Why I Failed at Minimalism

I’ve struggled in my relationship with possessions for the majority of my life. I think it all started when I was ten. My mother told us we were going on a vacation to America. I packed up some of my things, and we left. I’m still on “vacation” 19 years later. That was the first time I lost a lot of my belongings. Then during my senior year in college, my roommate lit me, and consequently our entire apartment, on fire. A firefighter brought me some of the items he salvaged in a large trash bag.

Last year, I struggled in a job I didn’t enjoy and a relationship that sucked the life out of me. I took on a quest towards minimalism to feel some control over my day-to-day. I read a couple of books about it and watched Marie Kondo. I love the idea of minimalism. The main principle is that objects take space; not just headspace but physical space too. They require attention, upkeep, room.

That is all excellent, but when you come from a scarcity mindset like I do, minimalism was a necessity for me during at least two points in my life. So I got rid of far too many things – things that gave me basic human comfort (like a space heater) and a reusable water bottle. I sunk into survival mode. When I was able to detach from the idea that I had to be a minimalist – part of this idea coming from contemporary consumerist shaming (I can write a whole other blog post on this topic alone) – I found myself grabbing for things I needed that were no longer there.

I failed at minimalism because of my relationship with objects.

Me and objects have had a hard past. They’ve come in and out of my life. I developed an unhealthy obsession with purging my belongings. I remember telling myself in high school that I needed to get rid of everything that had sentimental value, because those things made me weak. I ruthlessly tossed out photos, art I’d created, handmade clothing I’d sewn, and gifts. There’s a lot more to unpack there, of course, but let’s stick to objects for now. My belongings were things I felt guilty, weak, or heavy owning.

Objects and guilt have had a tremendous chokehold in my life. In a recent relationship, my ex-partner degraded me for having a college degree. I subsequently tossed out all of my degrees and awards. I convinced myself that it was because they were holding me back and I couldn’t be defined by them. Possessions have power depending on the meaning and value that we assign to them.

How I’m recovering from my scarcity mindset.

Currently, I’m on a mission to maximalize my life. This means that I am not sorting through my objects other than to organize and use them more properly and frequently. I don’t own much, but the things that I do own are taking on a new life. I appreciate my belongings because they have beauty and functionality. I am still working on my consistent consumer guilt – or thinking that I should do without basic necessities and even small luxuries.

We definitely live in a time wherein we can feel immense pressure to be hyper-aware of our impact on earth. And I already do a measurable amount to lessen my footprint here. But I simply cannot create a constant mode of suffering in my life because I feel the guilt of a life with waste, excess, and comfort. My existence comes with those things. And being fortunate enough as I am, my scarcity mindset fails to give me the tools I need to care for myself properly.

Some ideas for overcoming a scarcity mindset. 

Self-sooth

Whether you have an issue with food, objects, relationships, or anything else wherein you feel you don’t deserve something, it’s important to self-soothe. If someone gives you a present and you feel guilty, talk to yourself. You may say something like, “they wanted to do a nice thing for me, and that makes them feel good.” Or, “I am appreciative that they care to do this for me.” When it comes to food, self-sooth by saying, “it’s okay for me to have food now. I need to nourish my body and this is the way to do it.” This takes some work, but it’s necessary.

Organize rather than throw out

If you have a scarcity mindset, you may now believe that you don’t deserve to have objects. You may skip meals because you don’t believe you should eat when you are hungry. This mindset applies in many areas of our lives. Sometimes it’s induced by a traumatic event, or it can have grown from all the influx of minimalist bloggers, YouTubers, and other celebrities promoting the message.

If minimalism sounds discomforting to you, start with organization. We do not have to burden ourselves with continuous guilt because we receive messages about it on the media. You can look at your own spending habits and consumption, and generally have a good idea of what you can make improvements on. You don’t have to listen to influencers. Only you have the unique relationship you have with your objects.

Invest in basics, then in what you love

When we are afraid of losing everything or not having enough, we self-sabotage. We start to believe that maybe we’re not like everybody else, and we don’t need basic things like food and things that make our lives just a little bit easier or more bearable. In such, we deprive ourselves. Not just of the basics, but also of what comes after the basics. If we’re so focused on what we are lacking, we have hardly enough brain power left to focus on anything else.

You can make a list of things that will make you more comfortable. Then you can purchase those things. Having basic comfort will free you up to think about other things. Once you have your basics covered, you can blossom and begin investing in things you love.

I’m not a minimalist and that’s okay.

I’m thankful that I failed at minimalism because it forced me to look at the deep traumas I experienced in relation to owning objects. Had I not started to practice minimalism, I would not have come to my current state of mind. Minimalism is a great way for people to open themselves up to exploring their relationship with objects. For me, it opened wounds and left me feeling burdened with a sense of lack. That helped me immensely in my healing journey. And now I am comfortable with owning – and I’ll be able to spend more time doing the things I love without the burden of guilt that comes from having a scarcity mindset.