Opinion Graphic fall 2020

As I stood in my garage covered in sweat and grease stains, trying to find a place for a two-ton lever hoist next to a pile of tow straps and a broken violin, I made a decision.

I will never have three storage buildings.

Hundreds of dishes. A dozen bikes. Tax returns predating the Nixon administration. Church bulletins from 1956. Generations of stuff, representing the lives of around a dozen people, all collected in three huge sheds on 20 acres over the course of 40 years.

After my grandmother died, all that stuff had to go somewhere. It had to be sorted or sold, dumped or donated. It was an incredibly draining process for everyone in my family. After all the stress and pain of sorting through decades of memories in just a few months, my perspective on stuff has changed entirely. Enter minimalism.

College students often live a minimalist lifestyle without intending to. Communal living and rentals usually necessitate having one or more roommates in a small space. In the interest of saving money and valuable square footage, many young adults choose to limit what they bring into their temporary homes.

Every time you bring a new item into your life, you are giving yourself something else to be responsible for. More stuff, more responsibilities. For college students in particular — an extremely transitory population living in a semi-constant state of change — this responsibility might not be worth the reward of the item itself.

Let’s say you buy a new pair of shoes. You now have to find a place in your (probably tiny) closet for those shoes. You have to put them away after wearing them. You have to move them wherever you move. When you no longer want them, you have to find a way to get rid of them. Multiply that by however many pairs of shoes you have, plus all your clothes, furniture, school supplies, books, decorations, and everything else you own. That’s a lot of things to be responsible for.

Researchers who published a 2014 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that “the more strongly individuals endorse materialistic values, the poorer their personal well-being.”

Another study in the Annual Review of Psychology in 2015 showed that “materialistic aims are in relative conflict with self-transcendent and intrinsic values/goals that concern having good interpersonal relationships, helping the world be a better place, growing as a person and being spiritual.”

I’m not saying people have to throw away everything they own to live a fulfilling life. Far from it. I still have plenty of art hanging up, too many pillows on my bed and a closet full of clothes, but I’ve incorporated a lot of minimalist values into my life. For me, less stuff means less stress and more freedom, more happiness, more peace.

Next time you’re thinking about buying something new, look around at all the things you already have. Chances are, it’s more than you need. You don’t necessarily have to Marie Kondo your whole life if you aren’t ready, but see how it feels to get rid of a few things you haven’t used in a while. Like that T-shirt from seventh grade. Or the phone charger in your bottom drawer that doesn’t work anymore. Or — instead of getting rid of stuff — you could always skip buying that new pair of shoes.

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