A "pack rat" learns how liberating it is to let go of excess stuff, but not without a struggle
When I first visited my future husband’s bachelor pad apartment, I found it about as inviting as a dentist’s office. The walls were stark white and completely bare. There wasn’t so much as a football poster tacked up to any one of them. The furniture was limited to the bare essentials.
As far as he was concerned, the place looked great. It was bright, clean, and there wasn’t a single unneeded surface to collect stuff. There was nothing to distract him, and more importantly, nothing to dust.
At that time, I was living in a house with four young, mostly messy women. Our rooms were small and we had each acquired quite a bit of stuff since college. Before Hoarders, I would have been described with the more friendly label of pack rat. You can imagine my future spouse’s anxiety when he beheld my living quarters.
Despite the fact that I was studying theology and very familiar with the concept of evangelical poverty, I had a hard time letting go. Beyond religious consecrated life, I really had no concept of minimalism at all. I mean, it made sense for religious to live this way — hermits in the desert couldn’t very well hang trinkets and treasures on cacti — but it didn’t make sense for me.
My generous husband bit his tongue many times throughout our relationship. But the day was soon coming when my stuff would become his stuff, and that was just too much stuff for him to bear!
During the wedding planning and the marriage prep he remarked that at least half of my things would have to get “lost” on the way to our future apartment. At first I felt a little wounded and defensive about my “you-never-know-when-I-might-need-this” treasures. But as I went home and took inventory that night, I began to root through clothes I forgot I owned, odds and ends without purpose, and mounds and mounds of additional acquired junk. Suddenly, I began to get anxious myself.
What in the world was I doing with all of this? Why had I allowed myself to traipse from household to household with this surmounting mountain of “I might need it someday”? The stuff was consuming me and I needed help. I was frozen. Stuff will do that to you.
And then there was a deep relief. I was starting over. Ridding myself of my baggage. And thank God I wouldn’t be doing it alone! No, the man next to me would be sure that every yo-yo string, gum wrapper, and every tenth tote bag would make its rapid exit as quickly as it had come in.
This minimalism thing wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, it was just like being afraid to let go of sin, for fear of “losing” something needed, all the while losing freedom. I was breaking the cycle! I had finally discovered why less is more, and as I purged, I found significant freedom from the trappings of a consumerist culture.
My transformation to a “more” minimalist lifestyle was not without hiccups. Marriage is, after all, about give and take. There would be no white walls for this gal, so my new husband found himself grimacing in pain as he helped me paint an accent wall bright red (that’s love!). There was also the time I went to throw some trash in the dumpster, and came back with a picture frame that today still hangs on our wall.
Marriage is undoubtedly the merging of two unique and individual people. Some of those persons emerge from a world of vibrant color, with curtains on windows, and pictures on walls. Others, not so much.
While I’ve certainly never become a 100-things-or-less minimalist, I do try to follow some basic principles so as not to get overwhelmed with stuff. And although I have significantly reduced the things I live with, I have gained an abundance of people in the process.
The Rules of the Minimalist:
- Do your spring cleaning at least once a season, when rotating clothes.
- The St. Vincent de Paul Society and other donation sites are your friends. Visit them often — to donate, not to shop!
- If something comes in, at least one thing must go out.
- If you haven’t used or worn it in a year, it’s gone.
- Always ask: Do I really need this?
- Focus on quality, not quantity.