“I want to be a minimalist!” exclaimed my roommate, as I moved out with about 10 boxes/bags and a couple of small pieces of furniture.
This made me stop and think about whether or not I actually consider myself a minimalist. I have less stuff than most, but since I consider it an ongoing challenge/delight, the label only sort of applies.
Her question prompted me to reflect on the how behind it, and I was flattered and excited to chat more. For me, it had been a fairly simple process in that I didn’t have a ton of valuable items (ever) and had been wanting to do a big move at some point. I had been mentally inventorying and rating my stuff to determine the scale of necessity and level of attachment I had for each item in my apartment for years, along with how feasible it would be to sell, give away or store other things that I may not want to take on a big move.
When I really took a look around, I realized that most of my stuff was not that special or important—some of it wasn’t even particularly practical!
When the time came to actually make the big purge, emotionally it wasn’t bad at all—on the contrary, getting rid of pretty much everything (save for a few boxes and a couple of suitcases) was a long overdue energetic release.
This shift was fairly simple for me. I’m single (and childless) with an online job, both of which motivated me to free myself up as much as possible. Not everyone has that luxury, but everyone can certainly afford to figure out which baby steps towards minimalism feel right for them.
A year and a half later, I’m living solo again, now rebuilding a little (again acquiring more “stuff”), but the difference is that I have reframed the way that I acquire and own things.
So, what’s behind it? There is definitely an underlying theme of non-attachment, but we don’t have to be all stoically spiritual about it. The basic trick to it is to remember that choosing to care less about stuff frees up more resources (time, energy, money…) to focus on what’s important in life (relationships, career, family, exercise, etc.).
The main questions to keep in mind as we consider the overall importance of our current and future possessions are:
a) Do I deeply love it?
b) Do I (immediately/regularly) need it?
In this age of mindfulness, most of us are generally aware of what a “need” versus a “want” is. But the trick here is to really re-evaluate what this means for our specific life and situation—especially given that we can access almost anything we want at the drop of a hat these days. At least in the Western world, most of us no longer have to wait for our winter coat delivery from the Sears catalogue, for instance. Whereas back in the day—let’s say in a rural depression era situation—one would have been forced to consider such purchases more carefully.
There is something to be said for considering the immediacy of it all, too—the ease with which we might acquire things, versus how much we actually need it.
Consider these questions in three different time forecasts—choose three that make most sense to you. (I use six months, one year and five years.)
Breaking this down into more detailed questions, we can inquire about these kinds of things:
1. Do I love it?
2. Will I use it regularly into the next five years, no matter where I am or what I’m doing?
Remember, things change. What if you are in a different place, or your family structure changes, or you have to move suddenly…will this item be more of a burden than a joy should something unexpected happen?
3. Can I “afford” it into the next five (or so) years?
That is, do I have the resources to maintain it, move it, store it, etc. If it’s clothing, will it fit well and still look good in one or five years, even if my body changes?
4. How much does it cost?
Basically my rule is that if it’s cheap and fun/useful but I don’t love it deeply or need it long term, I will still pick it up if I feel I can give it away easily (like a sequinned shirt for costumes, or used cutlery).
If not cheap, I ask myself if will it be useful but still sellable in, say, a year.
5. Choose quality over quantity.
6. Does it fit my space and my lifestyle now and well into the future?
7. Use what you have. Use what you have. Use what you have.
We buy things all of the time that we do not need.
You can re-use old deli containers for fridge storage and use old clothes for cleaning rags; we can try to purchase storage/small furniture pieces that are multi-use (I use a medium-large sisal basket and a random piece of shelving as a makeshift standup desk).
There are so many other weird and interesting ways to re-use normal household items.
8. Is it possible to make, borrow, or swap instead of buying new?
9. Digitize, digitize, digitize.
There are a few things that are good to have the real versions of. It’s good to keep a real map in your car, for instance. But those old school papers or miscellaneous banking paperwork from five years ago can get all up in the computer or be shredded.
CDs, DVDs, books, courses, instruction manuals…so many things that we used to just have lying around can be accessed easily in a digital format.
10. Place matters.
A lot depends on geography. I consciously choose to live in central areas where I can walk everywhere and have done this for years. Not everyone has this luxury, but could you, in future, make adjustments so that you rely on your car less?
Another way that place affects me is that I can’t buy lots of large bulky items without special planning. Occasionally this is a hassle, but does a lot to keep my purchasing in check!
Your space matters. What you love and enjoy and are required to do matters. As we simplify, all of these things need to be re-examined. But if you are committed to the idea of minimizing, you probably won’t have to think too much—it will likely feel fairly natural and logical to shift toward a more minimal way of being, even if it’s just baby steps.
Develop a plan to do this more thoroughly at a time when it makes sense to you.
But bear in mind that our relationship with our stuff—and everything we consume, really—has to go both ways: Do we love it, do we need it, does it “love” us back? Will others possibly love it/need it if we decide to give it away?
Every time we choose to care less about a thing, it frees up energy to put towards something more important.
You might be surprised at the ways in which this affects every aspect of your life.
Bonus: Inspiring video! (If you don’t know who Reggie Ray is, you should.)
Author: Renée Picard
Image: via the author