The Downside of Minimalist Living

 

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Yes, the mountains. YES. But uh, where do I keep my chapstick?

 

My Story

I’m a big fan of minimal living. I am. I love the idea of living out of one suitcase, even though I’ve never managed that (although I did manage about 2 and a half at one point).

I’m also a huge fan of the KonMari method of organization. KonMari focuses on keeping only what sparks joy, which means discarding anything that doesn’t, and in America, that means about 90% of your stuff. It did for me. I had clothes I didn’t really like, books I had never read and never would read, knick-knacks that had no value and papers from everywhere I would realistically never need again!

I love throwing stuff away, as I’m easily bogged down mentally and emotionally by clutter. Organizing makes me feel fresh and rejuvenated, and the less stuff I have, the better.

Or so I thought. In reality, a few years after I started living pretty minimally, my opinion has changed from “keep as little as possible” to “maybe I should have kept some more things.” (I tossed a lot of childhood stuff in a fit of unsentimental get-rid-ed-ness, and I’m beginning to wonder if maybe that wasn’t so…)

Because keeping only what brings joy isn’t as simple as it sounds. When you’re on an organization bender, and you’re a specific type of person (i.e – me), you might find that what brings you joy in the midst of cleaning is the throwing away of stuff. It was like that for me. I was ruthless. I was as unsentimental about old stuff as it was possible to be.

I had a bit of a special situation when leaving Korea – I was trying not to ship anything or bring a third suitcase home (both very expensive) and that meant really, really keeping only what I needed and wanted. I left behind books and a lot of shoes and a lot of stationery stuff, thinking at least I could replace that easily enough.

(Bit of advice; if you love stationery and you live in Asia where you can get all that awesome stuff cheap, keep it. I’d somehow forgotten that you can’t find stores like that in America, and the stuff you do find isn’t cheap.)

The Downside

We rarely hear about the downside of minimalism, because the idea is good. You don’t need all that stuff. You don’t need that storage unit. Well, we didn’t; we just thought so.

So when is it a bad idea? When you get rid of too much. When the pendulum swings from terrible over consumption and over buying to not buying enough. There are benefits to having certain things, and sometimes those things can feel like a lot of things, but aren’t really a lot. Of things. Um.

Example; I just bought a few books. I was hesitant to buy them because a) money, and b) they were solid, real, tangible books that would forever be in my care unless I donated them later. Stuff has psychological weight.

I almost didn’t buy them. But I wanted them. Specifically, these are books related to D&D, something I’m really passionate about. I will use these books a long time, possibly for decades. D&D is one of my major hobbies, and it’s OKAY to spend money on your hobbies. That’s what I had to keep telling myself. It’s okay to buy things you will love and use forever. It’s okay to buy real books again.

I had to buy furniture to furnish my office when I moved back to Texas, and that was also really hard because fuuuurrrniiitttuuureeee is also expensive and so REAL. Like yeah, you’re rooting down.

And I bought my first ever desktop computer. Before, I’d always used a laptop because I was always on the go; to college, to Taiwan, back to college, to Korea. A desktop would have lain dormant.

Now I have a desktop. And two new amazing desks and an awesome shelf system for all my cool, favorite stuff.

It rocks. It’s not minimalist. It’s not. I don’t have 10 books spread between the 16 shelf cubes with only a decoration or two. No, I have a lot of books and a lot of souvenirs. And it’s perfect.

It’s given me a sense of belonging. When you live in transience, in the mindset of living with less, it’s easy to merge that with the idea of impermanence. Living with less so you’re easier to move around.

That’s fine for some people. It was great for me for a long time.

It’s not great forever, for some people. I loved buying a desktop. It was like buying a car. I’m an adult, I thought, finally. I loved investing in those D&D books. I want to DM, and those will be valuable resources.

As Matt Colville says, one of my all-time favorite Dungeon Masters, he buys a lot of expensive stuff for his D&D sessions. Like, hundreds of dollars worth of minis and sets and books and stuff. But he says that’s okay. He’s been collecting this stuff for over thirty years. He’ll keep using it. It’s his passion and his hobby, and that’s what living is for. To pursue your passions.

Don’t let minimalism and the fear of settling down starve you of the stuff you really do want.

That’s minimalism gone bad.

