Minimalism is often associated with getting rid of clutter, or paring your wardrobe down to a prescribed number of pieces. In the last year I have seen many references to various plans and pacts that can help people simplify their living and working space. I find this encouraging, especially when juxtaposed with our typically consumer (more is more) culture- there seems to finally be some push back. People are waking up in their 3,000 square foot homes after working a 60 hour week and asking what it’s all for. When your day to day life is so hectic and cluttered that you can’t even enjoy the consumer goods that you have traded so much time for, it seems a re-balancing act is in order.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had an acute fear of time running out. Even as a young child I felt sentimental and nostalgic. It has always seemed to me that life is perilously short, that I wouldn’t possibly be able to do everything that I wanted to do. After going to college and getting a fairly typical office job this seemed suddenly even more true. So much of my time was (and is) not my own, and coming home to a chaotic apartment after a long day of work was stressful. I didn’t want to be there, but I also had no motivation to work towards achieving any of my goals- so out I would go, in pursuit of an illusive idea of “fun”.
Even though I was practicing physical minimalism at that point, my mental world was an absolute windstorm of news feeds and parties, of social measuring sticks and feigned interests. I listened intently to conversations I had no interest in and held up friendships that wouldn’t have stood without my constant support and compromise. It’s easy to be liked when you always agree to the plans of others, when you bend your personality to appease someone else, when you act as though you’re interested even when you’re not. I flew from project to project, frantically searching for something that would feel meaningful and fulfilling. I started books and bands and left them all in a flurry when they failed to fill me with a feeling of internal satisfaction. It felt like each day, the smallest and most vulnerable parts of me were wandering farther and farther away – encircling each other in a torrent of frantic gravitational emotion and cloaked in the fear of never being quite enough.
Then I moved, and something strange happened.
For the first time in my life I had a living space that was mine to arrange (all 475 square feet of it). My partner and I found ourselves suddenly just with each other, when for years prior we had both had many roommates at a time. We combed through everything that we owned, only keeping truly relevant objects. I carefully selected furniture that suited our color preferences and needs, and we arranged it in the way that made the most sense to us.
Going through this process of evaluating things made me start to think about my time spent in the same way. I have a definite tendency to over-research, over-read, and over-absorb information. I started taking real note of how different things made me feel, and whether my knowledge of them could actually contribute to any sort of righting of wrong. I stopped reading the news, I stopped reading many of the blogs I had once avidly consumed. Being willfully ignorant your entire life is not something to brag about, but once you understand some of the complexities of the world, the painful histories and the dramatic social injustices that have occurred- is it actually helpful to continue reading about every single instance of it? My feeling is that it is not.
I prefer to use some of the time and money that I have towards positive causes, and try to put the rest out of my mind. It’s not that I’m burying my head in the sand, it’s more that, just as you only have enough room for a certain number of clothes in your closet, you only have enough room for a certain amount of thought in your brain at a time.
I began to assess my free time this way as well, I started asking myself why I was going to x,y, or z- was it the joy that the social situation would bring me? Was the project really personally inspiring to me? Or was it mostly out of a sense of obligation? I used to have the idea that obligation only came in the form of social pressure, but while I wasn’t necessarily being pressured by friends or peers- I was actually putting a huge amount of pressure on myself to behave in certain ways, to spend my time and energy doing certain things and not others. I had stopped listening to that internal burning passion that comes from doing something you truly love- and I’ve only just started to hear its whisper again.
That whisper, for me, is still off in the distance- I can hear it but I can’t quite make out what it’s saying. All I know now is that I have to keep listening, enjoy my time as much as I can, and occasionally remind myself that I don’t have to have it all figured out today.