I still get the occasional question about my choice to engage in minimalism and why I’ve chosen to forego “stuff” in favor of experiences. Even when I tell them that it’s more aesthetically pleasing to me to have fewer things and be less worried about what I still own, I still get the impression that people seem to think that minimalism is more about asceticism, engaging in some flavor of anti-consumerism protest, or some kind of “race-to-the-bottom” trend.
What gets lost in that conversation is what I’ve gained in the process of removing the superfluous. When the flotsam and jetsam of a consumerist life is moved aside, I’m able to leave cognitive room for more of the things that generally make life more interesting.
When you’ve removed the beeping, buzzing, dinging, flashing, and blinking bits from your immediate view, what are you left with? When you’ve removed all but “the work”, what’s actually there to distract you?
In my case, removing things actually gave me more in return–I removed the visual and physical clutter. When I donated of a ton of books and CDs I’d never read or listen to again, I gained mobility and options in where I wanted to live. As I divested myself of the superfluous, I started discovering what was essential to how I wanted to live my life. I discovered my strong desire to climb, hike, and snowboard as a direct consequence of asking myself really difficult questions. I began curating my life in such a way as to make them seem as if they were foregone conclusions rather than abstract concepts.
- Does this add value to my life?
- Would I miss it if it were gone? What impact would it have?
- Is this something I could easily replace, repair, or borrow if I absolutely needed it?
When I consider these questions and I look around at what I still own, what relationships I invest time and energy in, and how I spend my time, I realize that what I’ve removed is actually less than what I’ve gained. I’ve added more space to what used to be a “small” living space for myself, found better focus by having less visual distractions in my field of view, and I’ve made it easier for myself to move if I choose to (by having less to pack).
By having fewer possessions, I’ve made it clear to myself that what I have should be able to do a few things fairly well or one thing really well. Whether it’s the clothing, food, or where I live, I look at all of the options as closely as I can now and generally make more informed decisions about what I want and why I want them.
In short: I wanted less distractions, less clutter, and less craziness. What I got in return was more of myself: more of my own personality and expression, more of the space that I want, and more of the things that I need (and consequently, less of the things I didn’t).