A voice crying in the wilderness

Embracing your inner minimalist, or travel light, move fast

I encountered an article in The Japan News highlighting a movement of people reducing the amount of clutter in their lives to the point that they barely owned any items at all, and those that they retained served multiple purposes – a place to sleep that doubled as a lounge suite, a smart phone that acted as television, library, music collection, game console and camera on top of being a communications device. They don’t entertain at home so they don’t require much in the way of utensils or crockery, or even furniture. An advantage to this being that a very small apartment suddenly permitted a lot of free space.

By modern, particularly Western, standards this would seem mind boggling – surely the standard by which one measures success is how much stuff you own. Moreover, how much more you paid for it. To encounter an individual, or even a community of people who have come to the realisation that stuff does not make you happy would cause many a person to think if they actually understood this correctly.

I am a natural born hoarder – I’ve been prone to accumulating stuff, and then dragging all of that stuff with me whenever I moved. I relocated 400km from the city to the country and took 10 years of computer magazines and comics with me. When I worked in a computer store, I would scavenge parts from broken systems and build new ones, grabbing whatever parts that came to hand “just in case” because “you never know when you will need it”. When I moved out of my two bedroom apartment into a three bedroom house, the amount of stuff I owned seemed to expand to fill all available space.

And then I got married and my wife brought all her stuff along as well.

When my wife moved from her family home into mine, her family decided to get rid of a lot of stuff – and passed it onto us. Stuff was accumulating, filling every room and taking over the shed. We made several valiant attempts to get rid of stuff, taking boxes, car loads, trailer loads of stuff to the recycling centre, selling stuff where we could, giving stuff away to those who needed stuff.

And yet we still have a house full of stuff.

Two years ago, my parents suffered a series of health scares – my Father suffering a stroke, though he recovered well; my Mother suffered a heart attack that we thought she escaped unscathed following minor surgery but proved to have ongoing effects. I felt compelled to move back to the country to be with them – but even if my wife agreed, with all the stuff we still had, it would be a logistical nightmare.

Then I read the article on minimalism and it struck a note with me. Not a chord, just a single note – like a bell ringing clear and pure, resonating deeply within. People being happy and content without stuff – and because they weren’t spending all their money on stuff, they had more money to play with or invest. They had traded regular visits to StuffMart for quality time with friends, dining out or entertainment.

I badly wanted to be a part of that.

So we’ve started small – replacing some of our extensive collection of books (my wife and I are avid readers) with digital copies; ebooks. Albums and singles on cassette and vinyl replaced with digital versions; CDs extracted and uploaded to The Cloud. Our collection of game consoles and games sold off and replaced with emulators and updated remakes. Photo albums and negatives scanned, displayed on a digital photo frame, phone, tablet or television – who needs a slide show any more?

And clothes – so much that we don’t wear any more! Those in good condition sold or given to charity, those that were worse for wear taken to places like H&M in exchange for discount vouchers.

Its a slow, ongoing process – decluttering can start easily but when you come to items close to your heart, of sentimental value or family heirlooms, the process becomes so much tougher. Photos can be scanned but ornaments not so – perhaps one day in the age of hard light holograms, we can summon distant memories from the ether to recreate and display and dispose of when needed.

The Cloud is the declutterer’s friend – your music, photos, ebooks, videos, documents and the like can be accessed from anywhere with internet access and shared with whomever you wish, wherever and whenever you wish. But don’t forget to keep backups – if you only have one copy of something, it isn’t precious – don’t be disappointed if you delete it in error or a system failure wipes it out.

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