You may be against Valentine’s Day.
I get that. Seriously, what’s not to dislike about Valentine’s Day?
The pressure to spend money on cards, flowers and gifts. The stress created by the expectation that we simply must do “something special” for our significant other. And the relentless reminder to people who are inadvertently single that they don’t have the partner they want in their lives.
Where did the love go?
What has happened is that our culture has made Valentine’s Day into a mess. We’ve created a consumerist, less-than-mindful mess.
Of course this is but a reflection of the general state of affairs—our culture’s consumerist tendencies are hardly restricted to one day in February. Valentine’s Day is just the latest excuse to spend money on things that we don’t really need and that don’t add value to our lives.
So how can we help change that cultural story? How can we get back to the heart of what matters?
I recently watched the documentary Minimalism. This documentary features ordinary humans who have created their own version of a minimalist life.
They have done so by letting go of possessions and obligations that did not add value to their lives. Some of them moved into tiny houses. One person reduced the number of her wardrobe items. Someone else decided to fit all of his belongings into a few bags so he could travel the world.
Because this is such a personal process, what minimalism looked like in someone’s life was different for everyone. However, the internal results were remarkably similar—everyone seemed happier and more fulfilled. As material possessions lost their meaning, immaterial goods such as love and friendship became even more important.
I immediately found myself desiring the simplicity of their lives. This documentary prompted me to ask myself what really matters to me. The spotlight on this question made it apparent to me that a lot of my answer had gotten lost underneath, well, things.
The truth is that things (including cards, flowers, and gifts for Valentine’s Day) are not the answer to anything. Things often not only bury our answers, but even our questions.
It can be hard to ask ourselves what really matters if we numb ourselves with the consumption or possession of things that clearly do not matter to us.
Here’s my invitation for changing all of this within the next 30 days. It starts with a simple game:
When I first read about this game, I was immediately hooked. It was not just me who had this reaction—when I mentioned the game to a friend, his eyes lit up with excitement and he asked, “Do you want to play?”
If your answer to my friend’s question is yes, here are the rules of the 30-Day Minimalism Game (which I slightly adapted):
The game lasts 30 days. On Day 1, you have to get rid of one item. This means you need to find one thing that you are going to donate, recycle, return, sell, gift someone, or throw away. It can be any physical thing as small as a ring or as big as a mattress (something that I recently donated).
Every day, you have to get rid of one more item than the day before. This means that on Day 2, you need to find two things to let go off. On Day 3, it’s already up to three things. Needless to say, this game gets more and more difficult as you advance.
According to the official rules, the items you chose need to be out of your house or flat by midnight of that same day. Since I think it’s important that everything that is in good enough condition gets donated and not thrown away, I propose extending this deadline to the end of each respective week for donation items. Gather everything that can be donated in a box and simply make a weekly trip to your donation center.
Depending on your situation, you may want to adapt the rules to allow yourself to play the game. For instance, if you have very few things to get rid of because you are currently traveling with only a suitcase, you may decide to declutter your laptop by deleting emails or files instead.
If you don’t have that many personal possessions nearby because of, say, a cross-continental move (like I do), you may also want to include stacks of paper as something that counts for the purpose of this game.
To make this game more fun, you want to find someone to play it with you. If you can’t find a partner and/or want to play this game in community, I invite you to join our Facebook group.
According to the official rules, whoever continues for the longest wins (if you both finish the 30 days, you both win). I would like to add to this that it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game. Even if you make a sincere effort, you will “win” more space and more freedom even if you give up after a few days.
This Valentine’s Day, we can start creating space for what really matters in our lives.
Let’s make space for love—not things!
Author: Bere Blissenbach
Editor: Caitlin Oriel