DISCLAIMER: I find writing about minimalism to be very difficult. The challenge is worth it, as I believe I have a meaningful message to share, but it's hard to convey that message without coming off as finger-wagging and preachy. My intent with this post, and other posts related to minimalism, is not to proselytize anyone for being "anti-minimalist". I merely want to share some habits and ways of thinking that have allowed me to find peace and happiness, in the hopes that you can develop your own recipe for simplicity and contentment.
Minimalism crept in to my life the way it does for many: via the startling realization that I had a ton of crap I didn't use.
Drowning in the stress of finals week and knee deep in my belongings, I find myself hopelessly trying to declutter my dorm in the final days of my sophomore year at Clemson. As I wade through my miscellaneous possessions, I wonder why I have held on to so many random things, things I forgot I still owned until they resurfaced. The club t-shirts collected to project my identity to the outside world. The IKEA stock photos tacked along my walls to portray my ~outdoorsy aesthetic~. The plastic storage containers filled with tests and notes from semesters past, meticulously organized but never referenced. It dawns on me that I had acquired these objects thinking they would bring me happiness, in the form of social status, a motif, or academic excellence. Yet, who I am has nothing to do with my possessions. And any insecurities or uncertainty I have about myself is not going to be reconciled by my belongings. These things I thought would add value to my life haven't done their job.
Flash forward 12 months.
Junior year is coming to a close and, once again, I am cleaning my room to avoid cramming for finals. In a week, I will be driving across the country, from my home in Cincinnati to Seattle, for a summer internship. Instead of being excited about what is in store for the next 3 months, I am stressed and struggling to shrink my life in preparation for the trek out west. As the walls of my bedroom seem to cave in around me, I realize that if I only had less stuff, I could be reading a book or playing beach volleyball with my friends right now. Furthermore, with less stuff to "organize" and "declutter", I could have spent more time studying throughout the semester and I wouldn't have to review so frantically for exams. Moved to action by this moment of enlightenment, I start shoving my things into garbage bags. Most bags find their way to Goodwill, the rest to the recycling bin. I breathe a sigh of relief and get back to studying.
I find myself in a YouTube spiral, watching TEDx Talk after TEDx Talk. I have just finished "A rich life with less stuff" presented by these two dudes who call themselves The Minimalists. In their talk, they explore how we can find more - more time, more community, more contribution, and more peace - in less - less stress, less consumption, less distractions, and less discontent. At this point, minimalism is but a collection of thoughts in the back of my mind but their message really hits home.
Second semester of senior year is proving to be a cake walk. My course load is relatively easy, I let go of my on-campus job after 5 semesters, and I have accepted a post-grad position with a company in a cool new city. With less responsibilities, I find myself taking more walks and reading more books. I am calmer, kinder, and express gratitude more often. I have more meaningful conversations with my friends and enjoy all the revelries of being a senior in the spring at Clemson.
I call this section, "Two Quotes: A Comparison".
May 2016, after moving everything out of my apartment at Clemson: "I had to take three trips to Goodwill! But it feels really good to have recycled and donated so much stuff."
June 2016, upon returning home after traveling across Europe for 31 days with only a backpack's worth of items: "Holy shit I have so much shit."
Today, minimalism is starting to play a different role in my life. I've gotten to the point where every item I own, from clothes and furniture to kitchenware and outdoor gear, has a distinct purpose or brings me joy. As a result, I have less decisions when getting dressed each day. I spend less time on chores such as doing dishes or tidying up my sleep space. I shop less, spend less, and thus am less dependent on a certain income. Through less, I have found more: more time to call friends and family who are time zones away; more attention to work on projects that challenge and excite me, this blog being one of them; more money to spend on the hobbies that make me happy; and more energy to contribute to the relationships I've made in Denver. The more I invest in these things, the freer I feel.
Future. With each new day, I find myself pondering some tough questions. How do I define success? What does a purpose-driven life look like? What brings me true happiness and joy? What have I been given and what have I taken? I don't have answers for these questions or even a strategy for my future. If anything, I've got a compass, one that's been well calibrated by minimalism over the past few years. I'm excited to see which direction it points me in next, on this awesome journey.