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The Important Things

There’s a cute Japanese word for book hoarding: tsundoku .

In it’s figurative sense, it means stashing books away for reading later, as if putting things in a small pile so that you can go through them when you have the time. It’s that reassurance that books have, that they will always be there for you to enjoy at any time of your leisure. However, in the literal sense, tsundoku also means to “pile up”. As in to accumulate. Until a mountain of books comes crashing down at you at the slightest earthquake and you die, like a tragic story straight out of a Hoarders episode. But it happens. It happens even to the best of us.

PSA: Compulsive hoarding is actually associated with several mental health conditions. It is classified as a disorder and you can read more about it here.

That took a turn for the morbid, didn’t it? Well, what I’m going to talk about today is something that is transformational and really quite serious, and I wish everyone paid it more attention. I recently saw the trailer of the documentary, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things and I was so intrigued because my long-time crush and life peg Colin Wright was in it.

Colin Wright and his 51 things. Photo: Colin Wright, Exile Lifestyle

 

I have heard of Colin from way back because I got wind of his lifestyle through a travel blog. He lives out of his small suitcase with just 51 items, and travels the world. The cool twist? He lives in a locality for three months at a time and he lets his blog readers vote for where he should live next. He is virtually homeless, in a delicious and hedonistic kind of way. He lives everywhere, yet he lives nowhere in particular. He doesn’t have any kind of attachment to place, and all he has is in his little satchel that he carries around. One could only wish for the same kind of freedom and independence.

When the documentary came on Netflix after a long wait, I just had to watch it. While I understand the philosophy behind reducing things in one’s life to a bare minimum, and getting rid of all the noise and clutter, I don’t think I can live the way these people do. In the era of big capitalism, advertising and the pressure to conform to materialist ideals, these rebels have approached life in a more mindful and deliberate way. Their houses basically look like art galleries because they are sparse and really spartan in their accoutrements. Most of all, they seem so calm and zen about everything. The two main guys on the show, Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are self-proclaimed “big huggers” who go around and preach about the minimalist lifestyle to people.

Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Millburn. Photo: Minimalism Film Website

Basically, the premise of the documentary is the debunking of the big myth of the American dream. Cue snippets of people in Wal-Mart getting trampled on Black Friday and people punching the hell out of each other for the last TV on a big department store sale.  It is a long held belief that greater material well-being is linked to greater psychological well-being. This is only true to a certain extent, apparently. Studies show that in the US, the threshold for this financial satisfaction is $70,000 a year. This accounts for all daily expenses and other payables. Anything more than that doesn’t necessarily guarantee true satisfaction and happiness. According to the stars of the show, more money is seen to bring more security but what they are trying to show is that you don’t have to spend that money to be happy. Everything else in life that’s not essential is noise.

It’s not about being thrifty or saving it for a rainy day, though that is always a good idea. What they are going against is the compulsion of consumption that is brought about by marketing and advertising and the message that it sends across: you have to buy things to fit in. Do you really need these things is the big question. To me, it made a lot of sense when they said that you don’t really have any real control over making more money because shit happens in life, but one thing you do have control over is how you spend, and spending less means you put value in the things you already have.

This resonates with me because I have learned minimalism the hard way. One can really live with the bare minimum, apparently, and you don’t need a lot of things to be truly balanced.

In my case, minimalism was brought about by certain circumstances in life. I am a nomad in every sense of the word. Since I moved out of my parents’ house in Bacolod 10 years ago, I have moved around Metro Manila 7 times and lived in three cities. When you move as often as I do, you really need to trim down with your crap and make sure everything can be hauled as easily and painlessly as possible.

I had a sizable book collection that I accumulated from ransacking my favorite Booksale branches and for someone who moved around a lot, I had row upon row of books that were a pain in the ass to move. I realized just how much crap I had when I had to rent a separate taxi just for my reading materials. I filled up the trunk and the backseat, and barely had space to put my pillows in the car.

When my mom got sick and we had to scrounge up every penny possible, I decided to sell my books. I put out an ad on Facebook, and in a few days, my collection of nearly a thousand titles were reduced to 13 . I only hung on to my absolute favorites and the ones that had a huge sentimental value because they were given to me as gifts.

 

Around that time, when my lease at my condo was almost up and I had to leave for another place, I encountered Marie Kondo‘s book on tidying up. Now, Marie Kondo’s method for minimalism is something I can write poetry about.  It deserves a blog post of its own. The gist of her philosophy is this: objects are necessary in your life only if they spark joy. The Konmari method of trimming down the excess fat in your life is simple: put your crap together in one pile and go through them methodically, touching and feeling each item to see if it literally “sparks joy” in you. Go on and laugh because it does sound silly, but after watching the pixie-like Marie work her magic (plenty of YouTube videos of her organizing people’s closets), I was instantly converted. She has techniques on how to make sure that everything in your closet is in full view.

