Minimalism is all the rage these days.
Sell all your possessions!
Fit everything you own into a duffle bag!
Be ready to move at a moments’ notice!
I get the appeal of this lifestyle. More often than not it’s a true that we’re slaves to our stuff.
But if we have unhealthy relationships to our possessions, the answer might not be to just throw those possessions away.
I’m staying as a guest in an apartment right now which is “cluttered,” but it’s cluttered with dozens of diverse and fascinating items that bring back memories for the owner. The items themselves don’t have a functional use, but they do provide a direct recall of the great and meaningful moments of the past.
Minimalism (“toss everything you don’t use”) forgets that sometimes objects and possessions are not just about utility. Humans attach meaning to objects. The objects help us to replay our past, which in turn helps us to shape our futures.
When we surround ourselves with truly meaningful objects, they can help to put us in the context of our life story so far. If our memories are good, objects put us into a good story.
Should we really chuck out the knick-knacks, collectibles, and hand-me-downs that minimalists are so dead set against? Maybe it’s a LEGO set from your childhood or a tshirt from your senior class trip. Whatever it is, if it the power of positive memory for you, I say “no.”
There’s a fine balance that I think we can strike. We should be minimalist enough to be able to chase after the experiences that give objects meaning. The source is experience, and objects and possession are just reflections of that experience. But we need those reflections to give us insight and courage for the life ahead. And that’s why we may always need (some) objects with little utility.