A good while ago, the exact time escapes me, I watched Minimalism on Netflix. It is a documentary about 2 guys, The Minimalists, who tour around talking about their minimalist lifestyle and how being more minimalist has helped increase their life satisfaction compared to having lots of stuff and things.
These guys had realised that working hard to collect and buy lots of things wasn’t making them happy. Each thing they got would bring them some joy for a while, but it all had a finite amount of joy to bring into their lives. So they shifted their focus from material possessions to making things count. I think we can all relate to this in some way, whether we buy a new clothing item to cheer ourselves up, or some new stationary that will lead the personal organisation revolution we are about to embark on.
Since watching this documentary the crux of the idea has stuck with me. The point is not to have the least amount of things you can own and function, but more that everything you own brings purpose and/or joy to your life. So this could look like, fewer clothes, fewer knick-knacks that sit in the cupboard for eternity collecting dust, and fewer things for the sake of having things. Do I really need 5 sets of headphones? I mean, really? Each set has their selling points, but really? What about that CD collection that I never listen to? Or the DVDs I have of films I don’t even think are that great? I’m not about to vow to become a minimalist. Instead I embarked on a month long clear out similar to The Minimalism Challenge to free up some space in my flat.
The final trigger moment was when I was sat in my big chair to relax and instead of relaxed I felt overwhelmed. There was stuff everywhere, piled up to the high ceilings I have and covering the floor except for a few pathways between my stuff to the bathroom, kitchen and bed, not dissimilar to animal tracks in the woods. Maybe I hadn’t noticed before because I was spending so much time watching TV, ‘no TV August’ really made me realise just how much my room had gotten overcrowded and how actually, in my accumulation of so much stuff I could no longer use my space effectively: I couldn’t shut my wardrobes or my drawers, using my bathroom or toiletries was like a game of Jenga to get a deodorant. My floor was rarely clear, my wardrobes were stacked upon so much that the towering amass felt claustrophobic like high rises on narrow streets in a city.
As I sat there in my chair I decided that something needed to change. It wasn’t a one day long task. It felt too overwhelming for that. I decided to do the minimalism challenge. You throw the amount of things away that is for that day, so 1 on day 1, 2 on day 2, the final amass is 465 or something. Instead of saying I’d do it each day because I knew I wouldn’t, I aimed for 465 things re-homed or recycled by the end of September.
There is enough ‘stuff’ in the world to do the rounds – what if by passing something on, books that you know you won’t read again or don’t love, could bring some joy to someone else? Surely that is a more fulfilling purpose for the book whilst encouraging resourcefulness rather than everyone needing their own copy to then throw away in landfill?
This isn’t to say we are entirely blameless for our consumerism. It is a driving force in western culture. When you don’t have much you are constantly made acutely aware of how little you have and how much you can’t have that everyone around you seemingly just has. For a period of my life I didn’t have very much at all. I couldn’t buy much, even buying enough food was hard, and every penny was accounted for. As this period of my life drew to a close and I had a little bit more money so that I could – within reason – eat what I wanted, have a choice of food, be able to afford to have coffee out regularly (one of my favourite things to do) and I could go to places, I went through a few phases.
I went through a phase of going out and getting drunk a lot because I felt that I had missed out on so much whilst I was 19-23 via not having money followed by being mentally unwell. After a while I realised this wasn’t fulfilling. I was spending a lot of money each week on getting drunk with my friends, but still I wasn’t happy. It also wasn’t doing any good for my mental health and at one point in my journey the decision to really reduce my alcohol consumption was a real sticking point.
I stopped going out with my drinking friends and started to get into other things. I’d buy new things to entertain each fad. I don’t think there is so much wrong with this. I was lost and trying to figure out what I liked and disliked. I had a long journey of finding myself after having lost myself so extremely. I started to exercise, and got into running and OCR. I also bought a saxophone, art materials, knitting bits and bobs, climbing equipment, ukuleles, and so on and so on, all in a bid to find out who I was now. All of these things bring me joy in some way but I essentially live in a bedsit:I have a large bedroom with a kitchen and a bathroom attached.
My bathroom shelves are once again functional, as is my desk. My kitchen is no longer unsuitable for cooking or baking. My space is no longer so much of a health and safety concern; trip hazards have been reduced and I can close my wardrobes. I know where most things are, and am no longer regularly late because I couldn’t find my keys or oyster card. There’s no before and after photo on the way but already I have noticed and felt the difference. Once again my room can be comfortable, useful and practical. I hope it continues. I have learned that spending money on experiences and forming memories are what I value more and I am also more conscious of my spending and buying habits. I now stop to ask, do I really need this? Will I really use it? Will my life be better off with this? If the answer is no then I hold back much more.