Minimalism and Finding Yourself

I began decluttering purely because I felt overwhelmed by the physical clutter in my home. When I first started clearing my space, I felt an incredible sense of lightness. When I got more serious about minimalism, and was further along in my journey, I hit a bump in the road. Something I hadn’t anticipated is that finding yourself is a side effect of minimalism. And this made me feel very uncomfortable at first.

As I sorted through seemingly endless boxes of things, the house became more open. But I noticed much more emotional turmoil within myself. I started to question everything about my life. And I felt this sense of being “on the lookout” for new projects, hobbies and challenges. I’d browse the magazine section in the newsagent, looking at things I never would have been interested in before.

Minimalism suddenly produced a sense of emptiness in daily life and an accompanying urgency to fill it with something.

It was a reaction to all the things I had let go. There was a sense of discomfort in the growing space that my clutter left behind.

There were three main themes to my emotional discomfort:

Time

For the first time in years I didn’t feel overwhelmed anymore. I thought it would be wonderful, but it was so unfamiliar it felt like I need to ‘fix’ it. I’d look at a photography course one day, and then think about subscribing to a writers magazine the next. Feeling lost became a daily routine.

I had to be careful at this point not to fill my life and space with new STUFF. I needed to be sure that anything I added to my life was genuine and not a comforting replacement for things that I had said goodbye to.

Emotional Baggage

I became much more aware of how much emotional baggage I was carrying around (a lot!). Once my home was clear, I found that my own mind was the cluttered place. Old hurts, personality flaws, weaknesses, and behaviour patterns were all suddenly in the limelight and it made me feel like I needed something to fix them (which previously would have been stuff).

Relationships

And finally, I questioned many friendships and also my relationships with family members. I noticed how draining and emotionally upsetting some people and groups of people could be for me.

Working Through Discomfort

The whole experience led me to a totally unexpected transition. I never thought clearing out all my stuff would do anything other than make me happy, but the feelings I experienced left me irritable and a little bit miserable.

Under all that stuff I chucked out, I found a pale, neglected and wobbly version of myself.

However, I deeply believed that too much stuff wasn’t the answer, and I was able to hold off from filling the emotional emptiness with physical things. I believe that as part of the journey to a minimalistic and simpler life there will be rough patches when you have to face up to old habits (in my case, filling my life with too many hobbies) and to old emotions that have never been dealt with (in my case, years and years of them).

A lot of my negative feelings had been buried under my life of stuff for so long that I had forgotten that they were even there.

Turning Back Time

I actually felt emotionally younger because I somehow found myself facing old issues that had never been resolved. I was feeling emotions I had buried from years ago, all over again.

How did I transition through this period?

If you are experiencing feelings like this, how can you deal with the dissatisfaction and unease?

Well, to some extent you do need to fill the emptiness that your stuff leaves behind.

I had to relearn how to fill my time.

Shopping, organising, sorting, or even just analysis-paralysis and sitting in the middle of a mess eating, drinking and watching tv. These were no longer things I needed (or wanted) to do.

So I began to focus more on experiences and relationships, not on stuff.

Without my stuff to anchor me to the house I was free to be more spontaneous. There was no longer that constant guilt over the list of things that I should have been doing. I found I could be a more attentive parent, and that made me feel good.

Finding Yourself

I discovered that just being with myself and feeling happy took practice. My difficulty in doing this was a testament to how much I had disapproved of myself over the years, and covered those feelings with purchases, projects and plans.

With less stuff to hide behind and to distract me, I became more aware of everything I did and everything I felt.

Finding a sense of self-acceptance and peace was not easy. It took a degree of self-examination I was uncomfortable with and an amount of forgiveness that I found laughable.

But I worked at it. I was so desperate not to end up back in a horrible, overwhelmed mess. Slowly, I worked through it.

I had always imagined that a minimalist mental state would be calm, curious, content and ready for thought. But I was far from that. I tried meditation (and I am still trying). It was difficult back then and even now it hasn’t quite clicked for me.

I wrote a lot – especially about old hurts that I thought I was done with. It turned out I was still carrying a lot of shame and self-judgement.

Just Being Me

But mostly, I just let my brain do its thing. Old feelings surfaced and I stopped ignoring them. I cried about things from years ago. I took deep breaths out in the sun when I was at the park with my toddlers. I knew that I was just dealing with all the shit I should have gotten a handle on properly first time around. So I let it be. I let it all come up to the surface and have its say.

