Monday, November 22, 2010


I've been reading a lot of minimalism blogs and about minimalism during the last few months. I am sure readers have noticed my ceaseless documentation of Goodwill, purging, saving, etc...

I am a gatherer by nature. Part of it is probably because my parents were minimalists: they didn't call it that, but having grown up through the Depression in middle-class families on limited incomes, they were prudent with money. My paternal grandfather was worked in the Pittsburgh train yard and my paternal mother was a schoolteacher, while my maternal grandparents were farmers and my grandpa worked as a postal clerk on the NY trailroad system.

When I was a kid, there were no credit cards in the house. We paid cash for everything and lived completely within my dad's earnings, with considerable savings. I remember when my folks bought two cars from Ford, both new, completely for cash: a Pinto and a station wagon. We had a nice house, ate well, took vacations, and had nice furniture. But my folks never spent recklessly or extravagantly on themselves or us.

One problem was that they didn't pass this lesson on--not their fault, more about me.  My folks obviously thought that such logical behavior would naturally follow with their children. It didn't (actually, this was kind of a pattern of my upbringing). When I started working, I started spending. I've carried debt a good portion of my adult life--like a good consumer-American--and mostly for things that completely depreciated after purchase, like clothes and meals out.

The reason I say this is because being minimal goes against my nature: not owning extras, or stuff, whatever, creates a little anxiety in me. I feel secure with "stuff."  A few years of therapy might clear that up, or not. But the last couple months have been very good for me in general: Getting rid of excess "stuff" (whether giving it away, throwing it out, or best of all selling it) has been a way of becoming un-stuck. Which is huge.

Here's what I have learned or am learning:
1. Nothing will happen if that excess baggage leaves your clutch. You didn't need it, you won't need it, and God knows we live in a world where you can find a duplicate on-line if you do need it.
2. "Papers" should be digital, regardless of sci-fi paranoia. If the grid goes down, are you really going to want your electricity bill in hard copy?
3. Debt is a bad thing: no one cares about you as a person at banks or credit bureaus, and why should they? You are a number and they have lots of numbers. Credit cards don't put people in debt, people do: I put myself in debt and I have to get myself out. And like most adult crap it is harder to get out than in. Figure it out!
4. Technology is actually helpful. I don't want to stop reading real, material books, but a digital reader is going to be fine for the kind of crap paperbacks I love to gorge on whole as relaxation. Lighter, quicker, cheaper, and far more green than paperbacks I either have to toss (heartbreak!) or sell (lugging!). Jessica at Minimal Student points out the wonders of the iPhone with 3G--which I hadn't considered. I am going to be far more respectful of my cell now.
5. Lots of stuff means ugly stuff and useless stuff that nags at your brain. I've said it before, here:  "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."  Which also means, figure of what you need and love, and sometimes the two are one!
6. Sometimes giving yourself a lot of choice only leads to getting stuck. Or knowing intuitively the five things you really love and use within an over-stuffed closet.
7. Someone else will love it and use it, if you release whatever the "thing" is.
8. Empty space means breathing. It is the space between the notes, as someone said, that makes the music. Meaning, too, as I tell my writing students: don't be afraid of pause, silence, beat.

I still have lots of things and probably always will. But I don't "need" so many of them and I don't want the debt that makes me feel like Marley's Ghost at times. I am far luckier than many people, who have huge debts and/or a family that needs to be fed, clothed, and transported on one salary. Which, again, I have come more and more to think about.

I earn more than my dad did for most of his adult life; unlike him, I support one person. He financially supported five without debt. So. Being mindful of my blessings and of the fact that I choose how I use my resources (money, time, health) is better than being oblivious or stupidly focused.

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