Extremes

extremesIt 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)

Extremes

How much are you worth?

value

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)

How much are you worth?

Move it or lose it.

junk_drawersTell 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.

Move it or lose it.

It’s not a race.

Since starting my movement toward a more minimalist lifestyle, I have been stricken with the wish to quickly cut away all my unneeded possessions. On several occasions I have had to remind myself that minimalism is not a race with a finish line or a competition with a prize. There are no losers. The speed with which someone can adopt a simpler lifestyle and remove their excess material baggage depends on what kind of lifestyle they lived before. Some of us can easily shed a large percentage of our possessions in just a few days.  This is not the case for me.

In a slightly different situation, I might be very happy simply giving my items away to friends or donating them to charity. However, given the level of debt I have accumulated by purchasing so much junk, it would not be financially healthy to give things away. I need to sell as much as possible to recoup at least some of the cost of my old habits.

The act of paring down my collection is no longer emotionally difficult. I have gotten beyond the feeling of loss watching the stacks of miscellany slowly leave for different homes. Only the logistics of selling so many items remains painful. For the most part, dumping items locally is less profitable than moving them on the Internet, but online sales means time spent boxing, labeling, and shipping. Selling locally is more convenient, but the extra revenue generated by Internet buyers has me torn. For now I am trying a two-pronged approach. Locally sold items will be those that are difficult to ship or are not worth very much. Stuff posted online will be anything valuable enough to justify the time spent in shipping.

I have a few notes for anyone who wants to live more simply and is starting in a similar situation. These points might be obvious to some people, but they were not clear to me at first.

– Selling stuff, especially when trying to get the most out of your items, is difficult, even if you purchased all of it below market value. You need to find a buyer, work out a price you can both be happy with, and if the item(s) sell online, you need to ship them. All of this takes time and time is not always plentiful.

– Do not give up. I have shed material possessions for a couple of weeks and I have recently realized how large an iceberg I am trying to melt. It is easy to get discouraged when looking at others who have already transitioned into minimalism or had more freedom in the beginning to simply give stuff away. We can eventually get there too.

Be methodical. Make a plan and stick to it. Write down what you get rid of, how much you make, and what you are going to purge next.  Systematically paring down will help you stick to your goals and give you a stronger feeling of accomplishment.

The biggest enemy to our goal of living with less is the creeping desire to slip back under the blanket of excessive consumerism. The blanket may be warm, but the protection it provides is imagined, and all it can offer is a limit to how free we can be.

It’s not a race.

What am I? What do I want to be?

These are the two questions I asked myself before beginning the lifestyle change this blog is meant to chronicle. I suppose I might also have asked: Who am I? Who do I want to be? However, this seems less accurate. I know who I am. I am happy with who I am. What I am is a completely other matter.

I am a collector. I am an overweight mid-late 20s college graduate. I am a gadget geek who always needs the next new piece of tech, whether or not it improves my life in any tangible way. “I am a weapon of massive consumption.” I am a stuff person. I own movies I will never watch again and movies I have never watched at all. I own games that sit unplayed and unopened books line my shelves. I have spent money with abandon and put myself in debt despite having a well paying job for someone my age.

What I want to be is someone with less stuff but more time, fewer possessions but more freedom, no debt and fewer worries. So, I turn to minimalism.

I have read that minimalism looks different for everyone because every person has a unique definition of what makes them happy. I am certain that it will look different for me. The “100 Thing Challenge” movement holds no interest for me, though I do respect the idea. Many minimalists have gone to extremes I cannot imagine reaching myself. However, as I progress along this path to less, perhaps I will find myself more capable than I currently imagine.

What am I? What do I want to be?