“Since my house burnt down,
I now own a better view
Of the rising moon.”
~a haiku by Basho
Living as a minimalist is a way of life. There are many components of the lifestyle which Leo Babauta does a great succinct summary of here. Everyone has their own reasons for subscribing to this philosophy but mine is for simplicity, and for letting the possessions and activities I love shine through instead of being cluttered with the stuff that doesn’t matter. It’s also a way to make me feel like I’m making less of an impact on our planet. Whether or not my efforts are just a drop in big nasty bucket doesn’t matter as much to me. It’s about how it makes me feel like I’m doing my part.
One component of a minimalist lifestyle is simply about not having too much stuff. Because of the consumerist lifestyle that society pushes on us, usually the first step is to reduce clutter that we already have. There are other components of the lifestyle that address how to limit acquiring future stuff that I look forward to addressing in later posts.
What’s so bad about clutter? The obvious outward appeal to being a minimalist is that it is aesthetically pleasing. Just take a look at a decorating magazine or one of those fancy modern homes. No clutter, right? And if that relatively shallow reason doesn’t appeal to you, there are other more profound reasons.
Decluttering is an emotional process that helps people thrive. You may be hanging on to clutter because there are times of your life you can’t let go of. Sometimes, though, these past lives need to be released before a person can move forward to what is waiting for them. What new hobbies might you pursue if you had the space to do it? Which goals could you accomplish if you spent less time acquiring and maintaining your stuff? How much more time could you spend with your family and friends if you weren’t so busy with material possessions?
Clutter is a constant reminder of a scarcity mindset. A person who has too much stuff might feel like they can never have enough or are about to lose everything they have, so they overcompensate and try to insulate themselves for the possibility. This scarcity mindset can set up limiting beliefs. You need to believe you will have everything you need to succeed.
What does creating space give to you? Well, couldn’t we all use more space? We are crammed in to this world of 7 billion people, constantly surrounded by light and noise pollution, we’re bombarded with advertisements about what other stuff we should want (presented as though they’re things we actually need), our schedules are packed full to every last minute, not even leaving us enough time to sleep until we’re rested or take 10 minutes out of our day to meditate or journal and reflect on what the hell it is we want in life. How many weekends are spent running to discount stores, electronic stores, having our cars taken care of, trying to figure out what to do with that crap in the garage that is collecting dust?
We could all use some space to figure out what it is we really want in life. When your house is relatively empty, it’s hard to escape yourself and your real needs and desires. Reducing clutter gives us more space to create and to relax and to love. We could all afford to feel a little less untethered to and ruled by our STUFF and more in touch with people and experiences.
Your stuff does not make you who you are. The guy that drives the orange Lamborghini around my neighborhood is still a prick even though he has an orange Lamborghini. The acquaintance that buys oodles of designer handbags doesn’t suddenly become classy. The person with the fancy house and garage full of toys doesn’t suddenly start being fun and interesting. In fact, people often seem to become the opposite of the thing they are trying to possess. It’s as though they are acquiring and showing off stuff in a desperate effort to get people to think of them in a certain way.
Sentiment does not need to be in the form of stuff. This often comes in the form of gifts or things that were handed down to us through the family. We feel that keeping something is necessary for preserving evidence of a relationship or an existence. In some cases, you may want a few mementos, definitely. Sometimes, though, one teacup could remind you of the way Grandma would wrap her hand around it and chatter in her singsong way. Maybe you don’t need every last piece of chipped dishware. Or instead of keeping that horrible sweater your mother-in-law gave you to prove you are a patient and tolerant person, could you just get one of her best recipes? That would be a much better way to reminisce on her great qualities as you share the food with friends.
If you decide reducing your clutter could help usher you toward a more minimalist lifestyle, try the following:
Do a walk through of your habitat.
The first step in minimalizing is to have a conversation with your stuff. Remember, this is where you LIVE. It’s not just a place to store your STUFF! I will copy an example of the questions you could use verbatim out of a book I love called The Joy of Less:A Minimalist Guide to Living:
‘Ask yourself these questions: As you walk around your house, have a conversation with your stuff. Ask each item, “What are you and what do you do?” “How did you come into my life?” “Did I buy you, or were you given to me?” “How often do I use you?” “Would I replace you if you were lost or broken, or would I be relieved to be rid of you?” “Did I ever want you in the first place?” Be honest with your answers—you won’t hurt your stuff’s feelings.’
You might be surprised at how many of your possessions kind of appall and annoy you.
The best defense is a good offense.
In other words, just don’t bring home crap you don’t need. If it’s something that you are only going to need about once or twice a year, do you really need to buy a thing to maintain and to store? Could you borrow a gravy boat from a neighbor or friend? Could you rent a power washer from your local hardware store? Could you decorate with seasonal foliage or fruit instead of buying disposable holiday decorations made in a Chinese factory? In the case of gifts, could you express preferences for consumables or experiences or donations in your name?
Decide what to keep instead of deciding what to toss out.
It’s easier this way. Only keep the stuff you love. It’s pretty simple. All moves or major life changes are great times to do this. Often times moves come along with life changes. If you don’t have a move in your future, try to choose one drawer or area per day or weekend and slowly chip away at it.
Do not feel guilty about throwing away stuff you spent money on.
Let this be a lesson to you that from now on, you aren’t going to buy something unless you love it or you absolutely need it. If you don’t wear it or don’t use it, keeping it isn’t going to suddenly going to make it worth it to have purchased it. Feel good about donating it, selling it on Craigslist, or using an organization like Freecycle.org to find someone who might be seeking the exact item(s) that isn’t serving you anymore.
Enjoy without owning.
This was another great idea discussed in the Joy Of Less book. It is essentially the theory that you don’t have to re-create the world around you inside your house. Chief and I live in a small apartment with a lovely garden in a funky neighborhood near the center of town. We have no garage, no attic, minimal closet space, no TV, one car. We actively work at not acquiring and consuming. It requires constant vigilance! We don’t buy things we don’t need, we don’t try to impress anybody, and we work hard at the principle of enjoying without owning by spending out to our neighborhood. For example, instead of buying an espresso machine with all the bells and whistles, we go drink an espresso out of a glass cup at our favorite shop three blocks away. We don’t need a fancy wine fridge because we can go down the street to have a pint and meet our neighbors. We don’t need a home theater because we can go out to the local theatre and take in blockbusters and local plays.
Reducing clutter has allowed me so much space and light in my life. It’s made me focus on what really matters and allowed my creativity to thrive. I hope it can do the same for all of you.