Have you ever had a realization, a lesson learned, a question answered? Those sticky ones that seem to follow you once they’re here with you? Like once you see, you can’t unsee; once you’ve heard, you can’t unhear. I’ve had two of these moments, as such. One of them, I want to illuminate: minimalism.
When we first got married, Dixie and I found ourselves packed tight into our first small apartment. The bedroom was lined with two dressers and three book cases crammed with things, making navigating the queen sized bed a chore in and of itself. Closets were stuffed with clothes dating back to when I was seven years old, as if I hoped to one day fit in them one day again. Hanging bars were completely full of jackets, pants, old choir tuxedos, and dresses. Kitchen cabinets and drawers overflowed with multiple sets of dishes and utensils. The dining table was often stacked with mail, keys, bags, paper “to file away”. The living room housed a large six person sectional, allowing for an ottoman and a TV stand, which itself was covered in consoles, remotes, and DVD cases. We also kept a book case out for more books that didn’t fit in the bedroom and a rack showing off an eclectic CD collection I had acquired over my many high school tastes and phases of music. Stacked in the corner, my multiple cases full of drum equipment towered next to an upright piano Dixie and picked up for free one day. This was the life we found when we combined our belongings under the same roof. And I didn’t even mention the boxes upon boxes of miscellaneous tools, childhood toys, and hobby materials that were packed away in our garage. We had a single car garage to our advantage and we had packed it with enough things, all accounted for, made a stack and pile bigger than a large suburban. We had stuff. Or maybe the stuff had us?
Then, I got a job that allows me some freedom to listen to podcasts and music at my desk. I put a short Facebook status up asking any and all friends for podcast recommendations for me to check out, and some saint linked me to theminimalists.com. These two guys, who started their podcast and blog out of Missoula, Montana, started to help us change our lives. The idea appealed to me immediately and I took my enthusiasm home and pitched the idea to Dixie with about as much grace and tact as a charging rhinoceros. I might have even been foaming at the mouth, telling Dixie about how I want to go through our stuff and potentially purge 75% of our collective possessions. Unsurprisingly, this idea was not received well. (Understatement of the year). So I took another angle.
As I have mentioned, at the time, we had stacks of plates, bowls, tupperware, forks, spoons, pans, mugs, cups, water bottles, travel mugs, utensils, and any other kitchen tool you can probably think of. As you may know as well, this many dishes tend to stack in the sink pretty quickly. I noticed at one point that of my available free time in the evenings, I could spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours every night just doing that day’s dishes, and I was sick of it. I proposed that we whittle down these piles down to a simple set of two of everything. We wouldn’t need to get rid of the rest yet, but as a trial, just pack the excess away and see how we fared for a week or two. And according to plan, at the end of a week, I was spending maybe only 10 minutes putting away food after a meal and doing all the dishes. This was the first taste of freedom from minimalism that we both truly enjoyed.
After that the decisions came easier. We systematically went through each room, treating it almost as a game, sorting our piles of dust collecting, unused items into donate, sell, recycle, and trash piles. Many trips to Goodwill, some sales on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, a few garage sales, and a trip to the dump later, we had pared our lives down by about 60%, and everything that remained truly meant something to us.
The story could of course be longer, more embellished, with plenty of details, but that wouldn’t be very minimal of me would it? As long as the story is allowed to rest here, I do have some thoughts on minimalism that may help you “see and not unsee” the value it could add to your life as well.
- Minimalism is not about austerity, it’s about intentionality. I still have a book case full of books that I love to read, lend, and reread. We have a collection of records to spin on our record player in our living room. At this point, we do have more than 2 plates. We never wanted to be the kind of people who live out of a backpack in a 100 sq ft apartment. The intent for our home is for the things we own to serve a purpose, bring utility, add value, and tell a story. It’s about meaningful materials, purposeful possession.
- Your stuff pays rent. If you only ever collect more items that you can’t part with, then you may fill your house to the brim, before you cave and buy a bigger house to put all your stuff in. In a way, the stuff you own forces you to pay more rent or get a bigger mortgage to keep it all.
- Less stuff, less cleaning. As the dishes were for me, it may be the laundry for you. If you’re sick of spending so much of your waking life cleaning the stuff you own, it may be time for you to permanently wipe it out of your home.
- A place for everything. Does that junk drawer in the kitchen actually seem to haunt you sometimes? Like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter, things wanting to get lost find their way to that drawer? Or maybe it’s a whole room dedicated to miscellany and misfits? Hobbits call this the “Mathom room.” When you sort through the unnecessary clutter, these things tend to find a home. And if they don’t, then they really don’t belong anywhere do they?
- New starts. The hardest area for us to work through were our overflowing clothes closets. Many articles carried a certain degree of sentimentality that were difficult to part with. Maybe they represented a happier era in my childhood, or me before the weight gain. I discovered though, after getting my wardrobe down to a measly 33 pieces, that I am actually more satisfied knowing that every single article that I could wear gives me confidence.
- Passion. Maybe a corny word in the era of self help “gurus”, but honestly, minimalism frees much time and energy to do things you’re passionate about. Like me, finally starting a blog.
- Relationships. More than just gained time, minimalism sheds the excess things that often take up mental and emotional energy for the relationships that matter most. My marriage is maximally more rich for living as a material minimalist. This is what really matters.
There’s plenty more to be said, more for me to say in one essay, so as the minimalists say at the close of each of their podcasts:
“love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”