“What an upside-down state of affairs when a man who is divine by his gift of reason thinks his excellence depends on the possession of lifeless bric-a-brac.”
~ Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (written in 524 AD)
Minimalism is one of those faddy concepts that people often find disdainful. I’ve heard it called everything from unrealistic to condescending. For myself, I practice minimalism for the simple reason that it makes my life better.
Minimalism decreases my anxiety.
After I graduated from law school, I entered a world where possessions where equated with success. The more, the bigger, the pricier things you owned, the more impressive you became. Going into that world I already felt like an impostor. As someone with very little self esteem, it was easier for me to look the part than to fulfill it.
This project consumed huge amounts of time, energy and money. I had to have the ‘right’ things, go to the ‘best’ places, and could not rest in the simplicity of who I was (namely a girl from a small town). I felt compelled to have new clothes, more expensive things, and only the most refined taste. None of it was about what I actually liked. It was a game, and a very difficult one.
This naturally only stoked my anxiety. What if I wore the wrong thing? What if I used the wrong fork? What if I liked a wine that some partner thought was mediocre? How could I maintain an image that I couldn’t really afford?
In becoming a minimalist, I am exempt from the ‘rat race’. I no longer feel badly for wearing the same 8 outfits. I am completely fine with wearing the same formal dress to every event. When people inquire about shopping or needing something, I simply reply that I am a minimalist. It is a get out of jail free card for keeping up with the jones.
It forced me to unhook my possessions from my value.
When I moved back to my small town, I felt like a failure. I had held myself out as something fancy and marvelous. In the end, all my possessions didn’t change that I was unhappy and insecure. I finally realized that my possessions had nothing to do with me.
I remember having this moment of looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘I only care about what I appear to be, and not about who I am.’ It was a heartbreaking realization.
It took me months of thinking about people like Nelson Mandela, like Victor Frankl- people who had been stripped of every possession, every honor and yet remained. It didn’t matter what I wore, or how much money I had. It didn’t matter if I was scorned or ridiculed. My values, my dignity, my character are what dictate my value. I have to remind myself of this daily.
It created a sense of stewardship.
Being a minimalist means you must put a great deal of thought into who you really are, and what you really need. I own 3 tee shirts. 3 pairs of casual pants. 1 skirt. 2 towels. 1 set of sheets.
In order to make this work, I had to spend time thinking about how I live my life. I had to choose items that would work for every scenario. Items that will hold up and stand the test of time. It also has forced me to question my impact. I examine my consumption and seek to minimize it.
Moreover, I have to take care of my possessions. Where before I would discard items once they had some wear, now I repair and maintain. I spent nearly a year looking for the right backpack. You can be damn sure I take excellent care of it, because I intend to own it for 25 years.
This shift in mindset has prompted a value of stewardship. I take care of my possessions. I reduce my consumption. I am mindful of my purchases. I have learned how to darn socks, sew, replace buttons, and shine shoes.
This value has become central to my character. I enjoy learning these new skills. I feel proud of my mindfulness around my consumption. I like that I am contributing in my small way to reducing waste.
Minimalism has supported my mental health. Through practicing its tenants I am freed from comparison and competition for bigger and better possessions. I have learned to see possessions as tools to make my life better rather than as indicators of my value.
All these are gifts of minimalism.