The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
I was at a family function, several months pregnant with my first, when an uncle casually joked that I’d better get ready for the kid stuff to take over the apartment. It wasn’t a particularly obnoxious or emotionally charged comment. No offense was meant by it. But at that moment it seemed a prophetic inevitability, and it crushed me a little bit. It crushed me because I knew it was true. I knew it and I didn’t like it. To live a normal American life, to remain in our tiny apartment, and to have children, I would need to come to terms with allowing the clothes, toys, games, feeding devices, “elimination” devices, etc. to hold tyranny over our space for the next several years. And if this was true about physical objects, what about activities? Would life just become busier and busier?
I would never have considered myself materialistic growing up. I enjoyed shopping at thrift stores and up-cycling things to suit my needs. I’ve always had a bit of an anti-consumerist streak within me. By the time I was married and had my own home, I did a decent job of keeping things tidy and not acquiring a lot of new stuff. But I did keep things around. I kept sentimental items, clothes that didn’t fit anymore, things that I planned to fix someday, gifts that I didn’t like (it sounds cold, but you ALL know what I mean). I’ve come to realize that materialism is not just consumerism. It does not require you to be a shopaholic. Rather, materialism is simply the tendency to assign excessive value to material things. It is so engrained in our culture that it is difficult to recognize and even more difficult to reject.
I made a decision, before having my first baby, that I would become an exception to the rule. Call it “simplicity,” “minimalism,” “the slow movement”… they basically are all saying the same thing: shed the excess to reveal what is truly valuable, and focus on those things. This applies to “stuff” in the physical sense, but also to the ways we spend our time and our talents.
I won’t go into the how-to’s of minimalism and de-cluttering beyond the following steps:
- pick a day and clear your schedule for the entire day (or better yet, an entire weekend)
- wake up and drink a very strong cup of coffee while reading through as many essays as possible from theminimalists.com
- and then…go!
What I do want to focus on here is the why. Like trying to make dietary changes, de-cluttering and minimizing will only have a temporary pull if you aren’t genuinely aiming for a healthier existence in both body and mind.
I had initially figured that I only needed to de-clutter a little bit in order to make room for baby stuff. But it wasn’t until I started getting into things that I realized I needed to completely re-haul the way that I think about the stuff in my life. What had looked normal at 25, without kids, would become out of control at 27 with two kids if I didn’t change things. And so the question becomes not: is minimalism even possible with kids? It was not only possible, but for me, it was essential to my own well-being and that of each member of my family. I had to make decisions about how I wanted to live my life, how many activities I wanted to involve myself in, and what I wanted to spend my time on. I needed to simplify.
The biggest lie being touted to parents today is that to provide for your children is to get them more stuff. I believe that “providing” for my children is providing love and stability, and the things that they need. Some of that will indeed include toys. That’s because they need to develop. Play is actually HUGE for development, and toys supplement play. But children also need the security of boundaries. They need limited options, because they can become very easily over-stimulated. You can read more about this in a book called Simplicity Parenting, by Kim Payne, a fantastic resource for any parent.
So, the basics of why I became a minimalist:
- Time: Stuff uses up time. It takes time to maintain stuff, to clean it, to move it from one place to another, to organize it, and to pay for it. For me less stuff = more time to spend with those I love and more time to write stories for you.
- Focus: This is simple— the more we have and fill our homes with, the more distractions and options we have, the less likely we are to focus on the few things that give us true fulfillment. This is the #1 reason that my husband and I chose not to replace our T.V. when it broke.
- The stuff I actually do value. I am not completely aloof from the physical world. I do understand that there is value in certain material things. I just choose to be very particular about which things I allow into my life. Some things are simply worth the time and space due to the value they add. By ridding myself of the excess, I have found that I use the things I actually like so much more, and as an added bonus: I can actually find them when I want them! This has played a huge role in the overhaul of my wardrobe. If you see me on a regular basis, you may notice I wear the same things a lot. Or, more likely, you may not notice AT ALL… because people usually don’t notice these kinds of things. I love wearing my favorite, most comfortable and versatile pieces all the time, I am able to keep up with the laundry (out of necessity), and the best part? My favorite things are much harder to lose now!
- Empowerment and peace of mind. I no longer feel I am required to keep things I don’t want to keep or do things that I don’t want to do. This may seem obvious, but if you think about it, I am sure you can find things in your life that add stress… things and activities that would be fine without you, if you would only learn to be fine without them. Like a lengthy to-do list, clutter fills me with a sense of unease and busies my mind. Getting rid of the excess allows me to focus, and doing a few things well gives me a much better sense of self-worth than doing many things poorly and burning out.
If you’ve bought what our culture is selling, if you have spent your time over-working, under-sleeping, and acquiring more stuff, I ask you to consider whether or not you feel genuinely fulfilled by this. Next time you feel like you need to add something to your life to bring more fulfillment, I challenge you to see if what you want is already there… you may just need to remove some things to see it.
Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.
– Will Rogers