Suddenly everyone’s talking about purging.
Am I the only one who sometimes finds being on the fringes liberating? Or finds themselves enjoying the soap-box outrage of such statements as ‘I can’t believe there are people who still own a tumble dryer’ or ‘who drive less than a mile to the shops? Daily.’
However, no one likes a smug, self-satisfied preacher, so I gently quiet any hint of a judgemental voice piping up in the deep. I am not perfect, far from it, so who am I to judge.
Anyway, back to life on the fringes of normal. I have been suffering a mixture of genuine happiness at the runaway success of multiple-accolade-bestseller Marie Kondo and her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and concerns about the numbers jumping aboard the good ship Simplicity.
I am thrilled that there has been a breakthrough moment for minimalism and that a figurehead for life with less has emerged. One only has to search Instagram for #konmarimethod to see how the lovely Marie and her book have captured the zeitgeist. None of this existed in 2014. One single little year, just four seasons ago it would have been hard to imagine to sheer numbers of people who are discarding anything and everything that doesn’t have meaning, or, to use Marie’s technique, doesn’t bring them joy. The scale of discards is strangely humbling, one image will show 13 lined up, puffed out black bin bags awaiting transportation to a charity shop; another favourite is the boot-of-the-car shot, a small but familiar space that we can all relate to, stacked high with books, toys, kitchenware and the like with a comment reading ‘Goodwill trip 1 of 5’.
Turning the switch
I too have been there. Before the KonMari Method stormed the world, finding other minimalists in the ether required a little more effort. As someone who had a lot of stuff, stumbling across website such as Francine’s or Leo’s helped me to positively reevaluate my sanity. I can’t really remember the exact moment, I think I was staring the strange built-in mirrored book shelves next to the piano (I don’t routinely mirror things, incidentally. It came with the house and we were assured it was more effort than it was worth to remove the glued on mirror panels. Anyway, I digress). This was one of many areas of the house I tinkered with on a near-daily basis – the balance of the books wasn’t right; I would swap some of the books there with some from upstairs; I would colour code them or turn them to face outwards, pretending my living room was a bookstore – as I stared at the area I suddenly wondered why this was how I was spending my time when I wanted to be writing, reading or knitting. I guess when I say I don’t remember the exact moment, that’s not strictly true – I remember the moment with the weird book-area, I don’t remember what made me think that all I needed to do to feel settled and at peace was to get rid of things rather than move them around in a never-ending cycle of madness.
Happen how it may, it was like flicking a switch. In this small quiet moment I went from someone who frequently spent time planning the next purchase or finding needs to wanting to start again and live in the woods like Thoreau. But, in this age of immediate connectedness, I did what most people would do and sought a reassuring reality check from mother internet. I making those online connections before I bagged up a single book or unworn t-shirt, I found much more than just other people who gave stuff away, I found a community talking about why they felt like this, how the process enriched their lives and where it takes you. Mainly, at this early stage, I was relieved that I wasn’t crazy. Or if I was, at least there was a nice group of people to have fun in the asylum with.
At the core of simplicity/minimalism is the search for time and the mental clarity to use it wisely. Sometimes that means you can get loads done, sometimes it means doing nothing at all. Something is not automatically more valuable than nothing. The greatest minds who have ever lived conducted their work in the blissful nothingness of solitude without distraction (case in point: Isaac Newton under the apple tree. Although, in Newton’s case it was the eventual distraction that provided the inspiration. Another digression). It’s not necessarily what you do with the time; it’s the liberation of having it in the first place.
It’s not about doing; it’s about being.
I’m glad that more people are on this path and I truly believe that there are as many paths to simplicity as there are curious minds contemplating it, so this is by no means a critique. I am also heartened that Kondo’s book is speaking to so many people so quickly as I think this lends weight to my long-held theory (and Thoreau’s, Lao Tzu and most of the giants of ancient Greek philosophy to name a few) that we find a more natural state of existence when we have less. Too much, be it stuff, choice, food, wants or anything really, can overwhelm us both physically and mentally. Personally, I find myself particularly susceptible to this feeling and having less (and learning to want less) has helped more than I would have believed it could.
It’s the difference between having and wanting that raises concerns with the new wave of simplicity we are now riding. Having less is simple. You cart things you don’t need to be reused and et voila you have achieved a minimalist abode like so many others on Instagram, Facebook etc. This is a great, head-first, straight in the deep end approach that really gets things moving and delivers quick results. And it’s hard. It really is. The real challenge, however, is in maintenance. It’s about really working out why this resonates with you so that you don’t fill your nicely ‘Kondo-ed’ (yes, to Kondo is now a verb. I’m waiting for the OED to catch up!) abode with new stuff. Getting it out is hard. Keeping it out is harder. This is why I would urge anyone following the KonMari or any other ‘method’ by which to achieve minimalism to also take the time to look deeper and work out why this is important to you. Don’t stop reading, connecting and thinking about it, otherwise you risk going through the whole process again in a year or two without any of the great benefits of minimalism (such as needing less money and perhaps using this work less and pursue your passions).
There is much to discover in being open to ideas as you amble along to the path of less. Seeking out similar minds and sage advice helps one become a more well-rounded minimalist. You can take a scientific, spiritual, political or philosophical route, no single path is better or lacking in texts to immerse yourself in. Question everything, question again and read. Work out what simplicity means to you and refine this definition. Remember that, much like taking a yoga class, you’re not judging yourself in relation to others, you are your own benchmark for progress.
Oh, and be prepared to be flexible. Your reasons may change over time and your life may have to adapt to incorporate new things or say goodbye to others and that’s ok too.
The Joy of Less – Francine Jay
Stuffocation – James Wallman
In Praise of Slow – Carl Honore
All You Need Is Less – Madeleine Somerville
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
The Art of Stillness – Pico Iyer
To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? – Lucy Siegle
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion – Elizabeth Cline
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown
This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein
The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz
The Simple Life – Rhonda Hetzel
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
Simplify – Joshua Becker