Minimalism is not just about decluttering. It involves a full shift in perspective about possessions, and a full reevaluation of your relationship with everything -- money, people, objects, experiences, knowledge, and whatever else falls within the spectrum of your life.
I have always been an avid declutterer for many years but while I would enjoy the results of a cleaned-up space for a few weeks, the clutter I sent away would creep back in another form (and occasionally the same form without me realising it).
Decluttering is a surface action. It is external. It is cathartic and therapeutic in itself, but long-term positive effects can only go as far as how the outside action is mirrored inside you.
In my previous decluttering, I got rid of things I truly believed I would not need or use anymore. While there was always a significant amount gotten rid of, what was left behind was even more. And many of those left behind were the "undecided". Items I might need or use. Items I want to use but for some reason could not at the moment (or the past five years). Items I feel guilty about discarding because they have not been used much, well, or at all. Then there were the possessions in which I had assigned a misguided value. Items that I thought helped define who I am, like a real-life hashtag accessorising my existence. Items that I thought I should have if I were to be perceived as an authentic artist/writer/good person. Items that I thought I need to have because that's what responsible and practical adults have.
So all my decluttering were short-term solutions to deep-seated matters that I had not even begun to realise, much less addressed.
Sometime last year I came across Marie Kondo's Konmari book and I was moved to declutter by her simple question: Does this spark joy? But the answer to that question can still be deceiving if I still clung to my old measures of happiness, success, satisfaction, and fulfilment.
This year I came across The Minimalists' book, Everything That Remains. It gave me the missing pieces from Kondo's book, and constructed for me not just an effective and efficient decluttering strategy, but a philosophy on possessions and beliefs on value.
I believe that I was also most receptive this time when I felt that I was at one of the lowest points of my life's journey. I felt trapped, weighed down yet empty, heavy-hearted yet wanting so much. The spaces in my life were of absences and lack, potholes of poverty and scarcity. Yet if you look around my home you would find layers and piles of things, a seeming abundance.
One word that has been going around lately in the Creativity Salon is "lightly". To go lightly through the days, to not be burdened, to not be heavy with our desires and our disappointments. And I realise I want to take that idea further, for my very life to embody that light tread upon the world.
Hand-in-hand with going minimalist is conscious consumerism. Buy less but better. Buy products with a conscience. The truest vote for a healthful and mindful economy is where we put our money. Reducing a life to its essentials brings up the question on how to maintain it. It cannot exist in a vacuum, without consideration of its own impact on the community and the environment where it stands. Suddenly a purchase is not merely a habit of function but an exercise in consideration. If we are being so conscientious about how we conduct our own life, shouldn't that naturally extend to how our choices to support that life are conscious of the world? Is the manufacturing of what we buy destroying the resources of the earth? Is the disposal of what we buy killing the oceans? Minimalism also means reducing our carbon footprints, and finding easy alternatives for many of the things that we have taken for granted and at default.
Minimalism for me also translated into reduced expenses, while at the same time it enabled me to identify what I should have prioritised paying for when all the clutter dust had settled. There could be such a thing as misplaced resourcefulness -- again a result of misplaced values on needs and wants. For instance, it never occurred to me to get a proper clothes cabinet. Yet I have spent more money on various storage systems for paper files and trinkets and souvenirs (most of which I ended up disposing). What I have is a store clothes rack that I cover with a blanket to protect the clothes from dust. It has worked but it's not the best way to keep my clothes.
On the matter of clothes, I halved the contents of my wardrobe. Half of what remained, I realised, will need replacing soon -- worn out and faded from having been used repeatedly (while some of those that were disposed had remained as fresh and new-looking as the day they were bought because they were hardly or never used at all).
I no longer have anything in "storage" waiting for a season or an occasion. Broken items were either sent for repair or disposed. Many pieces went into donation boxes.
The idea of donation was one thing that excited me. In the midst of all my lack and many aspects of scarcity, I wanted to give. If I lived in the desert I would plant gardenfuls of flowering cacti. I wanted to counter the neediness in me with generosity, to neutralise the poison of disappointment when nothing came for me even as I saw torrents of "blessings" shower upon others. It is so easy to envy, to be jealous, to be resentful. Especially when there is something that your heart yearns for, and has yearned for a long time. All that sweet desire can turn bitter and sour when repeatedly denied. I have tasted it many times, and many times I have pulled myself back from becoming the kind of person who has forgotten hope.
The usual way is to sell off decluttered items in order to gain back some cash. I chose donation over this because the selling could be a tricky u-turn into regression, It has happened to me before. If the items don't sell, having assigned cash values on them, it became more difficult to suddenly just give it away. What often happened was that the unsold items were kept for the "next garage sale", and thus they never leave the house. This time, my mom had to convince me to let her sell as many as she could before I called the charity foundation to pick up the boxes. While I knew the money would be a help given the current financial constraints at home, I was more concerned and driven by the need to empty and to make space. I wanted to re-start fresh. I wanted not to be weighed down by all the half-baked meanings and intentions seeded into the purchase of all those objects. I didn't want them cluttering my physical and mental space, demanding notice, maintenance, repairs, and pressure to be used or made into something that truly adds to the quality of anyone's life. More than the cash that could be made from selling them, I was more interested in the karmic rewards of simply giving them away. I wanted to harness those energies into fixing the dissonances of my own daily life.
While common images of minimalism portray the lifestyle as bare, all-white, and very modern, they are not the definition of what minimalism is. I am old-soul, an artist, and I love colours. My art is not minimalist. Yet I find that I can embrace and practice minimalism just as well. To date I have less than half of what I used to own. This morning my first task for the day was bringing bagfuls of books to the neighbourhood library (and in the process discovered an alternative dayjob working spot for free). As I emptied and sorted yet another box of possessions I find myself flooded with new ideas for painting and for books. Potential answers to old questions begin poking fingers at the back of my mind, released from long forgotten prisons of my own making. Decisions were made with clarity across all aspects of my life. At the same time, a few things on standstill are starting to get unblocked and to flow.
With less possessions to keep track of, it is much easier to find things, and decide on what I really need. Resourcefulness and making-do skills also get re-calibrated into true practicality. I wanted and needed a large studio table on which I could do everything without stuff spilling out over the edges or hitting my elbows or having to drag an extra table to hold the materials I need to work. I started canvassing. Then I had a conversation with the bank yesterday and realised I cannot afford to buy a table because I had to rechannel the money to pay the bank. But to complete my fixing of the studio I needed the table in place, and this (yet another) money shortage had threatened to cut short another forward path. But I was seeing more clearly now, with so few things to block my vision. I took measurements of all the least-used tables in the house, and found two that were of the same height as my current too-small desk. I repurposed them into studio desks, aligning them with the old desk into a flowing L-shape that gave me exactly the working space I needed. Obstacle overcome. Disruption averted.
In my next post I will write about how my financials are faring with the energy waves of this minimalism move.
I leave you with a snapshot of my minimalised studio. Not white. Not bare. And lots of vintage-flavoured/ old-world things. But everything in it is accounted for, valued and validated, adds joy, performs an essential function. No just-in-cases. No mights or maybes. Every thing reflects the direction I want to go, and every thing here will help me get there.
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I am an artist-in-progress. I started my creative journey in 2012 and have never stopped taking steps since. Always one step at a time. Always moving forward. It has been an increasingly tough and occasionally rewarding road.
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