go back. I love life too much right now!

Since you’ve left that job, have you been able to keep a schedule that feels comfortable for you, or do you find yourself filling up your calendar with other obligations?

I’m the world’s worst person at staying organized and scheduling! Despite my best efforts I’ll regularly double, or even triple-book appointments or events. Working 3 jobs, (2 self-employed) plus maintaining and writing for One Empty Shelf keeps me pretty busy!

Despite this, every single thing I do now, I absolutely love. So staying busy doesn’t really feel like being busy at all. It’s just filling my days with the things I find most meaningful. It’s a great way to live life. So yes, I’m pretty comfortable right now.

You’ve said your husband isn’t a minimalist. Is he coming around to your way of thinking at all?

Absolutely not! It’s been a big challenge on my part to come to terms with this. I’m pretty headstrong and it’s been a conscious effort to let things be as they are and embrace the fact that I wouldn’t want to change my husband. Even when we’re sorting out the shed and there are 3000 different drill bits, all in varying states of rustiness!

Nowadays I like to think of the ‘opposites attract’ philosophy. Through learning about Minimalism, I’m much more motivated by quality over quantity, in more and more areas of my life. I think this is something we’ve been able to share in recent years and it’s had such a beneficial impact on our relationship. It’s good to be able to seek out better quality, local items and foods together. We both appreciate that a lot more now and have an interest together in buying less but better.

What have you found to be the three biggest benefits of minimalism? Any downsides?

For me, Minimalism has had so many benefits. I think my top 3 are:

1) Entirely changing the way I look at the world: a big one for sure, but it’s true. Journeying deeper into the philosophy of Minimalism has led me down a path of discovery. It’s given me space and forced me to contemplate what the world really means to me and to identify my place in it. Previously, I’d work countless hours and get my only joy from a nice designer bag or pair of shoes. Then I’d drive home, fall asleep on the sofa, and repeat it all again. Nowadays, this world doesn’t even figure in my mindset. I can’t imagine ever going back. There are more important things.

2) Giving me space to enjoy things that really matter to me: Minimalism has given me space. A breathing space, a stolen moment in the morning with the smell of dawn and dewdrops wide in my eyes; a time, looking up form a enthralling book to stop and contemplate the effect of the words I’m reading; a wild run in the gales and rain, feeling as close to the earth as I can. These are the things that matter. These are feelings more profound, and bigger than I ever thought possible.

3) Support for local, handmade, quality items: I’m not buying anything this year but generally, Minimalism has allowed me to question the manufacturing process behind every item I choose to buy. Is it sustainable? Is it ethical? Will it last for years or disintegrate with the passing seasons? Will it nourish me, the earth, my body, my soul? It’s a good choice to have and I’m lucky that I’m able to ask those questions before I purchase.

I can’t really think of any down sides as such, apart from a few consumer cravings in the beginning! I think the worst part is trying to explain to people that you’d rather receive experiences than physical things. It’s inherent in society that ‘stuff’ is given as a gesture of care, of love. It’s hard to explain to people that I essentially don’t want to receive this ‘stuff’. Sometimes it feels strange to be outside of that ‘giving of stuff’ culture. But it’s still incredibly liberating.

Do you have any belongings you haven’t been able to get rid of even though you don’t use or love them?

I use everything I own. I pared down massively in the beginning, and in between I’ve let a few items back into my life, but I use every single thing. It’s not a bad thing to own more than 100 items, or whatever the ‘in’ number is now, if you truly love, cherish and find useful, all of those items you own. I’m not one for counting. I prefer the idea of respecting, reusing, repurposing. I’d say my absolute weakness is crystal tumblestones, but I’m a holistic therapist amongst other things so I do have a use for them…!

How do you recommend an aspiring minimalist begin simplifying?

I think there’s a different way for everybody. Having a packing party might not be as practical for a household of 5 as for someone who lives on their own. I started small and gradually built up momentum as I became more comfortable with the idea of letting items go. When we moved house I used it as an opportunity to let go of a large number of things in one go. I’d say go with what you’re comfortable with.

I love the #minsgame from The Minimalists, a month-long game where you get rid of items each day throughout the month, 1 item on the 1st, 2 items on the 2nd and so on.

Tell me about your meditation practice. Are you still doing 5 minutes each morning?

At least 5 minutes, yes! It’s easy to forget to take time to process thoughts. Meditation was never something I was into until I started studying Reiki. As I learned more, meditation became more important to me. It makes such a difference. I started off with just 5 minutes as I found that thinking I had to take 30 or 40 minutes out of my day to just sit quietly was a barrier.

I sit and let my mind wander for a few minutes, quietly breathing, then I’ll perform some of the meditations and breathing exercises I learned whilst studying Reiki. Other days I’ll listen to a guided meditation, do some chanting, or even sit outdoors and watch clouds for a while. As long as my mind gets a break, it helps.

It’s important to realize you don’t have to be into any ‘holistic’ therapies or a certain religion to benefit from meditation. Anybody can do it, for any length of time, in a way that’s personal to you. Just sitting and contemplating for a few moments is meditation.

If you’re unsure I’d say search for guided meditations on YouTube or Spotify. You’re guided through a relaxation with some soothing music. As you get used to the idea, you can begin to meditate by yourself.

To learn more about Sal and her experiences with minimalism, visit her blog, One Empty Shelf.

7 thoughts on “Minimalist Interview: Sal Crosland at One Empty Shelf

  1. Hi Sal:

    Thank you for sharing your story in this interview. I enjoyed it!

    Your third benefit of minimalism resonates with me.

    “Support for local, handmade, quality items: I’m not buying anything this year but generally, Minimalism has allowed me to question the manufacturing process behind every item I choose to buy. Is it sustainable? Is it ethical? Will it last for years or disintegrate with the passing seasons? Will it nourish me, the earth, my body, my soul?”

    Oh, this is so good!

    Recently, Ive seen a few documentaries highlighting the abuses of popular companies here in the US. The exploitation of their workers and unethical working conditions made me sick. It’s all driven by greed. I believe we can all do our part in making a difference in this world. One way is through our purchased and becoming conscious consumers.

    So thank you. This was helpful.

    • Thanks, Kelvin. I agree, though it’s often difficult to find local, handmade quality items in many cases. Heck, even if they’re not local. I’d love for anyone with good tips to share in the comments or contact me about writing a guest post about it.

    • Thank you Kelvin!

      Just asking myself those questions has made a huge impact on the products I buy. It’s so easy to grab a brand you know or get something because it’s on offer. Brands confuse us intentionally about their ethical credentials. Looking past the image is an interesting and sometimes frightening journey…

      Sal 🙂

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