Minimalism at university: learning to define what is essential

By Clarissa Chung  

Moving from a three-storey house to a small flat is a painful process. The situation could not look more dire when my flatmates and I stood in the ocean of boxes threatening to drown us in torrents of household goods, clothes, kitchenware, foodstuffs, and different odds and ends we’ve inherited from our finalist friends. A sense of despair inundated me as I thought, “How on earth did we end up with so much stuff?”

That’s when inspiration struck. As my housemates and I tried desperately to squeeze everything we could in large Wilko storage boxes, I realised that decluttering would be a great help.

That was when I started visiting websites fully dedicated to minimalism. Joshua Becker’s website gives out great advice on how to do away with the clutter surrounding our lives, and Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus post interesting articles about the minimalist lifestyle.

For the past week, I’ve followed one of their many strategies in decluttering, which is to donate or throw out one item a day. It was easy at first: parting with old textbooks and the additional pan wasn’t emotionally trying. But as I’m nearing the end of the week, I find myself scrounging for things I could give away. A nice jacket, a pair of boots, a pretty bookmark… I don’t really need these things, but for some reason I still wanted to keep them. It’s hard for me to relinquish certain things, especially if there is some sentimental meaning attached to them.

But reading up on minimalism and reflecting on the driving force behind the movement, I realise that it is not about so much about the what, but the why. We all still need to own things. Consumerism per se is not bad, but excessive consumerism is. Minimalism grows out of the increasing awareness that the possession-driven lifestyle just isn’t cutting it anymore. We’ve been drawn into buying stuff, and buying more stuff, and buying stuff for our stuff, so much so our lives revolve around things. We’ve stopped owning things: they’ve started owning us.

There are other ways to declutter our lives too, and not just by discarding old objects in the house. I’ve tried cutting down my screen time by going the entire Sunday afternoon internet-less and phone-less. Instead, I jogged by the racecourse, taking my time to really appreciate the autumn colours. And when I returned home, I snuggled in bed with a book. This week, I’ve also narrowed down and focused on only a few societies and activities I want to commit to, which gave me time to take a breather so that I have energy to do them well.

If we think minimalism is merely about junking and clearing items, then its goal is self-defeating because the concept would still be centred on material possessions. Rather, it is about discerning and judging what objects and activities are essential, and what aren’t. Minimalism is not about eliminating as many things as you can, but about keeping only the few that you really need and want.

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