“There’s so much stuff, it weighs the car down!”
“Why would you bring that with you to college? I didn’t bring that much stuff with me to college!”
Moving from New Mexico to Washington to go to university was not quite the experience I had imagined it to be. Keeping around just about everything I had ever acquired during my teen years, and seeing it all crammed into one car, had successfully made me feel like sh*t.
When I traveled, I would buy souvenirs and drag them home with me.
“Your suitcase is so heavy!” I heard that comment every step of the way, every time I traveled. And I agree, it was pretty cumbersome to fly back with that much stuff across the Pacific Ocean. Okay, yeah, I probably didn’t need that giant-headed Stitch plushy that airport security made a big deal out of either (I still have it, by the way).
While in college, my mom sent me the well-renowned book by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I read the entire thing within a week, downgrading as I read. Just recently, too, I watched a few episodes of her “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” series on Netflix. Her teachings still get me in the mood to go through a material purge.
Kondo strongly suggests we let go of anything that does not spark joy. If it sparks joy, respect it and put it in one pile to organize later. If it doesn’t, thank it for what joy it may have given you and put it in another pile to get rid of.
Her method is cleverly addicting—I actually wanted to get rid of almost everything. There is much value in respecting unused or underappreciated objects enough to let them go.
There is also no need to regret a material purge. Almost everyone can benefit from it from time to time. It brings a new, uplifting energy to have freshly purged and neatly organized a space.
But I realized that there was one problem with it: shame. The source of the problem is when we get rid of things out of embarrassment. I felt like I was partially shamed into the minimalist lifestyle.
Some things we own don’t spark joy because we are told that they aren’t supposed to. One thing may be “too childish” for our age, another “too unfashionable.” Our parents may urge us to grow up and adopt more mature hobbies or wear nicer clothing.
Thinking deeply on it, one may realize how closely our things can be linked to our identities. When I walked into my recently “KonMaried” room, I pondered, Where did my childhood hobbies and interests go? Did I really want to give them up? The space felt so boring and empty. I felt as if I had given up a part of myself I truly loved.
Does maintaining a mature facade of minimalism allow us to stay true to ourselves?
Here are three downsides to shaming ourselves and others into extreme minimalism:
1. Let’s face it, it can be boring if we don’t keep what we truly love.
If we give things up that are a part of ourselves out of shame or embarrassment, we’d be taking a step back from accepting ourselves. This won’t bring true happiness. Looking at people who have material things that they enjoy under such a negative light—it can shame them out of developing their passions to their fullest potential.
2. It can actually bring more anxiety and boredom if we have nothing.
Most of us depend on objects in order to keep our minds busy and reduce anxiety. A lot of us can understand indulging in material things to occupy our minds. But some of us actually can actually use things to improve well-being, such as people who want to manage their attention disorders.
It is considerably more healthy to have coping strategies for managing ADHD or ADD than depending on medication for focusing. The stigma that we carry around materialism can be detrimental for anyone who truly needs that “something” to keep themselves moving. It is the difference between being distracted constantly and being able to focus with the help of external things.
While I can’t speak from personal experience, it can be useful for some (not all) people with attention disorders to fiddle with something, such as the stereotypical fidget spinner or some other toy or puzzle. It may be strange for others to see someone clinging to a toy past a certain age, but this actually can help keep an overactive mind busy so that the person can concentrate and be much more likely to stay on task.
3. It’s not always achievable.
We need a certain amount of things in order to function in modern society and pursue our hobbies, interests, and passions. Living in the modern world, we will never be true minimalists.
By looking at our individual situations, we can determine what and what not to keep around. It is just a matter of practice. If you gave an object away, you at least gave it a chance at a new life. If you kept it, make sure it is truly wanted. And if you want it, but something feels off about keeping it, consider if something made you feel bad about it, and let that feeling go before getting rid of the object itself.
Fortunately, as Kondo mentions, if you truly want it, you will put effort into getting it back.
So we can feel free to KonMari our living spaces to our heart’s content—as long as we respect the emotions and situations of ourselves and others.