minimalism and having enough

Published on April 24, 2020

I have been interested in minimalism for a while.

Last year, when I looked around in my life, I saw how busy I was. My wardrobe was full of old clothes that should have been thrown out. I was carrying around homework assignments from months earlier, in case for some reason I needed to bring them out again. My room was filled with relics from the past, with no real relevance to my life today.

Then I read about these people who adopted a principle called minimalism: the idea that you can still live a good life -- in many cases, a better life -- by eliminating stuff from your life.

This was attractive to me because I saw the mental burden stuff had on my life, and I wanted to get rid of so much that surrounded me. And I also knew that, from a psychological perspective, working in tidy environments would be better for me, because there would be fewer things to distract me from my work.

Now, though, I find that minimalism is no longer important to me.

Over the last few months, as the entire world has come to a stand-still, the principle of minimalism seems empty. It seems like a waste of time.

Last year, I was thinking about how I can make my life better if I just removed one more thing from my day, or just tidied up a little bit more. But now, I think messiness is acceptable -- indeed, perhaps we all need a little messiness in our lives right now.

What changed my perspective was the food shortages that came earlier this year. I was scared whether or not I would have enough -- whether my family would have enough -- and, although I didn’t give into panic buying, I was tempted. Seeing the shelves so bare made me worry about what was to come to an extent I never had before.

In those moments, I think a switch went off in my mind that said “okay, maybe minimalism is not what it’s cracked up to be.”

When this is over, I expect that minimalism will go out of fashion. Sure, minimalist designs may be here to stay. Just look at how aesthetically pleasing designs like the Atoms shoes and the iPhone are to see how beautiful minimalist designs can be, if done right. But, I think the Marie Kondo approach to minimalism will leave us.

In such uncertain times, having stuff is comforting, even if that stuff is not particularly important, or even relevant to your current life. Right now, for example, I have old clothes in my wardrobe that I would like to throw away. For some reason, though, I cannot find the strength to get rid of them. That reason, I think, is that I want to have them there in case I really need them -- in case something else unexpected happens.

Minimalism is a trend that can only really be practiced in stable times. When everything else in your life is going well, it doesn’t hurt to eliminate a distraction or get rid of something that no longer provides you with value. In bad times, though, we often need to cling onto some things from our past, as a source of comfort.

I must admit that I have conducted somewhat of an audit of my life recently. I have deleted apps I no longer use. I have deleted files that I haven’t touched in months.

But I have still left room for some messiness in my life, especially in the areas of food and clothing. I have food in the house that I would likely never have eaten in other circumstances, but right now all I care about is having food there. The supply chain may be good right now, but having extra supplies in the cupboard -- even if they are undesirable -- gives me a semblance of comfort I cannot otherwise achieve.

What matters more than minimalism is knowing when you have had enough. Indeed, eliminating social media from your life -- which I am experimenting with right now -- can be beneficial, but you don’t need to take such extreme measures if you just learn when you have had enough of something.

Liberation does not come from owning less; it comes from being content with what you have. That’s something that minimalism ignored, and now, in a time when everything is so uncertain, it no longer makes sense to throw away things that “don’t spark joy.” The tin of beans in the cupboard may not spark joy, but it serves an important purpose: being an extra meal on which I can depend if times get tougher.

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