Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I'm not a minimalist. Far from it, in fact: I really like things. Like most people my age, I am trying to create my identity based on stuff. Material goods serve as manifestations of my interests, and without them, I am (or at least, I thought that I would be) an un-person. My idea of self is justified by objects: I like tea, I have a collection of tea cups. I like running, I have racing numbers taped to the wall of my bedroom. I like drawing, and I have excessive art supplies scattered across my desk. In the beginning, this seemed reasonable, but as time progresses (and I hopefully, to some extent, matured), I came to realize that some, if not most, of my things were extraneous. And, even though I could objectively identify how unnecessary so many of my possessions were, I could not begin to get rid of them. 
A slow panic is setting in as I prepare to leave home. Going to college is forcing me to prioritize and declutter. I ask myself the question: do I really need this? Increasingly, I find myself answering in the negative. In the past weekend, I pulled sixty books off the shelves of my bedroom and boxed them to donate. Over the past several months, I've been doing the same process with my clothing. These have not been easy tasks for me. I find my bookshelf is hugely indicative of my character, and by removing pieces from my shelves I feel that I am releasing parts of myself. I parted with several book series this weekend that I had adored when I was growing into pre-pre-pubescence. What part of my childhood was I choosing to relinquish as I packed the box and dragged it into the hallway? 
Sorting clothing is no easier. Now that I have finished growing, I have started to grow an extensive wardrobe of miscellaneous garments: shirts, pants, skirts, button-downs, sweaters, jackets. My penchant for thrifting has caused the contents of my closet to expand exponentially with each season. The slow accumulation of garments surprises me, as I can never truly conceptualize the amount of clothing that I actually possess until it is time to box it up and store it for the next year. Embarrassingly, I have run out of space to store my shoes. I threw away four pairs, among them several worn down pairs of running shoes, and the pair of ballet flats that everyday in the 8th grade- the same pair I wore when I had my first kiss. I'm sentimental. Absurdly so. I pulled two trash bags full of clothing out of my room to donate, and haven't regretted it. 
Cleaning my desk and school shelves has been completely overwhelming. My older brother never got rid of his textbooks, at the urging of my mother, in the event that I would need them when I went through the classes later. When I followed him through school three years later, I took many of the same classes with many of the same teachers. However, none of the books were the same. Editions change over the years, and the textbooks that I already had were essentially worthless. So, when I graduated in June, I was left with a tall pile of defunct textbooks, most in duplicate. Required readings for eight collective years of English classes, and an inordinate amount of SAT prep books given to me by my brother and cousins and family friends. 
If you couldn't already tell, I feel the need to be over-prepared for things. I have saved my binders from almost every class that I took in high school, in the event that I would need to reference my notes later on. When I cleared out my shelves, my binders were the first to go. I went through them meticulously, pulling a few tests and essays that I wanted to keep, and recycling the rest. In a few subjects, such as French, I did decide to keep my notes. Even though I held onto some things, I was able to narrow down ten binders and countless two pocket folders overflowing with handouts, worksheets, and miscellany, into three concise binders. I recycled nearly 50 pounds of paper. (And yes, I am going to take a moment to repeat that: 50 pounds of paper. What was I thinking that made me think I needed to keep 50 pounds of paper? I routinely babysit children who weigh less than that.) From the shelves of required readings,I decided which I wanted to keep, and which I would box to donate. I brought the books to my room, and put them into my own personal library. In total, I took my desk and school readings from two shelving units into a single shelf.
As difficult as it was to do my first sweep, each successive purge has become easier for me. My room in still insulated with books, and I still have a large amount of clothing. But now, it has become easier for me to look at these items and judge their worth. I have a book here that I've never read or wanted to read, but it was a gift from X. I pull it from the shelves and put it in a stack to donate. I never liked the way this shirt fit me, but it had only cost this much money. I'll probably never wear it, but maybe somebody else will. It doesn't matter how much, or how little, something cost, if it serves no practical purpose. At times when I am cleaning out, I find it important to remind myself that I have what I need. I want what I want. I don't always need what I want.


  1. I'm also going off to college as a freshman in just a bit over a month here, and I'm finding myself experiencing a lot of the same emotions and I'm also pursuing minimalism as a way to get my sh*t in order, so to speak. Thanks for sharing your experiences- it's cool to see other people doing the same stuff. Best of luck in the fall!

  2. Interesting. When I left for college, I kept everything (unlike your ballet shoes, even an envelope has sentimental value to me...). I'm glad you recycled and donated - I hate it when people burn their high school notes. I've yet to recycle my high school (or even elementary school!) notes, thinking that one day, I'm going to refer to them (but I'm not). I plan on clearing out a lot of my stuff soon, particularly clothing that is too small, but I guess I have to get over the emotional attachment to everything first. Keep us updated!

  3. When I went away to college, my mother, in the throes of a divorce, sold many of my belongings at multiple garage sales, threw away many memory-objects, donated a lot, & appropriated the best for herself. Since I'd worked since I was 10 (paper routes, art supply monitor, cleaning houses to begin, later serving food) I'd earned my belongings & was extremely parsimonious about what I'd collected & saved.

    It was heartbreaking to hear she sold my great-grandmother's oak, drop-leaf desk (for a fraction of its value) partly because it was given to me by my grandmother, partly because I helped restore it to its original beauty after my father (shudder) painted it . . .

    However, I'd like to thank you for giving me a reason to reexamine my feelings--maybe I should appreciate the betrayal & loss as freedom from "things" it also represented. Maybe this reflection will allow me to purge more items, more quickly, & much more happily, from my current hoardings, which I've begun releasing from my life. Thank you, Pi.