Assimilation into my life in the US after living in Thailand and Vietnam has proven to be more difficult that I imagined. In the last 6 months (between July and December) I have lived in fully furnished places with all of the belongings I own consolidated into two suit cases. This experience taught me a lot about myself and my relationship to products. I no longer have brand loyalty, because I couldn’t even find a familiar brand if I tried. Consequently, I have given up my preferences for products such as toothpaste, shampoo, and clothing brands. I have found fluidity in my requirements, really challenging what a “requirement” and a “necessity” is. In reality I have experienced freedom from what I thought I needed. Walking back into my house I realized that I have not touched or even “needed” any of the things stored in my house in over 5 moths. With that though, you can imagine how overwhelmed I felt when I came home to my house full of products and material stuff. When walked in I immediately noticed how every single corner of every room had some kind of end table shoved into it, and on each end table was a vase or a decorative item bought specifically for the table. It struck me as crazy that I would have ever bought an end table just to put a vase on it. Did I really live a life once before where I thought it was necessary to spend money on a pice of furniture who’s sole purpose wast to hold another equally wasteful and unnecessary item? Why did I do that?
While in Thailand I learned how to ask myself the really hard and profound questions. Why do I feel this way? Why do I act this way? Why do I feel the need to react in some situations? What drives me, gets under my skin, makes me feel bad or good, and why, why, why? Not every question you ask yourself will turn into a deep epiphany about your psyche, but this time it did. As I pondered this question of why I spent money to put additional decorations into my house in a wasteful way above and beyond what I myself wanted, I realized something about myself. I realized that I added things to my house for the benefit of other people and that I do that quite a bit. Not just this corner table and vase, but I have whole bedrooms of furniture for the potential benefit of a potential visitor in the future. What if I have more than 5 people in my house in the future? I better get a second set of dishes. What if someone visits, someone needs a place to stay, a place to live? I better have a room set up just in case. A good portion of the stuff in my house was not for me, not valuable to me, but for someone else’s future potential value. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do these things, but if you do, it should bring value to you yourself also, not just a potential value for a potential future someone. Right now, this corner table and vase do not bring me value, in fact they represent excess, waste, and clutter. It is the same with this bedroom full of stuff I will never myself use and many other items in this house that I bought for someone else’s benefit so that I could fit in with the social and cultural norms of my community.
Now you know my headspace, let me paint the picture. Currently, I am standing in my kitchen with all cupboards open and stuff strewn everywhere. I am practicing an exercise from the minimalist where you pick up stuff and ask yourself if it brings value to your life. If it does not, then you get rid of it. Sounds simple but it can be exceedingly complex depending on your mindset. You can do this exercise and get nothing out of it, or you can really challenge your perception of value and need and get a lot of freedom out of it. Now, about 4 hours into it, I am surrounded by boxes of things that did not make the cut. In these boxes are easy things like chipped mugs and cracked glasses, but also hard things like this decorative piece of crystal that my mom gave me for my house warming present that I never use and hardly ever even dust.
As I begin to purge more and more, I begin to see layers of things, categories of things that I would consider purging and alternatively, I am recognizing that I have a category of things that I would never even consider purging. Why is that? Why are there things that I deem exempt from the exercise of deciding value? These items are so engrained into my life that they never get questioned, and that is scary. The spice rack I got off my wedding registry, the one currently shoved into the corner of the kitchen, full of weird unknown spices that have sat unused in these matching shakers for over 9 years, falls into this category. You might ask, Why would you get rid of your spice rack? The question should be, why would you ever get a spice rack in the first place? Do you even know what spice blend “savory” is? Do you know anyone that has ever even used this spice called savory? Why do we feel the need to purchase or own an entire rack of spices that we are not familiar with, we don’t use and will likely never use? To me, the “necessity” of a spice rack in a new home represents the entire wasteful consumer culture, the blind way we follow our social conditioning, and acts as a metaphor for the dangers of getting compliant/lazy in your life. Bottom line, if your only answer to why you have something is ” just in case future needs arise”, you may want to reconsider that thought process. We are allowed to keep things that bring us joy and value, but if you choose to do a minimalist sweep you might be surprised at how many things you own do not represent value in your life. I encourage you to do a walk, try the challenge, and see how it makes you grow.
If you are inspired by this post to make a change in your own life, may I suggest starting with a defining moment. Ask yourself, why am I doing this?
Here are my “Whys”, maybe you can relate!
To break my addiction to material things
To contribute less to consumerism culture
To declutter my house
To challenge my idea of need
To move toward value/quality and away from quantity
To become location independent in 2 years