Nothing motivates a material detox quite like moving to a new apartment does. Before moving, I was motivated to reduce the amount of material objects I owned (which meant less for me to pack) and to approach life through the lens of less. You never realize how much stuff you have until you’re forced to pack your life into a million different boxes. With the help of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, my space emerged from the process delightfully spare (sort of), and it felt pretty damn good.
Now, when I talk about paring things down, I’m not talking about extreme, buzzy and trendy minimalism, the kind where you get rid of practically everything you own. Extreme minimalism is simply a different form of cultural capital when it comes to owning things, even if it is less. Radical minimalism can take up just as much time and space in your mind, causing stress just as much as clutter might.
As ubiquitous as the concept of minimalism is and how to practice it, it’s easy to forget why we do it and what you actually get with less. When I moved, I didn’t go crazy and get rid of everything I owned, I got rid of the things that were causing me more stress than they were doing good. So, when I talk about material detox, I’m talking about the kind of minimalism that feels right for you and the kind that leaves you feeling whole—not uncomfortably naked (figuratively and literally). After a successful purge of unnecessary material objects, I realized there were a lot of unforeseen benefits to minimizing the things I owned.
What you get with less:
The less things I own, the more time I seem to have to myself. I quickly realized I was spending much less time agonizing over what to wear and less time packing for trips because I know my closet’s items more intimately and because my wardrobe consists only of items I look or feel good in.
Another example: I spend less time sorting through kitchen utensils to find the right one while cooking (why did I think I needed three of the same type of spatula?), and less time cleaning and organizing—it’s amazing how easy it is to keep organized when you have less items to clean and organize. With fewer things to pick up and put away, fewer things to collect dust, and fewer things to move in order to vacuum, my cleaning routine sped up a significant amount. That means more time and energy spent in the places I want, like out surfing or hiking.
Peace of mind
Marie Kondo’s book suggests filling your life with things that trigger happiness, which implies we have an emotional connection with the things we decide to keep. This decision isn’t simply about what we choose to have around us; it’s deeper. It’s about the things we want as part of our life. It’s about who and what we are loyal to.
By ridding my apartment of the unnecessaries, I was enabled to be more mindful and aware of the things that were taking up space in my life both physically and mentally. According to psychologist Sherrie Carter, clutter can “bombard our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile) and cause our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren't necessary or important.” With less clutter, my environment no longer feels chaotic, and I now look forward to coming home and relaxing. All that clutter really affected me and it’s only now that I can refocus on the things I find most important.
With renewed focus on the things I own, I began to spend much less. I started to only spend on the things I needed, or the things that brought me real joy. It wasn’t easy at first, but thinking a second longer around the impact of the purchase I was about to make helped me step out of the consumer cycle and fight the thrill of a purchase. Not only am I saving money on things I don’t really need, I’m also wasting less. The less you have, the less you ultimately waste. And now I’m going to continue selling and recycling the things I don’t need.
All this minimalism seems to be doing wonders for my well being. Unfortunately, while my material world is looking more orderly, my virtual world is not. My phone and laptop remained a cluttered hodgepodge of applications. Do I really need three different to-do list apps? Clearly I still have a problem—a virtual hoarding problem. Looks like it’s time to apply the same sort of practice to my virtual world.