Some of us want to live with less, but we carry a fear of minimalism that prevents us from making the changes we want to make.
I went to the post office the other day to post six items I’d sold on eBay. The items in question used to belong to my Mum. She died earlier this year, very suddenly, at the age of 68. It was exactly 1 month before her birthday. My mum lived a life that was complicated and she kept a lot of things. Minimalism wasn’t something that Mum would have wanted to do. And of course that is not a problem – we all walk our own paths.
Her flat was rented and I had four weeks to clear out her possessions, most of which I took home because I couldn’t deal with sorting through them one by one in the weeks following her death.
Time heals, slowly
Now that time has passed and the grief isn’t so raw, I have started to open up all the boxes. My Mum was a collector – she collected vinyl records, spoons, coins, watches, china, glass, model cars, stamps and more. She didn’t hoard junk – most of the things she had are worth some money in their own right. So I faced the problem of what to do with it all. Keeping more than a few items wasn’t something I wanted to do – we have a small house and I am not a lover of ornamental objects or collections.
I knew that it was all too valuable to just give away, yet a collector or auction house would not pay what its full worth (as they would be keen to sell on and make a profit). My brother and I decided the best thing to do would be to sell the more valuable collections on eBay.
It’s taken me a while to get the point where I can list her collectables for sale, but I’m now happy to let the majority of them go. My Mum is not inside her stuff, she is inside my head, and she smiles at me from the precious photos I have of her.
This is why I was at the post office with six parcels.
Now, one thing my Mum collected was stamps – both first day covers and mint issue stamps. But the thing is, most of these are worth very little. Nobody is interested in first day covers. Mint issue stamps barely fetch the value of the stamps themselves.
Unsure what else to do with the unfranked stamps, I decided I could use them to post the other items. Great idea, right? That would effectively be free postage.
I asked the man at the post office counter if it would be okay to make up the postage cost using my collection of mint stamps. He looked slightly burdened but said that would be fine. He gave me a calculator and sent me to one side to add up my stamps and stick the right amounts on the right parcels.
Well, I can tell you that doing it this way is highly laborious. When I’d done all my stamp sticking and gone back to the counter, I still had to buy extra postage because the stamp collection didn’t have the right denominations and I was several pence under on all the parcels I’d stamped up.
Thankfully it was quiet day, so I didn’t upset everyone in the queue behind me because there wasn’t one.
Now bear with me – I will get to the point very soon.
Because it all took so long, I got chatting to the man at the counter. I apologised for making it all so confusing and explained that I had a huge collection of mint stamps that I wanted to use up.
He commented that it was such a shame that collectable stamps weren’t worth anything and then he confessed that he had hundreds of first day covers. I mentioned my Mum’s death and her collection of first day covers. Then in the way that sometimes happens when you’re talking to a stranger, he opened up and started telling me that he had huge collections of everything. His children would be cursing him when he was gone, he said.
He told me he had vinyl records, music magazines, CDs and of course, loads of stamps. He said that he knew that he needed to sort it all out, and that he should be (he paused and looked a bit awkward)… death cleaning. An apology for the expression followed. I had never come across it before, but I googled it when I got home and apparently it comes from the Swedish practice of putting your affairs in order and decluttering so that your children don’t have to do it (they even have a word for it “Döstädning”).
Anyway, Mr Post Office Man told me he knew that it all had to go and his kids didn’t want it.
“But I can’t part with it,” he said with a hint of strain in his voice. He thought for a few seconds, “You know, we hang onto it and hang onto it. But maybe we’re hanging onto the wrong things…”
Then, because we’re British and these heartfelt moments of vulnerability are a bit scary for us, he suddenly laughed, remarking,
“But that’s all a bit too deep!”
We all crave a simpler way of life
I drove home and thought about how often I hear people say they feel burdened by what they own and what their responsibilities are.
We have created a strange society where we produce unimaginable amounts of stuff. Companies pay millions to advertising agencies to crack the “desire” response in its target audience. And we all fall for it, buying and buying and buying; and working more and more in order to be able to buy.
But it doesn’t bring us what it promises. Our things don’t make us healthier, richer, more attractive or smarter. They are just another addition to already full houses. Things that we have to take care of, store, clean, and feel guilty about not using.
Mr Post Office Man’s pain was written on his face. His identification of himself in his belongings. And his anguish that he couldn’t part with them even though he loved his children and didn’t want to burden them.
What we stand for and believe about ourselves oozes into our possessions. We think we cannot let anything go without losing a part of who we are. We have become creatures who find and define ourselves in our belongings, even though that’s not where we come from.
Yes, it can be scary taking it away. We stand emotionally naked, up for judgement, and maybe not even sure of who we are, when we don’t have anything of our own around us.
Who wants to feel that way? No one. It’s uncomfortable (at first), and we don’t like uncomfortable.
The Fear Of Minimalism Can Be Overcome
But letting go is available to all of us. Not just of our unnecessary stuff and guilty purchases, but also of past hurts, bad self-beliefs and emotions like hatred, anger and fear.
Sometimes it isn’t easy, but covering yourself with layer upon layer of things isn’t the answer.
Letting go (and start with the easy stuff – there’s not need to torture yourself), is a way of discovering who we really are. Not who advertisers want us to be, and not who our friends and family want us to be.
Think about the deep reasons for holding onto things that you know you should part with. Are you afraid you won’t be you any more if you don’t have your CD collection? Will you be less intelligent without a room full of books? Perhaps you won’t be quirky and fun if you give up your collection of 60s shoes?
That’s a false belief.
What you are – who you are – is in addition to your things, not in them.
You can be you. You don’t need external proof in the form of endless possessions and responsibilities. And maybe there is still a lot to discover about yourself that has been suffocated and hidden away.
Perhaps you could think about looking inside and finding it 🙂