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Sunday, July 3, 2016

The comfort of "stuff" (why I think minimalism goes too far)

I have a confession to make. As a Christian, I know that I am to store up “treasures in heaven”. As a social justice and environmental advocate, I try not to accumulate more than is necessary or good for myself, the earth, and others. And yet, sometimes there is such comfort in so much of my “stuff”.


It’s not the stuff itself that is comforting, but the meaning it holds, the story behind it, the joy that it brings me. In this era of “minimalism”, I find myself shirking from both the consumerism that drove me in my college days, and the stark list of rules set out by hardcore minimalists.


There are countless books, blogs and videos these days that shout the merits of getting rid of things, of clearing your home so you can clear your mental energies. And while I do think that making regular edits to pass on the things that I don’t need or use anymore is healthy, I don’t believe militant minimalism is inherently good. When stuff holds meaning for us, then we should hold onto it if we so choose.


It might be just “stuff”, but when I brew a pot of tea, just like my dad taught me and like my ancestors have done for generations before me, the vintage teacups I pour the amber liquid into make me smile. The one bequeathed to me by my grandmother, especially, brings an inexplicable peace and comfort to my heart. She isn’t with me anymore, but I can enjoy the things she enjoyed, and I cherish holding a tangible memory of her in my hands.



It might be just “stuff”, but the vintage pair of jeans I bought last weekend at the thrift store remind me of ones I used to wear as a kid. It has been a difficult few days, and the embroidered beading and 90s fit have brought a bit of childlike whimsy and a smile when I needed one so much.



It might be just “stuff”, but my engagement ring from my husband still dazzles me when it catches the light (and my eye) on the bus ride to work. It reminds me how carefully he planned it with the jewelry maker. It reminds me that all the difficulty of paperwork and 6000-km flights will be worth it to build a life together.




It might be just “stuff”, but the reclaimed wood table I eat and type on every day was built especially for me by dear uncle. It is the most beautiful piece of furniture I have ever seen, let alone owned, and losing it would be a great loss.



It might be just “stuff”, but hunting for new and vintage t shirts of the bands my husband loves is a way to process how much I miss him, and show him my love.


We can have joy without stuff- I know this to be true, having grown up in Senegal, West Africa amidst friends who own very little and still emanate a light and life that is breathtaking and infectious. But Senegal also taught me that “stuff” can be something that you can cling to as you work towards a better life.


When I was ten years old, my friends down the road lived in a structure made of corrugated metal and scrap wood. Despite the humble exterior, inside their parents kept a beautifully elaborate wooden bed and dresser set. The family would gather on the bed with pride, as they shared a beverage with a guest. They took good care of it, careful to preserve it so they would enjoy it for many years to come. A bed might be just “stuff”, but it was a point of pride and a beacon of what they were working towards.


It case be easy for those of us who can afford to rent or replace our furniture, our clothes, or even our homes with ease to preach on the evils of owning “stuff”. And yes, if I ever become a hoarder, build a den of couponed products I will never use, or shop far and above my means you can come and tell me about the evil of “stuff”. Until then, I will try to ensure that my purchases are meaningful, ethical, and under control.

I will also hold onto the leather bound copy of my favourite book from my parents, the thrifted white cotton dress I wore when I got married, and the vintage couch in my favourite colour that I consider one of my first adult purchases. They may be just “stuff”, but the memories and comfort they hold are worth more to me than a tidied up Instagram account or the coveted title of “minimalist”. My “stuff” holds a story I’d like to keep.


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