How to Live with Less in a World That Insists We Need More

A couple of years ago, my friend Ella told me about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and how, for weeks after she purged her possessions and rearranged her room, it was still as organized as it was the day she finished the overhaul. Back then, Ella and I both worked freelance, which means we used various rooms in our homes (mostly our bedrooms) as our workspaces. There was a time when I had to clear away the clutter on my desk and move it to the bed so I could work, and at the end of the day, I transferred it all again to the desk so I could sleep. There was very little space left on the floor because, it too, had piles of paper and random things I did not have a designated space for. Ella and I both struggled with clutter and disorganization, and concluded it was just how we were as people; an indelible part of our personality, in other words.

It was with this mindset that I approached Konmari. I did not expect it to change my life and, in case you’re wondering, it did not. What it did do, however, was help me rid my bedroom and my life of unnecessary clutter (which I would eventually start accumulating months later when I moved back to Manila). I purged my belongings, starting with my clothes, my books and documents, and then uncategorized miscellany like accessories, CDs, and memorabilia. Toward the end of the two-day purge, I filled nine large garbage bags and two small boxes. And, believe me, I’m neither kidding nor exaggerating when I say that a burden was lifted as a result and that I physically felt the consequent relief. Still skeptical, I expected my room to go back to its usual state of disarray after a few days, but to my surprise, it did not.

A few months later, I got a job in Makati, so I moved to Manila, carrying very little with me. However, I began amassing new possessions, which resulted in my tiny living space becoming disarranged yet again. I have moved residence twice since then, and while I still do not own much (this was all I had during my last move), I still have a lot of things at home that may not be considered essential.

Which is why, when I saw Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix last week, I promptly decided to further pare down my wardrobe again, letting go even of pieces I liked, but admittedly have not worn in a long time. One thing I learned from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up was that if you have something in your closet which you haven’t worn in a year, you most likely wouldn’t reach for it anytime soon. There are clothes sitting at the back of your closet which you probably have forgotten about, taking up space which could be used to keep other things you actually use. This, of course, applies to other categories of objects.

Why do we hold on to things? This article on Psychology Today provides several reasons, like needing permission to let go and not knowing how to go about doing it. In my case, I hold on to things because I put value in them, probably a little more than what they’re actually worth. In Minimalism, sociologist Juliet Schor talked about how we imbue material goods with symbolic value, based on how objects position us in the social ladder. I can’t and won’t argue against this. Isn’t this why we keep buying the newest iPhone even when the one we have still works (I don’t have an iPhone, though)? Isn’t this why we save up for luxury brands even when the voice in our head screams that it doesn’t make sense?

People would say quality over quantity. I agree. But expensive is not always equal to excellent, just like how cheap doesn’t always translate to shoddy. But sometimes we buy things not for what they contribute to our life per se, but for what others would think when they see us wearing or using these objects. And it’s not like I’m not guilty of this, given my preference for high-end lipstick, but I own just as many inexpensive ones because they’re just as good; sometimes, yes, even better.

We are consumers, sure, but aren’t we the ones being consumed in the process? We buy shit we don’t need to show we have purchasing power, but we make these purchases based on what? Necessity? How much of what we own is essential? And how much of it is the result of our being persuaded by ads? Of our inability to escape the clutches of capitalism?

Anyway, the title of this post may be somewhat misleading. It’s not strictly a guide, because how do I even count as a credible source for something I have not yet accomplished? What I can share, however, are the ways I am little by little incorporating minimalism in my life.

Clothes

I’m in the process of coming up with a capsule wardrobe—that is, having a limited number of clothes comprised mostly of basics—and have so far succeeded in cutting down the already small number of clothes I own. This was scary when I first attempted it (during my first Konmari), but I managed to do it, so I know I can pull it off again. If you intend to cut down your wardrobe, consider where you live and what you do when choosing which items of clothing to keep and which ones to dispose. And by this, I don’t mean just throwing them away: you can give them away, donate them, or, better yet, sell them and make extra cash.

