Catchy title, hey? I know, I’m a nerd. Sorrynotsorry.
So today, I’m going to take a minute (or many minutes) to talk about something that has been on my mind an awful lot recently: minimalism. I know that it’s having a moment, but even for my dislike of trends, I feel that it’s an important movement in North America. I specify that because minimalism is only (and can only be) a trend on a continent that is as focused on materialism and consumerism as we are here. In other parts of the world, there isn’t even a word for the way of life that minimalism represents, because it is so fundamental to day-to-day living as to not be worthy of a moniker.
I am not a minimalist. My husband would laugh long and hard at me calling myself one (or, rather, he’d snort in the sort of mild amusement that all of my fanciful claims about myself are greeted with). I am, as the french would say, a “slob.” I love stuff. And things. In fact, stuff and things have, for the vast majority of my nearly 32 years, been my favourite. I shop habitually. I buy with the sort of impulsivity of a toddler. There is literally no resistance between my “I want this” thought and the squeezing of my trigger finger. I know my credit card information by heart, and my Canada Post delivery person by name (shout out to Frank, yo). In addition to my shopping addiction, I am a hoarder. I am a firm believer that “one day” this L-shaped wrapping paper cast-off will be the perfect shape for wrapping something, and nearly everything that I own becomes imbued with some sort of emotion that makes letting it go feel impossible.
But having kids has changed things for me. Or at least, it’s STARTED to change things for me. You don’t realize, when you bring home a baby, how very much STUFF is going to come along with it. And then, when you’ve wrapped your head around how much stuff a baby comes with, you hit the toddler years and remember how naive you had been when you thought a BABY came with a lot of stuff. And, to top it all off, you’re actually HOME to see all of the STUFF all of the time! In our house, my husband is a natural minimalist. His design sense is most kindly described as spartan, and he so regularly throws things out that one time, when my daughter couldn’t find her bath toy, she legitimately said to me “mommy, maybe daddy throwed it out? Should we ask daddy if he put it in the garbage?” (for those wondering, yes. Yes. He throwed it out.)
But what we can’t bring ourselves to throw out finds its way to our undeveloped basement (affectionately referred to around these parts as “Mordor”) where they simply wait, cluttering up our house’s subconscious like Norman Bates’ mommy-issues.
And so, increasingly over the last two years, I have found myself with a growing sense of restless discontent. I did not, at first, associate it with my cluttered existence, and searched around aimlessly for its root source. Was I unhappy in my job? Was it that I was unfit for parenthood? Did I need a new hobby? I settled on the fact that our house is too small and too removed from nature and blamed that entirely for how I was feeling. If, I thought, we only had more square footage, I would be happy. If we lived near the river valley… or walking distance from shops… I’d be happy. I expressed these beliefs to my husband, and we began planning to house hunt. But it was in these conversations that I really started to analyze WHAT was making me unhappy. What was making me want to move? Our stuff. I was trying to escape our STUFF. I was unhappy because I was living in a world centred on the belief that I would be happy WHEN and IF something happened. If you know me at all, you know that I am like an introverted bloodhound – a veritable Sherlock Holmes of my own interior landscape – so once I realized this fact, I started the hunt to find the root issue and suss out a possible solution.
When I looked at why I was unhappy and restless, it had a lot to do with the stuff in my life. My house was too small and not decorated the way I’d like, my closet was full of clothes but I had nothing to wear, I didn’t have enough time and energy for the activities that I love doing, and I always felt stressed about money. As I reflected, I realized that this had a lot to do with my attachment of happiness to things. Like that I couldn’t buy myself skinny, but I could buy myself the magic pair of pants that would make me FEEL skinny. I couldn’t buy myself confidence in my parenting, but I could maybe find the perfect toy for them that would make me FEEL like a good mom. I had a hole inside of me and I could feel it, but I thought that maybe I could fill it with THINGS and it would go away. Sadly, all of those things were only making the hole worse. I didn’t have time to read during the day, because I had mountains of laundry to do. I couldn’t bake, or paint, because our house was a mess – and cleaning takes forever when every conceivable surface is covered in stuff. I wanted to put on clothes and feel good about myself, but I’d stare at a closet full of clothes that were just not QUITE right and end up throwing on the same pair of broken in denim and an old sweater and feel like a slob all day. The stuff I was buying to try to keep myself happy was actually accomplishing the opposite effect: I was more unhappy BECAUSE of my stuff.
I started thinking about my kids. Do I want to raise them this way? So that when they are 32, they look at their lives and think, “I could be happy if only I had x and y?” No. I don’t want that for them. I don’t want them to feel the sort of vapid emptiness that I felt when I looked around my life this past fall. I want for them to know contentment and gratitude. I want them to know peace, and to accept themselves as they ARE, not as they might be, if only they were to _______________.
I was happy as a child. Incandescently so. I was restless, sure, but in the passionately restless way that all children are – before age slows that youthful restlessness of body and spirit into stagnation. My memories of childhood are sepia-toned and exist in a perpetual summer, where I still harboured the belief that, if I swung hard enough, I could swing all the way around the top bar of the swing set. My memories aren’t of toys, or things (with a few very notable exceptions); my memories are of time well-spent and well-wasted. Of times where boredom flourished into imagination, and adventure was always at hand. Where I had no fear of failure, because every try was a success in and of itself.
I want that back. I know, though, that I can’t have it again, in the way that it once was… I’m older now, and life is no longer a sepia-toned summer. But, if I try really hard, maybe I can give my kids those same memories to anchor them and inspire them. Memories that aren’t bought and paid for in cash, that don’t happen in a bigger house, or in a fancier car; but that are bought and paid for in time and focus. In attention to the world as it is now, and in a deliberate savouring of these precious moments we have been given.
I need to find that time, that gratitude and focus, that intentionality. I think it’s here somewhere, buried beneath all my stuff. I am, as of these past few months, clearing things out to make space for those moments to be found and, at times, I have seen those hidden moments glimmering in the newly empty spaces in my house; I feel the tantalizing hints of fullness in my heart that I have been searching for.
I hope to share more about this in future posts – what I have done so far to live with less and to simplify, and what is to come for this aspiring minimalist and (hopefully) reformed mindless consumer. Stay tuned.