Each night, just before bed, I spend a few minutes tidying up my living space. I clear surfaces, hang up clothes, file lecture notes and so on. It never takes long and is usually quite soothing.
But sometimes I find myself becoming frustrated during this process. This happens when I notice something which doesn't fit my minimal standards. Perhaps it's an item I bought which wasn't needed. Maybe it's a garment which has been unworn for far too long. Or some unopened makeup, or an unread book.
This spikes my annoyance because it seems hypocritical of me. After all, I call myself a minimalist. I write this blog which centres around it. I advocate for the lifestyle. I read writing on the topic every day. So why am I not 100% minimal?
Why do I still, on occasion, trawl online stores without purpose? Why don’t I use everything I own? What are these unworn rainbow print shoes doing in my all-black wardrobe?
This self-criticism is sort of inevitable. I am a perfectionistic person with a compulsion to view everything in black and white terms. One impulse buy or piece of clutter becomes a terrible failure.
I forget the contrast between now and just a year ago. Back then, tidying up usually meant discovering literally heaps of mysterious, unused objects. Film cameras, a bird cage, platform shoes, notebooks in every conceivable design. It's a drastic change with the gulf between what I need and what I own vastly shrinking.
Except the real issue is not these imagined failures. The fact is, this is the wrong way to view minimalism.
Minimalism is a process, not a goal. Change takes time. Maintaining it takes effort.
It’s a simple lifestyle, though not an easy one. Every day is full of challenges. It is tricky to undo years of socialisation which teach us to consume without thought. I learned from birth that stuff would make me happy, fulfilled, popular or beautiful. You no doubt did too. Everything told me that my life would have a set progression.
School >university > work > house > heaps of stuff > happiness.
More, more, more, and still more.
Then I turned away from that and decided to create a life via subtraction. I extracted the excess and began to focus on the essentials. Everything altered as a result.
The mistake I still find myself making (and so do other minimalists) is to look for an end goal. Yet there is none. There is no perfect quantity of possessions. It is an endless process of adding and subtracting elements from life.