During my first 20 years on this earth, I never received everything I wanted. My parents provided me with the absolute essentials and a few things I wanted. We did not have a lot of miscellaneous money outside of bills and we often lived paycheck to paycheck. Although I developed a deep appreciation of what I did have, I always wanted more and I attributed my happiness to the things I wanted. Being in an inner-city school system increased the social value I placed on my belongings; I had to prove myself to my peers based on what I owned and wore. As I got older, my wants became larger and more important to my happiness. I believed that having an iPhone with a better camera would boost my self-esteem. I thought that I had to own Adidas or Jordans to have friends. Social media, advertisements, and TV influenced me to believe that they represented what my life should look like. Therefore, I tried to buy my way there.
In the Netflix documentary “Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things”, Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus, and other experts discuss how our addiction to buying contributes to our society’s displeasure with life and pollution. As a solution, the documentary introduces Minimalism and shares experiences with the practice.. Minimalism is a philosophy and way of life that focuses on quality over quantity, owning what you need, and removing things from your life that you do not find true value in. Minimalism is about being materialistic, but not materialistic in the everyday sense of the term. “We are in a world where material goods are so important for their symbolic meaning”, Dr. Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist, explains, “[it’s about] what they do to position us in the status system based on what advertising or marketing says they’re about”. We often buy things that could be identical in quality as another product, but because it is a certain brand, we value it differently. As we indulge in the current trend, we will work and spend our time and money to be a part of the next trend.
For example, people buy new phones every one or two years, but their current phones are not broken or out of date. A phone can become a status symbol and people will spend money they do not have in order to buy that status. People often buy things to indirectly gain the attention or love they desire. It is obvious with our generation’s obsession with clout and “dripping”. People may choose to spend hundreds of dollars on clothing or items just to look a certain way to others. As long as one gains attention in this way, their search for true happiness will remain unfulfilled.
During this time of year, gaining more stuff is common as we give and receive gifts, but over time a collection of unnecessary materialistic items will grow. A few days before Christmas, I went through nearly every item in my room and asked myself a series of questions.
Before seeing this item, did you remember you owned it?
When was the last time you used it?
Why do you own it?
Could someone else appreciate this item more than you?
As a result, I donated 2 trash bags of clothing and discarded 6 trash bags full of things I did not need. My space at home is less cluttered and I am aware of what I own. Making the decision to practice minimalism does not mean that you have to donate all your stuff or that you cannot buy anything. Minimalism is a spectrum and it is about finding out what is most important to you. Things you collect, hold onto, or buy that brings value to your life are the things that you keep. Personally, I adore blankets and stuffed animals, therefore those are things I will keep. On the other hand, a collection of sunglasses and knee high socks are things I will donate. I do not wear the socks or the sunglasses and they were impulse, trendy purchases. Unlike the blankets, the socks and sunglasses will not reach their utility under my possession and I would not notice if they disappeared. They are simply consuming space in my room and adding to clutter. In order to maintain my current place in minimalism, I have started donating or discarding an item each time I receive a new one.
It has been around 6 months of practicing minimalism and I have felt the pressures of society disappear from my mind. There is no desire to prove myself to others or look a certain way. I am able to live unapologetically and spend more time on things that I value. I am happiest when I am focused on learning, spreading positive energy, loving the people who mean most to me, and building memories with those I love. Without all the clutter in my life and mind, I am becoming happier every day.
D’Avella, Matt, Joshua Fields Millburn, and Ryan Nicodemus. “Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things.” Netflix, 2016
Nicodemus, Ryan and Joshua Fields Millburn. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. Asymmetrical Press, 2011, ISBN 9780615648224.