Everyone who has lived with me will know that I am a very cluttered person, and I hate cleaning up. I can’t exactly say that I am a changed person after Konmari-ing my stuff, but what I can claim is that my closet is reduced to a mere third of what it was before. That means throwing away and giving away stuff that has been with me since I moved to Manila – stuff that I didn’t have the heart to get rid of. That means ditching the clothes that “will fit me again someday, when I lose all this water weight” (who am I kidding?). That means not owning 5 pairs of tattered Vans sneakers. That means throwing away old papers and readings from college that I might use again in my academic career.

The effects on my life were instantaneous. I am going to be big hypocrite if I say my closet is as neat and orderly as Marie Kondo’s clients’, but what I can say is that I don’t stress about having nothing to wear anymore. The fact is, after getting rid of the stuff that I didn’t really care much about, I am now down to the essentials that I adore the shit out of. Even my daily fashion sense is dictated by that minimalist philosophy. I am comfortable wearing black shirts with jeans wherever I go, and that means that if I stick to that getup every day, I don’t even have to fuss about not feeling comfy in my clothes. I just am, every single time. And that means more contentment and less meltdowns for when I have to be somewhere. I gave away my old shirts and bottoms to the security guards at my old dorm, and it makes me so happy when I see them wear it because I know my stuff is being put to good use instead of just taking up valuable space in my closet.

Now, I don’t have to worry about having to move again because I can fit all of my stuff in two 120-L storage boxes. It takes me 10 minutes to tidy up because I have already gotten rid of little knick knacks and random crap that just gather dust and get in the way of things. I don’t fuss about buying more stuff because help is always available to those who need it: just put a CROWDSOURCING post on Facebook and it will come to you. That’s not taking advantage of friends; that’s practicality.

I am still a mess and that somehow makes me unqualified to give advice, but here are the things that I am more mindful about that makes a solid difference in my happiness and contentment in life. It is my hope that you can take nuggets of wisdom from this list, and apply it to your life as well.

-If you’re planning to update and overhaul your wardrobe, buy investment pieces that will last a long time. I find that spending money on Uniqlo basics have actually made me save a lot more. The shirts that I get from Uniqlo are so well-made and sturdy, they still look quite good even if they have been through a lot.

-I got rid of the rest of my toiletries and I now use Dr. Bronner‘s liquid castile soap for everything. I swear by this product because it smells great, it’s versatile and it’s hella handy for just about anything. The 18-in-1 liquid soap can be used as a facial wash, shower gel, shampoo, laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, and even as a shaving lather. You just have to dilute it to different concentrations.

-Borrow, borrow, borrow. You will find that friends will be more willing to lend stuff if you ask nicely and if you take care of their things. I found that I don’t have to buy a kurta(which I may never use again) for an Indian wedding sangeet.  I don’t need to shell out a lot of money for a big travel suitcase (I have a travel backpack, and suitcases are only for when it’s not a rough-and-tumble trip). Turns out I don’t need tents or sleeping bags of my own. You just have to ask and somehow, the universe conspires to give it to you.

-Avoid temptations. I light up from the inside when I’m in Daiso or MiniSo. Going into these stores is like the opposite of amnesia. You suddenly remember why you need an organizing bin or a cute little ceramic chopstick rest. You suddenly need to have that microwave-safe egg poacher and a rustic wooden caddy for your miniature potted plants. NO. Just no. Run back to the opposite direction and ignore the siren call of cheaply made Japanese and Korean tchotchkes. I only now go to Daiso and stick to my bare essentials: coffee filters, paper towels, and sticky notes.

-Avoid buying as a knee-jerk reaction to everything. Learn to improvise and make use of what you already have.

Again, I am barely the embodiment of minimalism as there are still a lot of things I wish I could get rid of in my life, but I hope that with this longwinded post, you also adopt a minimalist philosophy that will be comfortable to you. May it be minimalism in thoughts and in worries, in your spending, in your food intake, etc.

Just like getting rid of my books allowed me a certain lightness and unencumbered-ness in my life (not to mention being able to put in my share for my mom’s medical bills), you can also assess your life and think about things that are truly important. It turns out, I don’t need to compulsively allot a portion of my pay for trips to Booksale. I used to sit there for hours, settling over books that are only somewhat interesting. I read them, yes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are good books. I only read them because I already have them. Now, I only get the ones that I am sure will change my life. And when I’m done, it’s time to share it to others. I am now quite generous with whatever is left of my book collection. I only had a relapse when I went to India because books there are so cheap, but still. Life hack: if you need space on your bookshelf, lend your books to people. You can always get it back if you need it, but you save yourself precious space.

It inspires me to hear stories about how cutting down has improved the lives of people, and it’s a message we ought to be sharing to others because it really is quite transformational. It’s these little adjustments in our lives that truly matter in the long run. You don’t have to light a pyre and toss all of your crap in to live a minimal life. It doesn’t require any dramatic production. It just starts with that moment’s pause at the cash register — it’s your final chance before you start a commitment with an item.

When you start craving less in your life, you truly pay attention to things that you already have and see why they matter.

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