life > stuff

In the United States, we have this notion that more = better, bigger = best, and stuff = happiness. I’ve never been one to buy into this idea, at least…I didn’t think I was. 

Growing up, I always had everything I needed, and I was one of the lucky ones who got everything they wanted, too (but don’t tell my younger self that, cause I’m sure there’s plenty she could list that she thought she wanted but didn’t have). Even though I had lots of stuff, I never had it in extreme excess. Like every other girl, I had plenty of clothes in my closet that I never wore anymore, lots of trinkets and jewelry that I had worn the first week of school, then totally forgot about for the rest of the year, and more pens/pencils/books/accessories/things than I could use on a daily basis.

I’ve never been good at keeping my personal space “tidy”. I will go through random phases where I want to clean everything and make it all perfect again, and it would stay perfect for a few days. Maybe a couple weeks if I tried really hard. But ultimately, I have always been lead back to a point where every surface (desk, counter, night table, you name it–except the floor, I was never allowed to put my clothes on the floor growing up and that stuck!) has been completely covered in a disorganized mess of…well, garbage. 

I have known this fact about myself for quite some time now, ever since I was in high school really, when I had a desk in my room and it alwaysss ended up covered in old papers, littered with pencils, and filled with knickknacks that had no purpose. Even though I knew this about myself, like I stated before, I never thought I was anywhere close to being a “hoarder” or even a “messy” person, but as soon as I started learning about the Japanese lifestyle, I realized just how much a different mentality can completely change the way you view “stuff.” 

Here in Japan, homes are tiny–most people live in apartments stacked on top of each other with one or two small bedrooms, a tiny living room for entertaining, and a kitchen with a one or two burner stove. It is staggeringly different from places in the United States which prioritize extra space. Bigger and MORE has always been marketed as being better in the United States, and because of this mentality that our culture is steeped in from our very conception (think about all that goes in to planning for a baby–buying a spacious crib, hundreds of toys, four different kinds of pacifiers at twenty a pack in case you lose one, all the sippy-cups, baby clothes, burp towels, teething necklaces, drool bibs, regular bibs, the list goes on–you get the point), our world view is shifted and we start to believe that in order to live a happy life, we need MORE. 

More square feet in our homes, more burners on our stove, bigger TV’s, huge beds, ten decorative pillows for our couch at home, and more clothes than one could ever wear on a regular basis.

Once we got to Japan, however, we realized that the mentality here is almost the opposite. People focus on relationships and social gatherings and less on the things they can fill their tiny living spaces with. Rather than try to fit a bunch of furniture and decorations into their small apartments, they use things like futon mattresses as beds during the night, and during the day when people come over, they will fold up their futon and put it in the closet to make more space for everyone to hang out. Life here isn’t about how much stuff you own, or how big your house is, it’s about the quality of the time you spend with people–stuff is nice, but instead of surrounding themselves with stuff to make them happy, I have noticed that the Japanese surround themselves with friends and family, even if it’s at the expense of cutting back on how much stuff you have.

Rather than try to cram in as much furniture as they can into their small apartments, they try to fit as many friends and family into their spaces as they can.

After living out of a single suitcase for a few months now (everything else has been packed away into our other suitcases), I have realized that the things we thought we needed so much while we were in the USA, are the things we packed but haven’t touched since we’ve been here. We intentionally packed a single bag to live out of, and put all the “extra’s” into the other three suitcases we took along with us. But that’s the thing–they ARE extras. They aren’t necessary, and they haven’t added any value to our lives since we’ve been here by just sitting in the back of the closet, untouched and taking up precious space.

So I have decided to adjust my life accordingly and move towards what the United States mentality would call a “minimalist” lifestyle. While Daniel isn’t quite on board with my mission to reduce our number of useless things (he had a really hard time saying goodbye to a lot of the stuff we had to get rid of when we packed to come out here), I am convinced that by just reducing my personal number of things, it will improve our life significantly, because…

Life is greater than stuff. More does not equal better, and bigger does not equal best. Stuff is not my happiness, my loved ones and my passions are my happiness.

As I move into this next phase of my life, I’m going to be downsizing my closet to a week’s worth of clothes, since that’s basically what I’ve been living with anyway. My goal is to have four pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, seven nice shirts, one sleep shirt/lazy shirt, one dress, two skirts, and two pairs of shoes. Underwear and socks I’m gonna have a hard time giving up, so we’ll just keep those neutral for now, but I do want to move away from the mentality that “you can never have too many of _______”, whatever your fill-in-the-blank thing might be (mine is underwear). Since clothing is pretty much our only possession right now, once we move into our own place, I am also going to be very conscientious of the things we buy to put into our new place. I plan on only getting a set of dishes for four people, one big pot and one pan for cooking, and a way to organize the many spices I love to cook with. Decoration is going to be minimal, and I’m mostly just going to put cute little plants where I want a pop of life since they make me feel at peace and surrounded by nature.

I know this is not going to be easy, but I feel that living a minimalist lifestyle is so befitting for myself. I always knew that I would be a traveler, and that my life would be filled with those moments where I am called to just pack up and go. Living this way will allow me to do so in the blink of an eye, and rather than place my value in things, I am going to place my value in memories and people. One of these days, maybe my husband will join in on my quest for simplicity, but who knows 😉

For those of you who were inspired by this post, what kinds of things would you consider downsizing in? Let me know in the comments below!

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