What is Our Minimum? Exploring Minimalism

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupe

Whenever I am getting ready to take an extended trip I always find myself excited to pack. I take pride in my ability to travel lite. Usually, I can fit at least a  week’s worth of clothing and amenities into a small carry on bag or backpack. Two pairs of jeans or shorts, some t-shirts, an overcoat or jacket, a few underthings, a book and I’m ready to roam. I enjoy this because it’s an exercise in what’s really necessary to live well. A snapshot of my minimum.

A Need for Change

Since leaving my job I’ve been exploring what’s essential and what’s superfluous. Music, writing, friends, family, compassion, and travel rank high on the list while everything else went out of focus. When I was at the height of my work/life stress I was spending money like it was going out of style. It was almost like I was living two lives: the meaning-centered case manager by day and ceaseless hedonist by night. Since so much time emotional energy was put into my work, as soon as I was out, my emotions shut down. Rather than focusing on self care, I dove into pleasure seeking.

Now, I didn’t frequent the redlight district or attend crazy parties. However, I self medicated with purchasing power: exotic foods, pricey craft beers, new clothes, shiny appliances, knick knacks for the apartment, new cars new shoes, new new, new! Each thing in my mind was a promise of a new me. A release from the conflict stewing inside. It was a strange dichotomy. Each day I would work with clients who couldn’t afford to feed themselves or keep a roof over their heads and each evening I would scour the mall for a third pair of Chuck Taylors or upscale thai food. Madness.

As my closet and apartment filled with more and more stuff I continued to feel empty. All the shiny new products didn’t settle the longing within me, it didn’t solve the suffering I saw everyday. After leaving my job I began researching and digging into some of the ideas I’d held before graduating college. In school I lived off next to nothing and still managed to enjoy life. My time was spent working part time, taking walks, talking with friends, writing and dreaming.

While researching I came across a website called Becoming Minimalist and an article by Joshua Millburn of The Minimalists about how he quit his six-figure job and sold all of his stuff. I was intrigued. He described the same disillusionment with consumerism I was experiencing and had a fairly simple solution: live with less.
A Solution

It was so direct, so pragmatic. I decided to try minimalism, or what I termed “enoughism.” I started by donating old t-shirts and redundant items: two bags full. Then I turned to work clothes that no longer fit, DVDs and knick knacks.

This project soon overtook my books, guitar equipment, 500 CD collection, jackets, shoes, appliances, kitchenware, posters, paintings, etc. Basically 70% of my possessions were packed up and taken to various thrift and resale stores. I sold newer items on Amazon or donated them to local libraries. Now I own only 100 personal items, 150 including items shared between my girlfriend and I such as our couch, kitchen table, etc. And the list is still dwindling.

Now, the exact number isn't important, rather, they’re only steps closer to our minimum. The things I’d used to try and escape the feelings of disillusionment and anger experienced from work are gone. Stuff has been transformed into space. My apartment is now a center for tranquility, where emptiness is appreciated, not occupied with material goods. I'll admit, it was tough to part with some items. We all have attachments to our things and associate them with our personality at some level. They also cost a lot of our time to obtain.

However, I've raised enough money to pay for my ticket to San Diego. My music, clothing and books are now available to those who will appreciate them more than I do. My home is comprised of only the essentials, only that which enriches my life.

Less is Enough and Relative

Each of us have a different minimum and the space we require varies depending on our values. Minimalism is not the answer and I am surely no Thoreau. However, it did take some burden off my shoulders. Owning less, I appreciate what I have more. It’s possible for someone with 100 possessions to covet them more than another with 10,000. It’s about our orientation, our value, of what we surround ourselves with.

I’m now excited when I open my drawer and see only my favorite clothes. It’s like having my travel bag with me all the time. Each day is an experiment with what's essential. An appreciation of my minimum.

For more on a real lite traveler check out Colin Wright’s 51 Things here.

For a practical guide on exploring your minimum,
check out Zen Habits' Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home & Goedeker's 101 Steps to a Simpler Life