Materialism and Me

Growing up, I loved to collect things. I collected quite a lot of things, actually: foreign coins, buttons, crystals, plants, CDs, piles of tea that I could never finish, books, lipsticks, vintage finds from the thrift store, letters, and anything with Hello Kitty on it. I was also an avid crafter, so I had an endless supply of crafting items. I know that most people have collections of their own, but my physical belongings were at the point that there was no space to put anything down in my room. This was in 2015. I had multiple bookshelves, shelves on the walls, a desk and a dresser covered without an inch to spare with material items. My closets were stuffed to the point that I was afraid to open them.

But, of course, that didn’t stop me. I was in love with collecting things, and I frequently visited thrift stores. I could never find the things I needed when it actually came time to use them, and I’d pull everything out on the floor in frustration, only to go and buy an item I knew I already owned because I couldn’t find it within my own space.

You see, I can be a very sentimental person. I think about previous memories all the time, and holding onto physical items would always help me hold on to those memories. I even held onto items given to me from people I no longer wished to associate with, or people who I mostly only shared painful memories with.

Not only was this a waste of space and time, but it was also a waste of money. I was quick to make purchases on items that didn’t serve me, and I used materials as a way to define myself. With material consumerism today, I think it is easy for all of us to use physical items as a way to make ourselves unique, form an identity, and hold onto old memories. (Either that, or we’re just hoarders).

We use materialistic “upgrades,” big purchases, and the obtaining of “limited edition” or special items as a way to define our own statuses and cope. A superior lifestyle is obtained through upgraded consumer choices and materialism. We then try to hold onto that lifestyle and memories by holding onto the items.

(I want to state that holding onto material items and/or hoarding can be caused by a lot of other factors as well, and that there are class issues involved. Therefore, I am speaking in a general sense as to one factor that explains why people turn to consumerism as a way to express themselves or why some people find it hard to let go of things.)

I read a book that changed my life, which I’m sure everyone is familiar with at this point: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. A lot of people confuse her ideology with minimalism, but the two are actually quite different. Kondo’s teachings state that you should hold onto the items that spark joy and let go of the rest – and that’s going to look different for everyone. Some of us have more belongings that spark joy than others.

I went through the process that Kondo states, and I went through my first round of decluttering. The biggest pile of stuff I got rid of was definitely clothes, but I had a lot of room decorations as well. It took 4-5 rounds of decluttering for me to get to the point that I’m at today. I still didn’t fully understand what “sparking joy” meant to me, so it a few years to get to the point where I could easily identify if an item sparked joy or not.

Another big push was that I knew I’d be going to college soon, and for the next 5-10 years or so, I’d be on the move a lot. My parents got rid of my childhood bedroom, which meant that there was no storage space available for me. Whatever I decided to hold onto would be all that I have.

As I got rid of the clutter in my home, I started to recognize that my home is a sacred space. Each item that I have should be treated with care and not ignored. And as I rid my space of unnecessary items, I got rid of unnecessary stress in my mind. I don’t want to be defined by anyone or anything. It’s amazing how a simplified home can help you achieve a simplified mind because you are using the same process to achieve inner peace: only do and keep things out of true love.

I have so much more money for the things that I truly care about now: treating my loved ones to a good meal, feeding my cat Dubu a high-quality diet, and for going out for the night. Instead of fast fashion, I try to buy higher-quality clothes that I know will be timeless pieces even if it’s more expensive initially, and I can finally support artists, which was one of my life-long goals.

The coolest part, I think, is that a good majority of the items in my home (that are not “necessary” items like toilet paper or kitchen supplies) are actually gifts. Gifts are so much more meaningful to me now than they ever were before.

Right now I have one pan, two pots, and two of each for the rest of my kitchen supplies (two mugs, two plates, two “big” bowls and two “small” bowls.) and I plan to keep it that way. It’s quite rare for me to hold onto extras of anything unless it is absolutely necessary. I’m no minimalist by any standard, but I have truly downsized so much in the past few years.

Although I am an avid reader, I have really minimized my book collection as well. I try to gift books to people if I know I won’t go through it again, and I donate books that don’t resonate that strongly with me. The books that I am still holding onto are either very precious to me or books that I haven’t read yet; a total of 30 books or under at all times.

And the most important collection – my Hello Kitty items – I have decided to only keep my most special Hello Kitty dolls and have them displaying in the back of my car.

Just about everything that I have in my home right now is very precious to me. I have everything proudly displayed and easy to find. I still wish to downsize further because I know I am still holding on to some items that don’t truly spark joy, but rather I am unable to get rid of them because of an emotional attachment. (But it’s all a learning process). I now find joy in cleaning off counters and shelves, folding my laundry, and washing dishes!

I still find comfort in spaces that are surrounded by items, such as thrift stores, libraries and coffee shops with a lot of art. I absolutely love going to a friend’s home for the first time and getting to see all of their belongings. You can learn so much about someone by taking a look at their room.

However, I can say with certainty that things have gotten a lot better for me once I tackled one of the things I truly have full control over: my home. I just want my space to be smaller so that I can have a bigger, freer life.

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