Minimal?

So, as I said yesterday, I started to go through my things (very thoroughly) and checking what I could and couldn’t live without.

I even started to pack a bag, a mix of an absolutely minimalist existence and a survival kit. I can’t help but giggle at preppers, but that’s what I found myself doing. One pair of jeans, shorts, shoes, sandals, some undies & socks, basic toiletries, simple medicine & first aid kit, torch, sunblock, whistle, compass. I had to stop myself.

So, I did. Put everything back and started again, asking myself what couldn’t I replace or what would be a nightmare replacing? Or what sentimental items do I really, really want to keep?

Turns out all I have are my passport, driving licence, local ID card, birth certificate, original marriage certificate, less than 10 original/old fashioned print photos*, my wedding ring and a gold necklace my grandparent’s had engraved and gifted to me the day of my birth.

*Admittedly this would be 10 times more if I took originals of my childhood from my parent’s home, but I would be happy enough with digital scans of them. And true also, if I wasn’t able to fit my digital photos onto a free cloud storage system than the physical copies would be 100 times more or I would need to add some form of external storage.

I was surprised, with the additions of the very few of the photos my husband has that survived childhood floods and his legal documents, well it really isn’t much.

I do not dare ask him about non-sentimental items, we’d need a truck! But when he has time I will ask him to find out those things most precious to him and add them.

I realise this isn’t a realistic or a practical approach to minimalism. Yet the feeling of liberation in knowing that I could pick up that little bag and walk away without a care is fantastic.

Well, it truthfully is a little more complicated than that. The cat wouldn’t happily fit in the bag nor willingly stay there for any duration of time. Kids and pets do add a few more necessaries to a potentially empty life.

And, well, we aren’t going to live a minimal life just yet. No more new (or old) things are allowed in. Sure. But the slow emptying will not begin just yet either. When it does we will need to think carefully on clothing, kitchen and garden gear, books, ornaments, toiletries, furniture and so forth. That can wait, for now I will take joy in my temporarily cluttered home.

Sufficient?

What is sufficient? Enough? Neither too much nor too little?

I’ve been on another documentary binge both on Netflix and YouTube. You can see my Netflix list in a previous post.

I’ve most recently watched Four Horsemen and Minimalism (about The Minimalists) and both of these have opened my eyes to new opinions and reminded me of ideas I’ve forgotten already on this short journey.

I guess I’ve gotten too obsessed with the whole money less/moneyless, self-sufficient and greener lifestyle that I have forgotten that simple approaches often provide the simplest answers.

I cannot remember if I ever posted something I’d said to my partner when we moved house, at about the time I started this blog. I declared that I wanted all but the most useful of our stuff to be gone by the time I am 40.

Sure, I am contradicting one of my previous posts when I said that I like building a nest, a well stocked and decorated one. However, like many smart people have said and thought before me ‘your things end up owning you’!

I am happy to enjoy them a little longer, and accept that living in one place means you need more paraphernalia than say someone with a nomadic lifestyle (and one which I now miss more and more). However, we still have more than we honestly need.

Our consumer habits have certainly been buried, not just put to bed, and this is partly from our desire for spending less and being more environmentally friendly. Perhaps though it is time to look at this from a third angle. A minimalist one.

Cooking, baking and growing your own food means you need more ‘valuables’ than someone who simply buys, barters or exchanges for their food. And I accept that wholeheartedly.

The ideal is to see those chattel as the tools they are, things with functions and not bits & pieces that are mine which I must protect and guard from others, causing stress and depression for no-one but me.

Sure, these ‘goods’ may have cost us money to acquire, but once their usefulness has passed we should gift (or exchange) them to others that need and want them. We shouldn’t let them and their original cost be a burden.

I’ve increasingly had daydreams, little fantasies, about our entire apartment being swallowed whole by the earth. Perhaps my imagination was simply running a little wild, in absence of my usual weekend action and horror film marathons.

And yet, this made me think. What would I really miss? If we had to crash at a friends house and only had the clothes on our backs. Would that really be a disaster? What would I risk my life for, in a mad dash to save from a muddy doom?

