Thoughts on Minimalism & Possessions

As you may already know, I moved from my house about a week ago. During this time, My mother and I had to decide what to do with everything we had stored in our house over the past 20 years. To say that it was exhausting was an understatement, as it took not only the physical effort of moving these objects, but also the overwhelming emotional effort to know what to do with all of these things. The further we got in the moving process, the more these objects felt like anchors weighing us down. Now living in a different home, I hope to free myself from the crushing heaviness of keeping so many possessions.

Growing up, spring cleaning in my house always constituted of moving things upstairs into our bedrooms, or downstairs into the basement. Things rarely left the Chiasson household, and this was evident when you’d open a closet door and it would be filled with things which were once useful, but hadn’t been thought about, let alone used in 15 years. About 2 or so years ago, I decided to reclaim one of these spaces for myself for practicality’s sake as well as my mental health. Cluttered spaces have often made me feel stressed and overwhelmed, so I did the unthinkable, and started getting rid of stuff. Over the next couple of weeks, I cleaned the hall closet right next to my bedroom. This took so much time to accomplish that when my friends would call me and ask if I wanted to hang out, to which I’d reply “I can’t, I’m cleaning out a closet”. This is still an inside joke which we have for every time I try to fabricate an excuse for trying not to hang out. I cleaned out boxes from Christmases long ago, clothing which hadn’t donned a human body in a decade, and things from my mom’s college days. There were projects from when my sisters and I were in grade school and numerous other odds and ends which had long overstayed their welcome. For the record, if you want to hang out, I’m cleaning a closet at the moment.

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Halfway through the closet cleaning endeavor

Somehow, I discovered the concept of minimalism. While the dictionary definition of minimalism only pertains to an art style which emphasizes simplicity, this concept still applies to everyday life and possessions. I had been living in an apartment with friends during my junior year of college. After moving my stuff into this space, I realized just how much I still needed, or well, at least thought I needed. Cling wrap, loaf pans, end tables, bookshelves, shoe racks; the list of things I thought I still needed was seemingly endless. When you only have so much space to store your possessions and you keep acquiring things, you run out of space to breathe. It soon became overwhelming thinking about purchasing more stuff, and made me question what I was truly content with.

A month or so later, I discovered The Minimalists, and my life has not been the same since. As two guys who were caught up in the corporate rat race of America, they decided to abandon everything they knew and start a completely new lifestyle. They started to do things more intentionally, from the people who they talked to, to the things they purchased, as well as how they made their money. This intentionality was refreshing to me, as it forced me to think about why I owned the things I did. I could spend a whole article on ideas which I have been exposed to because of them, but I won’t do that now. They inspired me (and countless others) to get rid of things which serve them no purpose or bring them joy. I appreciated their approach to this lifestyle because it is not one-size-fits-all. A french press to one person could allow them to make a great cup of coffee, which could be the best part of their day. To another person, that same french press might be a dust collector in the back of their cupboard stressing them out. Ultimately it is up to the individual to decide what is and isn’t useful/necessary/valuable in their life. Through my jettisoning of objects, I have learned that I can, in fact, survive without many of the things I thought I couldn’t live without, and maintain my happiness while doing so.

Fast forward a few years and I embarked on the ultimate closet cleaning endeavor: cleaning out all of the closets. By the time we had to move out, everything had to go. It was not a matter of if, but of when. Moving out of my old house has really helped me mentally let go of possessions. The 15 year old Pokemon board game that had been in the basement for the past 13 years doesn’t hit me with the same sense of nostalgia anymore. It just kind of feels like an anchor weighing me down now. It’s just another object that I have to move with me from place to place indefinitely. However, it’s not just the board game that feels like an anchor. It’s the old game consoles that I never play and the clothes I never wear. It’s the 10 mugs that I’ve acquired in the past year and all of the free pens that have found their way into my life which seem like they’ll never leave. Every time I look around, there’s another object which is cluttering my life and stressing me out. How does one person collect so much stuff without actively thinking about it? It is so much easier to acquire objects than to get rid of them.

