Things I learnt by becoming a minimalist, accidentally !

Does this spark joy ? This phrase has become pretty common since Netflix released the Marie Kondo documentary on minimalism and tidying up. In this post, I'll go through the process which brought me to minimalism, some history around it and answer some frequently asked questions.

September 2016

The years 2011 to 2016 were when I went to college and later on started working. These were also the years that I bought the most amount of stuff that I ever owned in my life.  I joined Flipkart in Bangalore in May 2015 as a software developer. If I remember correctly, I told my parents in the first week of the job that I would quit working there after 1 year as I didn't really like Bangalore. That's exactly what happened after an year. August 2016 was my last month at Flipkart.

Bangalore as a city has a lot of flaws (I might write about this someday), but has one good thing, its weather. Moving away from Bangalore, I decided that I wanted to move to a place which had similar weather with less flaws as compared to Bangalore. I finalized on Pune which is 900 km away from Bangalore. In the first week of September 2016, I moved to Pune.

I hired a Movers and Packers agency to take all of my stuff to Pune. The entire packaging process took almost 5 hours, the output of which was 4 large boxes that had all of my stuff. This was the first time that I realized I had a lot more stuff than what I imagined. I had not even used most of the things living in Bangalore that I had bought over the years.

December 2016

I have lived in Pune for 4 months by this time. Over these 4 months, I bought a table, a chair and some books. I didn't have a job in Pune for the first 4 months, so I didn't really spend much during this period.

December 2016 is when I got a remote job. It was in a US based company. Now I wasn't bound by location anymore. All I needed was a laptop, and I could work full time from anywhere.

In the months that followed, I traveled to Bangalore and Mumbai to meet some friends, while working full time for my remote job. My base was still Pune, so all the stuff was still there. But since I was moving around a bit more, I had to pick the things that I wanted to carry around with me. It didn't take much time for me to realise that all I actually wanted could fit in one backpack. That's a couple of T-shirts, shorts and some other essentials. I usually also carried a few books with me.

I constantly moved around for the next 3 months with this one backpack. I was living in my friends' place, mostly in their living room on a mattress with a small backpack by my side. I can't remember if I ever felt that I wanted all the other stuff that I had left behind in Pune.

February 2017

I left Pune and moved back to my hometown Jalandhar (1700 km away from Pune) to live in my parents' house. That's another session of Movers and Packers. Now I've added a table and a chair and a large box for books to this session. This is the second time I realized that I had a lot more stuff than what I used. What was different this time was that I had already lived for the past 3 months out of a backpack, so I  now knew that I didn't need most of the things that I had in Pune and that I had to give away all that stuff to not be in this position of packing large boxes again. I reached Jalandhar and threw most of the stuff that I had not used in Pune. I worked from Jalandhar for the next couple of months, until I got hired by TradeGecko in Singapore.

October 2017

I packed again. This time, it was only one big suitcase and one backpack. I had already gotten rid of a lot of stuff while living in Jalandhar and travelling around in India. I was moving to Singapore (6300 km from Jalandhar), but I had a lot less stuff with me. The packing session lasted 2 hours, and did not involve any Movers and Packers agency. Way easier compared to the first two times.

Year of 2018

Singapore has a very unique location which is well suited for travelling in South East Asia. I traveled a lot during this period, a lot more than usual. I was carrying only a laptop bag for travelling, even for a 10 day travel to Bali. I had a few T-shirts, a pair of shorts and some other essentials. I also bought a Kindle, so I wasn't carrying heavy books around with me.

A few months later, I went back to India for Diwali. I brought my entire suitcase back home, and didn't bring it back to Singapore. This is the almost the moment where I've reached the peak of not owning a lot of stuff.

By the month of September, I had only 2 T-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, a pair of shoes, flip-flops, 1 bedsheet, 2 towels and 1 suit (just in case I have to attend a formal function), some notebooks, some pens, a sketchbook, some sketch pens, some toiletries, some under garments, 2 pairs of socks, a pair of climbing shoes, a water bottle, one spoon, one knife, one plate and you know what, that's about it. All of this could easily fit in my laptop bag.

However, I was supposed to travel to New Zealand in September. So I did buy a new shirt, a new pair of black pants and a down jacket (it is cold in New Zealand they said). All of this while still can be put in a laptop bag, I decided to buy a 40L backpack and put everything in it. This became my new go to bag for travelling.

The Present (Year of 2019)

Until May of 2019, I was wearing the same 1 black T-shirt and a beige shorts for almost 90% of the time. This has been my uniform for almost 1.5 years now. That's a long time for wearing the same clothes every single day. Recently, I switched to wearing the shirt and pants that I bought for the New Zealand trip and made it my new uniform. This change led to a lot of people asking me a lot of questions about clothes and minimalism in general. In the next section, I'll cover some of the questions that I get and some other questions that I ask myself in this process of minimalism.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why did I change my wardrobe ?

