Minimalism is the physical manifestation of intention. It is the act of bringing your life into alignment with your ideals. When one is first desiring to live with more deliberate purpose, they often must go through a process of editing their possessions.
And it usually isn’t as simple as they might have hoped so what exactly is it that is holds us back?
You’re at a restaurant and your meal is way too big. You’re full. You’ve already paid for the meal, is it a waste if you stop eating now? Of course not! If you continue eating, the food won’t be of benefit to you, in fact it might actually make you feel not so good.
The money has already been spent, it shouldn’t even factor into the choices you make now; no matter what happens, the financial cost remains the same and unrecoverable. Making yourself uncomfortable is if anything, paying twice for the meal; once with your money and then again with your comfort.
The same can be said for the items in our home. We often spend money on an item with the expectation that it will be of value to us for a certain period of time or at a particular frequency and yet, before that condition is met it’s use wanes or we discover that the item is uncomfortable or doesn’t really do an effective job or it breaks. It feels now like a waste if you do not continue to use it but this is what is known as the sunk cost fallacy.
A sunk cost is expenditure that has already happened and that we have no way of retrieving. The sunk cost fallacy is when we make decisions based on the idea that while we cannot recover the actual money, we can validate it’s worth by continuing to invest in the decision.
Continuing to use something that is not providing adequately to our lives is not recovering the money, it is spending our time. And wow do we spend a lot of time trying to satisfy a commitment to money that no longer exists. Instead we should make the decisions that are relevant to the present; what is actually best for you in this moment? If something is not contributing to your life, it doesn’t suddenly contribute more because it once cost you money.
“I have memories – but only a fool stores his past in the future.” – David Gerrold
Some items are meaningful not in themselves but for the memories they invoke. What we are actually attached to is the moment in time that feels caught within the possession but the reality is that they are not trapped. The memories are within you, they are a part of you.
Some alternatives that honour the memory without storing something of no actual use include photographing it, penning the story or repurposing it into something that will be of use.
Life is full of moments, too many to relive and remember if we are going to use our time to continue making more.
Gifts and things that have been handed on to us by others can feel difficult to let go of, not because we want them but because we value the person who gave them to us and do not wish to offend or disappoint them. Recognising where the reservation is actually originating from helps inform how we should approach these decisions. Whilst it will be uncomfortable briefly to explain that something you have received is not right for you, it could be uncomfortable forever to live with that thing for somebody else.
When somebody gives us something, they do so wanting it to be enjoyed and if you cannot do so, I think it is actually kinder to give the possession a home where that can be fulfilled. If somebody cannot accept you making decisions that are beneficial for you, are they really somebody you should be factoring into your choices?
It can be courteous to offer the item back or for them to decide where it will go next but if that is not possible, once an item is yours it is yours to make decisions about.
This perhaps is the most confronting exploration involved because most of us have spent years investing in various pursuits of who we should be in spite of the reality of who we are.
Sometimes we can feel as though our possessions are a way of confirming who we are. Books help define us as an avid reader. Souvenirs are proof of our travels. Band tees indicate that we are a legitimate fan. Our items are a physical representation of who we are.
But you are a reader, whether you own books or not. You traveled, whether you display the reminders. You love that band, even without a shirt stuffed in the back of your closet. You are the physical representation of who you are, not your possessions.
Of course if you love the item, if it brings you contentment and contributes to your existence than keep it. If it is just a way of proving yourself, well that is not required.
And sometimes our possessions are remnants of a past version of ourselves or a version we hoped to inspire into existence but never did. Letting go of those false images of who we are is important in determining what we need. You have to be honest with yourself; are you really going to garden? Are you going to make waffles? Are you going to scrapbook? Or are you just storing alternative realities in this one.
In the end; you will never be comfortable with your possessions if you are not comfortable with yourself; your possessions should complement you and that’s very difficult when you do not feel worthy of such. Minimalism is an act of radical acceptance in ourselves, it is empowering to be unapologetically you in every possible way of expressing it.
And perhaps the most common reservation; what if I regret my decision? And well what if you do? I think we are so afraid to feel that we forget that emotions do not need to be negative. Regret is a way of helping us understand what is important to us and we can find ways to use that information to honour the item lost in someway by replacing if possible or grieving it if not.
Most likely, you will not regret most things. And if something is easily replaceable then it is a fairly low risk experiment to test that theory.
Once you’ve identified what it is specifically that is holding you back from ultimately making the honest decision for you, it is far easier to process it.
Ultimately, you deserve to be you. And that is for you to define!