I listened to myself.

Perhaps for the first time ever in my life.

And I found that the better I listened and the kinder I was to these feelings of hurt and anger and shame, the easier it was to be me.

And I don’t mean rushing-around-project-mad-always-on-the-go me, but sitting-still-and-being-in-the-moment me.

Less stuff meant more of me in my life. It turned out that I took a little more getting used to than I expected.

Stop and Be

If you have decluttered and are feeling sadness, shame, boredom or the desire to hit the shops, stop for a moment. This is who you are. You don’t need anything physical to make you better or kinder or smarter. You deserve self-respect and forgiveness for your mistakes. No one and nothing can do that for you. You have to do it for yourself.

As uncomfortable as it may make you feel, I promise the feeling is temporary. If you allow your emotions to surface and you can accept them kindly, you will be able to move on. If you really can’t bear it, consider counselling. But know that your stuff was just hiding feelings that are better off dealt with.

There is an irony in self-acceptance being key to being able to let go of what you no longer need. Because sometimes it’s letting go of what we no longer need that forces us to accept ourselves for exactly what we are.

Minimalism and finding yourself

11 thoughts on “Minimalism and Finding Yourself

  1. Thank you for sharing this.

    I’ll consider myself forewarned for when I get to that stage. I suspect I may be working the other way round… I’ve started letting myself feel for the first time and since then I’ve been moved to start clearing out my clutter. If more feelings come up I welcome them as sometimes it feels like they’re right there hiding behind my legs, too shy to come out.

    • It’s great that you’re already becoming aware of your feelings. Modern life gives us every tool imaginable to suppress what’s going on inside.

  2. This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. It’s so true to life and very well written. It’s also explaining some of the feelings that I’m having during my decluttering process. I’m also uncovering a lot and I’m beginning to realise why I’ve left it for so long. No one can do the decluttering for us – we need to feel and experience every single item that we go through. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I left a comment yesterday but it looks like it didn’t save. I love this post as it explains some of the feelings that I’ve been having since decluttering. It’s a very interesting process. Thank you for sharing

    • Hi Sandra, thanks so much for commenting. Your comment was in the approval list and although I try to check-in daily I don’t always manage it when I have my toddler at home 🙂. I’m so glad you identified with what I went through. It’s something I haven’t seen mentioned and it took me by surprise. Now, I can see how much I have grown and changed since then, but I am still learning! It’s a very revealing and sometimes uncomfortable thing, to live with a lot less, but it really does help us grow and change, for the better.

  4. It is so nice to hear a refreshing view of actually how uncomfortable with yourself it can feel once the physical clutter has been cleared. You have just described EXACTLY how I’m feeling right now, (dissatisfied with watching mindless tv, looking for new hobbies, noticing my character flaws). Thank you for not just posting another ‘minimalism is great, now you can follow your passions’ post. I’ve truly lost/changed/ not found my passions yet and so am in this ‘no mans land’ of space between the ‘decluttering’ and ‘passion following’. I’m definitely happier with less stuff, but I’m feeling the same feelings as you did in looking to ‘fill’ the space.
    Thank you for your honest writing.

    • Thank you! I really did feel like I had lost myself somewhere along the way once I’d gotten rid of a lot of things (or maybe I’d never found myself in the first place). I can say that as hard as it is at the time, if you can resist re-filling life with stuff, it is SO worth it when the feelings settle. Thank you for sharing, and good luck with your journey.

  5. Thank you for admitting decluttering doesn’t automatically lead to calm.

    I have decluttered hugely over the past ten years, even so I still have a way to go. What I have found is that I have replaced physical clutter with digital and mental clutter. I have about a hundred unread Kindle books plus I have signed up to countless online courses that I haven’t found time to do. I spend hours online just drifting. I have also bought craft kits and projects that languish unfinished or untouched.

    Like you, I struggle with meditation. I’m trying to persevere

    • I also did this! Once I got rid of my physical clutter I felt like my head was full to the brim of mental angst. Do you keep a journal of any sort? I found that really helpful in just getting stuff out of my head. It is always a journey – I sometimes feel like I’m not a true minimalist because I have so much digital info. I am a big photographer and take a lot of videos of my kids. I also have (shhhh) 45 half read books on my kindle. However, it sounds like you are aware of what is going on in your life, as I am, and that is how we move forward and change. Even if it takes time. Half the fun is in the journey – it helps us get ready for what’s still to come.

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