It is often difficult to talk about minimalism with friends and family. Terms like “hippie” can get thrown around in an uncomplimentary fashion or, more often, an odd look followed by an awkward silence. To someone with only tertiary knowledge of minimalism, saying “I’m a minimalist.” can sound too much like “I’m in a cult.”
People have a tendency to shun, or even fear extremes; especially when those perceived extremes are opposite what society has taught them. A minimalist lifestyle flies in the face of social norms and this is why it seems extreme… but it only seems that way. In reality, minimalism is a step back from the severe debt and hoarding we have all been taught to accept as normal. It is a step toward the middle, not away from it.
To many of us, myself included, a minimalist lifestyle isn’t about bare, white walls and 100 items or less in a two-hundred square foot apartment with no TV. It is simply about having less clutter, less debt, less weight on our shoulders, and less time wasted. I have no intention of giving up modern conveniences or living out of a backpack for the next five years. My simpler lifestyle will not look like yours, but that’s alright. Being minimalist is also not about measuring yourself against anyone else. It is about making conscious and thoughtful decisions about the objects, relationships, and experiences that get included in our lives.
photo credit: Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas) (cc)
What is the value of your life? If you sold a day to another person, how much would they pay you in return?
Obviously you cannot put a price on a life. Even a single day is priceless. But every time we buy that new thing–the newest gadget we just “need” to own, that pair of shoes we’ll wear once, the kitchen appliance that (according to the label) will change the way we eat–we put a price tag on our time.
How much time do we spend in a year shopping for things we don’t really need and perhaps barely even want? How many minutes tick away as we diligently research reviews on the web and hunt for the best deal? How many hours have we spent window shopping? We often do not have a specific item in mind, just a strong want to fill an imagined void. Collecting more junk to fill a void is like drinking saltwater to quench your thirst. All it does is make the hole a little bigger.
The only currency we need to spend is time. Every day is worth 86,400 seconds that we can never be given back. Whatever void we might contain can only be filled by spending more of our time living, and less of it spending.
photo credit: epSos.de (cc)
Tell me if this sounds familiar: You moved a month or two ago. You packed all your belongings, rented a truck, asked friends for help and spent a day or more transplanting your belongings from one place to another. Now, months later, you still have more than a few packed boxes lying around your new abode. How many of them have labels like “Random” or “Misc.” or even “Junk Drawer?” If you haven’t needed anything in them for this long, why not save yourself the trouble of unpacking and take the boxes straight to a thrift store? I know it sounds drastic, maybe even a little crazy.
Do you know what else is crazy? Boxing up a junk drawer, letting it sit for months, then in a new drawer for years, only to repeat the process when the next move occurs. Why not break the cycle? Lose the junk.
I have never been a hoarder, but I definitely have the potential to be one.
Every item has a story. Every new thing has a purpose. Every piece of junk has a situation in which it could be useful, if only the correct scenario would appear. These are the things we tell ourselves to justify maintaining closets full of clothes we never wear, boxes stuffed with decorations we never look at (let alone display) and shelves lined with books we have never read or will never read again. “I might wear/use/read it one day.” It is a mantra we know well, and it has the potential to drown each of us in an ocean of unneeded crap.
Shutting the consumer floodgates is difficult. Advertisers have spent decades tapping into our instinct to acquire, to fatten ourselves up during plentiful times so we might survive the approaching winter. In this case, winter is not coming. We can empty our closets and take comfort in knowing that tomorrow the Sun will rise and the stores will open. The sandwich press you haven’t used in a year can be replaced. For now the only purpose it serves is to make your life a little more crowded. That “amazing” new “life changing” piece of technology the sales rep says you need will only be new and amazing until later this year when the next version comes out and the same person is telling you the “old” model is obsolete.
We know that sinking feeling all too well. The moment of joy accompanying a new acquisition is brief and quickly supplanted by a knot in the gut. In contrast, donating a box of dusty ornaments or a bag of clothing results in a strong and lasting feeling of relief. Consider the consequences before an impulse buy. Not just the consequences today, but tomorrow, next week, and next month as well. Will this thing improve your life in a long-lasting way or will it be a reminder of money and time better spent with friends. Make conscious choices, not snap decisions. Purging the daily purchase is not just about limiting acquisitions, it’s also about decreasing how much you want to acquire.