Minimalism is a trend currently, and by that I don’t mean I am dismissing it or saying it won't last. In that case it would be a fad. Minimalism is a trend that purports to improve your life, lighten your burden literally, free you up to be happy. I would imagine there are some people out there with an ever expanding library of books on how to do minimalism right. I imagine this books might be shelved next to books on the previous trend, organisation. Once we were told how to organise and store things, and sold assorted storage containers. Millions of people parked their cars in the driveway because their garages were filled with carefully stored possessions in lidded plastic totes. I know someone who can barely move around her home because of her possessions, and is arguably afflicted with a hoarding problem, but it's all organised carefully into containers and labelled.
Some, as I do, feel more comfortable surrounded by things which have meaning to us. We might call ourselves maximalists. The girls who come twice a month to clean call me The Lady With The Eclectic Home. They walk around exclaiming over this cool thing or that cool thing as though it were a museum of sorts. "Where did you get this?" They ask. I suppose my home is a personal shrine of me-ness. My home is an expression of who I am and nobody walks in the door and says, oh a minimalist lives here.
Five years ago I moved out of the home I had lived in for eighteen years, leaving a marriage of 23 years. Among the many differences that had grown between my husband and myself was how much we accumulated, what types of things we accumulated and where we put it. I believe that if a relationship is otherwise healthy and happy, there would be a greater tolerance for such differences, but for me this difference was becoming unbearable. My husband could tolerate much more disarray than I could. So many of our things did not have a home, and if they did they often weren't kept there. Storing things neatly and properly was not a priority for him so time and money could not be invested in making a closet or some shelving. Things did not get thrown out if they were potentially useful or had sentimental value. We had an overflowing crawl space and a home nearly impossible to keep tidy. A brand new double garage was built in the last three years of our marriage and it was promptly filled up with stuff. One side of it was filled with old wood siding that might be useful some day. I felt buried under material things just as I felt buried in the marriage. Our ways were different, and yet I am not a minimalist. I am also very fond of cupboards.
Moving out was a good way to purge, and I made careful decisions about what I took with me, deliberately not taking the 50% of our possessions I was entitled to, in part because I was moving to a home less than half the size. Although I have a few regrets about that, I try not to be emotionally attached to material things. As I set up my new home, I found that I needed a certain volume of material items around me to feel comfortable. I like candles, plants and books and attractive textiles, decorative pieces or items that are both useful and decorative, and am not a fan of much bare wall space. I am a seeker of cosiness more than space. I only knew how to set up a home for a family, not for a single person. I could not let go of the idea that I needed dinner service for ten, enough wine glasses in case I have a party. I am equipped to serve Christmas dinner on a regular basis and to cook and bake for a family of four or more daily. Perhaps I imagined a step family in my future, or I imagine grandchildren. Either way it is a bit ridiculous but I have to admit I really like my dishes and like looking at them. This is not a sin and it does not hold me back from living the life I want to live. I do have more possessions than I need, but they are not in my way, spiritually, emotionally or physically.
Minimalism is sold to us as the mentally healthy way to live. It is sold to us as the ideal life, free and unencumbered. It is a spiral movement in many ways but more than one person has found a way to comodify it. I believe minimalism, or simplicity should really be a very personal thing, very tailored to the individual and perhaps it needs a new name or needs to be separated from a sister movement that is more about living with what you need. Need is something to be personally defined, but it is also relative to culture and wealth. Unless you live below the poverty line or are homeless, you probably have more than you need to survive and there is no need to be shamed for that. What I am interested in personally, is reducing mindless consumption and accumulation. What I wish to work on paring down is mostly invisible to anyone who comes into my home. It is not my chosen lifestyle nor within my means to be a wanderer. Given this, I am quite content with a home that anchors me.
Re-evaluating sometimes, reducing, unneeded and unwanted possessions and focusing on less consumption can all be goals without having to embrace minimalism, or they can be part of of how you define your own personal minimalism. Less is a relative term.
It should be noted that voluntary simplicity does not, however, mean
living in poverty, becoming an ascetic monk, or indiscriminately
renouncing all the advantages of science and technology. It does not
involve regressing to a primitive state or becoming a self-righteous
puritan. And it is not some escapist fad reserved for saints, hippies,
or eccentric outsiders. Rather, advocates of simplicity suggest that by
examining afresh our relationships with money, material possessions, the
planet, ourselves and each other, ‘the simple life’ of voluntary
simplicity is about discovering the freedom and contentment that comes
with knowing how much consumption is truly ‘enough.’
Arguably, this is a theme that has something to say to everyone,
especially those in consumer cultures today who are every day bombarded
with thousands of cultural and institutional messages insisting that
‘more is always better.’ Voluntary simplicity is a philosophy of living
that advocates a counter-cultural position based on notions of
sufficiency and simplicity.
-quote found on the website The Simplicity Collective
Suggested Reading for a gentle and sensible approach: