My fiancé and I are very different people sometimes. Especially in our living habits. When I met him, he was living in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment just over the Higgins Bridge in Missoula, snuggled up next to the Clark Fork, Kettlehouse Brewery, and two delicious bakeries.
The apartment was all sleek surfaces and hardwood--and almost completely empty. There was a dinner table, four vintage green dinner chairs, a bed in each room, a desk, a nightstand, one bottle of shampoo, no food except some crazy spice blends I'd never heard of, two microwaves (figure that one out), a solitary lamp we never used in the living room, twelve books, and a red dial telephone. That's about it. In the whole apartment.
My fiancé was subletting his friends' apartment while they were away on a huge tour. You may have heard of them, and of the tour. My fiancé works with The Minimalists—two men who, after making good figures and living in style for years and years in the corporate world, both made the drastic shift to living with only the bare minimum, only what they absolutely needed. As such, the empty apartment suddenly made a lot more sense. They had no need for decorations, fancy cooking supplies, couches, mega entertainment systems, knick-knacks to grow dusty and unused on shelves and cabinets. They had lived with all that, and they had also chosen not to.
I could go on and on about this concept of minimalism and living simply, but the truth is that I am still learning just what it is. I've recently finished reading one of their books, Everything That Remains, and I enjoyed it greatly. What I gathered, between my fiancé and the book and other murmurings, is that minimalism can be completely different for everyone and anyone, though there is a foundation to it; the foundation of minimalism is to live simply.
Live simply. Hmmm. Okay....so what does that mean? Again, it can mean so many things to so many people. How I've come to think of it is this: we live in a consumeristic society that tells us to buy more, get more, make more, and you will be happier. Not you might be happier, but that you will be happier. So we go out and stock our houses and cars and lives with things, things, things, and more things. These things become signs of success and wealth, which we then equate to happiness. Brand new car, big house, the most expensive clothes and jewels. These are things that, if you have them, make you happy. And if you don't, then you are unhappy.
But really, it just doesn't work that way. Minimalism highlights the ways that accumulating more possessions and having more physical things can not, in fact, make us happier in life, but actually weigh us down. Literally. We have to push past this mentality of stuff equals happiness and get at the real things in life instead. How much more time we could spend with our families if we didn't spend all of it in front of the television, or at work, or at the stores buying buying buying. How much freer we would feel if those thousands of dollars of debt were lifted from our shoulders. How our lives would be if we weren't so focused on having and getting and if we didn't live just to work, but could work only to live and we needed only the basics to feel complete.
I could really understand what they were talking about, my fiancé and his friends who also followed these ways of thinking. I could get behind it--to a point. I understood why they did it, and the how was explained as well, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. At least, not completely in one fell swoop. Thus, when my fiancé and I moved into our first apartment together and it happened to be approximately the size and shape of two shoeboxes stuck together, I panicked. I was afraid my fiancé was going to freak out because I had too much stuff and because our apartment was too crowded and that he'd feel dragged down and that we just wouldn't find room for everything and that some stuff would have to go.
Well, we didn't find room for everything. And some stuff did have to go. And I didn't mind. I realized that I didn't need all of it, not really. I packed up eight boxes worth of clothes, books, movies, knick-knacks, shoes, more clothes, scarves, clothes, and more clothes that I just didn't need or want. Someone else could find enjoyment and use from them, but not me. I admit, I literally did feel lighter seeing it go. But I was also pleased that I didn't have to give it all up just yet. I agreed that I did want to embrace minimalism, but a little at a time. My fiancé recognized that, and we made it work.
Some people keep memories in their heads, or in scrapbooks or diaries or with fuzzy home-videos. I keep them on my shelves, mostly in the form of books, or on my Christmas tree, with all my childhood ornaments. I collect elephants, I have for years, and they are scattered around the apartment wherever they can fit. We have three bookcases between us. Two are filled with my books, and they are both double stacked. These things are mine, and I want them. They do make me happy, perhaps on a level only I can understand. But there is no room for excess here.
When my fiancé and I opened our presents at Christmas, we both catalogued our new things in our minds and decided which things we would get rid of in exchange. We know we do not need more, and so we are recycling the old and unworn in favor of the new. If somewhere along the line the new does not get worn or we have no more use for it, we will get rid of it. It's a compromise, with the universe, with ourselves, with the apartment that can't hold more. It's our compromise between my minimalist soon-to-be-husband and my love for having each book in the series, in paper form, not electronic.
Minimalism can means different things to different people. I do not claim to be a minimalist. I will leave that to the professionals and to the ones that work so hard to earn that title. I do try, though, and maybe one day I'll call myself a minimalist too. I recognize that money and things and stuff do not equate to happiness, and I don't need them to be happy. But books can make me happy. And they do. So they'll stay.