My minimalism came from pain.
I’ve been meaning to share my story for a pretty long time on here. This is a long post.
If anyone bothers to read and is maybe in a similar situation, I hope maybe me writing this can help. Even if it’s just one person.
There’s a whole lot of stereotypes out there about minimalism. And most of them are pretty darn negative.
Some are understandably so. If you google minimalist lifestyle that’s all you see. I’m just going to spout out words. White, privileged, rich, middle class, millennial, hippie, no-waste, traveler, living in a backpack, homes with no personality, etc. (and btw, none of these words or lifestyles are BAD). But you can hear the disdain for minimalists and minimalism in their posts and their videos. It’s misunderstood by non-minimalists.
I do think that minimalism gets a pretty bad rap, and it’s a true shame.
Unfortunately, I don’t think people always give the how and the why to their minimalism.
Do some people fit into they stereotypes? You betcha.
Do some people become minimalist because it’s a fad? Yep.
Do some people do it for shallow reasons? Uh huh.
(Again, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with this either)
I’m here to talk about MY experience and how it came from a place of pain.
I think to give a better picture of who I am and my upbringing might help. I’m not writing this as a woe-is-me piece. I only think that our upbringing has a serious correlation to our relationship with things and as I’ve gotten older I’m very much aware of it now.
My parents divorced when I was very young so I grew up with my mother during the week and my father during the weekend. Both were well below poverty line.
My mom due to her terrible childhood was and is a hoarder. Her apartment was always crammed full of things. She would dig through my trash and end up keeping everything. I was taught growing up that you keep EVERYTHING. No matter how insignificant, dirty or useless it was, you kept it. I remember when I was a child I had boxes floor to ceiling piled up in my room on two walls, none of which was my stuff. Nothing was ever considered mine. In the living room, the couch only had enough room for my mother to sit. If I wanted to eat or watch tv, I had to remove a pile off of a broken chair to sit, then put the pile back once I got got up. There was no such thing as a clear surface.
My father considered himself a minimalist and always beamed with pride that he could put all his things in a backpack. However, he was a severe alcoholic and homeless quite often. He lived in a trailer in his ex’s backyard (not my mothers), and often he had no heat, running water and definitely no blankets or a place to sleep. The few things he owned were the most precious things to him, but since he was an alcoholic he was unable to see the filth around him. He taught me that if you have a useful thing you NEVER let it go no matter the state it’s in.
I never actually understood my parents way of thinking but just accepted it as that is what was normal for me.
After I was able to legally leave both my parents residences, I drifted for a while and moved often. Since I was a child who grew up in rather bad surroundings, I always had an idea of what my perfect dream home would be so I accumulated things to try to emulate that idea. And I mean I ACCUMULATED. Lots. Of. Things. My fantasy self.
A few years later, I fell in love with someone. HARD. We lived together. He co-owned a pawn shop and brought home a TON of interesting things. Antiques, things he thought I’d like, Projects for me to work on, constantly (on almost a daily basis) bringing home more stuff. He and I were together for 6 years, he proposed, we were planning on buying a house together (and actually had put an offer on a house). I bought two cute decorations that represented us that I was planning on putting in our new house once we closed escrow. Then my ring “disappeared” while I was cooking dinner. Then he’d disappear for days. Women I didn’t know would show up at the house. He was stealing from me. Telling my family lies. One night, he got violent.
I didn’t have enough money for the deposits or the pet deposits (and there was no way I’d leave my pets with him). I had to get a loan and I got the biggest one my bad credit would allow.
I moved out in a matter of two days. I somehow managed to move my massive hoards of stuff (only forgetting a set of comics). I wasn’t about to leave my stuff, I was taught that things are important and you never get rid of them, even if leaving a possible dangerous situation. I made sure that I kept every little thing that he brought home for me.
A month after I moved out, my job cut my hours. I was broke and alone, but at least I had all my things.
