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Renegade Minimalist

How losing your way can bring you to the path back to yourself again

Minimal plant
Photography by Chua Bing Quan

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it all started, but I know for sure that being a minimalist has been an intrinsic part of me since my youth. I was a kid who never had to be told to pick up my room. I would regularly cull the toys I no longer loved, while organizing those I kept into groups based on category and frequency of use. I was so enthusiastic of tossing things out or giving them away that my mom would yell, “Why are you getting rid of that? You just got that!” I guess even from a young age, I just didn’t see the point of keeping things that no longer held any value to me.

The compulsion to simplify followed me into my teens. While many of my friends seemed content to have dresser drawers bursting or closets overflowing with clothes, bags, and shoes, I ached to downsize. Stepping over piles of garments and bumping into avalanches of cosmetics made me feel anxious, like being in the middle of a tightly packed crowd with barely any room to shuffle left or right. I preferred everything I wore to fit into one dresser, on a few hangers, and made complete with only a few pairs of shoes. To me, less clutter meant more breathing room. It just felt good.

In my late-teens and early twenties, things took a wrong turn. It was a time of newly-approved credit cards and trying on different versions of myself through clothes, hair, makeup, accessories, and stuff in general. In a short while I became what appears to be a contradiction; a minimalistic, debt- racking shopaholic. I would spend on whatever I thought would fit my persona of the moment, only to get rid of it once I was ‘over it’, just to start the process all over again. In essence, I became no different than countless others in regards to acquiring things I didn’t need. The only difference was that I didn’t hoard the evidence. I culled things regularly and repeated the cycle of purchasing then purging. The only evidence would be the quietly growing mountain of debt left behind.

Only up until recent years, I was in denial of how bad it was getting. I now realize that this cycle served as my ill-fated attempt to distract from the smothering grief, emptiness, and uncertainty I carried for years following my father’s death when I was 19, toxic relationships, divorce, my mom’s illness and eventual passing, as well as my own relentless insecurities amongst other things. Searching for items to buy distracted me from the emotional train-wreck of my young adulthood, while getting rid of things made me feel in control amidst the turmoil. I interpreted purging as hitting life’s ‘Reset’ button, and buying as ‘Starting over’. Really, it was just a fruitless coping mechanism that only exacerbated the anxieties from which I was trying to escape. I was still the same person carrying the same pain and not knowing how to deal with it.

It was around the same time that I got real with my recklessness and desired to reconnect with my simplistic nature that I discovered the subject of minimalism. The inclinations I had since my youth now had a name and were becoming a thing?! I was thrilled! As I began to devour every article and book that I found about minimalism and the minimalist lifestyle, I felt more and more at peace. It was everything that had spoken to my soul for so long, but I couldn’t relate to with others because most were on the mainstream band-wagon of more. Maybe others were shopping for stuff as a way of dealing with their emotions as I was for awhile. Maybe they just have values and priorities which place an emphasis on acquisitions as proof of status and a life well lived. I can only speculate, but I’m glad to be off that hamster wheel. The Jones’s can keep it.

What I do know is that fully embracing this lifestyle has been one of the best ways I’ve found to facilitate my emotional healing and financial well-being. It’s a process and it’s for the long haul, no quick fixes here. Without the distraction of mindless purchasing, I’m forced to recognize and actually deal with what’s bothering me instead of burying it. Less stuff also means more time to spend on things that matter, which is so important since time is a resource that’s non-renewable. Now, I think hard about what I will get out of owning any item before buying it. I ask myself, “Is it worth the price?” after I translate the dollar amount into how many moments of my life were spent working to earn the dollar sum of said item. I also ask questions such as—“Is it useful to me long term? Will this make a significant difference in my quality of life?”

To be a minimalist in a culture driven by the consumption and acquisition of more is to be a renegade of sorts. A minimalist may be viewed as eccentric by some, but I view the ability to find peace and contentment from within, with others, and in spirit to be one of the strongest personal attributes a human being can be blessed with. To be able to exist in a world and feel abundance instead of scarcity, to be fully present instead of distracted, to feel grateful for what is instead of bitter for what isn’t; this to me is just a small, beautiful glimpse into living a minimalist life. After years of being drowned in the strong mainstream currents of excess, minimalism makes me feel like I can breathe again.

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