I am a strong advocate of minimalism in terms of possessions. When I moved to Germany, all I had was a backpack, a suitcase and a bass guitar. That was enough to start and sustain a new life. Today, I do my best to live on this philosophy, and the benefits are significant.
Last week, I discussed this subject with a colleague of mine; and decided to write about my kind of minimalism.
First of all, one has to recognize his/her needs. If you “need” something to survive, do your job, sustain your hobby, or simply feel good using it, that’s fine. However; chances are, a large percentage of your possessions are there simply because once you believed you need them. If that’s not the case today, they don’t have a place in your life.
Textile is a common category among most people. If you wear that shoe frequently, keep it. If another shoe didn’t see the sunlight in 6 months, it needs to leave your life – assuming that it’s not a rare special occasion / weather oriented item. If you are wearing that shirt on every possible opportunity, keep it. If another shirt is collecting dust in the dark corner of your wardrobe, it needs to leave your life.
The same principle can be applied to other topics in your life; such as tech items, hobby gear, furniture, utility stuff, etc.
But why? Why not keep everything until the wardrobes crack and cabinets vomit?
First of all, possessions cost you. It costs you time, money and energy to possess an item. You need a bigger space to store them (which could mean a higher rent), more time to organize them, more energy to maintain them and more patience to endure the frustration while searching for that one item you need at that time.
Another cost category: Possession means production, and production costs the environment dearly.
Chances are, some might have given up organizing stuff a long time ago. They would simply live with vaguely organized piles of possessions, or the “etc-drawer” is the fullest drawer of the house.
Those are the tangible costs. However, there are intangible costs as well.
Every item you possess takes up a small toll on your psychological sense of freedom. The more items you possess, the more dependent and cluttered you’ll feel. In other words; to quote Fight Club, “Things you own, end up owning you”. You probably won’t notice that until you really give things away. I can’t describe the feeling of freedom and independency when I gave up 95% of my possessions when I was moving to Germany. No physical clutter can be worth more than this emotion. Maybe that’s what spiritual teachers mean when they praise poverty.
Another aspect is; having piles of unorganized items at home reinforces the belief that you are an unorganized person with a low level of conscientiousness. This belief might affect your behavior at work, social relations and many other areas in your life with a flavour of self fulfilling prophecies. With a little dose of selective perception, you might end up being a really messy person. Having an organized household with a minimum quantity of significant items works in your favor.
Self worth can also be affected. Imagine a shirt you purchased to wear outside. After a while, you don’t wear it outside any longer, but keep it to wear at home. Well; could this mean that you value your outlook towards total strangers more than your outlook towards yourself and the people you share your home with? Aren’t you worth of self-praise when you look at yourself in the mirror at your home? Wouldn’t it be nice you could pull off any shirt from your wardrobe, look at the mirror and be happy with it; whether you are at home or outside with peers?
Hygiene is another problem. It is really hard to keep a large quantity of items clean. Dust, mold, mites and germs love dark deserted nooks. The more items you possess, the more of those you might end up living with.
There is also the aspect of social responsibility. An item you don’t really love and use might be the favorite possession of another individual who can’t afford what you can. A nice-to-have item of yours might be cruicial for another person. As the saying goes; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Why not give it away and make others happy?
For those people of faith, giving possessions and alms to those in need is also praised a lot in the holy books. In some verses, it is stated that people only really give when they give the things they love. You might want to look up into that if interested; because giving away your trash might not be enough for spiritual advancement.
Obviously, donation is not the only way to part from an item in your life. If you want to get rid of an expensive technical possession, you can simply sell it online. It is not really a donation, but a fair way to reduce clutter. Whatever the method is; if I convinced you about possessional minimalism, it’s time I tell you how I do it.
I make a distinction of planned vs sustained donations.
Planned donation is the type of activity where I gather my possessions of a certain category (such as textile), pile them up, and sort out the items I’m willing the donate. This can be done once every season. The trick is to decide what to give and what to keep. Here are some questions I ask to decide.
- If I would be moving abroad, would I take this with me? Yes: Keep. Maybe/No: Donate.
- If I would be moving to another house, would I take this with me? Yes: Keep. Maybe/No: Donate.
- Do I love and use this item as much as day one? Yes: Keep. Not sure/No: Donate.
- Is there someone who would benefit much more than I do? Yes: Donate. Not sure/No: Keep.
As mentioned before; the exception of donation might be rare occasion items, such as a tuxedo or snow coat, which get used once a year but are essential.
Sustained donation is the type of activity where I monitor my possessions within the flow of life. For this to work, I create loops of items. For example, I tend to wear the lowest shirt from my pile of shirts, and the clean shirts go on top of the pile. If a shirt stays at the lowest level for a long time, it means that it doesn’t get used much, and it might be time to donate it.
Another sustained principle is the one-in-one-out approach. For example, I limit the quantity of shoes I possess. If I buy a new pair of shoes, I donate the least liked shoe in my wardrobe.
A very important part of sustained minimalism is prevention of possession. If you don’t buy something, you prevent clutter in the first place. For this to work, one needs to recognize the borderline between needs and desires. As stated before; if you “need” something to survive, do your job, sustain your hobby, or simply feel good using it, that’s fine. If you are buying it out of desire, boredom, in a whim or because of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome); you might be better off not buying it at all.
Even if you have to buy something; you may prefer singular versatile commodities over multiple specialized commodities, if possible. Case in point: Why Jazz Bass?
This is easier said than done, obviously. Marketing and media strategies keep pumping unrealistic images of superiorities to make you feel inferior and purchase stuff so you can catch up. You end up spending money to possess more hygiene items to make up for a lack of motivators, which doesn’t really work. I recommend reading my post Two Factor Theory: An Approach to Life Satisfaction for more details; one can gain a lot of freedom by understanding how this pattern works.
For every purchase, you should be asking: Is That Too Expensive?
Having a lot of possessions costs a lot and works against you. I hope that I have convinced some of you to reduce your pile of possessions. I can only talk about the freedom and independency that I feel; you need to experience it for yourself. Once you taste this emotion, I think that you wouldn’t want to go back.
Besides, you can’t fill voids with things.
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