“The Things You Own End Up Owning You” – Why I Love Minimalism

Over the course of the last few years I’ve sold my identity.
Okay, that sounds overly dramatic and exaggerated, but for a long time I actually thought that my video games and movies were a physical manifestation of my identity. I mean, I wasn’t just any casual gamer or movie fan. I had over 700 movies from all eras and a video game collection composed of multiple consoles, collectibles, special editions and rarities. In fact, by selling these possessions I managed to finance many of my travels.

What is now left of this once grand collection are three video games and a select few of my favorite movies like Indiana Jones, Lord of The Rings and North By Northwest. Selling all my things was scary for me in the beginning. I began to feel empty as my shelves were getting emptier. But after a few days this feeling went away and instead there was a deep sense of relief. I may still be a movie enthusiast and gamer at heart, but I’m not my Blu-Rays and I’m not my games.

This reminded me of Tyler Durden’s eponymous quote from Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.” According to this quote then I belonged to my possessions and not the other way around. Now I can see the truth in this quote, because I do feel less burdened without having so much stuff that I barely use. Trust me, I had movies I haven’t watched once and many video games I’ve never played.

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Some of the last remaining movies.

So, why did I buy them in the first place? Because “I MIGHT watch that movie someday…” or “I MIGHT play that video game one day…”. We don’t always buy things in the hope that they enrich our lives right away. We buy them, because there might be a chance that we need them one day. And often times this day never comes. We also buy certain things, because our friends have them. We also buy them to impress our colleagues. We buy them for many similar reasons, none of which are reasonable. Alas, we end up with a lot of junk that is collecting dust and “owning us”.

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

I embrace this minimalistic approach of living more and more with each day. The little that I have left is not just lying around somewhere using up space. I have this feeling again of owning all those things. You could partially blame Henry David Thoreau for that, since I’ve recently read his book Walden, in which Thoreau makes a strong case for self-reliance and only having the bare necessities in life. Everything else is unnecessary luxury.

This minimalism reaches other aspects of my life as well. For instance, I only have a few sweaters left that keep me warm during the winter season in Germany. Many of my other clothes are spread all over the world. I donated a big chunk in Germany, I left a lot in Thailand before I departed and then there still might be some in a Goodwill store in the state of Washington. This lack of choice makes my mornings a lot smoother. I don’t have to make up mind what to wear every day. I just grab a shirt and a sweater and off I go!

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And some of the last remaining sweaters.

I once read that willpower is a limited resource and like a battery it gets drained by the thousands of decisions we make each day. Deciding what to wear in the morning is one of the decisions I don’t have to make anymore and so I can save a little bit of willpower. The same can be said about watching movies. Back when I had my whole collection of 700 movies, I would debate which one to watch for more than an hour. Sometimes it would get so late, that I wouldn’t even watch a movie. When I finally managed to pick one, I would constantly have this nagging feeling that a different movie would have been the better choice. As the old adage goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side.
Now I only have a small selection of movies and since they are all my favorites, I can never make a bad choice. It astounds me how much time I would waste on things like that. On the surface it may only appear as a few minutes here and a few minutes there, but it all adds up. If you look at it from a weekly, monthly or yearly perspective – that is a lot of time we spend on things that shouldn’t take that long at all. And then we are not even happy with our decisions, because we always think about “the greener grass on the other side.”

It’s the infamous paradox of choice. There are way too many products and not enough money to buy them all; there are way too many decisions to be made and not enough time to make them all. When we are caught in this trap, we will never be truly satisfied with anything that we do or buy. For a moment yes, but it’s such a fleeting moment that tomorrow we already need a new “fix” to keep our presumed happiness afloat. Companies prey on that dissatisfaction. As long as their customers are only temporarily satisfied, they can rest assured that more products will be sold to keep it that way.

To the companies it is business. To me it sounds diabolical.

If we have fewer possessions and the intention of not changing that, our focus narrows down on the things that are important to us. Our minds become clearer, because the noise that often comes from all directions goes away. It’s a peaceful state. Not wanting anything besides the necessary human needs and the occasional “cherry on top”? That is bliss to me, my friends.

By now it should be obvious that I didn’t “sell my identity”, but what has improved is my ability to control myself. Before I buy something nowadays, I would always ask myself the question: “Do I need this? I mean, REALLY need this?” And often times the answer is: “No, I don’t.” And that’s the end of the discussion.

A Short Story about a Young Boy and a Crane

Back when I was still a kid playing handball, I would walk past a corn field on my way to the gym. In the distance there was this crane with a little cabin on top. Whenever I walked home from my training session in the late afternoon, there was a light in the cabin and I imagined how amazing it would be to live up there. This was my earliest recollection of wanting a simple and small place to call home. Also the amazing view you would have from up there!

Corn field

No one was living in the cabin of course. Someone was just working late, but still – this little daydream never left me and every time I pass a small shack or cabin in a quiet area, I could always see myself living there. Regardless of the state of the house or how far away it was from civilization. It was an exciting thought. Or even the tool sheds next to a garden seemed like a great idea. I always wanted a small garden right next to my house anyway. So whenever I would step outside my door, I would be surrounded by the sight and smell of Nature. And as you can recall from my previous post, I’m all about the connection between human nature and Nature. That to me, is a life I would be willing to live for a long time. Can you imagine how peaceful this would be? Surely there still would be problems – we are humans after all. But those would be the kind of problems I’d gladly welcome into my life.

Come to think of it – it does come full circle. What was once merely a daydream – something that only made sense in my childlike imagination – appears to be the appropriate way to live my life. I guess I had to buy all the movies and video games and sell them again to come to this realization. I had to create a fog that blocked my view from the essential and then clear it again when I was ready to make my vision become a reality.

2 thoughts on ““The Things You Own End Up Owning You” – Why I Love Minimalism”

    1. First off, sorry for the delayed reply. I’m notoriously horrible at replying. 🙂
      I agree with both of your statements. It personally makes my life a lot easier and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything anymore. There is this other popular phrase called FOMO (Fear of missing out). Non-existent for me anymore.
      I’m definitely a lot happier and calmer again. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment, Kelly. 🙂

      Like

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