When I first started learning about minimalism, or, about minimalists, to be more exact, I was very much under the impression that minimalists were very disinterested in their possessions. I thought that they treated their belongings as entirely utilitarian and that they lived an essentially separate existence from them, only owning and using the bare minimum. Writing this down now, it seems a little mad, but honestly, for the longest time, I thought one of my goals with minimalism was to get to the point where I spent almost zero seconds a day thinking about the objects I own – imagine my shock and disappointment in myself when I very much seemed to be doing the opposite.
Before I discovered minimalism, I would have (if I was being very honest) described myself as materialistic. I had more clothes than I could possibly be aware of, piles of creams and lotions and nail polishes spilling from every surface and enough pens, paint and craft paper to collage the surface of the moon. Shopping was an addiction. I felt a high when I clicked “proceed to checkout” or walked out the store with something new and shiny (or fluffy, or colourful, or sparkly or, well, you get the gist) – I would crave buying things almost all hours of the day. It wasn’t a good day when I hadn’t bought something. So, when I started to pursue a minimalist lifestyle I figured that I would be able to stop compulsively shopping – and yup, mission accomplished – I thought I would be able to reduce the number of unloved items in my home – uh-huh, have done – and I thought I would stop thinking about objects as important, stop wanting to spend hours browsing online and stop being emotionally involved with my possessions – um, no.
What I have now come to realise is that I was never a materialist before. I was a compulsive consumer. I had a strong need to obtain and hoard items, to collect, to stash and to accumulate things at an alarming rate – but I had little to no awareness of the specific items themselves. I bought things only to buy things: discounted things, limited edition things, pointless things and wasteful things. Even necessary items weren’t treated rationally as I stockpiled soap, body lotions and mascara. It didn’t matter what it was: I wanted to accumulate anything and everything as fast as my wallet allowed. I always told myself I was looking for perfection, and what better way to find the perfect t-shirt than to buy ALL the t-shirts. I told myself when I found the right one I would stop, because then I would be happy. But of course, the ad industry worked very hard with my already well-established shopping problems to ensure that I was never to feel satisfied, never to feel complete.
At first, after I had calmed down the compulsive shopping (which is a subject for another blog post), the minimalism thing seemed easy, I mean, just don’t buy things, right? Well, obviously, no. Things break, things wear out and our lives and interests change ensuring that from time to time we must replace or introduce new items into our lives. When this first started happening to me, I fell back into old habits – I just didn’t know any different. White shirt gone all grey and pilled? Nip into H&M and replace it. Hand-bag falling to pieces? Primark probably has some in the sale. But then, you see, something interesting started happening. Because I was so conscious of my shopping now, because I had slowed it down so much, I became almost suspicious of the things I was buying. Wait, I need a new hand-bag because the old Primark one has fallen apart after just six months? Should I buy another white shirt if I know I’m not going to take the time to care for it as a white fabric? If I’m only going to own one pair of jeans, is this the pair?
If you own more than 100 tops (which I did), then it’s basically impossible to be fully aware of what washes well, what’s flattering, what dries fast, what is low maintenance – but if you only own three sweaters, well, they can’t take several days to fully dry and they had better not all need ironing every time because seriously… no. Although when I owned lots of clothes, I, like most people, had distinct “favourites” that I wore most of the time – they weren’t true favourites, they were just clothes that were convenient and I sort of got used to, and so I wore them, day in day out, whether I really liked myself in them or not. Owning such a small amount of clothes now, I am much more in tune with what really works well for my tastes and my lifestyle and have essentially eliminated and learned not to repurchase everything that doesn’t work for me.
Nowadays, I don’t often shop, but if I do decide I need to make a purchase, then its’s a full-on project. Hours online reading reviews and learning about different companies, Excel Spreadsheets to track my research, budgeting and maintaining an inventory of various categories. Maybe to some, this sounds like exactly the opposite of what minimalism should be – and for me, a year ago, this would have seemed ridiculous – but honestly, this way of living works so well for me, for now at least. I am becoming a conscious consumer; far from perfect, but getting better everyday at making sensible, durable purchases from more ethical sources.
Basically, I’m just so much more involved with my possessions now. Each purchase I make has to be carefully considered, because the item will be with me… basically until it falls apart. Each item I own needs cared for and maintained, because if lose a glove, I don’t just have a stack of spare pairs sitting there. Massively slowing down the rate at which I acquire items has meant I have been able to ensure the purchases I do make are so much more “me” rather than whatever was being pushed that week in the mailing list/magazine/commercial that caught my attention – this has come about by slowing down and being conscious of items as I wear or use them, and learning about them as well as learning about my own needs and preferences.
The flip side to all of this of course, is taking time to remember that these are still all just “things”. It’s all about balance. I found the most perfect ceramic drinking tumblers the other day (drinking out of glasses triggers my anxiety), and while I cherish and enjoy these tumblers every time I use them and I feel they were a worthy addition to my home; if they both dropped and smashed tomorrow, then it would be okay. They are just things.
So, if you ask me, it’s great to be materialistic. To have some understanding of the environmental toll that the production of consumer-goods inflicts on the planet’s resources and many of its communities, and to seek to minimise this. To feel grateful for and to fully enjoy your cosiest sweater, your prettiest necklace. Consumption is a necessary part of the human existence, and with that in mind all we can do is make the best choices we can in that moment of our lives and then, be free to make the most of our possessions and the value they add to our lives. I think materialism is a misunderstood word, that gets a really bad rep – we associate it with shallowness or with greed, when really in essence, it’s really anything but. Learning to care about the objects I own has removed so much of the guilt and confusion I used to live with, and opened up so much space in my heart for gratitude and peace.
So here I am: I’m a minimalist and a materialist, and proud.