Owning less (but thoughtfully)

Why minimalism is a destructive narrative at extreme

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Owning less (but thoughtfully)

“The things you own end up owning you.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I’ve had a weird relationship with belongings for as long as I can remember.

I love having new technology, but I tire of it fast.

I love having new clothes, but even those end up in the back of the closet after years. Right next to my childhood toys that my wonderful mom thought I should now own.

And so naturally, the only option for myself and many others is this: buy often.

When I moved from my apartment into my house years ago, I used it as a reason to shed belongings and learn to appreciate what I had. I had accrued an insurmountable amount of bullshit over the years. So I shed, and it was a light-weight move.

But most Americans don’t shed belongings. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, which is more than five times the number of Starbucks (SSA).

We’re hoarding. So much so, they made a stupid TV show about it.

And despite my concerted effort to shed belongings, I never really addressed the root of the issue. I would cyclically shed my belongings, but go on to accrue new clothes, electronics, novelty items, gifts, and more.

Every year, I had to shed more belongings back to a comfortable state. Everyone loves the concept of minimalism - especially when it is thinly veiled as environmental activism. By owning less you’re contributing less to the problem, right?

But you don’t really improve the world when you’re consistently buying new and throwing out old, do you? No, you don’t.

I’m generally pretty good at saying no to extraneous, stupid items. But every once and a while, I just have to have it. Because a 55” TV gets normal after a while, and a 65” looks so cool. Or because my computer is acting up again. Or because that shirt would look sick on me when it gets colder out.

Whatever reason, I’ll swipe my card every once and awhile.

But when I moved across the country with only what could fit in my car, it was different. I had to consciously shed a lot. I had to bring myself down to the bare essentials, and man did it feel good. I even left my TV behind me.

I set out with a vendetta to not be your average American. I detested the reality that the average home had more television sets than people.

I set out with a vengeance to break the stereotype.

I didn’t need a TV.

I didn’t need to drag all these belongings with me each time I moved.

And since the beginning of the year, I have been careful not to bring more stuff in. Things I had used regularly slowly looked more and more unnecessary.

  • Why buy a toaster when you can toast on the pan?

  • Why buy a TV when you can watch it on the laptop?

  • Why buy a TV stand when you don’t have a TV?

  • Why buy a coffee table, when the computer desk works fine?

  • Why buy new clothes when the same, plain T’s work fine?

Hell, I even considered not buying a couch. With minimalism, you can reasonably compromise on every item until you’re left with a few items.

And, honestly, I still don’t need a toaster. You really don’t need those. They’re a waste.

But I’ve changed my tune on the rest of it. I’ve come to realize that having a nice space was pretty important for my sanity. And if I committed to buying things I really enjoyed, I could carry them through life for longer. No more trips to the dump.

You see, there isn’t a lot of redeemable value to living like a broke college student that dresses like Mark Zuckerberg. I wasn’t proud of my space, but it did only ever take me 45 seconds to clean up. But other than that, I really liked having space where I could unwind. I liked dressing well when I went out.

And so with that, I think I’ve largely thrown the notion of Minimalism behind me. By definition, it’s meant to be exactly what I describe - mindful ownership. But online, it has evolved into an arms race to who can own the least. I don’t want to play stupid games, I just want to be happy with what I choose to own.

This past weekend, I spent a considerable amount of time relaxing for once. I kicked back on the couch, reveled in my Ikea™ craftmanship, and took it easy. Previously, I didn’t really have a place to unwind due to some strange notion I didn’t need it.

But this has been a valuable learning experiment. I don’t want to feed into the statistics of useless consumerism. I want to consciously buy sustainable goods that will provide me value. I don’t want to feed into the $1.2 trillion that Americans are spending annually on nonessential goods.

I really like being proud of my space. And I’ve come to figure out there are ways to be conscious about our footprint and our belongings without compromising our comfort.

And I can still do better. Here’s to trying.


What’s this for?

Khe Hy (creator of RadReads) wrote about a quest he went on for his blog. A quest that many of us have happily accepted while trotting off into the sunset for greener pastures. Useless, distracting rabbit-holes.

In his example, he was updating his internal tools around better analytics regarding the customer journey and acquisition. And when he solicited the internet for help, much of their feedback was in the form of a question: “why?”

And how many times I’ve done this myself! Even now, I’m working on updating my website for the thousandth time. And I began to ask myself, “what’s this for?”

By asking yourself that same question, you can become a better professional, employee, spouse, friend, manager, sibling, etc.

Before getting into something without thought, ask yourself that question.

Physical Pictures

Earlier this year, I bought a few disposable cameras in the interest of taking more analog photos. I firmly believe that photography has lost a little bit of magic among the digitization, editing, filtering, and manipulation. I’m almost through the 2nd camera and have already forgotten much of what I’ve captured. Which is exciting.

There’s just something about locking a candid and undoctored moment in time.

Until next time,

Cullin