Minimalism has taken many forms these days. It’s even become a pop-culture trend. I suspect it is partly related to the economic downturn, a newish need to make more from less. For me, minimalism can be broken down into several parts. Maybe some of this will resonate with you. Some write off minimalism as hippy-foo-foo bullshit. Well, let me appeal to minimalism with reason.
By deciding to bring some new thing into your life, you have to calculate whether the gain will offset the cost. This mental process sounds like a pain in the ass, but most of you already do this when making a purchase. That’s how you decide whether the new pair of pants or coffee table or samurai sword is worth the advertised price.
The problem is that, usually, the only cost in this mental exercise that is weighed against the reward is a monetary one. The cost of owning a physical item does not end at the checkout. It echoes forward in time for the entire duration that it’s in your possession.
Here are some examples of forgotten costs accrued when making a purchase:
- Time/effort required to get to the store
- Time/effort required to transport the item to its final location
- Space cost (assuming it’s not digital, it will take up space)
- Relocation/Removal/Disposal (The item is your responsibility until it’s not)
For instance, say you buy or rent a living space. You go a little bigger than you really need because you get a good price on it. Now you have unfurnished space. So you buy a coffee table and a lamp and a chair and call it a reading area or whatever. That’s nice, reading is really good for you, but say you only read at night before bed. In fact, the only time you go into your reading area is to give it a brief cleaning. Years later, you decide to move. Whether you go bigger or smaller, those items must be moved or sold or donated.
From the top down, the costs of owning that extra space is equal to the expense of the additional square footage (including increased rent/mortgage/insurance/property taxes), the added utility cost of heating/cooling the area, the amount spent on the furniture, the time to purchase the furniture, the time spent cleaning the area and its furnishings, and finally the time or money spent on ensuring that the furniture be moved, sold, or donated.
I was once the type of person who bought things because they were a good deal. This led me to buy things I wouldn’t otherwise buy, things with only a single use, and things bought on impulse. I’m pretty sure I’ve even bought DVDs of films I could watch on Netflix just so that I could have them on my shelf. A lot of media shelves are just trophy cases. I once ventured onto eBay and, in a moment of carnal male weakness, bought multiple sets of throwing knives.
There is a psychological cost to ownership as well (beyond the guilt of buying weaponry on eBay). You may experience buyer’s remorse. Items you own must be protected from theft, insured against destruction, perhaps kept away from pets or children. They must accurately represent your personality to friends and guests. If you stop liking an item in your living space, it must be removed and maybe replaced.
My relationship with possessions has slowly evolved and each time I travel I’m reminded of how little I actually need. That is why, the last time I was “home,” I made an active effort to rid myself of all my possessions. Not everything, of course, but I wanted to be able to fit my life into a couple backpacks. Beyond the psychology and wasted resources, fewer things, for me, equated increased mobility.
So a great eBay and Craigslist adventure began, and I sold off everything I could, slowly but surely, over a period of four months. What couldn’t be sold was gifted. And what couldn’t be gifted was donated. I was planning another escape, though in the beginning I didn’t quite know it. I can say first hand that the process was liberating. With each thing that left my possession, I felt lighter, freer, even cleaner. I realized I had been acting as the manager of all of these things. On some subconscious level, they were on my mind, a part of me in some way. And then they weren’t.
Photo credit: Martin Gommel