The Guilt of Anti-Minimalism

A great example of a minimalist household, and one that I would particularly detest living in.

This summer has flown by. No, really, I mean it. I have a shortened summer because of my teaching contract being longer than others, but I really feel like I blinked and now the school year is bearing down on me.

But I digress.

I was doing laundry the other day and glared at my monstrous pile of clothing that my husband and I go through on a weekly (or if I’m realistic it’s actually bi-weekly or try-weekly) basis. I have four laundry baskets to sort through, between his work uniforms and my clothes that I like to wear at home versus clothing that I wear for other occasions. It’s a never-ending cycle of wear-dirty-wash-sort-put way-wear again, and it’s probably my least favorite chore of all the chores in the household.

Generally, I will put a movie on and sort all the laundry into baskets, and yes, that’s plural, because we have a lot, and I mean a LOT of clothes. Our walk-in closet is full of them, and we have them for multiple occasions, from dressed up to down, casual wear, work wear, outside wear, hunting and fishing gear, lounge wear, pajamas, workout clothes, the list goes on and on…

We have no less than five or six laundry baskets for just the two of us, and if I’m honest, there is almost always a basket waiting to be invited back into the cycle of cleaning and so on. So, there I sat, in my living room, searching for something meaningful (instead of binge-watching Game of Thrones like I usually do), and I came across a documentary called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things . Now, I am a sucker for home care, home shopping, building, flipping, decorating, you name it. I was intrigued, so I clicked play and got to work.

The movie starts out with an attractive young man talking about how he was sucked into the corporate life during his mid-twenties and for a second, I was hooked. I was ready to throw all my excessive stuff into the trash, to get rid of everything that wasn’t relating to my life and yet, I couldn’t ignore the nagging guilt that I had seeping into my stomach. These two Minimalists had a handful of clothes, a bare apartment, and seemed happy.

My husband and I have been on the path to happiness for a long time now. We’ve been together long enough for me to be able to compare the relative happiness we have had as a couple compared to various living situations and I have to admit, there are some parts that I can agree with. I can get on board with the “Less is More” mentality. I struggle with mental health issues myself, something I’ve tried to be transparent about in my work and life, and I can’t deny that there is a certain feeling of lightness and joy that comes from donating stuff that I don’t need. But what about the stuff I use regularly?

What about my hobbies?

What about my collection of books that grows every year?

What about my husband’s treasured items from Peru (including a crocodile skin and real poison tipped dart guns)?

What about the pictures that we hang on our walls, some of which are older than myself and came from my grandparents’ home?

I might be a little sentimental, sure, but I have no problem getting rid of stuff. I can’t stand having stacks of paper around, for example, and regularly go through the hoard of papers that my husband tries to keep in the house (and I’ve never understood why either!). So is there really a trick to what end Minimalism really works? For some, terminal globetrotting is a real thing. There was a guy that claimed to proudly own everything he could carry in one backpack and boasted about his “homelessness” as if it were his pride and joy. There was a woman that swore by her tiny home (on a ranch that I might add too) and she claimed that she and her spouse had never been happier. Then, there were builders that claimed to recycle and reuse materials to be more Green-friendly and to maximize their building space into the most it could be.

If I think back on all the places we’ve lived, the place I remember most fondly was our first home. (Although if I’m perfectly honest, my ideal home is The Burrow in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter) It was a tiny one and a half bedroom home in the woods of East Texas with rent totaling less than a thousand dollars for three acres of unadulterated freedom. We had just combined our lives together, so we didn’t have much, but we did have pastures and a barn and two dogs and each other. We didn’t need much else. The most heavily-utilized room was the kitchen, which was the heart of our home, and most of my memories in that house were the ones upon which we built the foundation for our relationship and eventual marriage. We technically could have considered the home a tiny house, and we technically could have been considered minimalists. But were we?

We always had an issue of storage for clothes, but the house had a minuscule closet and minimal storage. Then, there was the concern of safety for myself and our new puppy, who could fit in the palm of my hand when we first brought him home. That required materials for the safekeeping of the home. As time went on, we acquired more things into our life. I’ve always had a cycle of going through and getting rid of things by giving them to charity, as that was the custom growing up to be allowed to get more clothes, but my husband’s family was less likely to do so.

Can I see the value in Minimalism? Sure. But the remarkable amount of guilt for living a way that makes me happy, which involves the ability to get what my husband or I want or need at a relatively easy pace, was astounding to me. I started to look at things that I hadn’t ever felt bad about with disgust. I wanted to throw everything away, to have the bare walls and minimal wardrobe and yet, I still felt like I needed to prove that I was giving back enough, doing enough. It was maddening.

It took me a while to let the idea of Minimalism go. It might work for some families or individuals, but I don’t think I’m ever going to really be able to follow through with it. I wonder how many people like me watched the documentary and immediately threw the majority of their belongings away. There were some things I took from it that I can keep up with though, like spending more time with family and loved ones, doing what you love, and refusing to sell your soul for a paycheck. Those things made me reevaluate what I really want, and what my husband really wants, and why we’ve waited so long for our lives to start. So now, we’re having those difficult conversations about why we’ve been putting them off, and how we can get back on track.

Last, I’ll leave you with this. A wise friend told me something I won’t quickly forget: Graveyards are the richest places on earth because they’re full of expensive clothes and unfulfilled dreams. Will you be able to say you’ve done what you can in your life to do what you were put here to do? If not, why aren’t you doing it? Life’s too short to spend it in a cubicle. So I ask you this: What would you regret if you left this world today?

If the thought of losing whatever that is scares you, good. Now, do something about it.

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