Just over two years ago, I was seriously in the pits. I’d lived in the same small, dorm-style room for two years after moving a total of nine times in the last four years. Over that time, I’d accumulated stuff. Stuff that was meant for larger apartments. Stuff that was outdated and never touched. Stuff that no longer served any purpose. I was drowning.
But I had held on to it all — because I might need it one day. Did I need those college physics notebooks that made absolutely no sense? Maybe one day. What about that shirt that looked awful on me? I might find an occasion where I needed to wear it…
You get the picture.
One off weekend in early April, after reading up on minimalism, I made the decision to get rid of some excess things around the place. I started in one corner of the room and made my way around, collecting the excess in an (excess/donate-able) suitcase. Before I knew it, that suitcase turned into two… and four… and an additional six trash bags. I hadn’t even touched the closet yet.
In a matter of a month, I had cleaned out all of the clutter, donated over 1000 miscellaneous items, trashed over 400 old and unusable items, and sat down at a desk I forgot I had. For the first time in years, I felt like I could breathe. Minimalism had created a clarity I didn’t realize was missing from my life.
Minimalism created less stress
Physical clutter is often the manifestation of mental clutter.
But I also had a ton of physical clutter. I thought there would be stress in making decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. I was wrong. There was so much freedom in letting go of things and not once have I tossed an item that I later regretted. If I hadn’t taken pictures of all the things I got rid of, for research purposes (and proof I was actually getting rid of things), I don’t think I’d even remember owning them.
The first time I left my apartment and returned after this purge, I walked in and visibly (and audibly) relaxed. If there was any stress from the day, I came into the room and it melted away. I had a sanctuary to return to, free of mess and stress. And when I had to move for the tenth time, I didn’t panic. Things that fit in my car were kept, the few bulkier items that were cheaper to transport than buy again were put in my boyfriend’s larger car, and the rest was tossed. I even minimized again after moving when I discovered I didn’t need some of the things I transported.
Minimalism taught me how to fill the space
With a newly open and spacious living area, we are often tempted to fill that space again — often with new things. Minimalism opened my eyes to a new way of viewing what some people would call ‘empty space’. I saw a space that could be lived in, moved around in, and enjoyed as is. I didn’t need to fill my now halved (if not more) closet with more clothes. Everything I needed was available without having to search for it.
It also taught me what I was doing with time. Instead of filling my now empty space with mindless things, I had more time to focus on grad school, my values, my health and exercise routines, and it opened up a path to pursue a newly discovered passion — writing.
Our attachment to stuff is what we make of it
During the purge, there were a few items that caused me some hesitation. Sometimes it was a shirt, sometimes it was a notebook, but every time it was something I had attached useless meaning to.
“Oh, but that was the shirt I wore on X day at X time. I haven’t worn it since, but I might!”
Now that I look back, my attachment to this piece of clothing was absolutely hilarious. Memories aren’t in the things we own, they are within us. If you want to argue that one day our memories will fade, take a photo of the item — then toss the item. That shirt meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. I will still remember going to a concert in that shirt, I unfortunately will still remember that grueling 5AM workout I did in those shorts, but I don’t have those items anymore. I have the memories without the physical clutter.
Intentionality when bringing stuff in
Minimalism doesn’t mean I no longer purchase things. What it has done, however, is make me look at purchases in a more critical light. Do I need to buy a second tumbler when my first one works perfectly fine? Do I really need a new pair of black boots? That one I’ll consider because, as I recall, the last time I wore those black boots in the wintertime, I discovered a hole in the bottom and my sock was soaked with melted snow. Wait, why haven’t I gotten rid of those boots?
When I go shopping, I do it with a purpose. It means I might be shopping for a bit longer than I used to, but I’m making sure the item I bring in is useful for the long haul.
I’ve learned what I value and what brings me happiness
Happiness is a byproduct of living a meaningful life — The Minimalists
Clearing out the clutter helped me see what I truly valued in life. I was able to focus more on the things I enjoyed doing, and my pursuit of things that I valued brought me happiness. I was no longer swamped by all the excess I had going on in my living space or in my head space. Clearing out everything, understanding intentionality in things and in living, and learning how to fill the space with my values helped create a clear picture on how I wanted to live my life.
Reassessing my values helped me prioritize the things that brought me joy and purpose. I found a new passion, cleared out toxic relationships, found new and healthy ones, and rearranged the trajectory of my life to better suit my new goals.
Minimalism is in the eyes of the beholder
The best part about minimalism is that it isn’t one-size-fits-all. Each person can have their own definition of what suits their life. For me, I still have a passion for physical notebooks and books. There is still intentionality involved in how and when I bring those items in, but it’s how minimalism fits me. I still reassess my closet every few months. I still carefully assess physical purchases when I go to the store. For someone else, this might be easier or harder. Maybe they still prefer to hold on to more items or perhaps they can let go of everything with no issues and no regrets. Minimalism can fit your life if you continue to bring things in that align with how you want your life to look.
Minimalism isn’t the fix, but getting rid of the excess stuff can help bring clarity to your life. Letting go of the things that block your path to the life you want to live helps change your perspective on everything. The first step to living your life might just be getting rid of the things that no longer bring value to it.