After scaling down for a recent move, I’ve contemplated my lifelong obsession with simplicity. I’m realizing that it’s more about letting go of entitlement than possessions.
Even as a young child, I regularly decluttered my bedroom and poured over books like Elaine St. James’ Simplify Your Life. Like many other millennials, I feel head over heels for Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up two decades later. Doing massive purges and assigning places for my possessions helped me finish my dissertation and transition into a new professional identity after getting my PhD.
But there had always been something bugging me about the simplicity and tiny-living movements. It wasn’t until I read this article that I began to figure it out. In the article, the author discusses how her refugee parents refuse to give up possessions. She points out that when you get rid of most of your stuff, you’re confident that you can always replace things if you later realize you need them. This is a privilege not afforded to displaced and/or impoverished people. I’ve known several such people (and am now living with one) who’s “hoarding” was a byproduct of forced emigration or growing up poor.
I still believe that there is power in decluttering and organization, but the article changed my outlook on the subject. I’ve tried to be less judgmental and more understanding toward “messier” individuals. I also opted to not scale down quite as much as I’d initially planned (my original goal was being able to fit all my possessions into my station wagon). I decided I didn’t want to get rid of the futon that I held my beloved cat on while she passed, the dining room set that I sat at while making life-changing decisions, and the Christmas presents that my mom spent countless hours lovingly making. Luckily, I was able to find some spare space for these items in the basement of my new place.
I do believe in the adage, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” By minimizing our consumption of various resources, we make more available to others. But the danger of simple living is trading in one privileged lifestyle for another. Cute tiny spaces, home-cooked meals from Whole Foods, chic interchangeable wardrobe pieces – these are all things that are only available to a select few.
In light of all the horrors currently in the news, I am realizing just how entitled I have been. We all have the right to be free from violence, hunger, and other suffering. I’ve always been granted these rights, but many others have not. I don’t need to become an ascetic, but I do need to recognize that I lot of things I’ve take for granted or felt deprived of are unnecessary luxuries. By being truly grateful for my less-than-magazine-ready living space and situation, I’m finding much more happiness and contentment.
Has simplifying forced you to confront your entitlement? If so, what attitudes did you have to get over?