Written by Heather Pelletier
Upon first hearing the word “minimalism” I was astonished that any person could sacrifice such a large amount of belongings. From the confined space of my bedroom, with possessions stacked high against each of the four walls, I felt scared. Scared about minimalism? Yes.
As the everyday Canadian, I perceived things as accomplishments. The more you had, the more successful you were. Because nobody can afford three luxury cars without being somebody, right? And the things that I had collected demonstrated my worth. My value in societal terms. Without my things what was I to be judged on? My personality? My actions towards others? Certainly not! Then there was the sentimental value of some of my belongings. The bead necklace from second grade or the shirt from my Nana that I had never worn. How could I even consider parting with those?
At the time I did not realize it, but those thoughts, those perceptions, were the veins of consumerism and materialism. And these thoughts are engrained into us without our awareness. I can confidently say that if you were to approach individuals on the street, and ask them if their value could be judged based on the shoes they were wearing, that they would object. And if you were to ask someone if memories and people could be contained within items that they would also object. However, in our everyday lives we do not stop to question these concepts.
So, I was scared of minimalism. Scared to even consider releasing items that ‘held’ memories. Too afraid of losing value in society’s eyes. And I was genuinely content with the belongings that I had collected over time. Content, but not happy. But minimalism had absorbed into my mind. Gradually, I did reduce the amount of things that I owned. I felt as though I was making significant progress towards minimalism. And then a boulder dropped.
It was the winter time. Cold, boring, dark. After being married for just under six months I felt dissatisfied. Life just did not feel full. Christmas had come and gone. Its remnants of unused gifts sat about in our home. Yet somehow, I fell into the trap. I believed that the void could be filled “if we only bought a new TV.” Assuming, of course, that we could financially bear the weight of this spanking-new purchase, we pushed onward. But we could not. Rent became overdue. Our resources were scarce. Our possessions did not help us do anything except gather dust. A compromise was made. We would sell our brand-spanking-new television and replace it with a painting designed and made by Nadine.
There I sat. Partially observing my wife while she created her art, partially on social media pouting about the loss of the television. And then it hit (more like slapped) me. How could I be sad about the loss of an item that we had maybe put 5 minutes into purchasing when my amazing wife was contributing hours of her time towards painting a replacement for the unused space left by the television? It felt backwards. The television had not brought anything into our relationship; but the hours of laughing and cracking paint jokes did. With this realization the momentum grew. An unused microwave? Goodbye. Two abandoned cameras? Au’revior. I suddenly felt free. Free from the obligation to possess items. Free from the guilt of sentiment. And free from cleaning all the useless things.
I have italicized the words which I felt were crucial throughout our realization and shift towards minimalism. Words such as ‘sacrifice’, ‘somebody’, ‘value’, ‘content’, ‘void’, ‘backwards’, and ‘useless’. Notice that I didn’t italicize the word ‘things’. This is because minimalism is completely about things, and absolutely not about things. Consumerism states that we, as individuals, are not good enough. It uses things as a means of profit. However, things are not at consumerism’s centre: manipulating us into believing that we need more to be more is. Things are simply the catalyst. Que minimalism. We do not need to be in a constant cycle of upgrading our possessions to be valuable. We are already valuable. Big empires of companies thrive on our belief that we are not enough, not us. We thrive on relationships, purpose, and happiness: none of which involves excessive consumption.
At the end of the day, things are only meaningful if we decide to provide them with meaning. We only have 24 hours each day and it is up to us what we allocate our time toward. And personally, I would rather place importance on family and living a meaningful life, not a life of consumption.