Seeming vs. Being
“I feel like Natalie has been cleaning her room for the past five years.”
My brother wasn’t wrong here. In fact, it had probably been longer than five years since I started trying to simplify my life. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I had become overwhelmed with all the stuff I had accumulated over the years, but at some point growing up, I learned how to edit my possessions.
Similar to the methods popularized by Marie Kondo and minimalists on social media, I would systematically go through my belongings, deciding whether to keep or purge each item. I’m a simplicity lover and had always wanted an uber organized desk and a perfectly coordinated wardrobe. However, even after all the years I had spent decluttering, I never stopped feeling overwhelmed. Instead, I had entered a cycle of getting rid of things and replacing them with new things.
This time, my inspiration to declutter came from being separated from most of my belongings for almost three months due to the pandemic. While there were a few items that I did miss (my favorite hoodie, my ukulele, my sticky note collection), without most of them, I was doing fine.
Once I was reunited with my possessions, I spent the summer purging those things I didn’t miss when I didn’t have them. As I went through the process, things clicked for me in a way they hadn’t before. The three months of separation had inspired me so much that I wanted to get rid of everything I possibly could. I started to call myself a “minimalist” and began to research the lifestyle. I learned to inspect not only how I decluttered but also how I consumed.
The reason I had failed in all my previous attempts at simplifying my life was because I hadn’t addressed the root of the problem. How did I end up with these items in the first place? And why was I holding on to them? As I took a closer look at the items I owned, I started to uncover the reasons I was holding on to unnecessary possessions.
One reason it can be difficult to let go of certain things is the psychological concept of identity investment, or self-identification with your possessions. We attach ourselves to certain objects because we think they demonstrate who we are. However, I found that sometimes we don’t actually need those objects to be who we are, but rather we hold on to them in order to impress others.
I noticed that I was buying or latching on to things that I wanted people to see. Shopping bags, books, and of course, my basketball rally towels. I displayed the towels because I wanted people who visited to know that I was a basketball fan, not because I actually enjoyed looking at them.
Two years ago, when I got rid of my social media accounts, I was able to recognize how concerned I was with my image and the way I was presenting myself online. Last year, when I got rid of many of my physical possessions, I realized that many of the things I owned I was also using as a tool to present myself in a certain way.
Practicing minimalism has helped me recognize this behavior and start to make changes which will allow me to work towards becoming my most authentic self. For example, now if I were to see someone in an outfit that I think I want, I am more inclined to check myself. Do I actually want that outfit, or do I just want to be seen wearing that outfit?
Previously, instead of just being the person I wanted to be, I was more concerned with trying to make people see that I am that person. The most important thing that I have learned from practicing minimalism is that your possessions do not define who you are; your beliefs, your words, and your actions do.