When you first discover something that excites you or makes you feel good, it’s perfectly normal to want everyone else to feel that way too.
Whether it’s meditation, budgeting, running, religion, a new album, good coffee, clean eating or minimalism, it’s easy to become evangelical about it and to want to share the thing that is transforming your life with everyone else. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that–that’s how people discover new things, and make positive changes in their lives. That’s what I’m doing, in part, with this blog.
But, while there will undoubtedly be some who jump on your bandwagon with a big grin, get it at once, and ride along with you happily on your new adventure, there will be others who are wary or reluctant, others who may dip their toe in nervously, and some who will never get it at all.
And that’s okay.
One thing, no matter how great, will not work for everyone. Although, it can be tempting, try not to look down on other people or surmise that they must be ‘missing something’ because they are not following your path. We all have different wishes, fears, goals and interests, and we all find value in different things.
The part about finding value in different things is particularly applicable to minimalism and to the people around you who might be dipping their toe in, or even travelling the road alongside you.
I was having a conversation with three friends of mine a few weekends ago in a coffee shop in Bristol. These girls are true friends for life–people I met during my gap year in South Africa eleven years ago, and we now all live in different parts of the country (one has even emigrated to Australia.) We were discussing de-cluttering and, whilst we were talking enthusiastically about the benefits of de-cluttering and being ruthless with getting rid of things, one of my friends, H, said “I’ve still got everything I bought or was given in South Africa.” Cards from the children she taught, trinkets, wooden figurines from market stalls in Mozambique, ticket stubs, cheap bracelets… everything. My initial reaction was to think “Oh, but you don’t need those things! Trust me, you wouldn’t miss them. You could keep one or two favourite items and give the rest away, and you’d still have all of your memories.” But, as she spoke about them, I could tell how much joy she got from those objects. How happy they made her. She would still pull out those boxes from time to time and smile as she looked through the ticket stubs from long, dusty, sweaty bus journeys we took together on pot-holed roads and laugh as she read letters from the kids or remembered the chatty young guy who had sold her the figurine in the crowded market.
My memories are mostly in my head and my heart. Hers are in her head, in her heart, and in that cardboard box.
Is minimalism partly about realising that holding onto objects because of their sentimental value isn’t always helpful? Sure. Is it about getting rid of things that truly do spark joy and make you remember the richness, adventure and sweetness of life? Absolutely not!
Maybe H will get rid of some of those ticket stubs next month or next year. Maybe she’ll throw everything out when she moves house. Or maybe she never will. Maybe she’ll be looking through those items with her children one weekend in a few years’ time, telling them about the incredible African adventures she had when she and her friends were eighteen. None of those scenarios would be wrong.
Who are we to judge what a person should keep or get rid of? What a person chooses to hold on to is a sign of the value they place on it, usually because of what it represents rather than a superficial attachment to a physical item. Some hang onto an old wedding ring, a photograph, a guitar, a book, a child’s toy, a particular dress or a teacup. We might never understand the value they place on it, but that’s okay. It’s special to them.
Another important point is that a person might just not be ready right now to get rid of an item. I know I have only felt ready to part with certain things on the second or third round of de-cluttering, sometimes months later. And I can’t always say why.
Let’s allow people to do whatever works for them–at their own pace and at their own comfort level. Minimalism is cleansing and a chance to get closer to what matters. But what matters to my friend right now is that box of memories. Wouldn’t it be terribly wrong to make her feel bad about holding onto them?