My new year’s resolution for 2011 was to get rid of one thing every day until there was nothing else I wanted to get rid of. That kicked off a series of changes that have had more of a positive impact on my life than almost anything else.
At the time, I was finishing up college. I had a little room in a house with my friends, and that little room was packed full of books and overflowing bins of outdoor equipment. When the overflow got to be too much, it was transported to the storage unit my parents stored their stuff in.
Here’s the stuff I had in my room and in storage:
It was a lot. Too much.
The metaphoric phrase ‘excess baggage’ refers to that extra emotional weight you carry around, but the literal meaning of the term—having too much stuff—carries with it a similar emotional handicap. I don’t remember what the exact catalyst was for my wanting to pare down my possessions, but I think it was a general feeling of unease at the fact that my inanimate possessions had a say in my future. Any plans had to be run by them first. Oh, so you want to go live in Southeast Asia for a summer? Just what exactly do you plan on doing with all of those boxes? You want to be a climbing bum and live out of your car for a while? Your junk will not fit in that trunk. This outside voice in my internal parliamentary debates was making any unanimous decisions difficult.
It took about 6 months of very proactive effort (taking trips to the thrift store, selling stuff on eBay and Craigslist, giving things away to friends, etc.) to get to a point where I was happy with what I had left, though the process of getting rid of things continued for another year and a half before going through an extreme purge (that included selling my car) right before coming to Mexico. Overall, I didn’t have a problem parting with things, but getting rid of the books was difficult. I had probably a thousand books in storage. I’m just a sucker for books. The rare books, like the obscure language-learning materials I had, were the most difficult to part with because they would be really hard to replace.
The more I got rid of stuff, the easier it became. Eventually I realized that I just didn’t care about any of it anymore. I didn’t care about the old books in Belorussian or the children’s books in pinyin. I didn’t care about the plastic bag I’d saved from Kazakhstan. I didn’t care about my ticket stubs from Italy. I didn’t care about the letters old girlfriends had written. I didn’t care about that expensive pile of technical outerwear that I only used when ice climbing two or three times a year. When I really thought about it, none of that stuff mattered to me. I mean, if something is in storage and you don’t see it or think about it for months or years on end, how important can it be?
Minimalism has since found its way into all aspects of my life. I try to keep zero emails in my inbox. My computer’s desktop is sparse. I routinely go through and purge the unused apps from my phone. I’m very selective with the media I consume.
There are plenty of other benefits to minimalism. When you’re not constantly buying new stuff that you don’t need or use, you can spend more money on really nice versions of the stuff you do use. Every single thing I own that matters to me is a well-made, quality item. They’re things I would choose to have if money were no object, because when you’re not buying new stuff all the time, money really isn’t an object.
When you don’t have much, 1) you are much more aware of what you do with what you do have, and 2) you value those things more. I’ve had the same pen and pencil for a year now. Never lost them.
It’s now more than two years since I started my minimalism journey. I could take every one of my earthly possessions with me on a flight and not be charged any excess baggage fees. Here in Mexico I have one carry-on bag of stuff, and back in the States I’ve stored a single bag (this bag) full of stuff. That’s it. My mobility and independence—two things I’ve valued more than anything else since I was a teenager—are wholly mine. It’s a fantastic feeling, and one that would be infinitely more difficult had I never embraced minimalism. Finally, my life and mind are clear to be occupied by whatever I purposefully choose to fill them with.