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Are you a minimalist, and a creative person?
Welcome to the third interview of the new series, Creative Minimalists. Here we'll talk about how living an intentional life can affect creativity.
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If you want to participate in this interview series, go here.
Annie Zhu was born in Nanjing, China, and moved to Canada at the age of seven. She has a BFA in Film Studies from Ryerson University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Based in Toronto, she runs Terumah.ca, an ethical fashion and conscious lifestyle site. Annie is currently completing a collection of 13 short stories.
Let's start at the beginning. What got you into minimalism?
A few years ago, I started reading books on minimalism out of curiosity. It made total sense to me to only own things that I love or benefit me in some way. I'm also a frequent traveler, and I learned to travel lighter with each trip. Living in small apartments in various cities also helped—forced—me to live with less.
And I have to say, episodes of TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive" are terrifying.
How do you explain minimalism to others?
Minimalism to me is about paring down to the essentials, and being free to let go of things that I no longer need or like. Being a minimalist doesn't mean I live in a white room with barely any furniture or possessions. Rather, everything I own serves a purpose.
I still have collections. I love books, for example. Before minimalism, I had five times more, but now I only own the books I love and would want to re-read.
I also blog a lot about ethical fashion, but I don't buy things to fit into the minimalistic aesthetic at all. Sure, I have some neutral basics, but I also own colourful and somewhat eccentric pieces. I honour my likes rather than adhere to any unspoken rules of minimalism.
What are some of your biggest challenges when it comes to being a minimalist?
It's a good exercise in curbing impulse purchases, especially when it comes to clothes. I definitely take a step back when considering new purchases, and for practical reasons too. My closet space is not huge, so if a new item comes in, something I already own might have to come out. Since I write about fashion, there's pressure to be photographed in new clothes all the time, but I don't buy into that. I want to encourage people to make the most of what they have, so I'm usually seen wearing clothes I've owned for years, and wearing the same pieces in different ways.
Also, with gifts, sometimes I'm overwhelmed with hand and body creams come Christmas or my birthday. That's why during the holidays, I tell friends I don't want to exchange gifts.
How do your friends and family respond to your request not to exchange gifts?
It is tricky. My family still exchanges Christmas gifts, but they're not extravagant. Even though friends may agree with not exchanging gifts, some just love to give and get caught up in the excitement of shopping for the holidays. I may end up receiving some small gifts anyway, like fancy soaps and lipgloss. So I'll have to see how I handle the holidays next year, but I don't really have birthday celebrations anymore, so that takes care of the overabundance of hand creams.
How has minimalism affected your life in an unexpected way?
It helped me determine whether I need the things I had previously thought were absolutely essential. As a writer, I should own a printer, right? Well, I found it easier to just print things from a USB at local print shop instead of owning a bulky printer that takes too much space in my apartment. It's actually more cost efficient too, since prices for printer ink are so jacked up.
Let's dive more into writing. Can you give us a peek into your typical day as a blogger and fiction writer?
I wake up and stare really hard at my to-do list. I used to write my appointments and to-dos on my phone, but I wasn't connecting with that method and things were getting lost, so recently, I bought a big planner where I can write everything down, and that has been essential in keeping me sane. I love checking things off the list. It's such a good feeling. I'm still figuring out how to be the most efficient with time because I'm usually working on at least three different projects at once. I deleted my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, but I'll still find other ways to distract myself, like working on menial tasks before the big stuff. The thing about working for yourself is that, yes, your time is more flexible, but you may end up working into the night just so you can get stuff done. So I find it helpful to block out time to "relax," and "read for fun."
How does minimalism affect your life as a creative?
The mental clarity. I work at a little white desk with no clutter, and that keeps the stress levels down.
Do you think minimalism impedes your creativity in any way?
No, because I don't associate creativity with things. At least with what I do. As a writer, a laptop is enough. At the very least a pen and paper. I can see how painters would need more space and more tools to do what they do.
Where can we find you?
If you're a writer, do you think your work would benefit from a minimalist lifestyle?
Cover photo by Briana Blum