Be Careful What You Care About

The minimalist approach creates a thoughtful balance around what is worth care and concern. My method is meaningful minimalism: finding what provides you with meaning and forgetting about the rest, choosing just the stuff that supports your goals and priorities, and letting the space that remains highlight the few things of meaning. As I wrote in Space for the Special Stuff, I own some items that represent aspects of my relationships that are significant to me. I find some value in this. Minimalism doesn’t have to be austere or heartless.

But as I repeat to myself and others after the frustrated thoughts, the discussions, and sometimes seemingly endless ruminations: it’s just stuff. To spend the time researching an item, shopping for it, maintaining it, moving it, deciding later whether to keep it, and then deciding how to discard of it, is an incredible imbalance and misappropriation of time.

Then the other day I saw a picture of myself in a navy blue polyester jacket that I wore through much of high school and college, and a bit beyond. It was one of those prized thift store finds and I thought it was cool as hell. It was the sort of thing where it almost represented me: subdued, simple, retro, and representative of my low maintenance values. And it fit. 

Reminiscing, I felt a bit sad that it was gone. A little more than a little. Why did I give it away? Probably because I hadn’t been wearing it much for years and didn’t want to resew the hole that kept emerging in the armpit again. Damn. Why did I have to be so annoyingly pared down in my possessions? But then it hit me: I don’t want an item of clothing to mean that much to me.

I don’t ever want an item of clothing to mean that much to me. 

It’s just clothing. It doesn’t matter. My feelings are my feelings and that initial pang of missing is perfectly normal and lovely. But if a navy blue polyester jacket, or set of cheese knives, or a knick knack, or book begins to rise to a level of really caring, caring the way we do that’s best reserved for people or personal progress, then there is a problem.

The incense burner made by my brother and framed drawing from my grandma certainly mean more to me than any piece of clothing. I’d be temporarily bummed if they were ever lost, stolen or broken, but I would have gotten from them what I needed and could let go. Why grasp onto objects? Why ever let any one of them mean that much?

Taking a step back from the specifics of the stuff, you can see that reality. Why would you ever want a thing to mean that much to you, let alone spend the time (so imbalanced) to acquire and eventually dispose of it? At a certain point it gets silly. 

It’s true with people, success, money, and stuff: be careful what you care about.