In a world of instant credit and Black Friday purges, amidst the constant stream of conflicting advertisements encouraging the purchase of more things in order to make the things you already have invisible, there is a desire. There is a desire within to simply have less stuff. Even as our eyes and fingers and wallets continue to crave the next new thing, there is a pull on our conscience. It tugs at us, whispering into our ears how we must throw away something in order to get something new. You must make room for that new thing, it says, you must give it a spot, a home.
We see no problem with this. Do you want something new? Great. Get rid of something in its place and all is well. “Out with the old, in with the new,” as they say. This mantra is ingrained into the minds of the young, the middle-aged, and the old. We grow up throwing things away in order to make room to buy more things. What we don’t grow up learning, though, is that it is a privilege to choose to get rid of things.
In this coming year, 2020, I vowed to focus on being more consciously minimal. Using Marie Kondo’s advice, “Does this bring me joy?” it became extremely easy to throw things away. Does this feather bring me joy? No. Does my collection of 20 chapsticks bring me joy? No. Often, when questioning which material possessions bestow happiness upon me, the answer repeats itself. “No. No. No.” The idea that a clearer space, one free of extra knickknacks and unnecessary collections, yields greater peace in the soul is one that that I choose to readily subscribe to.
But have we ever stopped to consider how the mere act of choosing to clear our spaces—choosing to throw away our old toys and books and clothes to diminish the weight that they heavy on our minds—is a privilege? It is a privilege because it is a choice.
The most extreme form of minimalism, of course, would be to have nothing at all. The monks show us this; by “living small,” the world opens itself to you. Her fruits become enough sustenance; her earth and its animals enough entertainment to fill an entire lifetime. But even still, this extremism remains a choice. There is a conscious decision to be rid of all possessions.
When one chooses to do such a thing, the effects are desired, so they are cherished. When one doesn’t choose to do such a thing, as in situations such as catastrophes, earthquakes, fires, and all other ways in which the world takes from us, this minimalism goes by another name: tragedy. At times, the world makes minimalists out of the people who need it the very least.
Yes, choose to recycle your report card from second grade. Yes, choose to donate the Justice clothes that, for some reason, still hold space in the back of your closet. Getting rid of tangible things does not erase the memories that they hold. Even when you no longer possess these things, remembrance will remain.
And, in doing this, we should be conscious of the amount of space that we take up in this world. To take up a person-shaped bubble, one that folds and bends and gives nearly as much as it takes, is one thing. When we begin to take up space with our possessions, our things that “matter to us,” we snuff out the people who have nothing at all. No, cleaning your house won’t immediately donate clothing to the shoeless people of the world, but the acknowledgment of the privilege that comes along with it is a necessary awareness.
Minimalism, as a choice, is a privilege.