You’re probably wondering how I arrived here. Why become a minimalist? why or more importantly, HOW did I end up with so much stuff that I found myself in the position of so much overwhelm that I decided I needed to get rid of most of my stuff?
There are 6 main factors here.
1) My weight fluctuates
I’m quite short, so any weight gain or loss looks quite dramatic on me, so I always had a few items in reserve at either end of the scale so I don’t have to buy them again.
2) My ‘forever’ relationship broke down.
I was living with a guy that I thought I was going to marry. We bought a home and I spent almost my entire salary making him happy and creating an Eden for him to come home to. Out of the blue he came home drunk and told me it was over and I had to leave. I fled and we never spoke again. When I went back a week later to pick up my stuff, he had boxed up pretty much everything in the flat and left it at the door. Maybe he thought he was being helpful, but I just saw it as a sign of how much he hated me and wanted me out of his life. This rejection hurt so much I couldn’t even bear to look inside them for the next three years so they just sat there in my parents garage gathering dust. When I did feel able to open them, nothing held good memories for me – everything was overshadowed by pain, so I didn’t want to keep any of it.
3) I started my life again
After the breakup, my weight plummeted, and I got a new job. I moved from leafy Surrey to Kensington in London to be closer to my job and went on a voyage of self-discovery: Who am I without this guy? What do *I* actually like? what is *my* style? what makes *me* happy? Pretty much the same things that Joshua Fields Millburn from The Minimalists describes in his book:
There was a lot of trial and error as I tried on different hats and cushion covers and bits and bobs came and went as frequently as my taste in fashion. And when I say ‘went’, I mean it went in a box and was taken to my parents house to have its fate decided later, because in London flats are tiny and I didn’t have anywhere to store them, and honestly, Ebay didn’t even cross my mind.
4) The state of renting in London
I moved 15 times in 4 years.
I HATE living like a nomad – it makes me really unhappy to never feel settled, but that is the reality of life in London – you are constantly moving. You’re not living in a home – you are simply camping very expensively in someone else’s house. I got to the stage where ‘not move for one year’ was my New Years Resolution and seemed like an almost impossible luxury. I finally signed a year long lease on a flat with a friend. Two months later he announced he was moving to Oxford and I needed to find another housemate or move again. Thankfully I found a new housemate, and I was in negotiations with the landlord to not increase my rent if I extended the lease to a second year, when I got made redundant. I didn’t want to tie myself into an agreement I didn’t know I could uphold, so I had to move. Again.
5) I wanted stability
The atmosphere at work was incredibly toxic. There was a lot of restructuring and a lot of changes and I spent over a year in limbo feeling like an axe was hovering just above my neck. I realised that for all the HR talk about valuing employees, a corporation is an impersonal machine and people are disposable and replaceable cogs within it. Being a really good permanent employee doesn’t guarantee your position if the corporation decides that freelancers are cheaper. I’m a hopeless idealist and this came as a very painful lesson. The stress of it all had a very deep impact on me mentally and physically.
I realised I had absolutely no control over my life: Even my ability to stay in one place with one roof over my head for longer than 6 months depended on other people and their whims. Every day for over a year I woke up with my heart racing, feeling sick to my stomach, wondering how the rug was going to be ripped out from under my feet that day and I lived in a state of constant fight-or-flight. Only after 6 months of very consciously looking after myself I am beginning to heal from the physical toll constant stress took on my body: weight gain, adrenal exhaustion, anaemia, chronic fatigue, stress-related vitamin deficiencies, hair loss etc.
6) The Chap
For the first time in my life I’m with a guy who not only lets me be myself and tells me that I am enough just as I am, but actively tells me when he sees me going off track and reminds me that I don’t have to try so hard. He also introduced me to the concept of being less wasteful. Every time he would rummage through my recycling bin telling me off for putting the wrong type of plastic in, tutted about ‘horrible chemicals’ when I cleaned my flat, or pulled cheap eggs out of my shopping basket in favour of ethical ones, he made me more aware of the damage I was doing and of the awful industries I was supporting. The more I learn about chemicals, fast fashion, commercial farming and waste, the less damage I want to do to life and the environment, and the more I want to each day leave the world a little better than it was the day before.
So in conclusion…
I spent a couple of weeks clearing out my stuff at my parents house and coming face to face with everything I bought over the years. I realised that beyond the buzz of getting something new, very few things I bought actually made me happy. If anything, they just made me unhappy because ‘getting’ had taken precedence over ‘doing’. I didn’t take a holiday for 3 years because I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t take random classes I wanted to do like spoon carving, or doing things that I loved doing because for some reason accumulating ‘stuff’ to give an outward display of success had become my priority. All my material possessions reflected my new social status. Everything I bought was a ‘f*ck you’ to someone who I hadn’t spoken a word to in 3 years. Materialism does not bring you happiness.
The main lesson I learned from this experience was the importance of letting go, and learning to be ok with the fact that the only thing I have control over is myself. I can’t control how other businesses operate, and I can’t control whether or not housemates or boyfriends choose to stick around or leave. Everything in life is temporary and happiness can’t be based on external things and fleeting moments. It is easy to build a fort of things around us to comfort us and make us feel safe, but the things we own don’t make us the people we are. A fort doesn’t make us strong and it certainly won’t make us happy, because all the good stuff as well as the bad happens outside its walls.
For me, a by-product of having less stuff and dong the right thing by nature is that I feel clearer, lighter, calmer and happier – and more at peace with myself than I ever have. Letting go of stuff also helps me let go of the stuff in my head, so my depression has all but gone and my anxiety has improved drastically. I have found that if you choose what you bring into your life carefully, you can do less harm with it, and likewise, it can do less harm to you. And that is why I am becoming a Minimalist. I say ‘becoming’ because I think it is a journey – I don’t believe you can get your stuff down to whatever fits in a few bags and say ‘ok that’s me done now – I’m minimalist enough – I have arrived’. There is almost always some way you can improve yourself and the world we live in.