Minimalism: the look vs the lifestyle

As you know I’ve been debating whether or not I’m a minimalist , in the broadest sense of the word. As a concept I fully agree with it, and I’m completely on board, but I wondered if I can truly call myself a minimalist simply because despite this frame of mind, I’m still surrounded by so much stuff, and my home looks nothing like the “typical” minimalist home you see on Pinterest or Instagram. After my brief interview with Amira, who is probably the first person I ever met who espoused and promoted the lifestyle, I asked her about it, and she pointed out that many people still confuse “the look” with the actual process of eliminating excess in favor of intangibles such as free time to spend with loved ones and doing the things that you truly enjoy doing. She noticed that there are still people out there who think that being a minimalist is just a fancy way of admitting that you’re thrifty. In fact, because they look for value, rather than quantity, they’ll be happy to spend a bit more for something made of high quality, and which can be used proudly for years, rather than getting the cheapest, most widely available merchandise on the market, which you might have to replace more often than you’d like.

What a minimalist values is the way they spend their time, namely doing what they love with the people they love rather than cleaning, organizing, fixing, acquiring, and constantly having to choose from a myriad of products. They value the impact that the environment has over them (by environment I mean everything from the tiny space on the bathroom sink, all the way to wider environmental concerns that come into play in the manufacture of consumer products). They value the workmanship that goes behind everything they surround themselves with, so they purposefully choose items that not only do the job they need them to do without having to fuss about too much, but are done with care; care for the people who make them, care for the materials used, and care for  the processes that are used. Being a minimalist is simply caring more about life, about meaning, about living things, about what makes life truly worthwhile, rather than the myriads of distractions that are polluting our world, our minds, and our souls with incessant messages of false hope hanging from an immediate gratification thread waiting to snap the moment you walk out the shop. And in all these senses, I truly am a Minimalist to my core.

One way that I noticed how my material possessions distract me from being the best I can be, is when messiness annoys me. If I spend hours painstakingly tidying or cleaning something, seeing it messed up can send me in a tizzy. And I don’t like that. Taking care of our things shouldn’t take up more time than taking care of our people. We spend so much time caring for, organizing, cleaning, maintaining our thousands of things, that if someone comes along and disorganizes our order, we can actually forget about our priorities and loose our cool. I admit I was a bit of a stickler for cleanliness and neatness, and prided myself at having everything organized, orderly, and tidy, especially before having kids. But when your family grows, you need to change the way you do things, and you simply don’t have time to spend taking care of every little detail, because, frankly, that time is better spent with your child than with your stuff. Kids don’t see things in organized, tidy, compartmentalized ways, what they see is what you do with your time and how much is dedicated to them (not their stuff, THEM). Among the other millions of awesome lessons they teach us as they join us on our life journeys, we have to learn to let some things go. We need to remember our priorities, and allocate time, consideration, patience, and understanding according to what we truly value, and they will pick up on it.

person wearing clear plastic raincoat and pair of yellow rainboots
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

As you may know, I’ve been shedding a lot of extra stuff lately, and I truly thought that I was at a good point of getting use out of virtually everything I kept. And then our basement flooded, and I had to throw away or sanitize a whole lot of things that I had originally thought useful. I had to find new places to put what I had been keeping in the basement (kids’ school supplies, toys meant to be rotated, books upon books that I was convinced I should hold on to, sheets for guests, extra blankets for camping trips, you name it). It surprised me how easily I threw away so much more, and dismayed at how much I was struggling to keep. As I moved everything I was able to salvage into the garage, we were obviously unable to park our car there, and the items that were neatly stored on the shelves there were now inaccessible due to bags and bags of things I had transferred over from the basement. I felt my heart sink. How is this possible? How is it, that after all the decluttering and shedding that I’ve been doing I still have so much stuff? Summer vacation is still on, so I am unable to tackle the garage with any seriousness, but I guarantee you it’s eating at my soul to know that I have all that to go through, again.

Bewildered, I started reading other minimalist families’ blog posts, watching their videos, hoping to find some solace, and I was relieved to learn that I’m not a failure after all, because we all acquire things through life. The shedding and decluttering process is an ongoing one, one that has to be done consciously and constantly in order to remain manageable. One thing I am looking forward to, as are my kids, is our yard sale. University students will be returning to the city soon, and I’m sure we’ll be able to provide them with lots of useful items to take to their new temporary homes. We’ve only ever had one yard sale before, and the kids loved it, they enjoyed bartering with potential buyers, and watching their piggybanks fill up as their unwanted toys put smiles on other kids’ faces. So I do have hope that our minimalist journey will be a more pleasant one than anticipated, I just need to take some time, and get the family involved. Hopefully we can make a go of it after all!

Although we may not have the look down, I do believe we have the spirit of minimalism on our side. As we learn to let go of what we don’t love, and appreciate more what we do care for, I think it’ll become easier to make wiser choices as to what we bring into our lives in the future. Although it is a difficult process at first, and something we wouldn’t want to repeat on this scale ever again, it might just motivate us to restrain our urge to purchase that amazing find, for in the end, our surroundings need to feed our souls with the will to spend time together, enjoying each other’s company, not being constantly reminded of things we should be doing, or wanted to do but probably never will. As we liberate our visual clutter, and our space opens up, I hope that we’ll be able to appreciate our priorities better, and take pride in the fact that we set them straight.

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