Minimalism (three years later)

This post was originally written for The Ascent.

My bedroom in the last flat I lived in.

A month ago when I first drafted this post, I started thinking about moving to a different country. Nowhere in particular, but for obvious reasons I don’t fancy lingering in the UK too much longer and I never intended to settle in London for long. And while I don’t believe in luck or fate or anything like that, when I decide to move, a reason usually pops up sooner or later to go for one place or another.

The nice thing is, moving never involves figuring out the hurdle of transporting my stuff. Because I don’t have much of it.

If you exclude the books (I love them but I usually store or donate them each time I move) and a few odds and ends I don’t plan to keep, it’s not too hard to carry everything. That’s how I moved to London in May: two small bags and a cat. I never travel with more than a backpack.

When I re-started blogging, I wrote about minimalism all the time. But the topic gradually faded into the background of my writing, in the same way it faded into the background of my life. It’s just how I live. Having received a few questions lately about whether I still practice minimalism, it’s time to revisit its role in my life.

***

To recount a story I’ve told before, I discovered minimalism when I was 18 and on a short trip to Tel Aviv. At the time, my hoarder proclivities had begun to weigh on my mind. I’d run an online business for years and merrily spent every penny it made me on clothes, shoes, notebooks, make-up, and the like. I volunteered at a charity shop and would bring home armfuls of stuff we couldn’t sell for one reason or another — battered leather suitcases, old encyclopedias, dusty plastic flowers, vintage wedding dresses, bird cages.

It grew exhausting. At first I accumulated the stuff for art and photography projects. With time, it began to suffocate me.

Then I returned from that trip and spent weeks jettisoning the vast majority of it, throwing, gifting, donating and selling. I was sick of feeling weighed down, of the endless anxiety of trying to keep belongings I neither wanted nor needed in order.

I made a list of the items I knew I needed to keep. Then I decluttered the rest. This act — paring back what I owed — truly altered my life and the way I understood myself.

***

Three years later, I still live simply. It’s become a habit.

I don’t own any furniture — my current flat is furnished and at my old one I used rescued wooden pallets as a bed, a cable reel as a bedside table, a borrowed desk, and the cheapest IKEA chair available. I don’t own any kitchen stuff — again, it comes with this flat and in my old one, I just owned one plate, one pan, one fork etc. My clothes, excluding a few worn out odds and ends that I haven’t gotten round to throwing, comfortably fit in one small bag, plus my coat and two pairs of shoes. My make-up fits in a small wash bag. Aside from that, there’s the books which I view as on loan, a few notebooks and pens, my laptop, phone, camera, scissors, hair brush x2, bamboo toothbrush, towels, linen, etc.

I don’t buy new clothes until the old ones are truly worn out and need replacing. I try not to shop unless I know precisely what I need. Aside from books and practical items I’ve specifically requested, my family don’t give me gifts anymore which I appreciate. While I’d like to start investing in higher quality items, they always seem to get lost or stolen so I stick with basics.

It’s not extreme. It’s not ascetic. It’s not even that unusual. But it is a conscious choice: not to chase excess as a status symbol, not to treat shopping as mindless entertainment, not to view my belongings as an extension of my personality, and not to play a game I’ll never win.

***

There’s a Frank Turner song where he talks about a partner who sleeps with her cowboy boots and car keys by her bed so she knows she can always get up and be gone in half an hour. He describes himself, likewise, sleeping with his passport, ready to get up and run.

My personal flavor of minimalism is predicated on a similar idea.

Minimalism is frequently touted as an aesthetic choice, as a lifestyle fad, as something that is only for the wealthy. In reality, it is the opposite. For me, it’s a way of preserving my freedom. I don’t like feeling weighed down. And while I no longer live a nomadic lifestyle with no fixed home, I like knowing I’m not tethered in one place by my possessions. But it will continue to evolve as I do.

Focusing on the essentials is always a good idea.