In the last few weeks, I have been thinking about stuff. Or more specifically, thinking about minimalism, the absence of stuff.
It’s been a topic of conversation on a lot of the podcasts I listen to. There are always articles and blog posts about people who decide to pare down their possessions to 100 items or less (and even tips on how to do so), who pledge to buy no new clothes for a year, or who just generally strive towards minimalism. I read things like this and I think, “great, having useless stuff is really stupid,” but to be honest I don’t really live up to the minimalist lifestyle in many senses at all.
I have lived that lifestyle before — minimalism is easy to do when you’re broke. When I first moved to Australia, I brought with me only the things I could fit in the airlines’ baggage allowance. I couldn’t work, and my partner Andy was studying so his paid work was limited. We couldn’t afford to accumulate very many possessions. Even when we were both studying on scholarships, our budget was small and we were saving to buy a house, plus living in rented units limits the amount of space for accumulation, anyways.
Now that we have two full-time incomes, and plenty of empty space to fill, minimalism is harder to achieve.
In 2008, I owned only five pairs of shoes (and I will admit, I let myself feel a bit smug about that). Now, in 2013, I own five pairs of Melissa shoes alone, plus three other pairs of dress shoes, a pair of boots, an old pair of runners for digging in the garden, a pair of runners for running, some closed-toed shoes, and pair of sandals. On an average working day, I have five pairs of shoes in my office. Gone are my smug days of shoe-minimalism. Did I need to buy two new pairs of sparkly Melissa flats last year? Not at all. But they are pretty, and I love them, and I wear them all the time.
Pretty things aside, I do feel like there is a difficult balance to achieve between minimalism and self-sufficiency. Andy and I both prefer to err on the side of self-sufficiency. I’m happy to acknowledge that we have a lot of kitchen gadgets. Far more than we strictly need. But they help us to rely less on pre-packaged supermarket products with questionable production practices and ingredients lists.
They aren’t necessary for self-sufficiency, but they make it convenient. (Example: If we didn’t have a bread maker, we wouldn’t make our own bread; if we didn’t have a soy milk maker, we would buy soy milk.) But other kitchen gadgets fall into increasingly gray area: if we didn’t have an ice cream maker, we probably wouldn’t buy vegan ice cream, at least not very often. Life without ice cream isn’t inconceivable, but it isn’t really that desirable.
Outside of the kitchen, we have lots of things that increase convenience without being terribly necessary. For example: Before we bought our compost turner — basically a giant corkscrew that you dig into the bin and pull out — we turned our compost bin with a shovel. But that was a pain, so we didn’t properly turn our compost very often. So, was that little piece of green, twisty metal worth $20?
I guess the point of this is to say that I really admire people who can commit to a minimalist lifestyle, but I don’t find it necessary to beat myself up about not doing so. I really like the sentiment in this article, about getting rid of the stuff from our lives and having only things:
Most of us live amidst stuff. We do have a few things too — well-used, well-enjoyed, and well-respected items that have an established place in our lives. But most of it is stuff.
Our house is filled mainly with things. We don’t buy appliances that we won’t use. We buy second-hand whenever we can, repair and refurbish as much as possible, and try to DIY an awful lot. Some of my things are pretty, and not necessary, and don’t contribute to self-sufficiency, and some I even buy new, but they are things nonetheless. The size of our collection of things definitely precludes us from any claims to minimalism, but I think I’m starting to realise that I’m okay with that.