Around four years ago I watched a documentary called Minimalism. Up until watching that documentary, I was your average American consumerist. I never thought about it that way but when you’re average, you tend to think everything is normal and this is how everyone behaves. But after watching this documentary, I learned about the practice of minimalism. It was the idea that having and consuming less, will actually make you healthier and happier. This idea seemed dumb to be honest. All advertisements we watch show people happier once they get a bigger house, newer car, or better iPhone. All people we talk to tend to love their in-style clothes, flashy jewelry and fun new toys. The idea of more is American and it’s what’s made us so wealthy and happy. But, after watching the documentary, it really made me question all of this. I’d accumulated lots of gym equipment to enhance my fitness but there’s only a few pieces I need and regularly use. A bigger apartment is always appealing but what would I do with the extra space? Probably buy more stuff to fill it. And how can I throw away old gifts, clothes or souvenirs when they have sentimental value? Well, when all of this junk sits in closets and drawers, how sentimental is it? I have memories and digital pictures that are more than enough. Clearly, the idea of bigger, nicer, cooler always sounds better because we’ve been conditioned to think this way. But honestly, when you step back away from this idea, learn to value what you have, stop asking for more, and get rid of all the clutter in your life, I can tell you it feels so much better. It feels like freedom. It feels like a purpose driven life. And since watching this documentary in 2016, I’ve been a practicing minimalist. But, after just moving apartments it made me realize how much of a consumerist I used to be and how difficult it is to continue practicing minimalism.

What Happened When I Moved

Before I moved, if you were to look at my apartment, you’d think it was mostly empty. You’d think that I was a practicing minimalist. I didn’t have a dining room table, living room couch or bedroom dresser. But after moving, and assessing every item in my old apartment, I realized how much stuff I’d accumulated while living there for 7 years. This included the past four years of practicing minimalism and the three years before that where I was your average american consumerist. We could start with any room in my old apartment, assess the possessions I had, and realize that 75% of what I owned was useless in the present time. Let me give you a few examples.

Let’s start with the home gym that consumed my living room space. You’d think keeping a minimalist gym would be easy. You don’t need much equipment, or any equipment to stay healthy and very fit. But, over the years I’d accumulated a balance board, parallettes, medicine balls, olympic rings, resistance bands, a punching bag, free standing chin-up bar, dumbbells, foam rollers, and a stability ball. All of these pieces individually work great and can help you get fit. There is a reason to buy and use this equipment. But, in the past 6 months, I’ve been doing BeachBody workouts using only adjustable dumbbells, a foam roller and a mat. During this time, I haven’t missed any of the old equipment once and am in great shape. So despite seeing value in the equipment, I knew I had to get rid of it. And it was difficult. But, when I stepped back and asked myself, does this serve a regular function? The answer to 75% of my equipment was no. So, I sold or donated everything upon moving.

Next, I examined my closet full of clothes and shoes. Since being a minimalist, I’ve probably only acquired 5 pieces of clothing per year on average but during the years before that, I’d acquired much more and it added up. I had 30 pairs of socks but by doing laundry every week, I only need about 10. I had 25 pairs of shoes and only need about 5 (work shoes, everyday shoes, exercise shoes, hiking shoes and sandals). I even had a couple pairs of shoes that I’d never worn. And, I had countless numbers of shirts. Not only shirts I had bought, but just tens of shirts I’d acquired for participating in events like 5k races. So, I stepped back and again asked myself, does this serve a regular function? And if not, I sold or donated everything upon moving.

And when I say I sold or donated everything that didn’t serve a regular function, I realize that I was on the conservative side. I probably still kept more than I need or will use because departing with possessions is hard. We become attached to objects even after they no longer serve a purpose. So, I did the best I could. But, the process made me feel like a monster. I’d spent so much money on things I never used. Clothes with tags on them. Shoes I’d never worn. Workout equipment I used less than 10 times. Not only did I spend the money on them, but I then cluttered my apartment with these items. 75% of my apartment was objects I didn’t have a regular use for anymore. Cluttered apartment and money wasted, I ended up selling, donating, or trashing these no longer functional items. But even as I did that, hoping others would find use in these objects, I also realized that more likely than not, I was shifting these burdens upon someone else. Someone else who will likely be excited with the purchase, but end up letting it sit and collect dust. All of it, made me feel sad and uneasy about these self-indulgent consumerist behaviors.

What I Learned

  1. Possessions Can Make You Healthier and Happier: There are possessions that enhance our lives. For example, I have a treadmill, dumbbells, and mat that I use nearly everyday. I have shoes I love and use on a regular basis. I have a blender that I use every night for smoothie bowls. I have a good number of high-quality possessions that I use regularly and enhance my life. Possessions are not evil. But they’re all marketed to make you think you’ll be happier which isn’t always the case. This brings me to my second lesson.
  2. Buy Objects With Intention and Function: If I’m bringing in a new possession into my apartment, I want to do so with a direct intention and a planned functional use. So often we buy something cool we see on Amazon or take a free gift bag just out of impulse. It’s that initial, “Oh cooool, I want that!” behavior that gets us in trouble. Instead of acting out of impulse, I want to think about what I’m acquiring. Usually, I wait to buy something for at least a month to let that initial impulse die down and to research the negatives of the product. I also try to visualize myself using this new possession everyday. I ask myself, is there a positive function it will serve in my life not just now, but months and years later? It’s this intention and functional use that have helped me maintain a more minimalist lifestyle. It’s helped prevent me from being the typical self-indulgent American consumerist. But, on to lesson three.
  3. I’m Scheduling Biannual Possession Cleanups: Even when practicing minimalism, you’ll end up with possessions you no longer need and just collect dust. This is why I feel it’s now important to schedule an entire possession cleanup every 6 months. Initially, this may be quite difficult if you have a lot of possessions to start. But after you complete a cleanup or two, it should go much quicker. I’m looking forward to doing a full possession cleanup again in six months to see how much of the possessions I think have a regular use today, will actually go unused six months later.

Final Thoughts

Even while practicing minimalism, moving apartments made me realize how many possessions I’d acquired, never used and hoarded. It made me feel like a monster just consuming resources from the planet to then go unused and wasted. It wasn’t a good feeling. But this experience taught me that there are good possessions that do make us healthier and happier. These possessions are usually of high-quality and have regular, long term use. It also taught me that every possession we acquire should be met with intention and function. And lastly, it taught me that no matter what, possessions will add up and collect dust. So it’s important we schedule regular cleanups.

Only when we free ourselves from all the clutter and put procedures in place to prevent its recurrence, can we live a purpose driven life. This purpose driven life that provides freedom and clarity while reducing stress and wastefulness.

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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe

Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient and effective. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognitive Health, Financial Independence and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.

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