Coming to Terms With Your "Stuff"

Don't let minimalist guilt get the better of you.

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I sometimes catch myself thinking “how do I have so much stuff?”. And that’s after five years of (more or less) active decluttering, selling and intentional purchasing. Not to mention, a one-year shopping ban

So why do I still have this impulse to purge everything my eyes can see? Shouldn’t that go away when I reach the ‘right’ amount of stuff? 

Part of the problem is the idea that there is ever really an end to the decluttering or conscious consumption phase of becoming a minimalist. I’m not convinced it ever really ends. That’s partly because the stuff we have in our lives isn’t designed to last forever. So, even when you buy some ‘thing’ and you think, ‘well this must surely be the last time I’ll need to do that’, you’re pretty much always wrong. Whether it’s pants that you grow out of (thank you quarantine 15), or a kitchen tool that breaks while trying to recreate something from the latest Babish video (cashew cream anyone?), the process of buying, using and replacing stuff is a pretty near constant part of our lives. 

The other part of the problem is minimalist guilt (I might be coining this term, but if I’m not and you’ve read it somewhere before, you let me know). Ever since I declared my minimalist ness to the internet four years ago, I’ve been constantly filled with this feeling that I’m not enough of a minimalist. I own more than four shirts, I have a kitchen teeming with tools (and I’ve added more than a few to our cupboards since March), not to mention a shed and basement full of tools. I’ve done my best over the years to extoll the fact that it doesn’t matter how many pairs of shoes you have crammed into your closet, you can still be a minimalist (if that term is something that you identify with). But, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to sell everything in my closet and move to an off-the-grid shack in the woods when I’m feeling particularly restless.

Partly as a reminder for myself, but also in the hope that it will help you on your minimalist journey, let’s have a chat about how to come to terms with your stuff.

You Can’t Change Your Past

Gosh, if that’s not a statement we can apply to pretty much every area of our life that makes us feel shameful about our past behaviour, I don’t know what is. But it still applies here when we’re talking about stuff. It’s also the one I need to remember the most, so I don’t berate myself for my past consumption behaviour. 

Like literally everything in life, you can’t change what you’ve bought in the past. You can’t change what stuff you’ve decided to bring into your life. Sure, we all have purchases we wish we could undo. Maybe it’s a trendy piece of clothing that you know you only bought to try to be on trend, or it’s something you wish you could have bought secondhand but didn’t have the time or money to invest in the hunt. Whatever it is, the stuff you currently have in your life has already been paid for both in the monetary and time sense. There’s a sunk cost to most things that we own. That means that we’ve spent money and time on it, but that process has already happened. 

In the case of minimalism, and in my opinion in particular, there is little point in berating yourself for specific past purchases. Because they’ve already happened. 

But, I do this alot. I go down the guilt rabbit hole of “why did I buy this?’, “what what I thinking?”, etc. etc. 

The answer is actually quite simple: whatever you bought in the past, was serving a specific need, at that time. Maybe you needed something for a specific work function, maybe you wanted to spruce up your living space a little bit, maybe it was an impulse buy because you had a terrible day. 

All of these (and really any reason for buying something), are valid reasons for doing so. Even the impulse buy (*gasp*, I know). The next time you feel guilty for past purchases, try to remember that they served a purpose when you bought them. Even if that purpose was just to brighten your day a little bit. 

But You Can Make Changes in the Present

This is something I feel so strongly about, I should probably get it tattooed on my forehead. I used to buy a lot of fast fashion. My weekend activity for fun used to be going to the mall (no shame if this is something you enjoy, it’s just not my jam anymore). I used to make a lot of purchases without really thinking about them. If I wanted something, I bought it. I’ve come a long way since then towards being a more intentional and conscious consumer. 

This is a good habit to get into when you’re coming to terms with the stuff in your life. You can’t change what you’ve purchased in the past, but you can change how you use those things and how you purchase new stuff in the present. 

If you know you have a consumption habit from the past that is making you feel guilty in the present, focus on making small changes every time you make a similar purchase. 

For me, I tend to feel the most guilty about clothing purchases. Especially when I’ve bought a lot of clothing to suit a certain period in my life. For example, I bought a lot of professional work clothes this fall, as a means to display how committed I was to my work (which is just so lol now, five months into COVID_19 working from home). I find myself now just wanting to sell all of it and be done with it. 

Now, I do recognize that some of that is because of my impulsive (and frankly stubborn) nature. The other part is that I feel guilty for spending so much and accumulating so much (relatively speaking) for one particular and frankly, narrow, aspect of my life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying clothes to suit your work life. But I will do my best moving forward to only buy work clothes (if and when I need them again), that actually fit my own style and not what I think is expected of me. 

Above All Else, Be Kind To Yourself

In case you need reminding, the world is in a really weird place right now. Maybe you’re finding yourself buying more instant gratification type purchases because the world is so upside down and frankly everyone can use something to make them smile. Maybe you’re spending more money stocking your kitchen with fun new tools because you’re spending more time eating at home (I swear, I have never bought more one-use tools than I have in these last five months). 

Whatever your personal situation may be, I can pretty much guarantee that you need to be a little nicer to yourself. Nothing makes sense right now. I’m buying stuff I’ve never bought before. Heck, I went from being very against scrunchies to being the proud of owner of FOUR in the course of about a month (I also really want to try my hand at making my own but that’s a post for another time). 

Whatever emotion your stuff is making you feel lately (guilty, ashamed, joyful, grateful), it’s ok. Coming to terms with the stuff you have in your life is really all about recognizing how it serves you in your life now. If something you own still serves a purpose in your life (material, emotional, whatever), than great. Keep on, keeping on. If it’s time has passed, try not dwell on it or punish yourself for not getting more use out of it. We’ve got enough going on in our lives right now. Let’s all cut ourselves a little slack, ok?

Anyone else feeling antsy about your ‘stuff’ these days? Please tell me it’s not just me.