Note: This post is in the same series as The Toilet Paper Chronicles and Cowboys & Hankies. They can each be read independently, but if you would like more on the same topic, click the links.
Studies have shown that homelessness can cause anxiety and that people typically end up on one end of the spectrum or the other. The one end of the spectrum is hoarding. The other end of the spectrum is minimalism.
Hoarding makes sense on multiple levels. When you live in poverty, you often do not have the money or resources to be able to dispose of trash or other items. There is also a sense of urgency in procuring things and holding onto them “in case you need them.” Some people go from having absolutely nothing to wanting all the things.
I have a family member who falls into this category. Their house is quite literally filled with wall to wall, floor to ceiling stuff. It is all very clean and well maintained. They are constantly buying even more things. Their basement, attic and garage are all full to the brim. I refuse to go to this person’s house because it is too anxiety provoking for me.
Then, there is a smaller group that falls into minimalism. That is the group into which I fall. When I was homeless, it was very stressful trying to hold onto and keep track of your things, even if all that you had in the world was only enough for a paper grocery bag (yes, I lived like that at one time). I personally experience extreme anxiety when I am surrounded by a lot of things. I do not like being responsible for things. The things I do have, I keep nice. Too many things that I have to keep nice, maintain, and dispose of just drives me nuts.
There are points of privilege and points of loss in everyone’s life. For some, minimalism is a necessity. Like when I was homeless and everything fit into a paper grocery bag – that type of minimalism is a necessity. That is all the stuff you have in the world.
Then there is the form of minimalism in which I now engage that I feel is a privilege. It all comes down to economics, economics, economics.
Going in the same vein as The Toilet Paper Chronicles and Cowboys & Hankies, I did recently decide to order a set of ladies’ handkerchiefs from a maker on etsy. I have been doing quite well with the $4 handkerchiefs I had purchased at Walmart, but was having difficulty making 6 of them last a week until the next load of laundry.
I purchased a set of 10 beautifully handmade ladies’ handkerchiefs in a bunch of fun designs from etsy. These ones are also flannel cotton and much softer on my nose than the Walmart ones. In fact, the ones from etsy feel like heaven on my nose.
I realized this weekend that the fact that I had $20 to spend on cloth handkerchiefs is in itself a privilege. It is a good investment. With the money I am saving on paper facial tissues, the cloth hankies will pay for themselves in about 2-3 months.
However, it is that initial layout of cash that most people don’t have. As with the toilet paper scenario, with facial tissue, it feels cheaper to shell out $1 for a box of tissues when in fact that $1 is more expensive. It is that balancing act of having to live on a small finite amount of money.
I have the added benefit of the fact that I have room in the house to store a stack of (now 16) cloth handkerchiefs. I also have a washer and dryer to launder them on-site without having to trek to the laundromat. Someone living on the streets with all their belongings in a paper grocery sack or a back pack does not have any of these privileges.
I also recently decided that I want to try to use less paper towels. Paper towels are something I have to buy and spend money on. I am trying to decrease expenses. Sometimes, to decrease expenses, you have to have an initial outlay of cash and it can take months or years to see the benefits of your purchase.
In an effort to try to decrease my paper towel usage, I purchased microfiber cloths that I am using when I wash the windows. After I use a microfiber cloth, I can put it through the wash and it comes out clean again for reuse. Now, the only thing I am using traditional paper towels for are cleaning the cat pan or anything else that is really gross. I just can’t bring myself to use cloth to clean really gross things.
My next task will be switching from paper napkins to cloth napkins, but that one may take a little bit. I am looking to buy cloth napkins from the same maker on etsy who made my cloth hankies.
Sometimes, when I think of minimalism, I ask myself: “What do I really need to survive?”
This is the extreme form of minimalism where people try to have fewer than 100 belongings or whatever can fit into a back pack. This form of minimalism works for some people. That’s great, but that’s not me.
Some people are forced into that type of minimalism by life circumstance.
For me minimalism is what do I need to survive plus what gives meaning to my life. Minimalism is not just about taking away, it is about what adds beauty to my existence here on Earth.
Of course, I try not to have frivolous things. But, I do. I’m sure we all do. Even if you live out of a back pack, I am sure you have even just one item that probably is not completely necessary to your survival, but is meaningful to you.
When I visit friends who have fewer things, I envy them. I get so overwhelmed being in this big house. I did not want a house this big, but this was the one that met all the requirements for the low income housing program I was in and I needed a way to keep my family together. So, here we are. One person and two cats rattling around in a huge space. The cats love it, of course.
I constantly look around thinking “do I really need that?” Do I want to clean that?
Then I realize that some of those people I envy live that way not by choice but by necessity. I am fortunate in that I have many privileges. But still, I think, I can get by with just a little bit less.
Even though I am on the minimalist spectrum after my homeless experiences, I do have some hoarding tendencies. As previously discussed, toilet paper is probably the biggest hoarding tendency I have. I always buy the jumbo packs because they work out to be cheaper, and tend to get another one when there are 4-6 rolls left because I am so paranoid about going without after the childhood I had.
I still think there are things I can declutter on this minimalist journey. Sometimes, you reach a plateau. That’s ok. Right now, I think I’m taking a break from decluttering for a month or two. Mostly because it’s summer. When the weather is nice, I like to be outdoors as much as I can. Who wants to be stuck inside cleaning or decluttering?
For me, minimalism is a choice. I have over 1600 square feet that I could fill with stuff, but I purposefully choose not to do that. For me, minimalism is a point of privilege. I have the resources to take things I don’t want and dispose of them, recycle them, or donate them. I have a vehicle that I can use to take things out of my house as much as some people use their vehicle to buy things to haul to their home.
I have the convenience of an on site washer and dryer to be able to keep things clean and buy cloth items that can be reused so that my consumable expenses decrease.
What are the points of privilege in your life and how does that effect your minimalism journey?