These are the things I considered when I pared down my wardrobe:

  1. I don’t have to worry about seasonal changes because I live in a tropical country. People who live in places where there are four seasons need to consider dressing for the warm and cold weather.
  2. I commute to work daily with a bit of walking involved, so comfortable footwear is necessary. This is also why I carry a backpack instead of my more age-appropriate leather tote, which sometimes makes my shoulders stiff when it’s too heavy.
  3. My workplace requires employees to wear business casual, but is quite forgiving, so I can wear black Uniqlo ankle pants to work instead of trousers and not get into trouble with HR. I have a few dresses I wear on the regular, along with a gray pencil skirt, some button down shirts, and some less-than-formal tops. But the key here is having enough clothes to circulate through the work week and maybe a few extras in case you need them.
  4. Think about what you need outside of work. I don’t go to a lot of formal affairs, but some of my dresses, I think, are acceptable in some formal settings. When I go out on the weekend or on holidays, I wear jeans and shirts/tops. I discarded most of my tops and left mostly plain T-shirts, along with a few band shirts.
  5. The rules I have set for apparel also apply to shoes and accessories: keep the ones you need and often use. Let go of those that collect dust in the closet/drawers/rack/cabinet.
  6. I’m a klutz, so I can’t wear light colors. Nearly all my white shirts have food stains, so I made a mental note to only buy black, gray, navy blue, or deep burgundy moving forward.

I still have too many clothes to call my wardrobe a capsule, so I repeat: this is an ongoing process.

Onething I learned from wearing pretty much the same set of clothes every week was that nobody will notice. Or even if someone does, they most likely won’t point it out. I think it’s vain of us to assume that people care enough about what we wear and how we look to concern ourselves too much about what they might say or think. But like us, these people have their own preoccupations, so whatever they think the moment they see us, they’d probably forget as soon as the next person enters their line of vision.

Also, once you let go of the clothes you don’t use, you’d be left only with the ones you do wear, which are most likely your favorites. Cutting down your wardrobe and keeping only what’s essential would also mean you won’t be spending as much on clothes. By the time you need to purchase new apparel, you would be more heedful of your choices.

And if you’re concerned with style, fret not. As Yves Saint-Laurent remarked, Fashions fade, style is eternal. Fast fashion may appear economical, but in truth it comes at a much bigger price. Stick to what you already have and figure out a way to mix and match them. Take inspiration from Courtney Carver of Be More with Lesswho spearheaded Project 333a challenge where you wear only 33 items of clothing (shoes and accessories included) for 3 monthsand she has countless entries on her blog about it.

Collections

There is a portion in Minimalism where Ryan Nicodemus (1/2 of The Minimalists) shares a conversation he had with a guy who talked about how he loved books and his library, as well as sharing his books with friends, lending and discussing them afterwards. Ryan says the guy obviously gets a lot of value from his books, so he should keep them. I think, at the very core of minimalism as a lifestyle choice, that’s what it’s about: holding on to objects which serve you well, and letting go of those that don’t.

My usual thought process when considering whether to keep something or not is how much I paid to acquire it. Books can be expensive, and even with the advent of digital publishing and increasing availability of e-books, I still prefer leafing through the pages of a print book. I have been trying not to purchase more books, but they are the only things I can say I collect, even though I don’t have as many as my other more well-read friends do.

You are not required to let go of your collections, remember. I did, however, minimize my book collection in the process of doing Konmari. The ones I let go were those which I tried to read but could not finish because they turned out to be uninteresting or not very well written. The easiest way to go about doing this is to donate them to libraries or other institutions or organizations that could use them. You can, of course, always give them to friends, or, as you might with clothes, sell them.

Miscellany

Miscellaneous items, at least in the context of Konmari, are things which do not belong in the other major categories. As with clothing and books, toss out the ones you no longer need. Miscellany may include letters, photos, ephemera, and other memorabilia, which can be hard to throw out because of their sentimental value.

When I did Konmari, I discarded old letters and other small things from high school and college friends, which I held on to for many years. It was hard to say goodbye to my books and it was just as difficult to throw out objects I valued not for their material worth, but for the memories and nostalgia. However, most of these, I didn’t even remember having, so I thought, if I can’t even recall I had them, what are the chances I’d go looking for them in the future?

There are still plenty of things I know I haven’t covered on this list (like kitchenware, appliances, toiletries, cosmetics, and stationery), but, again, the same principle applies: let go of what is not essential and what does not add value to your life. We’ve already established that I am, by no means, a minimalist, but I don’t think you need to be one to apply concepts from minimalism in your way of living.

Maybe you’d find doing so won’t exactly alter your life, but I hope the feeling of lightness and calm it brings turns out to be worth more than the cost of the material things you let go.

2 thoughts on “How to Live with Less in a World That Insists We Need More

  1. I’m not a big collector of things. For me it’s a matter of less stuff to clean is better! My clothes feel out of control to me, but that is mostly due to the fact that I moved to a four seasoned state. It’s so annoying to have bulky jackets, scarves, gloves, etc. I came from sunny California where I could get by on a few basics. Other than my clothes, I can say, I really have the “basics”….though I do own an iPhone! 😉 Have an awesome day! Koko 🙂

    Like

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