You might be thinking that getting rid of a lot of your things sounds crazy, but most of us have grown up in a society which encourages us to keep buying things for the sake of buying things. Walden pond, the famed home of transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, has a gift shop which sells baby onesies which say ‘simplify, simplify, simplify’ on them, among many other Thoreau-based mugs and nic-nacs. When the person who could be argued as the true antithesis to consumerism has their own gift shop, there truly is no end to it.Consumerism is so saturated into our culture that we often don’t see it, because it just feels normal to us. We can rarely go a few minutes without seeing an advertisement for something. You do not owe these companies your time, they owe you yours. Surely, we all cannot survive without the latest and greatest gadgets and contraptions which the 21st century has to offer, so why not buy them all? When was the last time you thought of what your life might look like if you didn’t own a microwave? A television? A bed? The great thing about minimalism is that there really aren’t too many rules. If you use your microwave every day and wouldn’t want to live without it, then keep it. If you have a cupboard filled with 30 mugs and only use 4 of them, what value do the other 26 have? Minimalism has helped me seek out what is and isn’t truly necessary in life. For example, I have happily slept on the floor for the past 2 years. Many people give me strange looks and question why I’d want that for myself. To which, I usually reply “I enjoy sleeping on floor and my back feels great, so I do it”. Sleeping on the floor works for me, but might not for you. If you don’t sleep on the floor, that does not mean that you aren’t trying to declutter or can’t call yourself a minimalist (if you so choose). It merely means that you enjoy sleeping in a bed. It just so happens to be something I don’t need in my life.

To me, I find that I can live happily without a bed and not feel like I’m depriving myself. Often times, people go on crash diets and deprive themselves of calorie-dense food for short periods of time, which usually end up with the person eating more calorie-dense food after they get off of the diet. Such is the same with our possessions. If you jump into the minimalist waters too fast, you might resist the change and not do anything at all, or perhaps buy more stuff than you had before. This has nothing to do with deprivation, and everything to do with intentionality. If at any point during your minimalist journey, you feel truly deprived, you are doing it wrong. On the other side of that coin, be mindful as to why you feel deprived. Self-reflection is quickly becoming a lost art. No house has been entirely de-cluttered in one day, and you shouldn’t expect that of yourself. Think of the things that have been in your closet and you haven’t used in 10 years and start with those. Chances are, they bring you no real joy or value in life and you won’t even notice that they are gone.

Storage space is a double-edged sword. If we see that a space is empty, we tend to find things to fill those spaces. Tables and counter tops are notorious catch-alls, and closets can be as well. When these spaces are filled with objects that we don’t really use, they lose their function. If your closet is filled with old jackets and clothes you haven’t worn in 10 years, where are you going to hang the jackets you currently wear? If your desk or table has old bills and junk mail scattered over it, where does that leave space for you to eat or use your laptop? Desks and tables, among many other things, can be extremely useful, but often times fill up with the things we don’t want to immediately deal with. Stuffed animals or childhood clothes often get shoved in these places just in case they are needed, but are rarely needed. What warmth does a jacket provide hanging in a closet, untouched for 15 years? What songs have a guitar that’s been sitting in a basement for a decade played during that time? Most of all, what use are you getting out of them if they never leave these places?

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Our basement; a notorious catch-all.

To frame it a different way, how could/would you use the extra space in your home if you cleared out all of the stuff you didn’t use? Perhaps you’ve wanted a quiet reading room for years but you can’t use it because it’s packed floor to ceiling with Christmas decorations. Perhaps you want to explore a creative hobby like painting on canvas or playing guitar but never had a space which you could do that. For these reasons and many more, I believe that by owning as little as possible enables us to live a more fulfilled life with less stress and allows us to pursue creative or perhaps philanthropic endeavors. If you don’t spend your money on stuff you don’t need, perhaps you might spend some of your money helping others in worse positions in life than you.

At the end of the day, it’s all just stuff. We all need a certain level of possessions to hav eour basic needs met, but beyond that, it’s largely chaff. Why do we value buying so much stuff if we don’t value any of the things which we buy? If you could think of your favorite or most important moments in life, very few of them would likely be of a physical possession. Because of this, I have started to prioritize spending money on experiences rather than objects. Going to new places and doing things which you haven’t done (and perhaps have always wanted to do) are enriching parts of life which give you a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I’ve found that buying things gives me a very temporary sense of pleasure which isn’t even that fleeting. The feeling you get buying a new pair of shoes is great, but you hardly remember that feeling a week later. Once an object becomes a part of your life, it becomes very hard for it to leave. Having said that, if you think of moments like visiting a new country/state or going out to eat at your favorite (or perhaps a new) restaurant, you likely have many fond memories of these experiences.

I could honestly ruminate over this topic forever. The relationship which we have with our physical possessions is seemingly simple, yet overwhelmingly complex. Objects can own us, or we can own them. You can own your living space, or it can be owned by clutter. People keep things for so many different reasons and use things for a great variety of reasons as well. Ultimately you hold the keys to your life and what you want to do with it. I’ve found that by owning less things, I’ve learned what things are worth keeping. This has helped me learn what I use, why I use it, and to some extent, who I am. I encourage you to think critically about the things which you keep in your life and why you keep them. Who knows? It might just change your life.

 

Some resources I have found really helpful in my minimalist journey are:

The Minimalists blog

Project 333

Zen Habits

 

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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