There’s a tension within and among people striving for minimalism. They begin shedding things and fall in love with the freedom that it gives them to have less that they must maintain, less that demands their time, energy, and attention, diverting it away from other things.
Then there arises the question of where to stop. If getting rid of a little is good, getting rid of a lot must be better. But at some point, one must stop shedding. At some point, one would simply run out of things to get rid of, but before that, one discovers that instead of enabling, this severe minimalism has become constricting.
I believe that when you’re shedding your stuff, whether you call it seeking minimalism or simplicity or else KonMari-ing your belongings or decluttering or whatever, that you should above all make sure that you are getting rid of things for a purpose as well as holding onto things for a purpose.
As one example, I have a pair of pack boots. I got them when I went dogsledding across the wilds of Minnesota in the middle of winter. This isn’t something that I wear every day in the Mid Atlantic. In fact, it’s not something I wear every week, even in winter. If there isn’t heavy snow, I won’t wear it at all in a year.
By most rules of minimalism, it should go.
But they are excellent boots and they are my only snow boots. They’re the boots that I grab when I go romping in the snow with the children. They’re the only way that I can possibly stand to shovel snow when I need to, usually a few times a year.
If I had a tiny house, I might decide that romping in the snow with my children isn’t worth the square foot of closet floor space the boots require. But I don’t live in a tiny house. I live in a fairly average-sized house. And that square foot of space represents both practical needs and moments that are very special to me. To purge them simply because I don’t use them often–and I surely don’t!–makes my life smaller, less rich. It makes it, frankly, more miserable if I have to go out and shovel snow with freezing ankles and slush in my garden sneakers.
There are countless other things in my life like this. The purpose to me in simplifying my life isn’t to get rid of absolutely everything I can bear to but to merely get rid of the things that aren’t pulling their weight. I want to shed everything that requires more from me in time, effort, and maintenance than it provides in convenience and richness of experience.
I never want to pare down to the point that I say “no” to an experience I desire to have because I have rejected the objects that facilitate it. At the same time, I don’t want to say “no” to experiences because of the burden of caring for my things, either–because I can’t have people over or I’ll be too busy cleaning the garage out (…which I actually am, but hopefully for the final time. Freecycle is convinced that we’re moving at this point!). When we say “yes” to one thing, we must say “no” to another, of course. When I chose to have three kids and marry a homebody who likes his creature comforts, I said “no” to more backpacking across the world. But I want as few as my decisions as possible constrained by arbitrary philosophical stances or by unthinking social conformity. Though I’m no Thoreau (I cook my own food, for instance, and pay my own way instead of mooching off my parents), I, too, want to live deliberately.
In everything, there is balance. We buy things in the first place, I hope, mainly because we believe them to be beautiful or functional or (better!) both. When they stop pulling their weight, they should go swiftly and without regret. But as long as they are a boon to us, they can stay and continue to provide that benefit. If we over-consume, as so many of us do, the removal of those things (and the broken promises they represent) are a reminder to ourselves to buy less next time, to not be drawn in by shiny promises that the objects cannot keep.