Not long ago I was left to my own devices for eight days while my husband took our children to visit their grandparents out of town. I stayed behind to work and hold the fort, which meant feeding the pets, collecting the mail and putting out the rubbish.
Our normally noisy little house, usually full of little girls voices fell suddenly quiet. The pets and myself not being big talkers I soon felt like a monk who had taken a vow of silence.
As the days passed I started to notice a pattern of the things I was using regularly in the house; bathroom, bed, dining table, couch, kettle, a plate, a few cups and so on. This led of course to realising all the things one person doesn’t use when living alone. The expression, ‘rattling around’ suddenly became real to me. I was ‘rattling around’ our downsized house. No one was sleeping in the extra bedrooms. One toilet is more than sufficient without small children constantly needing to go. The dishwasher became redundant and my pile of washing was insignificant in comparison to the behemoth that regularly flows over the edges of the communal washing basket.
With so much peace and quiet and time to concentrate I started to consider which items would be essential if it was just me on my own, and how little I could actually be content with. There are a bunch of minimalists who have pursued having very little, Colin Wright is famous for having less than 60 items to his name as he travels the world. In my case, minimalism has been a journey I have only travelled as part of a family unit. All my considerations and decisions are made based around the realities of children, school and extracurricular activities. By default, we naturally have more things and space than an individual living alone with two pets might have.
What struck me as interesting during my recent home based retreat was how quickly my mind began to assess items from a minimalist perspective. How were these items adding value to me in my solo state. Instead of thinking ‘great, I don’t have to clean that’ I started thinking ‘wow, I’m not even using that.’ From there, it was an easy step to ‘if I’m not using this useful thing while the family’s away, what on earth am I doing with all this other stuff that I don’t use even when they’re here!?’ That line of thought led to a decluttering flurry not long after my family returned that I wrote about in a recent post about decluttering hidden items.
In Everything that Remains author and minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn writes about how our pursuit of success results in a cycle of consumerism that then makes continued success necessary in order not to lose the things we have gained. Millburn says that ‘we become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, a lifestyle that involves too much spending and personal debt and consumer purchases……Then we get stuck on the corporate ladder, and before we know it we’re too high up to climb down, so high that even looking down is a terrifying proposition. So we keep soldiering forward, onward and upward, without ever asking the important questions.’
My week and a bit alone created an understanding for me that some of the things I own that I assumed were adding value to my life, are really more of a habit than a necessity. I still own items that were purchased on the path to ‘a certain lifestyle’, either to fill a space or meet some preconception I had around what my lifestyle should look like. While many of these sorts of items have left us as we have pursued minimalism, some still remain. Being on my own caused me to ask important questions like ‘what is the bare minimum I actually need?’ I was shocked by how little I actually use on a daily basis as an individual without the chaos of my normal daily life. I began to notice that many of the items I take for granted and barely pay attention to, weren’t really necessary to living a meaningful life.
In eight days I didn’t touch these items, use them, sit on them or enjoy them. In the silence, where I could think clearly, each one was a beacon pointing towards a more meaningful life with less. All I need to do is follow the path.