Different people find and follow minimalism for different reasons. Some lose everything in a fire or burglary and have to start again with a reassessment of what they really need. Others leave their spouse and need to ponder what to part with, and what is necessary for moving on or starting again. Some are families that, in the daily grind and struggle to keep up with the Jones’s, find themselves accumulating too much and losing sight of the fun of parenting and family life. Finally there are the hoarders, who have emotional attachments to things, and minimalism is the breath of fresh air that flips the switch in their brains to start letting go.
That is the start of the journey. Maybe a friend said something or they heard about the Minimalists’ movie or podcast or they saw a quote on social media from Joshua Becker or Courtney Carver. However they hear about it, downsizing, intentional living, minimalism starts to make sense and the journey begins. Decluttering, although emotionally difficult to separate from things you’ve purchased or been given or earned, is a relatively simple task. Pick up object, decide to donate or dispose or sell, object leaves hands and home. Straightforward at least. But what about the journey ten years’ down the track? When the home is relatively emptier? What does minimalism look like then? How does one live intentionally in practice?
This is where I think the hidden emotions behind our flaws start to emerge and leave one feeling vulnerable, raw. For me it has been 12 years but for others it could be sooner, or later. Yet ultimately, when the shopping choices become more deliberate and the money is saved and the house is cleaner, what is left is time. Time to invest in passions and volunteering and fun, yes. But also, empty time to feel and realise flaws and emotions that were easy to hide behind. The large white elephant in so many people’s pre-minimalist rooms is compulsion. Compulsion to shop, to work, to hoard, to hide ourselves behind a screen, or in caring for others. What we avoid in the process is time for ourselves, for our minds, our bodies to process the day, the environment, the situation, the pain or the emptiness. I think of the people with compulsive behaviours – the alcoholics, the overeaters, the gamblers, the workaholics – who stick their head in the sand instead of dealing with painful emotions and missing links in life like a broken home or a death of a loved one or lack of a partner or job. It is far easier to answer an impulse to drink or eat or stay busy at work and avoid the pain or loneliness. I think about it every time my brain says I am thirsty but I reach for chocolate instead. And ever since I wrote my last blog Bubbles, I have had to deal with the harsh reality of my compulsive ways and work out the pain that lies beneath. Why do I spend so much time on things that aren’t important? Why are my priorities so misaligned? How should I live my life instead? My heart and mind have been at odds ever since.
I said I would strive for balance. Each year I make a new themed mantra to follow for a year, and a couple of years back, balance was it.
Mia Freedman says in her book Work Strife Balance that her intended title for the book was Balance is Bullshit. She also quotes Shonda Rhimes, executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal:
“Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I’m probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I am probably blowing off a script I was supposed to rewrite. If I’m accepting a prestigious award, I’m missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the trade-off.”
And that is what has stuck with me… this dawning that we can’t have it all, and that the lopsidedness of my balance wheel means that while I’m on the high of my travelling see-saw here, over there another part of me, be it the people in my life, my stuff, my emotions, are on the down low. It makes me think of all the articles that show links between minimalism and depression or anxiety. It’s hard to empty your life when you find you haven’t got much to fill it with on the other side. The vulnerability is as wide as the Grand Canyon then, when you realise that life maybe isn’t working.
Minimalism is a journey. For now, sitting in the Middle East, I have made my peace with being away from my stuff, working hard for financial gain, and being focussed on living life intentionally. Most of the time, I do. I try to see things as a choice I make, for good or bad. I spend my days off and holidays having experiences rather than sitting around. Last year I dedicated time to fitness and relationships and spending quality time with people I love. I gave to causes I believed in, and I spent time pondering my feelings and life and directions. I practiced mindfulness and emotional awareness in given moments and acknowledged the happy or the sad or the anger that went with it. Inhaled. Exhaled. It was just the notion of maintaining balance that didn’t stick, because I learned through Mia and countless other people over the year, that It’s a fallacy. A pipe dream. Invented by the media probably to market products to get us to spend in order to fill the void of imaginary problems they invented to make us feel down on ourselves. What a machine that is. A nightmare.
What’s emerged are a number of realisations of changes I need to make in order to move forward. I’m a minimalist for the long haul and coming up I’ll take the time to celebrate my wins. It’s not all about being sad and empty. But I think an important part of the journey is that mental declutter. Eradicating what’s toxic in your life, whether it’s work, relationships, compulsions and addictions, or anything else. It might leave you feeling heartache, but the freedom and vitality on the other side is worth it.