I was crushed. I put the two cute decorations that I bought for “our house” in a closet. I couldn’t look at them but I couldn’t get rid of them either. I was still trying to recover from our break up. In a year, I was feeling a little better about things and pulled them out of the closet. I still thought the decorations were cute and maybe I was ready to put them up in “my house.” I sat and cried for about an hour. I put the decorations back in the closet. They represented too much for me.
About 6 months later, I was moving things around in the closet and the two decorations fell out. I happened to be in a bad mood that day, emotional and still working through my break up. I took the decorative things out, put them in the car and drove them to a donation center. The man looked at them and said, “They still have the tags on! Are you sure you want to donate these?”
I grumbled YES at him and he told me “These will sell quick!”
I know it sounds cheesy but there was a rainbow on the hill as I driving home. I felt SO RELIEVED. I got rid of something that represented failure and pain to me. I kept all these things because “that’s what you do” but It literally HURT me to go through these things because each one stirred up a memory and made me realize just how fucked up our relationship was the entire time we were together. I felt PAIN remembering the shady things he did (he brought home presents and “projects” to distract me from all the cheating he was doing) but I felt GUILT about getting rid of things because my parents taught me that you keep everything no matter what it is.
The pain ended up winning over the guilt.
Over the next few weeks, I got rid of (donated) more things that he brought home that gave me a feeling of pain. And then some more. I felt psychologically better each time, slowly processing all that pain and the item attached to it. I got my hours back at work. I paid off my loan I got so I could move. I decided to keep going through my things that I had accumulated through the years. That fantasy self that never came to fruition.
Every time I thought of getting rid of something that nagging guilt instilled in me by my parents would rear its ugly head. I always imagined my mothers face and her screaming if she found out that I was donating an extra waste paper basket or orange peeler (this truly happened). I realized I needed to work through my painful experience growing up with my parents too. I was now my own person and hadn’t lived with my parents for well over 15 years. My happiness in MY home and MY life was the most important thing.
I started looking up minimalism and I liked watching and reading about people’s struggles with letting go. We aren’t always just letting go of things. We’re letting go of what those things represent and our psychological attachments (and sometimes damage).
I’ve been working on this for about 5 years now. Slowly but surely. Well over half the things I accumulated are now gone. I miss none of them. Some of those non-minimalists ask me WHY I would spend/waste so much time going through my stuff. Because in my experience, some things are attached to pain. I want to let that pain go. I’ve never give myself a time frame in which to do this. It is WORTH IT to me to work through this pain.
As I’ve had less painful things surrounding me, I’ve been able to focus on other parts of my life I’ve always wanted to. I decided to donate duplicates, things I no longer liked, things that no longer served me. I started to focus on my health a bit more and my education. I realized I already had a wonderful, clean, safe and tidy home that I enjoy being in. I already had the fantasy self home I wanted.
Has minimalism fixed all my problems? Nope.
Made me rich, turned me into a vegan world traveler with only my laptop and 30 articles of clothing? (Here’s some more stereotypes- and again nothing wrong with this) Nope.
I don’t fit in with minimalism stereotypes. I don’t own a laptop, I don’t wear designer clothes or have a capsule wardrobe, my bedding isn’t white, I don’t compete in fitness competitions, I’m not zero-waste, I own a gas guzzler car and I’ve never been out of the country (yet).
(My wallsare white though because I live in a rental, I do yoga sometimes because I get a sore back and I am a white middle-class female, and I’ve busted my ASS to get here- I’m just playing around with the stereotypes here, it’s all in good fun)
I do get a little defensive when someone tells me how “stupid” minimalism is, or when they tell me I’m doing it “wrong.” It upsets me when my motives are questioned or someone tries to lump me and others into a stereotype. It upsets me when some tells me I’m involved in a fad.
Minimalism has been a THERAPY TOOL for me to work through my personal demons. I’ve used other tools as well, but this one so far has been one of the more obvious and effective.
I intend to keep going until I feel it’s right FOR ME.