Things I wish I knew when I started with Minimalism


I don’t remember when or why I started with minimalism. Knowing myself I’ve probably read about it somewhere, then watched a video and read some more, and more, and more - and eventually my mind was changed and I was like “Ok, lets try it”.

As with any new habit, I’ve got hyped, excited and started to declutter my life from items that no longer “spark joy” (c). I’ve created declutter rituals and even introduced a new habit I’ve called “Monthly Declutter” which happens on last Saturday of every month. During this declutter session I need to get rid of at least one item I no longer use / need / sparks joy. Its also worth mentioning that I try not to throw items away, but instead have a sustainable declutter checklist which you can read about here.

But now, few years later, I wish someone told me the following things before I started my declutter journey towards minimalist life.

It can be a form of escapism and its not healthy

When we are vulnerable, hurt, depressed or just sad - we tend to engage in (semi) self destructing behaviors. We overeat sweets, over watch TV, overplay computer games. I’m not a doctor, but my guessing is that when we are sad, we want to escape this mood. And engaging in one of the aforementioned activities helps us escape reality. Sugar provides chemicals (like cocaine) such as endorphins and dopamine which are linked with feeling happy, and TV and computer games are literally an escape to a different world - with an easy “achievement scale”; When watching TV we are progressing together with the main character; and when playing games - we are leveling up pretty fast compared to progress in real life. Sometimes however, when people are sad or angry - they do sport. They lift aggressively or punch a punching bag.

I, on the other hand, chose to escape by decluttering. When you label your self as minimalist and strive to get rid of items you no longer need, it sparks a sense of achievement in you when you get rid of something. Sense of achievement releases the same chemicals as sugar consumption, so you start to feel better about myself. But instead of dealing with the problem of why I am sad, or just letting myself be sad, I decluttered for the sake of declutter. In my opinion, its a form of the same harmful escapism as overeating or over watching TV.

It always needs to be in context

In combination with the above point, I’ve had this itch in the back of my head to declutter my winter cloth. I try to follow a rule of “if I haven’t worn this item for 1 year and its not a specialty item (like a ski coat) - get rid of it”.

And I haven’t used most of my winter items for the past year. So every time I grab my cloth with the intention to declutter, I suddenly realize that 2020 and 2021 are no regular years. I’ve spent the majority of the winter in lock down hence I haven’t had the chance to wear most of my winter cloth.

Everything, including minimalism, should be evaluated in context. Because only when we put things in context, we can understand the true purpose of our actions.

Minimalism is not about decluttering

When you get into minimalism, the most common type of questions you hear in different communities are: “Should I keep [this item]?”, “Can I be a minimalist if I have [that item]?”, “I don’t use [that item], should I get rid of it?“.

Obviously, by reading different articles or watching different videos, I got the same message - minimalism is about getting rid of what you don’t need. Tidy up your home. Get rid of the TV because there are movie theaters. Be able to pack your entire apartment in 30 minutes, should you need to move. Have only double digit number of items. Live from a backpack.

And today, few years after I’ve discovered minimalism, I can say that there are items I regret getting rid of. Not because I have emotional attachment to them, but because I want to use them again.

I’ve sold 2 bicycles because I though I’ll never ride them again, and wanted to tidy up my apartment. Eventually I had to re-buy one of them. I’ve re-bought a tripod that I’ve previously sold. I almost sold my hiking equipment which I now use again.

And I think this is the most important lesson I’ve learned that I wish I knew when I started to practice minimalism:

Minimalism is not about getting rid of items. Its mainly about being intentional with what you buy, evaluating what you have, and only as last resort getting rid of what you no longer need. - Me on Reddit

Its easy to get rid of items. As I’ve mentioned previously it can even be a source of fast endorphin and dopamine release. But this is not what minimalism is about. Minimalist is just a tool (or philosophy if you want to call it that), that helps us navigate in the consumerist world we live in. Minimalism is a philosophy that urges you to not tying up your life, self worth and respect to material possessions.

You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world. - Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

By getting rid of items you no longer need and re-buying them later, you continue to spin the consumerist hamster wheel. Moreover, if you get joy from decluttering, you might even subconsciously buy more just to have an excuse to get rid of older items.

I wish that when I’ve started practicing minimalism, someone would tell me that. I wish that instead of worrying how I reduce my possessions to fit in a backpack, I’d focus more on how to buy intentionally, how to find my passions and hobbies. I wish that I’d remember that I evolve as a person, and my evolution means I can change hobbies, which means I’d have to reacquire equipment for my new hobbies, equipment that I might have had and sold. But instead, /r/minimalism is filled with decluttering content, and only rarely someone talks about being intentional with what you buy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you need to keep your bicycle. If you’ve tried mountain bicycling and you didn’t like it, then its safe to sell your bicycle. But before selling it, ask your self the following set of questions:

By selling my bicycle, am I escaping a deeper issue? Am I sad now? Maybe there is a fucking pandemic outside and I’m trying to escape reality by selling my mountain bicycle (which I can’t use because I can’t leave my home)? Or Am I trying to reach some mystical goal of having a certain number of possessions?

Worst case, if you wanna try again some time in the future, just buy it again. However it also worth asking your self the following set of questions prior to your re-purchase:

Why do I want to try mountain cycling again? I’ve tried it once and didn’t like, what changed now? Am I under the influence of advertisement or social media that mountain cycling is cool or have I changed as a person and wish to try this kind of sport again?

Mistakes were made. I’m not in deep grief. Those are items in the end. Yes, I’ve lost money. But this is money I’ve paid for a lesson. A very valuable lesson. You can’t live life without making mistakes. So that’s fine. But I have this feeling that a lot of people - they focus too much on the numbers.

Numbers are easy to compare. I make X$ per hour, you make Y$, so one of us is better. You have X items, I have Y - so one of us is practicing minimalism better. Its way harder to compare ourselves on an arbitrary “intentional buyer” scale. Its very easy, on the other hand, to compare ourselves on “possessions count” scale. But there is no need to put numbers on everything or try to measure everything. There is no better minimalism. There is minimalism - which is just an idea to be intentional with the items you buy and you use.