I struggled with whether I would post this, as it made me question the scope of my blog. However to me spirituality isn’t something you set time aside for every day or once a week, you live and breathe it in every moment. Minimalism went hand in hand with the realisation that everything is within me and I need not seek out of myself to gain anything. That realisation made me realise I was trying to fill the void I felt, in part with material possessions.
Now I am not saying that material possessions are bad, by all means enjoy your luxuries, enjoy the physical and material things the world has to offer, but do it consciously.
Minimalism is a topic I have been exploring and living for quite some time. I wasn’t aware it had a title until a friend suggested I watch the documentary – The Minimalists, a documentary about the important things. In fact, that is how I welcomed in 2017. While everyone was out partying on new years eve, I watched the documentary – twice. These people were speaking my language, they were articulating everything I had been feeling for the past year. I was surrounded by people who didn’t get it, but these people got it.
I felt it necessary to write this, as the idea that minimalism is something that is only for well to do, upper middle class people seems to crop up quite often. Indeed, I have read many articles written by wealthy people who decided to step off the consumerism band wagon. I applaud them too, but what about those who have no claim to wealth or 6 figure incomes?
What if you got yourself through a university degree partly working in cafes with stints of unemployment, only to graduate and decide to make coffee full time for a year because you were burnt out? And then decide the following years to make 3 overseas trips on very little money.
Was I a minimalist when I was a poor student? The answer is a definite no, not even a forced minimalist at that. Rent took up half of my meagre weekly income, but it didn’t stop me from accumulating things. I became the master thrift shopper and I stuffed my little unit to the brim with useless items – kitchenware, clothes, trinkets, cushions, books. I didn’t need three quarters of it and although it cost very little, I certainly could have kept that $2 here and $5 there for experiences I often missed out on as a result of having no money.
I went through a weird phase of discontent after my third overseas trip. I feel in part that it was because I had been exposed in Europe, to a kind of wealth I did not realise existed. Backpacking on a budget, I was on the outer looking in and it stirred a sense of lack. At the same time I was exposed to a level of poverty I had never experienced either – tent cities and an overwhelming amount of people begging for money in the streets.
I came home torn. Angry at the massive gap between rich and poor, mixed with a sense of material lack in my own life. All of a sudden my second hand furniture I had accumulated as a student and was still using looked shabby to me. “I’m almost 30 and I am still living in a house filled with furniture from my university days?? I deserve nice things”. My mind whirled. It’s a weird thing, this age marker we put on things. I am this age, therefore I should own these things and have this much in the bank…who made that rule?
I decided to go out furniture shopping and it was an eye opening experience. Cheap and flimsy furniture for ridiculous amounts of money. I saw first hand the throw away culture we now live in. There is no way what I saw would have lasted beyond 5 years, but it was trendy, so it had a price tag to match. Which is apparently okay, because people will update in 5 years anyway. I had my mums words of wisdom in the back of my head – words from a woman who grew up in a poor family. “Always buy quality, even if it takes longer to save up for and you can only afford one. It will save you money in the long run”. I went home.
This sparked a period of deep reflection. There was a discontent that I couldn’t quite place. I wanted nice things. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like a lesser being because I didn’t have “all the nice things”. This was conflicting with the fact that I was (and still am) also a passionate advocate for the environment and the negative effects of over consumption. Then there was a deeper level, the fact that when I am true to myself, I have always been somewhat of a natures child, who requires very little and is content with earth under her feet over fancy shoes. So why was this coming up at all?
Perhaps it was the comments of a wealthy visitor that came to my house. Upon arrival she walked in the front door and took in my combined living and kitchen area. “Oh.” She said. “I guess this is all you need”. It’s funny now when I look back, because she was right. This is all I need – if anything it was more than I needed and I have gotten rid of a lot of my possessions since. The tone of her voice though, was almost as if I were living in some kind of hovel or tent.
Or perhaps it was the accumulation of being treated as inferior in my work environment by wealthy people.
Whatever the reason, this saw 2016 as the year of my reading rampage. I read books such as “Not Buying It” by Judith Levine, “The Moneyless Man” by Mark Boyle and “Walden” by Thoreau. Anything that questioned the status quo, consumerism and what makes a “successful” life.
I observed that when I was a poor student, there was a sense of security in collecting things, be that clothes to kitchenware. It made me feel safe. I’m not entirely sure why, but it was almost like storing up for the winter. When the global financial crisis hit and the cafe I was doing weekend work in shut down, the winter had come.
However, did my little unit busting at the seams with excess clothes, books, trinkets and kitchenware help me weather that? No.
Christmas time 2016 rolled around, a year of deep contemplation, reflection and reading and we were heading into one of the most consumeristic times of the year. I saw all of it with new eyes. By that time, I had come to the realisation that it was all within me. I needed nothing outside of myself. This realisation had me overwhelmed by the abundance in my life and the abundance I was surrounded by. I would tear up with gratitude quite often (and still do).
The desperation, the scrambling to fill up trolleys with useless stuff, the anger and erratic behaviour of the general public on the roads and in shopping centres. Listening to friends dismay at not being able to afford Christmas or relying on credit cards. It actually made me feel physically ill. And then New Years Eve with The Minimalists, I wasn’t crazy.
So no. Minimalism isn’t a luxury of the wealthy. Consumerism is so ingrained in our modern culture that we don’t realise we are doing it. Even as a person who has lived without a TV for 7 years, it seeped in. We are sent a steady stream of messages from advertisers and as an extension, from the people who allow themselves to be brainwashed, that we need to keep buying – even if that meant on my student income it was in thrift stores.
I am still living in a house full of second hand furniture from my university days. It’s old yes, but it is good quality solid timber, the kind that you can sand back and touch up as needed until you’re in a nursing home.
I AM all I need. As are you.
~ Fox Robin
Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash