Reducing one’s possessions to the essentials, decluttering cupboards and wardrobes, and focusing on what really matters – this is Minimalism at its best. Minimalism has positively impacted so many lives, enabling people to get rid of years of unused possessions, to deal with the associated guilt and memories. Many authors have described the transformative power of this process, encouraging them to change jobs, start traveling, or downsize their living space.
But the line between healthy and pathological behaviors is often a fine one. Just like a diet or a new exercise program can take on a compulsive element, so, too, can the need to purge oneself of possessions take on an unhealthy component. It is one thing to unburden yourself of the need to own the latest gadgets, fashion items, etc – and to move towards the pleasures of owning only what you need and what gives you true joy. But it is quite another thing to deny yourself the pleasure of owning – or even the pleasure of feeling any joy about material items.
This is particularly tricky as some authors (and even Marie Kondo’s successful TV show) communicate a link between decluttering your belongings and your psychological health – and that of the people around you. But the key to wellbeing is not the behavior itself, but the motivation that drives the behavior.
So how can you look after yourself? When you have the “urge to purge”, or when you think about making a new purchase, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who am I doing this for?
Do you have a genuine desire to declutter, or do you feel you need to do it to be a “proper” minimalist? Is this about you… or your Instagram account? Do you crave empty spaces… or has your partner/parent/child/friend signed you up for this journey?
If you’re thinking about a new purchase, ask yourself: Who are you purchasing this for? Do you have a genuine desire to own this item? Or do you purchase the item out of habit? To make yourself feel better? Do you think you need to own it to impress other people? Or yourself?
2. Has the item got a function in my life?
Every item in your possession should pass the following test: Does the item make your life better – either through its function or the joy it brings to you (and only you)? Ennaree (the former minimal Millenial) describes on her blog how she discarded a romper suit that she loved – just because owning two, she felt, was excessive. It clearly brought her joy – but she denied herself the pleasure to own. The same applies to a new purchase: Is there a need this item can fill? Will it improve your life quality? And if so, go ahead. Don’t regret.
3. Do I feel lighter without the item?
This is an interesting one. Sometimes an item may actually be needed – but purchasing it does not feel right somehow. For example, after my laptop broke, I never replaced it. My life would certainly be easier with a laptop, and it would also portray a genuine improvement to my working and writing situation. But not owning a laptop means one less thing to carry around – and so I prefer to go without. (For now – of course, this may change).
In the same fashion, you may currently be holding onto an item (out of guilt, commitment, practicality, … ) that feels like it weighs you down. Imagine life without the item – does it feel like a burden has lifted? Then let it go.
4. Do I feel guilty about owning the item?
For this one, you need to really explore your motives. You call yourself a minimalist but you also collect vintage cars? Or have a well-stocked wardrobe full of clothing you enjoy? Just own it (literally and figuratively). And the same applies for new purchases – if you truly need something, don’t feel bad about investing for it. Buy high-quality clothing. Allow yourself an upgrade for your technology. Enjoy what you have. Feeling guilty is your mind internalizing somebody else’s (imagined) disapproval.
5. Do I feel joy about owning the item?
This is often a no-go question when you’re watching minimalist purges – but this is the only one that really matters. This is your life. You only have the one. Fill it with joy – through your experiences, the people around you, and yes, also the items you own.
About the Author: Leni is a professional writer and researcher, currently on maternity leave from a busy full-time job. She is passionate about minimalism and mindfulness and their potential for self-improvement.