Theres a lot of talk these days about the amount of stuff that we own, and that we consume.
Are we damaging the climate just because we want more stuff?
Are we damaging our own financial futures because we buy too much stuff?
Are we making ourselves more stressed and anxious just to house more stuff?
I’ve read and listened to a lot of content around this, I always felt acutely embarrassed by owning a lot of stuff so did a lot of digging to see what the alternative might be if I let things go.
There are many people delving into this from Marie Kondo’s ‘Life changing magic of tidying up’ to other more extreme approaches like ‘goodbye things’ by Fumio Sasaki. If you haven’t already seen it then I would absolutely recommend the film, ‘Minimalism’ on Netflix as an entry point to see some of the different types of approaches. At the moment I’m reading the book “Stuffocation” by James Wallman, like many of the other books and blogs preaching the same message it promises that you can ‘Live more with less’.
But is that true?
For me personally I would say that it absolutely has been.
I used to own a lot of stuff, frankly ridiculous amounts of stuff. I went through a period where I became very attached to it. In a rocky point in my twenties I was unemployed on and off for 3 years, whilst living back with my parents where I knew very few people and I didn’t have enough money coming in to get out and do very much at all, and even if I did I was so embarrassed about being unemployed that I wouldn’t have wanted to. Literally all I had was me and my things. I became much more attached to them and seemed to try to build up as much as I could. My stuff became my surrogate for a connection with the rest of the world. It was also what I thought was the thing that would help other people see any understand who I was.
The single biggest thing for me was books. I would collect as many as I could, anything that I was vaguely interested in, charity shops, high street book shops, clearance store and I was in there. Finding a cheap complete set in ‘The Works’ of a series I didn’t have was a huge find for me. I was buying them far far faster than I could read them, it had become about owning them more than it had about reading them. It was like I was constructing my own little world in my room, brick by brick, book by book, because I wasn’t connected to the world outside, so I had to create my own little fantasy world. I was also creating a collection of things that I wanted other people to think I was reading, it was as much about what it looked like to other people as what it provided me even though no one else ever saw them….
There was also the accumulated stuff that I had grown up with causing my space to burst at the seams: piles and piles of soft toys, piles of clothes I had never really cleared out, boxes of photographs. I never got rid of any nick nicks or collectibles as I was growing up and you would find, weird and wonderful things stored every where, trolls, metal soldiers, mugs….so many mugs (for someone that rarely drinks hot drinks).
I always insisted on bringing something back from everywhere I visited, for a while this took the form of a souvenir t-shirt everywhere I went that stocked them to sleep in……. however much you love sleep wear its hard to make sure you get regular wear out of 50 odd bed t-shirts….
Things have changed a lot since then. I would never use the word minimalist to describe myself especially not in the ‘everything I own fits in my backpack’ sense of the word but I have made a huge change in the amount that I own over the last few years and certainly made a huge step down that road. I would easily say that I have reduced what I own by at least 70% if not far more. In fact when it comes to books, I have easily sold or donated 98%+ of them.
I didn’t suddenly turn round and throw everything away one day. I took baby steps. A few soft toys that were kind of ugly and I couldn’t remember the origin of here, a few t-shirts that had holes in them there and slowly over time I built up a bit of momentum. The less stuff I had the more out of place anything that I didn’t really enjoy owning or that didn’t really add anything to my life was and the easier it was to get rid of it.
It genuinely has made a huge positive impact in my life. On a very basic level its freed up a lot of time. If I need or want something I know exactly where it is now, and tidying up literally takes 5 minutes because everything has a place and there isn’t that much stuff to create a mess with.
On a deeper level its reduced a lot of anxiety for me. Even before I started to read about minimalism something felt inherently wrong. I used to be overly conscious of things that I owned and never used and acutely embarrassed that I had more stuff than other people. I would feel constantly guilty about it and would often start going through and tidying and organising things on a whim just to try and remember what I had loosing hours at a time in the process. I was forever loosing things because there were so many places that they could get lost, so many pockets, so many bags, so many things they could fall behind.
In many cases I was terrified about what other people would think if they saw some of the stuff that I was essentially hoarding. At one point I had a back log of toiletry products that you wouldn’t believe……
Stripping out the excess has absolutely left me feeling calmer day to day.
I think it has also had a huge impact on me realising and embracing who I am rather than the person that I wanted to be or was trying to be. All those clothes I bought because it was what I ‘should’ be wearing at work, the bike I bought because I thought I should try and be a cyclist, the breadmaker I bought because I was going to be that person that made fresh bread all the time…. they all sat and did nothing and made me feel guilty. They absolutely weren’t improving my life at all so letting go of them was like dropping huge weight.
Now the things I own add something for me it’s not about what other people may or may not thing about me owning them.
Theres just one area in my life where the amount of stuff that I have seems to be increasing rather than decreasing and that is my powerlifting stuff.
It seems to have started to breed over time.
First there was the healed lifting shoes to squat in;
Then I had to buy flat shoes to deadlift in on competition day;
Then there was the belt;
Then come the wrist wraps;
Oh and I need a singlet and deadlift socks to compete in……..
Then you end up on a bit of a roll…. different wrist wraps for squatting; liquid and powdered chalk just in case the place you are training doesn’t have any; smelling salts cos all lifters do right?; deadlift straps so you hands hurt less; a little tripod because I’m supposed to be instagramming this right?; a hip circle and some bands for warming up at competitions…… and that’s before we get onto the benchblokz and slingshot I allowed myself to get when I really decided to focus on my bench and the selection of bands I need for my programming some days.
On top of all of that I realised the other day that I had more clothing options for a gym session than for work and the rest of my life put together.
I’m ok with that though.
I try to take a leaf out of the bookJoshua Fields Milburn of the Minimalist’s fame and ask myself about everything I bring into my space, ‘Does this add value to my life?’ and you know what? All of my powerlifting kit absolutely does.
I genuinely enjoy deciding which crazy leggings I want to wear today in a way that I just don’t care about when I am reaching for my jeans to head down to the supermarket. As for all of the training equipment, ok I may have got excited and got a few more things than I strictly need, but each and every one of them has a purpose and gets used, some more than others but nothing is deadweight.
As I mentioned in last weeks post, training is a big focus for me right now I really want to push and see where I can get to with my lifting and many of my decisions are taken to enable that including what kit I buy. Even those things I use less I have bought so that I can get an effective session in wherever I need to train (providing I can find a barbell and some weights), be it a top notch amazingly equipped lifters gym or the hotel gym when I’m travelling. With the exception of my clothing everything fits in a single lifting kit box so its not taking over my life just yet……
Whilst I’m powerlifting I’m certainly never going to be one of those people that own less than 100 items but I don’t want to. That just wouldn’t be me. I want to make sure that everything I own makes my life better in someway and I will always ask myself when I bring something new into the house whether its going to add value to my life but that comes in many shapes and sizes. It couldn’t of an item helps me get one step closer to my goals, makes me feel more confident, or in the case of my most recent purchase (a backpack) reduces my stress levels because I only need to carry one bag rather than 2 all the way to work and back to the gym after. Equally something that makes me smile every time I see it should stay without question.
Always be honest with yourself why you want something. Is it really going to add value to your life? Is it something you want for you or is it something that you think other people would approve of your having? Is it for who you are now or the person you wish you were?
As long as you know the answer to that you can always decide whether or not something belongs in your life.