What if everything you ever wanted isn’t what you actually want?

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I have gone back to a practice I followed a few years ago. I was trying to simplify and unclutter my life. Well, my life might be an overstatement. I thought that by uncluttering my home, I might also be simplifying my life.

I decided that by the end of the week, each week, I needed to get rid of enough stuff to fill a large garbage can. The stuff wasn’t garbage. It was stuff that I had been saving deliberately. Things I thought had value.

I was also giving away books and movies and bikes and sports equipment and things that have value to someone else. “Clean out like we are moving,” said my wife, “because at some point we will be.”

Now, it’s another summer coming in a few weeks, and this past week I read online about Joshua Fields Millburn who similarly asked “What if everything you ever wanted isn’t what you actually want?”

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Joshua had more of a crisis than I did and it was a time when he started questioning every aspect of his life. Some people would turn to religion or drugs. He turned to minimalism.

He got rid of material possessions (not all throwaways – he sold a lot and was able to pay off some debt) and left his well-paid career.

Millburn and his best friend, Ryan Nicodemus, call themselves “The Minimalists.” They have become evangelists for living with less. They have a book, Everything That Remains: A Memoir, that they self-published written by Millburn with footnotes by Nicodemus. They have a website, www.TheMinimalists.com.

Josh’s idea was to remove just one material possession from his life each day for a month. He ended up getting rid of more than 30 items in that first month.

He says that the uncluttering left him with some difficult questions:

  • When did I give so much meaning to material possessions?
  • What is truly important in life?
  • Why am I discontented?
  • Who is the person I want to become?
  • How will I define my own success?

Again, I don’t feel my life is in crisis, but I do feel it is too busy, complicated, and filled with stuff.  “Stuff” is such a mushy word to use, but it does cover things that almost are not things. I pained and redecorated my home office. We packed 12 boxes of stuff and put them in the basement to work. When we were done redecorating, I looked at those 12 boxes and knew I couldn’t move them all back. I have been sorting, sifting, and trying to get rid of stuff. How many pens and pencils and cups to hold them do I really need?  Do I need these books nearby on a shelf? Do I need them at all?  Notebooks full of ideas for writing and sketches for paintings seem like creative stuff that I shouldn’t throw away, but they are also reminders of how much I plan to do and don’t do.

I like the office being cleaner and simpler and less cluttered. Does it help me understand what is truly important in life and who is the person I want to become? Not so far. But that may be a lot to ask of minimalism.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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