My wardrobe used to be 1 T-shirt and a pair of shorts for  the last 1.5 years. Recently my shorts tore off and the damage was not repairable. The only other clothes I had in my closet were the shirt and the pants that I had bought for the New Zealand trip. Hence I went for it.

2. How did I manage with just 1 T-shirt and 1 shorts ?

Since its only 2 clothes, I can't use the washing machine for these. Hence I reverted to washing these by hand every alternate day if not daily. They usually dry up overnight and don't really cause any issues. I do use the washing machine over the weekends where I put these with all other stuff, bed sheets, towels etc.

3. How many shirts do I have now ?

Three. I realized that shirts don't fully dry up overnight, so I bought 2 of the same shirts that I had. I now wash them mid week once, and once over the weekend. I think variety in clothes is good , but not needed. However, if everyone around me started wearing the same clothes everyday, I'd probably switch to wearing a larger variety of clothes just to balance the aesthetics of the world around me.  I call this "a global variety with localized monotony". Its a balance that will be maintained.

4. What are the benefits of living a minimal life ?

Over the past 3 years, I have come to realize that the less I have, the more free I feel. I am now not bound by location and not affected by any sale going on online or offline which is targeted to consumerism. My room isn't a mess anymore, because there isn't anything that can cause it. This is some good amount of time saved on managing stuff and its also better to return to a cleaner room than a messier one. The more I own, the more time I have to spend on the management of that item. Owning less gives me back a lot of time which I used to spend just cleaning up, managing, buying new stuff. Having less forces me to take care of my stuff even more. I understand the value of things more and waste less. The entire process is also financially liberating. The time and money that I save goes into me either learning something new or travelling somewhere new.

To sum it up, I think it boils down to financial and psychological freedom.

5. Do I get bored of the stuff that I have ?

I rarely get bored of the monotony. I think it might be because the benefits of monotony far outweigh the psychological effect of boredom. I've also realized that whatever dopamine I get from buying new stuff fades away pretty quickly. E.g. I bought a MacBook in 2016. I was pretty excited about it and it was a big purchase decision, given that I had just quit my job and wasn't planning to get another one for a while. I was trying to recall recently that within the first month of that purchase, the excitement of buying a MacBook had faded away and it became just another thing I had. I recently sold my MacBook and switched to a Windows machine. Its like getting out of the slavery of Apple.

6. How and when do I purchase new things ?

I hardly even think about buying anything anymore. Over the past 1.5 years, I have bought 1 kindle, clothes for New Zealand, one camera and a watch. I was trying to come up with a method to make better purchase decisions and after thinking and reflecting back for a while, I think it comes down to frequency of use. If I think about buying something now, I make sure that the frequency of its usage is pretty high. If its daily or even weekly, I do spend money on it and I try to buy the best version of that item (e.g. earphones, laptop), even if it comes with a premium price. If its monthly, I have to make sure that it'll be with me for at least the next 5 years, regardless of where I am. If the frequency is half-yearly or yearly, I never buy that item (e.g. a weighing scale)

7. What do I think about the Marie Kondo method ?

Personally, I feel it would not have worked for me. An overnight change is not sustainable. The human mind would always try and push the change away and revert back to habits. It took me almost 3 years to reach this point. I don't think the Marie Kondo method would have worked. It was a process, and that's how it should be.

8. What happened to the books that I owned ?

I love reading hard cover books as opposed to reading on a Kindle. I like the tangible feel that I get from the books themselves. I still have the books that I owned. They are right now in a mini cupboard in my parent's house. I read on a Kindle now, but if there is a book that I really like, I ship it to my parent's house to add to my mini library. If I do get to settle down one day at one location, I feel I'll build that library and revert back to owning actual books and not just their pdf versions.

9. What do I do with the stuff that I am emotionally attached to ?

A couple of years ago, I went back home and was going through some stuff I had from my childhood, toys, cards, notebooks etc. Most of it, I would never use in this lifetime again. My parents suggested getting rid of all this. My brother said something at that point which I feel is a perfect answer to the above question. He said that "We lose a piece of history when we throw stuff away. Keeping some stuff intact is a step towards preserving and building history."

I fully agree with this. My minimalism is more about having things that are essential to me, than about throwing away all the stuff I own. I love things to be tangible, like photographs, which are better kept printed than in a hard disk.

For things like these, being emotionally attached is fine and I do keep these intact. For a lot of things that someone might have given me, I think I try to keep the smallest portion of that stuff and get rid of most of it. The process might be emotionally a bit tough, but I've gotten a bit better at filtering the things that I really am attached to.

Conclusion

Minimalism started getting more popular after The Minimalists started talking about it on public forums. This concept of minimalism has been around for quite a while. In fact, the Japanese culture is the closest to a minimalist society that I've found. The term "Ma" in Japanese refers to an emptiness that is full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled. The Japanese Zen philosophy also promotes simplicity over clutter, which is what minimalism is.

In short, minimalism is not about getting rid of all the things that you own, it is more about owning things that really matter.

Cheers !