It’s likely that by now, you have heard of the minimalism movement. Maybe you have embraced (or have tried to embrace) the minimalism movement. My first encounter with this lifestyle was a few years ago when I stumbled onto a website called The Minimalists. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s two guys devoted to a movement which basically consists of having less unimportant physical stuff in your life so you can focus on the things that genuinely matter to you.
I’m the kind of girl who initially gets incredibly hyped up about ideas. I make lists, outlines and plans about how things are going to work. I religiously devote nearly all of my spare mental energy to the new project at hand.
So, one day, I blended up what I had read on The Minimalists with a book I had read one rainy day in Barnes and Noble called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and several YouTube videos from minimalist vloggers. I blended my very own minimalism smoothie. It was a green smoothie. It made me feel good when I looked at it.
The first sip of the smoothie was dealing with my clothing. It was quite easy for me. Delicious. I lit candles and dimmed the lights and had something of a ceremony in my living room and said goodbye to about two big boxes worth of bodily coverings that did not bring me joy.
I was high. It was working! It was easier than I thought. It made sense to me. It made me feel lighter. So I moved to the kitchen. The kitchen was also easy, especially since I was going to move to the other side of the world in two months anyway. Away things went. All the extra plastic container lids and the coffee mugs I never really loved and the three extra frying pans one individual never needed – gone! Still high.
The bathroom things and the bedroom things and the random drawer things…all were tidied. I thought all too pridefully to myself, “I am the best minimalist ever.”
Then, it was time for the sentimental boxes. These boxes are the kind of boxes where you keep your baby things and your assorted childhood mementos and the leftover things from relationships you’ve ended but didn’t feel like truly detaching from and the essay you wrote in 5th grade about what you wanted your future to look like.
This is fine! Everything is fine, I told myself. I’m the best minimalist ever, so this is fine.
I opened the boxes, and everything was not fine. The bottom of the cup (my minimalist green smoothie cup, that is) was full of poorly blended frozen spinach chunks. If you love green smoothies but own a shitty blender, you know what I’m talking about.
I couldn’t tell you how many tears I shed going through those boxes. When someone would come over to my place, I would dry my eyes and put on a happy face. But alone with my sentimental things, memories and emotions came flooding over me like a tsunami.
The first thing to go were greeting cards. At some point, as many people do, I had attached the giver of the greeting card to the card itself. The Minimalists will tell you, and I now wholeheartedly agree, that holding on to the greeting card is not the glue that holds the relationship together. If you really love someone and care about them, keeping their seven-year-old greeting card in a box in your closet will not bring you closer, just as throwing the card into the trash does not mean you don’t love that person.
Though it seems obvious, this realization was revolutionary to me. It helped me let go of so many physical things I had been begrudgingly storing, moving from apartment to apartment. It helped me realize that a relationship is not a stored greeting card, but rather a living and breathing thing. Instead of keeping the card, I keep the relationship in my heart. I pick up the phone and call, or I write an email, or I send a message.
The photos. The photos were difficult for me to sift through. There were probably thousands of them, though I did not count. I made my way through my childhood, from the time my mother and father stood together in photos to the time they were not together, from my time in one city to my move to another in elementary school. I made my way through middle school, possibly the most painful, and I felt each feeling of depression and loneliness and self-loathing all over again. I went back in time to moments with the man who was my step-father for 18 years, and is no longer. I journeyed through old friendships, a few that are still strong, and most whose times have passed. I looked back at myself, and I realized that I had kept these photos for a reason.
I was smiling in the photos, despite my pain. Past me wanted, in a sense, future me to remember these times positively. Now, these were not quality photos, for the most part. These were photos with poor lighting and poor frame captures – not beautiful in any artistic sense. But I had kept them through the years because I wanted to convince myself that everything was fine and that I had nothing to address or deal with. Did I have happy moments? Of course! But the truth was, I avoided sorting through these photos (or even looking at them) for years because they actually made me feel terrible. Their once intended purpose of making me remember rather sad past moments positively had, for years, failed.
While I kept several photos that were special to me, photos of genuinely joyful times in my life, I threw maybe five times as many in the trash. As I did, I threw away the notion that I needed to remember these times differently than they actually were. I made peace with many painful times in my life, and I even forgave people that I’d forgotten I needed to forgive. I threw away the ideas of this false past that covered the real past, and I faced the emotions that came along with being real with myself.
One by one, I said goodbye to items that were no longer, and some that maybe never had been, meaningful to me. Once I was finished dealing with the physical object in front of me, I then moved on to the emotional or spiritual blockage I’d been conveniently ignoring since the last time I’d packed away the item.
Now, if you are reading this, you may be getting slightly defensive. I get it. You don’t want to throw away your shit. I’m not an advocate of telling others specific ways to store their stuff (maybe some of my friends would disagree, sorry guys). But, as a culture (I’m American, but this issue is of course not limited to the USA) we are kind of hoarders and shopaholics. We feel sad and all the commercials and billboards tell us it’s because we are missing THIS thing, telling us to get more stuff. So we have a lot of stuff. And a lot of our stuff isn’t meaningful or important. A lot of our stuff is in one of our (many) closets because we feel some kind of obligation to keep it there. A lot of our stuff even gets in the way of our own personal growth and emotional and physical health.
So, as I said, I don’t want to tell you how to store your things. I don’t care so much what items you have hoarded in your closet. But I want to ask you to think about WHY. I want to invite you to consider what kinds of painful growth you may be avoiding by holding on so tightly.
Together, let’s identify our pacifiers and our security blankets and let go. Let’s cut ties with the things, both physical and non-material, that are holding us back from living our lives to their very best potential. Let’s find the freedom that comes when we loosen our grip on things.
Resources I Find Meaningful
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo
https://minimalismfilm.com/ (So worth watching!)
https://youtu.be/i6SQBh-_SQM (On minimalist packing–we don’t need as much as we think!)
http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ted-talks-focused-on-minimalism-tiny-houses-downsizing-220917. (Nice collection of Ted Talks on the subject)