EMBRACING MINIMALISM: PART ONE
February 10, 2021
THOUGHTS ON LETTING GO
After three months of micro-living in a 1991 Mitsubishi Delica van, I’ve started to reflect on my relationship with my material possessions.
What do I actually need?
I’m a novice, but here’s what I’ve learned: Existing within about 40 square feet of living space has illuminated the true definition of the word “need.”
Every day, we say to ourselves “we need this” or “we need that.” Our friends or family members talk about how they need this newest electronic or this latest piece of clothing. Isn’t it funny how casually we throw around this very specific word? In many ways, our lives seem to revolve around the materials we consume and our flawed perception of their importance.
But have you truly thought about what you absolutely can’t live without? The things that literally allow you to exist? I think you’d discover the same thing I have: The list is very short.
Three months into this somewhat familiar but more extreme version of minimalism has dragged me back to these questions. I’m gradually learning these lessons as we speak and it’s a metamorphosis that’s still in progress.
Think about this: In many ways, our attachment to material possessions is one of the primary contributing factors towards our perpetual indentured servitude.
We work incredibly hard so that we can turn around and mindlessly buy things that we absolutely don’t need, with money we really don’t have, to impress people we don’t like or even care about. It’s nonsensical.
And yet we continue to do it. Why?
Doesn’t everything about that seem insane?
Well, not necessarily. Regardless of what type of upbringing you had, we’ve all been conditioned to some degree as a consequence of the society we live in. We’ve all become acquainted with the nauseating competition in which status, titles, material possessions, dollar signs, and the external validation associated with your name somehow correlate with the value associated with you as a human being.
Worse, there’s a deliberate effort to distract us from simply living a fulfilling life that’s meaningful to us. We are absolutely inundated with advertisements and consumer messaging 24/7 on the TV, radio, internet, and social media. In aggregate, none of this advertising is done from a place of altruism–it’s purpose is to make money by selling products. And we are there to consume them.
You can choose to participate in this game, or you can struggle to free your mind and body from this rat race and exist outside of it all.
The choice is yours.
For myself, I plan to continue to actively pursue a minimalist lifestyle and work towards attaining a healthy perspective with respect to things. I’m not suggesting people should reject all material possessions and go live in a monastery with just the clothes on their backs. Obviously, that’s not necessary or realistic.
My point is, you need a lot less than you think.
And I’m learning this now more than ever. After living in an 18 foot travel trailer in a campground for my last three years in the Army, I thought I was already a minimalist. Well, I was wrong.
Just to give you an idea, I’ve already mailed two large boxes of stuff home, made three trips to donation centers, multiple dumpster visits, and a trip to the dump. I noticed it was so difficult for me to decide what to keep and what to let go of. I felt like I was wasting, or I might use this thing, so maybe I should just hold onto it. But on the back end, I feel so free after shedding endless piles of bullshit that really caused more stress and wasted time than they brought value to my life. And I’m not done with this purge yet!
Something to consider: With more things, comes more responsibility. Financial burden to pay for the thing. Time, effort, and money to maintain the thing. Space to store the thing. Guilt if you don’t use the thing. And when you finally come to your senses, and you decide to get rid of the thing, you spend time and effort selling the thing or giving it away. And finally, you feel frustration and regret when you think about how little you used the thing. Imagine if you had never bought the thing to begin with. Now multiply this exact scenario by 100 and you’ll begin to see the impact that radically reducing your material possessions can have on your life.
I’m sure that all of this seems obvious. These are common sense ideas, and they’re nothing new. We all know these things, right? Well, if that’s the case, then why do we all still endlessly struggle with this? Why does the average American have thousands and thousands of dollars of debt, but so much stuff that they can’t actually park their car in their garage? Or worse—need a storage unit?
Well, because none of this is easy. And there are a number of environmental factors influencing us to do otherwise. So if you want to go down this path, start now. Start small. And don’t wait. Go through your stuff and take note of what you haven’t used in years. Begin to shed the nonessential. All it does is weigh you down, acting like an anchor. As soon as you eliminate your attachment to these things, you can sail freely. The longer you wait, the more that accumulates. When you leave behind the things you don’t need, you’ll discover more time, mental and emotional energy, and the ability to devote your effort to things that actually matter to you. No, I’m not suggesting that you go live in your car or forsake all of your worldly belongings. But it’s indisputable that our obsession with the superficial has caused that which is truly important to slowly deteriorate and fade into the background.
Somewhere, there is balance.
In the next piece, I dive into some of the unexpected challenges we encountered while living in the van. You can find it here, “Part Two: Simplicity Isn’t Always Simple.”