For the past year I’ve been obsessively paring down my stuff, and eliminating consumerist spending habits from my life. Essentially, I’ve become a minimalist. It’s freed me in all sorts of ways; given me more time for music and for the sweet and simple things…yet I’m still not satisfied. Recently I’ve been considered the 100 thing challenge, the project 333 or 10 item wardrobe etc etc…but then I realised something about minimalism – it’s about freedom from stuff. What good is becoming minimalist, if I spend so much time obsessing about being minimalist? Isn’t that simply being trapped by stuff in a different way?
The weird thing is that since the criteria for these challenges is quite wide, I already qualify for all of them. I thought people felt free after completing these processes, yet I still feel trapped! Why? Well, partly because I hate dealing with stuff. I suppose I could cut down to owning only what I can carry? Wouldn’t that be ultimate freedom?
No, in my case it would just be silly. I’d have to give up the things I use to do what makes me happiest; my recording studio and musical instruments, The other reason I feel trapped must be in my head. When I set myself a goal I put all my efforts into fulfilling it, even when that defeats the object of the exercise. This in itself is what makes me feel trapped. I feel enslaved by the target, without even knowing why anymore. But life is simple when you can pretend that it’s about reaching an arbitrary target. It’s a way of holding onto something solid in the world. So many of us fall into that trap. This isn’t to say that aims and goals are a bad thing.
It’s said that people are happiest when they are doing something that they find difficult, but that’s important to them. We can challenge and express ourselves by doing something that we believe in. We are happy when our goals reflect what we believe in, but unhappy when we’re asked to meet targets that mean nothing to us personally (“I want that report on my desk first thing tomorrow!”)
“Having minimal stuff” has been a good target for me. It allows me physical freedoms (travel, less tidying up, being able to afford experiences), but it’s important not to confuse that with my own inner sense of personal freedom.
It’s also important not to think “I will be happy when my next goal is completed”, because that’s like saying “I’ll never be hungry again after my next meal”. It doesn’t matter whether you think “I will feel free when I have a paid off my mortgage in full” or “I will feel free when I own less than 100 things”… it’s time to give it up!
Freedom or happiness are not defined by these arbitrary goals, but are fluid and reside within us. Targets are measurable and external. We cling to them because we are terrified by the idea that happiness is not a solid object: we can’t build, buy or define it. Over and over again we strive to achieve targets, only to find that all we achieved was the target, not the ultimate happiness we imagined would come along with it. It’s time to get re-alligned.