Well, I came to see our possessions as belonging to one of four different types:

  • Essential
  • Inescapable
  • Escapable
  • Emotional

The Essentials would be those tools I mentioned before, that we neither love nor desire but which our lifestyle dictates we need. Sure, having less or smaller and simpler versions may be a possibility and changes in lifestyle and/or needs should mean we exchange or pass these things onto someone who still has necessity for them, rather than clinging onto them.

The Inescapables are those things we do not particularly want but that we are required to have by law or to be able to operate within society, passports and documentation. I could probably include these as tools, but they are not likely something we should give up or pass on at any future time.

The Escapables are the clobber we have simply because we like/liked them and that may not really provide any use or benefit. This wouldn’t include a collection or something that brings us genuine and long-lasting joy, or which we can build social relationships from. Rather the opposite, stuff we thought would bring us happiness or things that once did but now sit on shelves, in drawers or boxes and merely clutter our homes and lives.

Then there are the Emotionals, these sentimental assets that may very well be irreplaceable. Be them antiques, heirlooms, a necklace gifted at birth, wedding rings and so on. Arguably we shouldn’t need these, and if they are a burden of responsibility, then why not pass them onto other family members to care for?
Still, if they bring us a sense of connection and aid our memories or any positive feelings then getting rid of them can be more tricky and questionable.

My own collection of ’emotional’ belongings was substantial, until I started taking photos of such [re]movables and then let them go both physically and heartfully. Now these number less than a handful.

Funny how some of the gear I once clung to were things I thought my mother wanted me to keep, so I offered them to her. She was surprised and said that she had a small box of trinkets, of little tokens from my early years, she has her memories and her photos and that was all she wanted and needed. So, a click of the shutter and these were off to the charity shop. Liberating!

I can appreciate that the boundaries between these types of gear can be flexible and even utterly different from person to person. The problem for many, formerly including myself, is to be honest and a little ruthless.

Take clothes and shoes for example. I personally see these as merely tools, (unfortunately) with a minimum of them being requirements of society. I don’t care to have a wardrobe full of shirts and trousers. I only need a few of each, or less.

Photos, pre-digital, are even more complex. Is it OK to make digital copies and give up the originals? I am not so sure.

It’s much easier for me to take stock of all that I own since this past April, when for the first time in my life they are all in once place. I even paid to send some ‘junk’ back from my parent’s home in the UK.

Well, I will enjoy them and will slowly whittle away at them. First thing today I am going to seek out all those legal documents and sentimental items, plus the few things I believe I would need to survive – should I ever find myself facing a muddy hole where my home used to be.

I will also take stock of the accoutrements I ‘want’, and question them again.

I don’t see this as a one time action, but something that needs doing every so often. Much like spring cleaning. Removing what is no longer needed, swapping in the new, or possibly adding to the pile, and so on.

I can see how digital photos and e-readers can help achieve a seemingly minimal lifestyle, but a cluttered computer desktop has the same mental effect on me as a cluttered desk-drawer or bookshelf. Stress.

Perhaps having a larger storage space to keep that which only need be accessed on occasion, such as photos etc, would be OK. However, for day to day use I like to keep my digital space clean and small in virtual size. Perhaps something I should in future apply to my physical space.

I know what you’re all thinking. The lifestyle we are following now is hugely in contrast to this. Upcycling and gardening both call for a lot, a lot of things. Keeping the old ready to be repurposed and pots, plants, seeds, gardening tools all add to the list.

I do not regret our decision to move, to invest in pots and soil, water and the plants that bring a splash of green and colour to a once dead and dusty space. Even if we should never successfully grow more fruit or veg, I take huge joy and peace of mind from the fact that we have created a beautiful spot that has already become a home to all manner of insects and a source of food for local birds.

However, when the time comes I will happily leave this behind. I would hope that someone continues to love and nurture the plants and garden we have created. Be that here or in another space. I am confident that I would not feel chained or weighed to the spot.

If the garden I love becomes a burden, I will simply and inevitably have to let it go to a new owner. Much like our attempts to consume less, spend little, be greener and become a little more self-sufficient, minimising our possessions is very much a journey and a process that will take time.