Minimalism is the New Materialism
Minimalism is the new materialism and there’s no greater evidence of a cultural shift in values and consumption that the empty McMansions sitting on the market. Not enough home-buyers equate fake mansions with achieving the American Dream anymore. They’re too big, too beige and too generic. They are the worst of American consumptionism — big but poorly designed and built on the cheap, expensive but not valuable,
When I first saw The Story of Stuff something shifted in my vision of my future life. Everything I own must serve a purpose. Not a vow of poverty or austerity but I suppose a vow of intentionality.
Of course Nas Daily has already said what I was going to. And better.
Consider his Mountain Test.
“Just because you have space in your home for it doesn’t mean you have space in your life for it.”
Instead of one backpack, however, I have four suitcases. One large, one medium and two expandable carry-ons. If you see someone pushing a stack of four suitcases on a cart at the airport that is an exorbitant amount of materialism for someone on vacation. But if you’re moving, it’s surprising to see how fast kitchen appliances take up limited space.
I arranged my food processor, blender, espresso maker and travel electric tea kettle first. Books second and then used my clothes to pack it all in.
This is a great exercise in prioritization. With each item you ask yourself not merely if it sparks joy, Marie Kondo, but, Do I need this? Will I use this often enough that I’m willing to heft it through airports and customs? Will I save money by bringing what I already have? If these are things you use often enough that you will pay money to replace them at your next destination then yes, you are saving money by keeping what you already own.
I’m not backpacking around the world so my minimalism is bigger than Nas Daily’s. But I’m still struggling with materialism.
If minimalism resonates so deeply with me then why am I having such an emotional struggle with downsizing so that I can travel more as I try to find my home in this world? I am so fortunate to even have that mobility and freedom to do this and yet I’m wringing my hands over what to with my good electric kettle, my art, my small library of books, the rest of my clothes.
As Nas says in his video, each time I moved, I downsized a little bit more, shed more. The take-only-what-fits-in-your-backpack idea still applies to three suitcases. The blouses, dresses, skirts, pants and jeans that have made it through several moves without being given to friends or donated all mix and match with each other well. Most of them can be hand-washed in the sink. Most of them can be wadded up in suitcases without wrinkling. They all fit me perfectly. The clothes that don’t meet those criteria all got the cut sooner or later.
Once, my sister and I binged watched a few episodes of Hoarders. I’d never seen it before and was shocked that they have staff psychologists as part of the episode formula. They all spoke to this idea that hoarding is a mental health issue, not just a random personality quirk that besets the occasional weirdo.
“You’ll notice that for most of the hoarding is a response to a major loss or a crisis,” my sister explained. There is a definitive “before” and “after” for most of these folks, split in half over a crisis point — a death in the family, a major illness, job loss or divorce.
Not only is there an emotional attachment to objects with legitimate sentimental value but there is an assigned value to the potential that many objects represent. One of the psychologists explained that for many people their menagerie of objects represent the person they think they are or want to become.
I have moved almost as much as I have traveled in the last five years. A friend of mine described this phase of my life as a “grown-up gap year”. But instead of the proverbial backpacking trip through Europe, I am already an adult with a life’s worth of gadgets and objects, (as Nas puts it.) I have hobbies that require crockpots and drying racks, soap molds, knitting needles and skeins of yarn. I’m trying to teach myself French and Arabic. I’m trying to do yoga and Tabata more consistently.
So what do I do with the yoga mat and hand weights, immersion blender, cookbooks, my Nana’s paintings and all of the orchids from my ex? What about the gorgeous wooden easel from another ex? The one with a drawer that collapses in on itself like a transformer into a briefcase? What about all these blank canvases? What about the painting of Cinque Terra I’m not the talented, athletic, multilingual, smart, creative, stylish person I want to be yet! I need these things, these accouterments-as-opportunity, to help me. Right? If I need them to truly be myself, who am I without them?
The problem of too much stuff or the problem of space to fill is a luxury. The problem of the former without the latter is a growth opportunity.
Books represent all the knowledge I want to have. But having books doesn’t make you any smarter than traveling makes you interesting. Hanging art doesn’t make you creative, (unless you have an affinity for interior design like my friend Amber).
Just like wearing a cross doesn’t make you a Christian, having paint and paintbrushes doesn’t make you an artist. If you want to be a Christian you have to be kind. If you want to be smart you have to learn, you have to read the books, study the French and Arabic flashcards.
If you want to paint you will find a way with or without the easel. If you want a rich and deep social life with good friends you don’t need to haul glassware from one country to another in order to be a lovely host. Your friends love you for you, not your wine glasses. Consistently spending quality time together is the best way to maintain relationships.
Having does not make you who you are. Being and doing are the only way to become your best self.
I thought my curated collection of things, distilled with every move, physically represented me — who I really am. But they really only represent who I’ve been and who I want to become. And I can do it without the stuff.