Chapter Four – The real: On the absence of excess

The feeling when you finish the jar of curry paste you’ve had in your fridge for half a year.

I was an organised child. I kept my room relatively tidy and everything in check, because I wanted to know the exact locations of my toys and other things, instead of the whole room being a dump with closets bulging with in-crammed stuff. My parents of course encouraged me to tidy up after making a mess with my legos.

Becoming a teenager it was time to take it to the next level – I started doing semi-regular checkups to find the things that I wouldn’t use anymore. I packed them nicely in cardboard boxes or plastic bags, and took them to the attic where all my old toys and unused stuff were waiting for…  something. We had the space, so there was no need to get rid of everything.

The motivation for getting rid of unused things was always staying in control of my belongings. The less I had, the easier it was. As a youngster I never thought deeper into why I actually felt better having less stuff around me. Even though one may see my enthusiasm for organising as OCD, I was just enjoying the results. On the other hand I didn’t actually let go of the things – I only hid them. Out of sight, out of mind, you know.

Fighting my tidiness, I always loved getting new stuff – ‘owning’, essentially. I got my first job quite young, and even though I was quite good at saving and keeping purchases under control, I ended up spending a lot of my earnings on random things I felt I needed. Some I really did need, some were more just for fun. Technology was my weak spot – a new computer, speakers, an iPod, an Xbox, guitar equipment. Which were really necessary?

For the year I was doing the military service [1], I basically owned only things that were on a list [2]. Can you imagine? A list! I had a list for the things I had! Although I still had my things back at home (I did have vacations), my ‘OCD’ was having time of his life.

As I moved on my own after the military service, the plan was to take only the useful stuff with me, and to get rid of the unused. However, I ended up keeping many things that I never used, but were good to have just in case. That ‘someday’ is often too important for us to let go of the unused stuff, and sentimental value easily becomes too strong to be overcome by the will to own less.

Moving to another country with just luggage and a guitar [3] was the reality check I really needed. When you have to contain your whole life in a suitcase, you really start thinking what serves a purpose in your life, and what doesn’t. Once I had managed carrying my things of choice over to Denmark and settled in, I experienced a certain feel of serenity. Although I had fallen in the trap of ‘someday’ once again, I was mostly living with the things necessary – the things I used. The distraction created by things around is a sneaky pitfall we fall in, without even noticing. Once you experience the absence of excess, you know the real.

As you can see, I was already quite minimalist-minded at this point, but I neither had a name for it nor knew that it’s a thing. Then, randomly, I ran into The Minimalists podcast, a show by two pretty awesome dudes who gave up their corporate, money centered careers, to live a more meaningful life. They also gave up about 90% of their stuff to reach this goal. Joshua and Ryan do a great job explaining the reasoning behind living a simpler life, while giving great advice on how to do so.

The most valuable realisation I had while listening to podcast, is the oddness of holding on to the sentimental or the ‘someday’ items. Giving material items too much meaning  deprives meaning from the real life. The memories you have are not in the items from your past – they are truly yours, they are in you. If an item is needed to spark a memory, a picture of it will do close to the same, while the actual item can be sold or donated to someone else, for creating new memories. That someone else could also be actively using and getting value of those things you might be saving for that someday.

As you are rejoicing in the mental clarity and a more meaningful life, the environment also thanks you for your habits. Getting rid of the things that are not adding value to your life is only the beginning – once you don’t have excess stuff, you also want to keep it like that. You become a more responsible consumer and more aware of your purchases. The impact of your choices on the environment is automatically smaller as you consume less focusing on purpose and quality.

However, in the end, living a minimalist lifestyle is not all about getting rid of stuff and buying less. This is only the ‘decluttering’ part. You’ll find yourself simplifying your life in other ways too, such as re-thinking the way you use your time. You’ll have more time to enjoy the company of the important people in your life, and they’ll enjoy the time you have for them. Real life instead of objects.

Even though it may sound so, minimalism is not about restricting or depriving yourself. On contrary, as funny as it might sound, owning things has become restriction to me. I have freedom when I don’t have excess things weighing me down. Not that I’m going anywhere all of a sudden, but it’s liberating to have the chance to do so.

Like yin and yang, absence and presence should be brought to balance. I feel my life is more purposeful now that my things aren’t the purpose. I have fewer distractions around me or hidden in my closets, and the things I have serve purpose as tools. As I mentioned, minimalism is a journey not a goal, and I’m only beginning my journey. I still have a long way to go, and that’s thrilling. Even though I’m an organising freak and have natural tendency for minimalism, I’m confident that everyone benefits from living a simpler life. It might take some time to adjust and find the right mindset, but the work is truly worth it – for you, your loved ones, the environment and the stranger receiving your donation.


Notations:

  • [1]: Doing the military service is quite mandatory in Finland.
  • [2]: Okay technically I was just borrowing and taking care them.
  • [3]: The guitar is optional for this kind of exercise.

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