Consider Maximalism

Within reason, of course.

Photo: Rising Damp

There’s a documentary lurking in the corners of Netflix that I’ve considered watching for a couple weeks now but haven’t had the heart. The other night, I finally succumbed, knowing full well that I would be in a worse mood than I was before I started.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things follows the minimalist movement, spearheaded mostly by men who worked relatively unfulfilling careers in high-powered industries — advertising, finance, brand management — and eventually quit because the stress and the hustle of climbing the ladder simply for the goal of making more money didn’t feel meaningful. The film focuses mostly on Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, two friends who call themselves the Minimalists. Shoving off the mantle of corporate life, the two men embark on another kind of mission — to convince Americans that our incessant desire for stuff doesn’t actually make us happy.

At its core, to embrace minimalism is to Kondo your entire existence. Instead of assessing whether or not that t-shirt you love brings you joy, look at everything surrounding you. Consider whether or not you purchased things that enriched your life in any way; if they did not, throw them away. Start with a blank slate. Aspire to only have things that serve a very specific purpose. There’s a strange privilege to minimalism that the documentary doesn’t address, similar to the privilege that drives “money fasts” and the like. It’s very easy to quit your job because you hate your job when you make enough money in your job to sustain yourself after the fact.

It’s Easy to Go on a Money Fast if You’re Full

People have to work. People have debt. People have mouths to feed that are not their own. People have children who don’t understand their parents’ sudden desire to rid the house of everything and start anew. People work because it gives life definition and because it staves off boredom. And, when people work, they make money. Once they’re done spending the money on things they need like toilet paper and Theraflu and a bag of Sunchips and maybe some more hand cream, they might have money left over. What people chose to do with that money is up to them.

Minimalism suggests that you operate your life with as few possessions as possible: one good pair of jeans; one tank top; one computer; one couch. What minimalism also implies is wealth. If you’re going to pare down your belongings such that you can fit everything you own in one backpack, the stuff that you end up owning will likely be very nice. Living life with one pair of jeans would be a lot harder if that pair of jeans cost you $30 and were guaranteed to fall apart in a year or so. If you eschew a television but still like to watch things from time to time, your computer will have to be pretty nice, too. Reading is tricky when you don’t accumulate books, but I’m sorry to say, a Kindle isn’t free.

There’s nothing wrong with owning stuff, even if it feels unnecessary. Maybe your collection of tea spoons fills you with joy every time you look at it. Maybe the weird Hummel figurines you inherited from a maiden aunt creep you out a little but also bring you joy. Minimalism is sold as a way of eradicating unhappiness, drawing a direct correlation between the amount of stuff we have and our general discontent, but that’s not the case for everyone. It’s okay to collect stuff. Hold onto your stuff. Surround yourself with stuff if it makes you happy.

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