On minimalism

”Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”

RABBI HYMAN SCHACHTEL

I saw this quote yesterday in a book I’m reading, and it made me stop and think. It’s not just that I don’t have many of the things that I want, but its dawning on me that I don’t want many of the things I do have. And that makes me feel sad.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been slowly reducing my possessions using the basis of the KonMari method – by asking myself ”does this spark joy?” I’ve made some progress, I’ve lost track of how many bags of donations and trash have left the house since I started. I’m the first to hold my hands up and say that the place looks a LOT better than it ever has before and yet, something still isn’t sitting right with me. It doesn’t matter where in my home I look, all I can see is more clutter. More stuff. More things we don’t need. And it isn’t just taking up space in our home, it’s hurting my mental health.

Another way of living

Frankly, I’ve had it. At this point, I’d be more than happy to pack the essentials in the car and drive away from it all. Sadly, however, that isn’t an option, so I’ve decided to find another solution. Something that works for me.

I’ve decided to embrace minimalism.

This isn’t something I’m stepping into blindly. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years watching YouTube videos about the concept, listening to podcasts, and generally learning as much as I could about minimalism. It has always been appealing to me, but something has always held me back.

Maybe it’s that I’ve been in denial about how bad our situation really is, or that I’m worried that my partner will think I’ve gone insane and have me committed. (This is still a distinct possibility, but I’m of the opinion that a bit of time in the loony bin would at least get me away from all our junk for a little while. Silver linings, and all that). I worry about how my kids will react to losing a lot of their things, especially my eldest who has a hard time coping with change at the best of times.

Can I still be a minimalist if I keep my books?

But I think the biggest fear is that I will have to let go of all the attachments that I have to the things I own. My books, especially, hold a lot of sentimental value to me. They are the things that have got me through all the shitty times in my life, and it’s the area that I struggled with the most when I was using the KonMari method. I’ve been reading and collecting books for over thirty years, and I have no intention of stopping now.

But I’m learning that minimalism isn’t about letting go of everything just for the sake of getting rid. Minimalism is about letting go of the things that no longer serve you, that don’t add meaning and value to your life. To me, books have almost immeasurable value, and I’m more than happy to have the majority of them in my life. Sure, I’m willing to let a select few go to a new home – ones that I have started but never got around to finishing for whatever reason, old uni textbooks that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading the first time around, books on hobbies that I no longer enjoy and the such. But for the most part, my books are going nowhere. And that’s ok.

What minimalism looks like to one person can be very different to how it looks to their neighbour. Keeping my books doesn’t mean that I can’t be a minimalist, because they are read frequently, they are loved, and they are beautiful. Also, they smell incredible. (Yes, I’m a book sniffer. I’ve made my peace with it, but feel free to laugh so hard that you end up snorting. You won’t be the first person to react that way, and I won’t hold it against you.)

Why minimalism?

One of the big things that I have come to understand while I’ve been looking into minimalism is that it’s essential to make a note of the reasons that you want to undertake such a journey. With this in mind, I spent quite a bit of time pondering and made a list in one of my many notebooks (those will be staying too, in case you’re wondering, although I have vowed not to purchase any more until the ones I already have are used up). Here’s what I came up with:

  • to reduce the number of excess items in our home
  • to reduce the amount of time that I spend cleaning and tidying our house
  • to have time to enjoy my hobbies
  • to improve our quality of life
  • to reduce my stress and anxiety
  • to be more intentional about what I buy and do
  • to reduce the amount of waste our home produces
  • to reduce the feeling of entitlement in myself and my kids
  • to teach my children better habits
  • to reduce our level of consumerism
  • to be more eco-friendly
  • to live a more fulfilling life
  • to appreciate the things we have

In all honesty, there are probably things that I’ve left off my list, and some of them are linked, but I think that what I’ve noted down are some pretty good reasons to start my journey into minimalism. Hopefully, when things get rough (which I’m sure they will from time to time), looking back at this list will inspire me to keep going forward and not slip back into my old ways.

Can a minimalist live with a non-minimalist?

Another point that comes up often is that you can’t force minimalism on other people. No matter how frustrating it can be to live with people who don’t share your viewpoint on the whole concept of minimalism, it is not ok to throw out their stuff while they’re at work without their permission. The key here is to focus solely on your own items.

In our case, just seeing the amount of stuff that I’ve got rid of and how much lighter the house feels without it has been enough to inspire my partner Jonny to start going through his own belongings and getting rid of some of the things that he no longer uses. I haven’t even had to ask him, he’s done it under his own steam.

I’m eternally grateful for his support and incredibly proud of him for taking steps to join me on this journey. We may be at different stages on the path to minimalism, but he understands that it’s important to me and is doing his best to get on board with the idea. Even though it goes against his nature, he’s trying to help me out, and the fact that he’s willing to step outside his comfort zone to make me happier means more to me than anything I could buy in a store.

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