This is the second in a three part series intended to debunk excuses regarding minimalism. Yesterday, we tackled four over-arching excuses, today we are going to examine some of the social excuses. You can read Part 1 HERE.
5) I don’t want people to think I am weird
It’s easy to label this excuse as self-absorbed and not address it, but we do live in a culture where it seems our lifestyles are under constant scrutiny – though it’s also true that fewer people are watching us than we imagine. Social media has opened us to response and criticism from every corner. The more we share, whether it be on facebook, around the water cooler at work, in our social groups or with family, the more opinions we hear. Some people will think we have completely flipped off the deep end. They’ll make jokes about sleeping on mats in a yurt. Some will try to convince us it’s a big mistake; we may need our things in the future, another excuse we’ll address in this series. For the most part, I have experienced more curiosity and openness to discussion than either of the first two responses. Once we start removing excess, the mental and emotional space we experience, the money we save, the beauty we find in our homes far outweighs Bob from accounting’s opinion about giving away half our clothes. We can’t live our lives based on what other people will think.
6) If I get rid of my extra things I can’t have people over.
It’s true that if we don’t have four sets of plates it is difficult to host dinner for twenty-five, but then again, I’ve never hosted dinner for twenty-five. In fact, most people entertain less while owning more. The constant busyness required by the consumer culture isn’t very conducive to entertaining. As a pastor’s wife who lives a considerable distance from either side of our family, it is quite common for us to have anywhere from a handful to a house full of guests. I’ve never been embarrassed by lack, and I’ve never found myself wishing I had more of anything. We aren’t formal so when the occasion requires we request potluck complete with BYO serving utensils. We sometimes use disposable plates and forks, but I have also found that our one set of dishes with service for eight, is quite adequate for almost all our needs even with guests. We are prepared with sheets and towels for a few. On the rare occasions when more are expected, we borrow from friends or ask our guests come prepared. Many of us hang on to things because we might need them sometime in the future, say, if the Queen of England spends the night, rather than because we actually use them now. In doing so, we’re living for a slightly possible tomorrow rather than enjoying today. What’s more, with less stuff, my house stays cleaner, which makes me far more likely to entertain. A minimized budget enables us financially to treat and entertain. We are better able to respond generously to guests in our home with less, than we ever were with more.
7) My family is generous. I can’t get rid of the things I have been given.
This is one of the hardest situations a minimalist will face. Our parents adore our children and want to buy them all the things for every holiday both major and minor. Or we have surfaces covered with tchotchkes handed down from great-aunt Ellen from the homeland. Or we have an attic full of stuff from when our parents passed away. These are hard things because emotions get twisted in with our stuff. We’ll tackle them one at a time.
First with generous parents or family, it is actually healthy to say no, thank you and to set boundaries around gift giving at holidays and birthdays. It may be difficult and even uncomfortable, though most families make the adjustment just fine even if they don’t fully understand. Communicate that the space in our homes is finite. We can’t continue to accumulate things the way we have in the past. If family members are insistent, which can happen when grandchildren are involved, then ask that the items be kept in their home and not yours.
Keeping sentimental items is a much more emotional matter. Keep in mind, again, there is no time limit, and this isn’t an everything-must-go blitz. I still have sentimental items which I intend to keep. Because I am not buried under stuff, I actually enjoy and use them instead of sitting in a closet or the attic. When we are sorting this type of item it’s important to remember our feelings for the person have nothing to do with the item. They won’t disappear when it is gone, nor will our memories. It’s also completely understandable to simply remove the item for awhile without actually disposing it. I kept a “maybe box” which was a place where things went to live while I thought about getting rid of them. Occasionally items came out of the box and stayed, but usually I found I didn’t miss the item and the guilt I was feeling was entirely misplaced. I have also heard it advised to take pictures, keeping photos rather than the item itself in order to enjoy the memories without taking up time and space.
A third scenario is parents whose children have left boxes, bags and entire rooms behind upon permanently leaving home. This can also be a very emotional situation, and one that I have not dealt with personally. However, I hope the way we live now will prevent this from being an issue in the future. It’s reasonable to tell your children that at a set date, you will handle the items yourself and not for storage purposes, Children who claim to be adults should act like it by being responsible for their own belongings. Parents are not rent free storage units. I realize there are extenuating circumstances within individual families, but overall, we can all stop leaving our baggage behind in the care of others and be better for it.