I remember a few key moments when living with less started to seem less radical and more responsible.
The first was in 2009, while living in New Zealand and discovering that not all young (or old) people subscribe to the American notion of a big house, big car, 2.5 kids way of life. I was meeting backpackers who’d been travelling for a year or more, with only a few bags to their name. One guy in particular was a California transport living in the South Island of NZ and involved in building earth houses. He invited me and my compatriot Lauren over for coffee one day, and while he was extolling the virtues of earth houses it dawned on me how little stuff he had. He rented a mid-sized house, but there wasn’t much more than a couch, air mattress, some books, and a functioning kitchen with a state-of-the-art coffee machine. His life seemed so clean, uncluttered. He had a steady job, so affording possessions wasn’t the issue- he just didn’t care to.
A few years later in Brisbane, I found myself cleaning out a closet in two-bedroom apartment that, while plenty big for two people, felt stuffed to the brim with crap. Despite living in that place for less than a year and in Australia for just over two, the storage wasn’t sufficient for the clutter and excess that we’d come to accumulate. It was, as they say, doing my head in.
I haven’t moved in over a year and a half, which is the longest time I’ve stayed put in one place or house since 2006. Moving so frequently, especially moving countries, teaches you a lot of things, but you learn that you really only need a fraction of the usual to have a perfectly functional existence. No radicalism required.
And so it began. I’m nowhere near a capsule-type wardrobe of a few key pieces, and I can’t count my possessions on one hand, but I have a lot less excess. I still buy things, but it’s much more considered than I ever knew purchasing could be. Whereas price used to be the primary motivator, it’s now quality, longevity, and ecological impact.
Living with less feels lighter. The things I do have are things that I use, things that enhance my life. For me, having a bigger wardrobe or more possessions has never felt like a life-enhancing experience, other than the fleeting moment of purchase-induced jubilation.
Marie Kondo writes of only keeping those things that spark joy and enhance our lives. I think it’s time to start thinking this way.
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
– Marie Kondo