Stuff & Things: A Brief Look into Minimalism

I meant to write and post this before I moved. Then I thought I could revise some parts and post it after I had just moved. Now, it’s a few weeks later and I’ve started to settle in. Better late than never though, right?

I’ve rewritten entire sections of this blog post multiple times as well. I guess I’m trying to capture the totality that is minimalism in a single post, but really the subject is so multi-faceted that it would be nearly impossible to do so. My thoughts on this topic run wild and deep and spur into many other areas of life as well. I don’t think I was able to do it justice here, but it’s at least an introduction.

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I’ve officially moved! All in one weekend, which was both physically and mentally draining. When my family left me on Sunday in my new apartment just south of Minneapolis, I stood amid a pile of half-opened boxes and things strewn about the living room. To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. Add on the nearly 100 degree heat and humidity central Minnesota was experiencing, and I was feeling rather beat.

Leading up to this day, I had made an effort to get rid of things that I wouldn’t need come moving time. Pretty much all of the items I decided to donate were things that held no use to me anymore–a plastic storage container, for example, and old shirts that hadn’t seen the light of day for months. I’ve always said that I never really had that much stuff. When I thought about it, the things I owned occupied a teeny tiny room (at my old place) with larger items in the common areas. Moving all of my stuff to my new place reaffirmed this, but I was still astounded by the amount of stuff I do actually own (and by how much stuff I was able to cram into that teeny tiny room). With all of my things finally unpacked at my new place, my living room and bedroom both look somewhat bare and I have more open space in my kitchen cabinets than anticipated. Now, my things have more room to breathe and spread out, but that isn’t stopping me from continuing to be critical about what things are useful to me and what are not.

This concept of having not a lot of things is called minimalism. More specifically, a minimalist is a person who doesn’t own much, but the things they do own hold value to them. If you were to step into the home of a minimalist, you’d expect to find relatively barren looking rooms, open kitchen counters, perhaps some empty wall space. If you were to ask them what purpose each item in their home held, they would be able to tell you exactly what that item meant to them, how they used it, when the last time they used it was.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a minimalist in the extreme. If someone asked me those queries posed above, I’d probably eventually get to an item that I wouldn’t have an answer for. But I’m working toward that–owning things more deliberately.

At this point, maybe you’re wondering why anybody would want to be a minimalist. Isn’t having stuff GREAT? It can be, sure. But I’d argue–and minimalism argues–that most people buy things to fill the empty space in their lives completely to the brim, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. When you start to take a critical eye to your belongings, you begin to notice that there is a lot you haven’t touched for ages. These possessions are the things that minimalism says you should get rid of. They clog up your environment, creating a sort of ethereal noise. They distract from the more important things in life. If you have ten shirts and are looking for that one particular shirt, it may take you a few extra minutes finding that shirt in the sea of shirts you haven’t worn for a few months, when maybe you could have been spending that time with your family. Why not just get rid of the extra shirts?

Plus, to top it off, we don’t need things to be happy. We’ve been tricked into thinking this. Advertising in America is rampant with commercials and digital and print ads that make us believe we’ll be a cooler, happier, younger-looking, more hip, more in-touch, sleeker, better person . . . if only we were to buy their product, whatever it may be. Have the home of your dreams, they tell us, but to do so you need this couch and the matching throw pillows and the decorative wall art that will go perfectly with the color scheme we’re creating here, plus you’ll *definitely* want that ottoman to throw those feet on when you get tired, and let’s add in a few more blankets since the ottoman has storage . . . and on and on. This may be an extreme example, but often this is what I feel like I’m being told when I step into Ikea. Do I really need that wall art that probably doesn’t even encapsulate what I like in art? Or those extra blankets, when in reality I have two or three at home already? But oh wait, those blankets, the ones they recommended, match the aesthetic of the couch, which actually is about two seats larger than I realistically need.

You get the idea.

The stuff we (generally speaking) buy is probably mostly clutter. And like mentioned earlier, this clutter is a physical nuisance but also isn’t great for our emotional energy either. This is the other thing minimalism aims to correct. If you can pare down the amount of things you own–even just by a little–you can remove the clutter and get closer to being a happier and more content self. Minimalism argues that we own more things than necessary to temporarily make ourselves feel happier (example: buying that new iPhone when our current phone still works perfectly fine gives us a temporary thrill), but this needless spending doesn’t ultimately solve the root issue. Only by decluttering can we really have the mental space to address those deeper issues, whose change can only come from within.

And lastly, and perhaps most obviously, minimalism curbs waste. Anytime I’m in a giant box store that is packed full of things (see: Ikea, above), my anxiety ticks up just a little bit. I wonder to myself, Who is going to buy this? How long has this been sitting on this shelf, waiting for someone to pick it up and bring it home? How long will this thing be in its owner’s life? Where will it end up once it’s use is no longer proven valuable?

For me, minimalism is one way I can help combat environmental pollution. If I can reduce the amount of things that I own, then I’m reducing the amount of waste I leave in the world. It’s easier to manage where my waste ends up, since there’s less stuff I have to think about. If I’m buying less things, my carbon footprint is lower: less trips to the store, less packages being delivered, less packaging thrown away, less garbage being picked up and rotting in landfills. Plus, when you think about the energy and resources used to create most products, buying less surely helps reduce your carbon footprint in that way, too.

Minimalism is a more deliberate way to live, and for the past several years I’ve been interested in how I can change the way that I live to help both myself and the world around me be better. Becoming a vegetarian was one step; the ongoing dive into minimalism is the next.

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If you’re interested in this concept, I highly recommend checking out The Minimalists. I stumbled upon their blog a couple of years ago and discovered the concept through the two dudes who run the site.

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