I spent many nights of my childhood failing to fall asleep as my mind tumbled over concepts like infinity and forever and the nature of the universe, concepts I couldn’t quite grasp but refused to stop wondering about. I tended towards obsession salted with a hefty dash of anxiety, and for a while I couldn’t stop worrying about photographs.
My worry about photographs was a manifestation of a larger concern: my discomfort with the existence of so much stuff in the world. Thinking about trash and dumps and garbage made me nervous, and for a while I fixated on photographs. I became convinced that, at some point, the sheer number of photographs in existence would grow SO LARGE that photographs would take over the world. Because, come on, who throws away pictures? They just sit there, in boxes and albums and envelopes, and you add more and more to your stash as you take more and more photos, but you never throw them away! The thought terrified me more than a little bit.
By the time I graduated high school, digital photography was fast becoming the norm, and my childhood fears of a world stuffed to the gills with yellowing paper photos had long been put to rest. But that larger discomfort with stuff and things persisted. It still persists, and I still get a little nervous when I think about dumps, and I feel a little hollow when I’m in a big department store with oodles of things that will never stop existing.
All of this is to say that minimalism, and the idea of being satisfied and fulfilled with less stuff and fewer things, appeals to me. I’ve been pushing around the notion of reducing and letting go for a while, and one of my goals for this year is to truly start walking down that path. I made that decision on my birthday, a day on which I received more stuff and things. Things like this gorgeous, clothbound edition of Pride and Prejudice thoughtfully given by S:
I also received some sweaters, and a heating pad for my oft-sore neck, and a doohicky for making popcorn in the microwave without a paper bag. Stuff and things. And it’s not that I don’t want the things. Generally, the things that people give me are personal and useful. But I don’t want all the things. So I decided that whenever something new comes into my possession, I will get rid of one – ideally, two! – other things. With that resolution in mind, I prepared a small stack of items to donate to make way for my birthday gifts.
S and I donate unloved clothing and household items fairly frequently, but I know we can do better. And I’m hoping that my new resolution will make me think even more critically when I feel the tug of consumerism. I will look at a potential purchase not only in terms of the money I’ll spend but also in terms of what I will have to give away to make a place for the new item in my closet or on my bookshelf or in my kitchen. I’m excited about the prospect. I’m not one for buying much, but do make the occasional less-than-necessary purchase, and I’d like to make sure those purchases are ones I really want. I’ll make some exceptions, of course. I received some pretty notecards from a coworker for my birthday, but they won’t take up permanent space in my home; I’ll write letters to friends and send them on their way. So I don’t feel compelled to give something away to make room for them.
The other part of my resolution for the next year is to buy most of my clothing at secondhand, thrift, and consignment stores. I have no problems whatsoever with wearing used clothes, and a large portion of my wardrobe is secondhand already. It’s less expensive, I have more luck finding a variety of clothes in my size, and I’m extending the life of existing clothes rather than purchasing new ones. I’ll make exceptions for undergarments, socks, and – potentially – shoes, because shoes are pretty hit or miss at thrift stores.
I’m excited for my resolutions. I have a tendency to want to keep things for sentimental reasons, but I’m trying to dissociate the objects from their related emotions and memories. When I was home last month, I purged lots of childhood knick-knacks, and it felt good. I hope to capture that feeling more often as I learn to let go of things (the things that, paradoxically, stress me out by their very existence!) and live happily with less.
Happily, not all of my birthday gifts this year required me to get rid of something else. S, being the crafty and wonderfully thoughtful guy he is, thumbed through my copy of Vegan Food Gifts and found the perfect things to make for me: simple syrups! He made me a strawberry and an orange simple syrup, and I’ve been enjoying them in cocktails. He did need to buy some jars to store them in, but I know I’ll be able to re-use them repeatedly in the future.
Aren’t they pretty? That’s the kind of gift I love: homemade, simple, and thoughtful. I aspire to give gifts like that, and I think that notion fits well with my minimalistic goals. In other words, be prepared for more handmade gifts than ever, friends and family! :)
Do you have tips for living simply? How do you handle feeling sentimental about objects, or do you not feel that way?
7 thoughts on “Stuff and Things, or, My Struggle Towards Minimalism”
Happy belated birthday! This is a great post, and totally aligned with my current wavelength. I love your idea about donating 2 items for every new thing you receive.
Thank you! Yes, I’m excited about it too. :)
Sentimental items are the hardest (I recently wrote a post about dealing with my wedding dress). Sometimes the trick is to find a way to recreate the happiness you get from owning that item by making it more portable, smaller, or (ideally) digital. It’s a tough process, but downsizing is so worth the effort! Best of luck to you!
Thank you! I’ve been thinking about maybe photographing stashes of stuff (like childhood toys) before I get rid of them. Lots of my old stuff is stored at my parents’ house, though, so I don’t have the opportunity to go through it very often.
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Kelly! I found you on the internet! :-) I hope your pursuit towards minimalism has gone well over the years. I can totally sympathise, and have perhaps gone a little too far towards that pursuit: scanning and photographing everything in sight, filling goodwill bags and recycling bins, and generally obsessing over what to get rid of and how to organize the remainder. I’m short, my personal pursuit of minimalism has led to mental clutter as I try to grapple with what to eliminate. I suppose we’re all on a journey, and hopefully mine leads me towards some moderation on this front. :-)
Anyways, I love your blog and hope things are well with you! What a fun bumping-into-you!
Oh my, Chanté! How are you (other than riddled with anxiety over minimalism)?! So funny that you found me here! :)