Difficulty With Minimalism?

I find myself back in a period of intense minimizing, cleaning, organizing- essentializing. I've been struck in this way before, perhaps 3-4 times. It comes on suddenly. I wake up and feel like I'm drowning in stuff, weighted down and burdened by the sheer presence of stuff associated with me.

Clothes go flying. Drawers are turned upside down. Little piles are made, grow, shrink, and shuffle. Years of notes and pieces of work are ripped from notebooks and sketchbooks, and burned. Pinterest boards are reorganized and deleted. Computer files are dumped and restructured. Perhaps the first time I was gripped I was 17, and I didn't feel free until I was down to two outfits, a laptop, and a handful of sentimentals. It wasn't sustainable, meaning that it wasn't true essentialism for me- it was less than what was needed for me to feel right.

I once read a book called "Unclutter Your LIfe: Transforming your Physical, Mental, and Emotional Space," that provided clues as to where the anti-stuff drive comes from. What I took from the book, is that the things around us are both reflective of, and reinforcing or guiding, values and goals. If you have a lot of clutter, it can be overwhelming, as if you're being pulled in too many directions to progress toward the things you actually care about. If you want to be making art, having the designated space, supplies, and inspiration around you to do so would be wise. We have to make space for our priorities by clearing out the non-priorities. 

The things that we own take up space. If you have drapes, you have both the physicality of the drapes to take care of, and also the mental time/space of drapery observations and considerations. The drapes serve a purpose (perhaps decorative, perhaps preventing passerbys to see your nude living room frolic or whatever it is you're dong in there), and you might deem that purpose worth the physical and mental space the drapes take (I certainly do). There are many items that are not worth the physical and mental space they require of us. I think of Steve Jobs always wearing a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers. It took up very little physical and mental space. From a Vanity Fair article:

You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.

Decision fatigue is part of the mental space I value freeing up. When in the grip, I notice I end up wearing all grey. I think of black/white/grey as being quieter than colors- as taking up less visual space. I envy having a set style uniform. I haven't found a way to do it yet that would work for me, but maybe one day. I have done it for others. 

In order to successfully sort "worth its space" from "not worth its space", we need knowledge of our priorities and current concept of self. The need to essentialize; the hours feeling possessed, sorting through boxes and closets, is about needing to define who we are and what we want from life through our stuff. It is wanting to have only the stuff that will further our desires in this world and of ourselves. The flurry is a need for a redefinition of self. We're digging through boxes to find ourselves. We're asking, "Who am I? Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? What's essential to me?" By answering these questions, we stop pushing the blue sweater back and forth from the "worth its space" to the "not worth it" pile, and we stop waffling about whether we may one day need the unopened pack of 500 notecards we've had for years. The "maybe" pile disappears.

Being honest with ourselves prevents saving too much stuff as well as keeping too little. At 17 I wasn't asking what I needed to comfortably further my goals, but rather demanding of myself that I need only the bare minimum to function. Minimalism is discovering what is essential for our goals, and removing the things that take up space or otherwise hinder our goals. If a priority is to have visitors, it makes sense to have a very cozy and inviting space, with the items needed for quality hosting.

For me, the more impersonal a space looks, the more industrial and modern and clean, the freer I feel. The possessions have no pull on me; take no thought. They just are. It frees me to just be. I'm hypersensitive to sensory information, and my mind easily feels swamped with mental clutter. My priority of pulling the clutter out of my mind and shaping it into something beautiful or interesting or useful, requires a lot of space.

I don't think everyone should minimize (actually I try not to think in "should"s at all). If you don't feel the call, you don't feel the call. My interest is in helping people feel right and expressed. That can mean piles of stuff or emptiness, and I help find what's right for each client. 

If you've been struggling with a large "maybe" pile, and resorting without actually paring down; I hope exploring who you are, what you currently value, and what your current goals are helps. If you need additional help, you can find my services in the shop.