It’s been many months since I embraced minimalism and attempted to make it a part of my life. Immediately I saw the benefits of owning less stuff and was relieved to see that if I parred down my belongings I could actually keep my house in order. For the first time in my life, house keeping seemed somewhat manageable. This is a HUGE accomplishment and if this were the only benefit it would be enough for me to embrace minimalism forever.
It’s not the only benefit of course. Minimalism helps me stay within my budget, which is another thing I’ve been failing to do for pretty much my entire adult life. For one overarching philosophy (we are happier with less stuff) to improve, or even resolve, two of my biggest challenges is a pretty extraordinary thing.
Clearly, I NEED to embrace minimalism.
So why is it so fucking difficult for me?!
I read so many stories of people who decide minimalism is the thing for them. They get rid of their stuff. They realize they don’t need any more stuff. They are exceedingly happy. They never look back.
They don’t seem to have relapses or struggle with the new arrangements or restrictions. They are born again, they have seen the light and will be forever bathed in it. Then they go out into the world and preach.
That has not been my experience.
Even though I can see the very real, very concrete benefits of embracing minimalism, even though I absolutely agree with the philosophy and recognize why it is not a only superior, but necessary, way to live if we want to achieve sustainability as a species, even though I agree with it fundamentally, I still find myself struggling. I still want a new purse and that cute pair of shoes my friend was wearing last week. I’m still pining after a new pair of jeans because I just don’t love the way the ones I have fit (that whole keeping only what inspires joy exercise has actually made me want to get more clothes–getting rid of the ones I have that I don’t love of course–which I don’t think was the point). I still want to get my kids new toys, even though I’m constantly giving away the ones we no longer play with.
I guess I thought it would be easier. I thought I’d embrace this ideal and all my previous wants and desires would melt away. I expected something would click and this new mindset would override a lifetime of messages (subliminal and overt) asserting that acquiring more makes us happier. I assumed it wouldn’t be so much work, that it wouldn’t require constant admonitions, that it would just be the way I was.
But I am the way I used to be. And it’s hard work to override a lifetime of one message with its complete opposite. I’m constantly reminding myself of my new ideals. I’m continually assuring myself of how good it feels to have less, and how buying things doesn’t actually make me feel better. The habit of wanting to solve problems with more things is so deeply engrained, that I find myself constantly talking myself out of wanting something.
It’s exhausting. And I’m disappointed in myself. I’m disappointed in my materialism and how easy it is for me to fall back into my old, destructive patterns. I want to be the person who doesn’t care if she has new shoes or a new pair of jeans. I want to be the person who cares about the things in life that really matter.
Some of the things are small, like still pining after a new purse even though the one I have now works fine. Every once in a while the desire bubbles up and I do a little online “window shopping” and realize there is nothing that I love so I shelve the whole thing for another month, but the fact that I keep coming back to it makes me feel icky. Who cares about a stupid purse? Why can’t I just be happy with the one I have?
Other things are bigger. We rent an in-law unit under our kitchen so we can afford our mortgage. The “plan” has always been that in five or so years, when we’re done paying for childcare, we’d build inside stairs connecting the in-law unit to the rest of the house and make it our “master suite.” We currently sleep in what is supposed to be the living room of our house, with only a Japanese screen between our bedroom and what is supposed to be the dining room (but what we use as a living room). Right now the layout works fine for us, but when our kids are older and want to watch TV when we want to sleep, or when we find it hard accommodate four people’s needs with only one bathroom, we’ll want the space, or so we assumed.
But then we watch documentaries about tiny houses and see the spaces people live in and I wonder why we I’ve let myself be convinced that we need more space when 1200 square feet is way more than 99% of families around the world inhabit (and most of them are bigger than ours) . We clearly have enough, we clearly can make it work, and we are resourceful enough as a family to manage with only one bathroom even when our kids are older. If we kept renting our in-law unit we could save that extra money for our kids’ college funds, and maybe even travel some day. Aren’t those things so much more important? Why do I feel such a devastating loss when I think about giving up the dream of moving into that space?
Sometimes I get the feeling that really, deep inside, I want to be a fundamentally different person. I wish I just saw the world differently, that I didn’t spend so many weeks and months of my life slipping into and crawling out of depression, that I saw the world in a more positive light, that I was more grateful, that I complained less. I wish I were kinder and more giving, less selfish and less self-serving. I meet people who seem to live life in all the ways I wish I did, and they seem to do so effortlessly. I always wonder if were they born that way, or if they have to work at it.
It feels like I have to work at everything that matters to me in my life. Nothing comes naturally to me except depression and disorganization and overspending and negativity and despair. I have such an amazing life and yet I spend all the time trying to get myself to see how amazing it is. And when some incredible way of living becomes known to me, and I’m 100% sure it’s the way I want, and NEED, to live myself, I can’t even embrace it. It’s hard not to feel frustrated with myself sometimes.
When I write these posts people tell me I need to be kinder to myself. And while I’m sure that’s true, there is something more here that I need to figure out. I can’t just shrug these feelings away telling myself to be kinder and more forgiving. I feel like something needs to change inside me, but I don’t think that kind of change is possible, and I’m not sure where that leaves me.
Have you been able to embrace fundamental changes in your life? How did it happen?