The Danger in Devaluation

I have a confession.

I have been seduced.

With all their shiny buzzwords and photo-laden posts and revolutionary chatter, I fell bumbling tumbling head over heels down the rabbit-hole of minimalism.

Last October I had a slight nervous break down that involved me sitting cross-legged on a pile of clothes in my closet sobbing hysterically. Paralyzed by an overwhelming bank of choices laid out before me, I was desperate for a way to stop the madness. By the end of the episode, I had essentially relegated myself to living in a mud hut in Mozambique.

Minimalism, for those unfamiliar (or perhaps more familiar with it’s predecessors “Simple Living” and “Anti-Consumerism“, social and political movements very popular in the19 60’s and 1970’s – or maybe you have heard of that obscure dude Henry David Thoreau who lived in a sparse cabin on a pond in the 1800’s) is a lifestyle movement designed to reduce the demands of excess and materialism that dominate Western culture especially.

It began small enough for me.

I started wading through boxes brought from my old apartment to my new one, finding things that I had once convinced myself “Oh, I’ll use that next summer, I swear” or “But if I ever decide to sell lia sophia jewelry again I’ll want those discontinued pieces.” Of course, you and I both know that these were barely passable excuses for holding on to things like ugly jewelry that I would never sell nor wear. This was actually good. Crap laying around that I’d never use needed to be eliminated.

By December I was jonesing again. With the “incident” from October, I decided I needed to get rid of clothes.

But not just get rid of clothes. I needed to do it like the minimalists do, because they all write all the time about how happy they are and I’m hooked on the pretty shiny lifestyle they propose. So I decided that I needed to get rid of most of my clothes and only live with 100 items (not including under-garment, a handful of pajama/sleeping clothes and my running/yoga stuff).

And I eliminated about 80% of my wardrobe (this was after a 3 garbage bag purge en route my new apartment three months prior). I am happy to report I have only missed a handful of things.

Yet somehow it still was not enough. I still had so many choices, so much stuff. Seemingly empty facets of my life that needed to be eliminated.

I kept scouring the sites and eBooks and advice. Hoping that someone could fix me the way that they promised they would. If I just followed the “steps” I might have the serenity they claimed.

I became so fixated on eliminating things that I began to cut stuff from everywhere. Did I really need to eat three meals a day? Protein and vegetables should be enough to sustain me through two. Did I really need to sleep for 8 hours a night? Sleep is over-rated. Did I really need to return phone calls and emails to friends who were barely more than acquaintances? They were just a drain on my time. Did I really need to…

The danger in devaluation is that it can seep into your mind like a darkness.

Once you begin seeking out ways to eliminate “stuff”, if you are not careful you begin to eliminate the value from things that used to matter to you. Those photos you have kept in albums for years, who cares? Those stories you wrote in fifth grade with crayon-drawing pictures, they sucked. That ring your great-grandmother left you in your will? Pshaw. Estate jewelry is a hot sale item on eBay.

That boy/girl you met as you were flying through life above the fold of a mind-numbed material-loving society, they will move on and so will you. There’s too much to accomplish in this life, they can’t weigh you down.

It is a frequent commentary of minimalist travelers, that they have a hard time maintaining relationships. That just as they connect with someone they are ready to move on. The devaluation overrides the desire to form something permanent, something that cannot be minimalized. This is your life, this is the path you chose. You must press on.

Before you know it, you are not finding the things that have no value. You are removing value from your life. Scaling your experience down to a minimal number of extraordinary events.

Yet life is not just a series of extra-ordinary awesome. It is also smaller moments of ordinary that somehow imprint onto your mind and heart and BECOME extra-ordinary.

The secret to your happiness is not so simple as “get rid of all your stuff.”

The thing that I was craving and longing for was a life of intention.  To not sit in a pile of clothes in the middle of the room, sniffling and holding up sweater after sweater, desperately wanting to find what I was longing for, stitched into the fiber somewhere.

I’ll be among the most vocal to say that if you think canned minimalism is THE SECRET, you are a fool. I certainly was.

The secret is finding what is important to you and holding fast to it. Getting rid of the noise.

Appreciating value for the meaning it brings to your life.

THAT should be the true message of minimalism.