the 5 immutable laws of minimalism

For the next few weeks I will be polishing and posting some of my (many) unpublished drafts. This one is from January and never got posted for some reason.

1. You have more stuff than you think you do.

No really, you do. A lot more. It’s deceptive. We forget about the belongings which lurk in the attic, the garage, storage containers, under the bed, left at other people's houses. They don’t get used, so why even recall that they exist? Upon commencing the process of becoming a minimalist, most people realise for the first time just how much they own. I remember, as a child, asking where my paddling pool was when summer rolled around. It turned out that it was in the loft – of our previous house. My family had moved and completely forgotten about everything stored there. I suspect that most people have done something similar. Just as frostbite only hurts when it thaws, the true extent of our societal hoarding problem is only apparent when we begin to deal with it.

2. The stuff you get rid of will come back.

It’s inevitable and it happens to everyone. Entropy is a part of life. No matter how thorough you are when it comes to decluttering, the crap returns. Gifts, freebies, impulse buys – it adds up. This is one of the aspects of minimalism which people tend to find most demoralising. I have learned to relish the challenge of maintaining a curated set of possessions. Income is not a factor. Credit cards, thrift stores, loans, online shopping and cheap manufacturing mean that owning an excessive amount of stuff is neither unusual nor difficult. Almost anyone in the Western world can afford what used to reserved for the ultra-wealthy.  

3. You don’t need most of it.

If you had asked me a year and a half ago ago, what percentage of my belongings I actually needed, I would have said 100%. In reality, the answer has proved to be 5-10%. Whereas I used to have thousands of possessions, I now know that I only need to carry around one hundred as I travel. When I finally cave in and get a Kindle, that number will shrink even more (I own copies of quite a few favourite books.) Truly, we need less than we think we do.

4. Most of the things you keep ‘just in case’ will never be needed.

Most people keep hundreds of items which seem like they might come in useful one day. In a hypothetical future, those empty jam jars could save your life. On the rare occasions they are required, most are cheap and easy to replace. There are always other options and solutions which can be solved via a well-chosen key set of possessions. Keeping endless 'just in case' items takes up space, mental energy and even if money if you have so many that you require offsite storage.

5. Getting rid of sentimental items does not mean you lose memories.

A memento, trinket or souvenir can trigger recollections, but they can never compare to the experience. Our brains are smart enough to encode that on our behalf. Shedding hundreds of sentimental items has in no way cropped my memories. It simply gives me the freedom to go and create new ones whenever I wish to. We can now store countless photographs on the cloud to jog our minds when necessary. That – along with my writing – is how I hold onto my past.