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10 thoughts on “The Downside of Minimalist Living

  1. My mom knit me a hoodie when I went away to University many moons ago. The fit became wonky after I washed it, so I ended up wearing it only a few times. But I held onto it for almost 15 years because it held enormous sentimental value to me. When we bought our house two years ago, I vowed to purge anything and everything that hadn’t been touched or used within the last year. So… I pulled out the sweater and put it into a garbage bag… but then pulled it out. I held it for several minutes and cried so hard thinking about throwing it away. I felt dumb for feeling so attached to it when realistically, I would never wear it again. And so I sucked it up and put it back into the garbage. Now it’s gone forever and I regret getting rid of it. It will end up being one of my biggest regrets on my deathbed, I am not even kidding. Even just writing this, I am crying, especially since my relationship with my mom isn’t the best right now. And so that is my story of minimalism gone bad 😦

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    1. I think the idea of minimalism was good – less focus on stuff that didn’t matter, but it focused only on stuff, like, material things, and less on the clutter in relationships and career and creativity. For me, I threw a lot of things out when I was needing to throw ideas out. I thought I was on the right track, but I wasn’t. I’ve thrown out some things I really miss, just like you.

      I’m sorry about your hoodie. It does feel dumb in the moment, especially when we’re told not to be sentimental but practical. Unfortunately, it’s not dumb, and we miss things.

      I hope we can learn from our lessons, and I hope we can tune into what really needs to be downsized in our lives.

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    2. Cindy…I’m stunned! I was not expecting to tear up so much. Do you have a picture of the sweater still? It would be nice to know if there’s any memento left. I’d love to see it.

      Thanks for sharing this, our family has a garage full of stuff to clean up, so we’ll proceed with caution now!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of it, but its image is still very vivid in my mind. If only I could press a shutter button in my brain and produce a physical photo! Alas, it’s something I just have to live with. I hope your clean up goes well!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I have shared this exact sentiment this year. I honestly don’t think minimalism is all it’s cracked up to be.

    There is something wonderful about living in a well-furnished home that is decorated according to your specific tastes. Living in a home/room that makes you feel welcome, at ease, and comfortable is so worth the furniture/knick-knacks/decorations. Living out of a suitcase gets old and depressing. After years on the road I started looking at home furnishing/goods store with such want and envy. I wanted to buy nice teacups, wine glasses, rugs, blankets, bedding… I wanted to create a space that was uniquely for me. Hard to do that and be minimalist.

    I think it’s all about striking a good balance. I love Japanese minimalist homes, because they are void of a lot of junk but they still feel very personalized and homey. I think in Korea it’s similar.

    A few years ago I also went on a binging spree and threw away a lot of childhood stuff without thinking about the sentimental factor. I also had some regrets there. Luckily my mom is a hoarder and kept everything of mine from high school and earlier (even my old anime tapes), so it’s kind of nice to go back home and realize the value of these mementos.

    Love this post and topic!

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    1. It’s amazing how many people feel this way! I think the people who are likely to minimalize are people who’ve felt so overwhelmed by stuff that we tend to swing to that opposite extreme of GETTING RID OF ALL THE THINGS too quickly. Maybe it’s a necessary lesson to learn. We have to purge in order to learn what was and is most important.

      Now that I have learned (I hope), I want to buy things with intention, but still buy things. That feels right.

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  3. I wrote something similar and since we both have moved lately I suppose I’m not surprised. We’re also probably related on another dimension as well. I’ve come to accept this again and again. 😛

    Yeah, we like our extremes, don’t we? Extreme politics, views, deodorant…and while the idea of minimalism is great, especially as an antidote to today’s consumerism, what we choose to keep or give away really does come down to a personal choice. When we follow ‘rules’ then we end up like Cindy throwing away something that we love. And trust me, I’m in the same ‘why, oh why’ boat.

    But man, talk about figuring it out the hard way.

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    1. Yeah I’m pretty sure we’re the same person distorted by space and time and somehow bound up like quantum particles…anyway.

      It does all boil down to rules. Instead of taking the time (the long time) to determine the reasons for getting rid of stuff in the first place, why and how to get rid of it, what to keep if anything, we just follow the guidebooks (which can be awesome), and end up with someone else’s view of our own life.

      That’s why I love KonMari so much, and why I wish I had been a bit more thoughtful when I read her stuff. She does NOT advocate throwing everything away. Her whole focus is on keeping what brings joy, and if that’s a lot, it doesn’t matter. I didn’t read it like that though. I read it as “get rid of absolutely everything you CANNOT live without.” But once I did, I realized where I’d gone wrong, so I’m hoping to keep that valuable lesson as I live. I think this is really hard for expats and travelers though. Sometimes you just can’t keep a house full of treasures. You have to downsize, and that’s hard.

      It’s one reason I’m thinking of staying in the US longterm, if not forever. Moving within it is fine, but imagining moving lock, stock and barrel overseas again gives me a headache. Of course, that’s me swinging from one extreme to the other again…I’m like Anne Shirley, I have really high highs and really low lows.

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