Minimalism v Consumerism
There seem to be two contradicting life models out there today, and I find myself riding the pendulum between them. There has been a recent movement towards minimalism in the Millennial Generation, made more mainstream by Marie Kondo’s show Tidying Up. This mindset focuses on paring down your belongings to only what you need and use regularly, while purging the rest. At the other end of the spectrum there is the far more common consumerism that has plagued the United States for decades now. I find myself swinging quite equally between the two extremes, almost cyclically based on seasons.
As often as I can, I take my children out of the house to explore their world. Partially because I want them to be exposed to as much as possible, but mostly because I feel confined when I stay home all day. Even with all of our adventures, I still spend a much higher percentage of my time in my home than the average working adult. I love that our home is fully lived in and it does feel like there is a lot of love contained in these walls. Naturally our summer days our spent outdoors for much longer periods of time than in the winter. We can easily walk out the door without any kind of preparation and stay outdoors until the heat of the day hits in the later afternoon. When we spend less time indoors, I find myself cleaning up after myself less. The clutter of our gear is always out because we are always using it and I notice the accumulation less when I spend less time surrounded by it. Our home becomes perpetually cluttered without me getting stressed over it because I am simply not indoors as much.
Then back to school season hits and, like Pavlov, I feel the need to get new clothes and notebooks. I have been out of school for a long enough time that it should not be a thing anymore, but it seems so ingrained my psyche that it is too hard to shake. After I collect ‘fall clothes’ the commercials begin. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas begin to choke out every store you enter and it becomes inescapable. Buy this costume, or that serving dish and all of your greatest family dreams will come true. Your holiday party can only be filled with joy if it looks like Martha Stewart planned it. You will be marked a great parent if you Pinterest your life in just this way; which can be done with these simple things you find around your home, as long as you live in a craft store and have endless hours to devote to each holiday.
This all peaks during the fall and into Christmas when commercials are at an all time high and needs shift from shorts and flip flops to multiple layers just to get outside. I know I am not alone in this cycle, and it is perpetuated with the eternal Christmas celebrations that now stretch for months in stores and on TV. I think people are looking for any reason to have joy in a world that seems heavily focused on the negative. While this speaks to a larger issue of internal discontent, that is a post for another day. This gimmie gimmie attitude gets stopped in its tracks by the new year, when I have a minute to breathe after the holiday season and look around my own home to see the chaos that I have created.
Around this time is when winter has reached a point of less fun, where staying indoors feels less like hot chocolate and fireplaces and more like a trap with no sight lines on escape. As January rolls on I find myself looking around and feeling compelled to sell it all and, as Chris Farley so eloquently put it, live in a van down by the river. I wonder how much he would laugh at a world where #vanlife is a thing? Again, I digress. I then spend the better part of January through when spring finally breaks trying to untangle the web of material things I have collected. I know that consumerism is an unsustainable way of life, and I desperately want to break myself of it, but I continue to get pulled back to it year after year. It is comparable, in mindset and timing, to yo-yo dieting. It is so hard to turn away from the glitz and glam of holiday sparkle and so easy to reign it in during ‘off seasons’.
In the off seasons I can reign it in by bagging up all of my treasures by selling what I can and donating the rest. As I take bags of completely worthless-to-me things to be dropped off I am riddled with guilt at the time and money wrapped up in each purchase and I spiral the other direction into ‘we are never buying another thing again! I mean it this time!’
My season of purge, combined with being indoors so much of the time leads to a deep clean. Growing up we did a spring and fall deep clean in our house, but as an adult I just can’t handle the idea of staying indoors to clean during our limited shoulder seasons. Cleaning has become one of my coping mechanisms, and let me say, in the winter months I vacuum at least 4x as much as I do in the summer. If I have had a particularly stressful few days, my husband will often come home to very strange things being deep cleaned: I will have scrubbed all the baseboards in the house, or deep cleaned the coat closet while decluttering it. Through the winter months my kids toys are always on point too, organized by type and always put away in an orderly fashion. That is probably more of a symptom of the sheer volume of toys that enter this house during the Christmas season than anything else.
I have seen many moms make a career on YouTube filming their extreme cleaning habits and if I had the patience or knowledge to edit I would be all over it. That, and I look like a complete bum when I do that stuff, I am never in a visually appealing anything. I don’t know who thought it would be fun to put on a bra with a very adorable ‘just threw my hair up like this’ and full face of makeup to scrub toilets, but it is making them money and keeps me at a distance. I will say I almost never learn anything new from those videos, so maybe I could start an organizational company some day. Inevitably, one day I will yell at my kids for the umpteenth time about getting out of my way while cleaning and look around ashamed that I have begun to prioritize cleaning over playing with my kiddos. I begin to long for the freedom of summer, with less rules and order, and soon the first sighting of the grass begins to poke through the snow.
This pendulum has been swinging for most of my life, even my parents could tell you if I am truly unsettled just walking into my room. They used to be able to tell if something was up when they would walk into my room, completely destroyed, as I sit among my stuff on the floor trying to make sense of at least my belongings. If those were in order, at least I could retreat to that solace in my mind swirling with whatever drama was circling in my kid brain.
More recently, I have found myself trending to a more stable middle ground, but there is a long way to go in that department and I know I have a lot of work to do to get there.
I know I am not the only one struggling with this kind of unstable idea of what is the right way to live. If I were there would not be shows like Tidying Up or Tiny Houses lined up just following infomercials about the next great thing to change your life,or Pinterest. Even our social media is a juxtaposition: let me show you yet another picture of my perfectly simple table or coffee in the morning. When you begin to collect hundreds of images of the idea of simplicity you begin a collection of simplified clutter. Look how clean it looks having just a coffee, pen and notebook in am image with perfect lighting; don’t look behind the curtain at the chaos that is happening in the playroom, or the bedrooms; and for heaven's sake don’t even go near my car that is a DISASTER, like always.
What does this struggle between consuming and minimalism look like in your life? Are you more of a hoarder, not wanting to ever need something you once had or a minimalist living with just enough? What are some of your coping mechanisms to tame the crazy in your mind (we all have that voice, no need to hide it). Regardless of your personal style, we are all going through something, so give yourself a break and know that you are not alone in your struggles. If you allowed yourself half the grace and empathy you hand out freely to others I am sure the world would be a better place. Breathe and know that you are loved, then maybe peace can begin to enter your daily life.