I used to be a disgraceful hoarder. When I was in high school I used to hang worn-out shoes on my bedroom wall and religiously treasure leaflets, tickets and receipts from holidays abroad (even empty tissue packets and cigarette butts sometimes). At the same time though, I always was meticulously organised. Within those useless mountains of junk, everything had its own place. Then over the years, for reasons I cannot explain, I developed a sick pleasure in getting rid of stuff. I would then systematically organise my remaining possessions, and create a space that reflected the clarity of my own mind. It made me feel incredibly satisfied to look at my room and see that everything in there had a meaning.
At the time I never gave too much attention to this behaviour – it was just something I did. Little did I know that in a few years the Letting Go of Stuff movement would become incredibly popular on social media and that I myself would have struggled to make up my mind about it.
A while ago I made a video on minimalism because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few months now. It all started when we decided to move from London to New Zealand and we had to face the fact that all our stuff had to go into boxes and then shipped in a container to the other side of the world. Although I have moved several times in my life, this time round I’d managed to accumulate a ridiculous amount of stuff in my London apartment, and it was clear that some of it had to go. So being the teenager that I am, I turned to YouTube for advise. After binge-watching all the videos I could find on how to get rid of stuff, none of my possessions had been brought to a charity shop yet, and I was left with the following conundrum: Why the fuck is minimalism so popular? It looked like every twenty-something American out there was on a journey to become more frugal and live on less. I was having mixed feelings about this, so I decided to sit down and try to figure out why this was the case.
In principles, I find that the idea behind minimalism is quite appealing: not getting emotionally attached to your possessions, valuing experiences more than material goods, donating superfluous items to people that might want them or need them more than you, only keeping what brings you joy – these are all values I resonate with one hundred percent.
I like to think that minimalism is such a big trend because of an increasing environmental concern. Minimalism seems to go hand in hand with the zero waste movement, which among other things promotes the idea of owning fewer, more durable items. This is great: I personally am all about putting quality over quantity (although this is a recent improvement in my lifestyle I have to admit, but I am really making an effort in that direction). So if more people are embracing this view it can’t be but beneficial for our planet.
But the main reason that minimalists seem to present when asked why they decided to make such a drastic change in their lives is that getting rid of stuff makes them feel like they’ve lift a burden off their shoulders. Owning only a few possessions allows them to focus on more important things in life: being creative, connecting with people, and basically do what you really like. Material things seem to be distracting from what really matters in life. We surely live in a society that constantly bombards us with advertisements of “things we need”, making it hard to recognise what it is that we want and what it is that they want us to want. In a world where everything seems to revolve around work and making money, minimalism becomes a way to escape the stress of everyday life. Transitioning towards a simpler lifestyle often involves reconsidering your career choices in favour of more relaxed, less frantic options. As a result you have more time to enjoy activities other than work. At the same time you might find yourself wanting to spend less money on material items and saving up for things like travelling to different countries, experiencing new cultures and creating memories instead.
There’s no doubt that all this sounds great. HOWEVER. If you look on YouTube you’ll find that the majority of these minimalism advocates literally live off a backpack and can count their possessions on the fingers of one hand. I will admit, when I first started doing my research on minimalism, I thought this was amazing. I immediately saw myself sipping coconut water on a tropical beach, in need of nothing but a bikini and a pair of flip flops, worrying only about getting my bum tanned.
Then I started packing for New Zealand, and although I did manage to chuck a good five or six big bags of crap, I also realised that I was going to fill up much more that one single backpack.
I mostly got rid of clothes and stationery supplies. But I haven’t chucked a single book. Here’s the thing: I’m a book person. I read a lot. I like buying books, putting them on a shelf and looking at them. I like admiring how many books I’ve collected throughout my life. Maybe I don’t need them, but I want them. They make me happy. I could never, and I will NEVER, get rid of them.
In the past three months I’ve lived in a car, in a tent, in Air B&Bs and in a van, all of which I’ve done with very few items of clothing, limited kitchen equipment and hardly no books (for my standards). I am in New Zealand now, all my stuff has arrived and I somehow managed to fit it all in the small apartment we are living in. The Letting Go of Stuff movement has surely kept my mind busy, and this is the conclusion I came to: Minimalism doesn’t mean that you need to get rid of all your possessions. It doesn’t mean that you have to restrict yourself to only owning a few things and then live in misery because you miss your stuff. You can be a minimalist and still live surrounded by things –as long as they make you happy. If something doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it. If it’s something you don’t need, get rid of it.
I like owning things. All my books, my journals, my Grandma’s sweater that I never wear in fear of ruining it – these things don’t weigh me down. But at the same time, I enjoy clearing out the space I live in and letting go of items that don’t serve me right now. This helps me organise my mental space as well, along the same lines that you are more productive if you work in a clean, fresh environment.
Clutter doesn’t help, but if you only have what you need and want you can make space for other things in life that also makes you happy.