My Struggle With Minimalism
For about half a year, I gathered up my stuff, put it in boxes, and sent an e-mail to a charity every two weeks to come pick it up. I also sold clothes to consignment shops and old textbooks to various stores.
I was captivated by the decluttering craze: the idea that if I wasn’t planning to use items in the next year, I should get rid of them.
Dutifully, I did. And when I finished, I had stopped buying stuff I didn’t need. My closets were all organized.
And I looked around and thought: Okay, I’m a minimalist. But what’s next?
The word “minimalism,” ironically, evokes a lot of different ideas. It’s a type of sleek design. It’s about living in a tiny house. It’s about living in a big house that’s empty. It’s about having an organized closet. It’s about owning only what you can fit in a backpack.
By a lot of people’s standards, I am not a minimalist. I’m required to own a car for my job. I have a home with more than 450 square feet per person. (If I can only own what I can fit in a backpack, that backpack had better be the size of a tent.)
But the fact that minimalism is nebulous kind of makes sense. You can’t just go to a store and pull minimalism off a shelf. It’s a mindset, something that’s entirely up to you.
I view minimalism as the freedom to say no to stuff. Minimalism, for a long time, was Not In. The goal was to buy and own as much as possible: a big house, an expensive car, and of course, all the latest gadgets and accessories.
But it simply isn’t affordable, because once we buy the newest and greatest thing, the goal post is moved — there’s another newer and greater thing. All we’re left with is outdated stuff, and a lot of debt.
This mindset is at odds with people I know who will be offended if I don’t buy them a birthday gift. And don’t get me started on the winter holidays.
I view minimalism as the freedom to say no to stuff.
My biggest change since starting minimalism is that I don’t shop when I’m bored. I deleted my shopping apps and bookmarks. (Okay, I left the grocery price-checker app, because I need to eat food.) Now I read and write when I’m bored, which is why you’re reading this now.
The one thing I don’t understand is when people say, “Minimalism saves time. You’re not spending all your time cleaning or shopping!” Oh, I am still thinking about shopping — I’m just not hitting the “Add to cart” button. And maybe I have less stuff, but I have the same amount of vacuuming to do.
There is something to it, though. Recently I read James Clear’s article about the Diderot Effect, and I understood completely. The Diderot Effect is that purchasing can lead to more purchasing.
That was me. I used to buy a new dress and then I’d need new shoes to match, and a new sweater … and then I’d have it all and realize I don’t even really wear dresses.
I tried the “In/Out Rule” for a long time. The principle is that if you buy one item, you sell or give away another item. That didn’t exactly work for me, because you always end up with the same amount of stuff.
Now I have a capsule wardrobe, and my spending went way down, but the amount of times I wear each item has gone up. I have central colors — blue, gray, and black — and only buy clothes if they match the theme. Orange clashes with the clothes I own, so I don’t buy it. A shirt that I’d need a new bra to wear? Nope.
I used to make at least one shopping trip or online order of clothing every month. Now, it’s every five months.
If you opened my drawers and looked at my clothes, I can confidently say that I wore most of them in the last year. The ones I didn’t, I’m going to give away soon.
Which reminds me, I need to go. I have some stuff to box up, and a donation center to call.