I have had the strong urge to get rid of stuff lately, but I keep looking around at my apartment and there is no longer anything obvious to donate or throw away. I thought that maybe after five years of this, I was finally done with the purging process. But the more I think about it, the more I think it’s time to make deeper cuts. I know from traveling light that I can not just get by, but am happy living with very little.
I said in my very first post about minimalism that I didn’t think my thing about getting rid of everything was 100% healthy. I just mean that sometimes it’s compulsive and sometimes it’s my way of dealing with uncertainty. It started when a lifetime obsession with organization met The Grapes of Wrath, a failing economy, and my own mountains of debt. It has since then become more of a well-rounded lifestyle choice, but sometimes it feels like the reasons are secondary to an instinct that I don’t fully understand. Usually when I become interested in something, the first thing I do is read about it, but I have never read much about minimalism. It’s a thing I do and then think about later.
The reasons, even if they come later, are good. I like simplicity, because it makes it easier for me to focus. I’m probably never going to make a lot of money, so it’s important that I don’t spend what I have on stuff. I want to travel, maybe for long periods of time, and it’s hard to do that when I belong to so much stuff. I want to live many different places and move often, and that would make a minimalist out of anyone. Maybe more than anything, I have realized that stuff doesn’t make me happy, so I’d rather not waste my time collecting and organizing it.
My approach to minimalism has always been very hands on. I get down among my stuff and decide what can go by holding it and looking at it and thinking about whether it should be in my future. Now that it’s time to make deeper cuts, my approach has become much more thoughtful and deliberate. I’m thinking less about individual items and more about the kind of life I’m living and want to live. It is strange the way the stuff you keep and the stuff you get rid of represent the person you are and all the people you thought you might be.
This is nowhere more obvious than with my clothes. My closet is half the size of a normal closet, and still not full. So I have made huge cuts there, but the truth is that I still have a ton of clothes I never wear. Some of these items I have picked up and stared at and put back dozens of times now. I kept deciding they should be in my future, and still I never actually wear them. For instance, I have a lot of tank tops, even though (for no reason) I almost never wear tank tops. I have a pair of gray flats that I bought at least four years ago; they’re adorable and they fit fine and there is nothing wrong with them, but I have never worn them out of my apartment one time. I have a lot of jewelry, but most days I forget to even wear a watch. I have enough wine glasses to host a party, but I never entertain and don’t aspire to. Sometimes I act like owning a book is as important as having read it. Why do I hold onto these things that I know I would never miss?
I guess because stuff isn’t just stuff. The things you own, and maybe especially what you wear on your body, say a lot about you. It would be easy to call that superficial, but I don’t think it always is. When you start getting rid of stuff, there are fewer things to distract you from yourself. The process of purging forces you to confront and let go of other lives you might have lived. I see a vision of myself as a person who wears adorable gray flats, and that might seem like something so small, but if it is then why don’t I either wear those damn flats or get rid of them?
On the most recent episode of The JV Club, Janet called attention to the difference between self-esteem and self-acceptance. It’s the difference between trying to put some kind of spin on the things you’re not, and just admitting and accepting that you are who you are and maybe you’re not something you wish you were. I think introverts often have a strong reaction against the expectations of an extroverted culture, and we spin things so that introversion is better and aren’t we so thoughtful and wonderful? The truth is that I like being an introvert, but sometimes I still wish I was an extrovert, because I struggle to express myself fully and I am often misunderstood. I don’t have to spin that and I don’t have to deny it.
I can see myself saying in one conversation that I am really good at letting go of things and in another that it is the thing I struggle with most. I don’t know how it makes sense, but I think both are true. I try to remember that if I let go of that pair of gray flats, that doesn’t mean I won’t still be a person one day who wears gray flats. You don’t know how things might come back to you or what the future will look like. Let me undermine the subtlety here to say that I am literally talking about a pair of gray flats; if this was all figurative, I’d be talking about my red flats.