Emphasizing Decluttering/Purging Material Stuff Is Also Materialistic

In the past few months, I’ve been reading essays, books, and watching videos about ‘Minimalism’. A common theme is that experiences matter more than material stuff. This is how I often react when this point comes up:

Minimalist: Minimalists choose to value experiences more than stuff.
Me: Okay, I’m like that too.
Minimalist: So that is why we declutter and purge stuff!
Me: Huh?

I think I’ve always valued experiences more than material stuff, not because I think it is a ‘superior’ position in any moral sense, but simply because I just care more about experiences than stuff. And that is why it took me so long to become interested in decluttering/organizing/tidying. I felt that experiences were more important than stuff, so why bother dealing with getting the stuff in my home in order when I could spend my time instead on cool experiences? Choosing what to keep, and then getting what I don’t want to keep out of my home takes time and energy. Time and energy I could spend on something else, like writing a blog post.

It seems a lot of minimalists assume that people are holding onto a lot of material items because they highly value material stuff. That is certainly true in some cases, but in my case, I was holding onto as much as I was not because I valued material stuff so highly, but because I did not consider putting my stuff in order to be worth my time and energy.

And when people – minimalists or not – make a big fuss over clutter, that looks materialistic to me. To me, a non-materialist position is not particularly caring about clutter as long as it is not in the way.

(Some of you may be wondering whether or not I am a ‘minimalist’. The short answer is: yes and no. The long answer is: there is a lot of overlap between how I think and behave and how many minimalists think and behave. If someone labels me as a ‘minimalist’ I’m not necessarily going to deny it. However, I do not label myself as a ‘minimalist’ because being a ‘minimalist’ is not my intended goal. When what I want to do anyway coincides with minimalism, that’s cool, but I don’t do it because it is ‘minimalist’ I do it because I think it is good for some other reason.)

As regular readers know, I recently did the KonMari thing. You might be wondering why I did that if I belong to ‘I value experiences over material stuff therefore I pursue experiences instead of organizing my material stuff’ school of thought.

First of all, I think I have become more materialist in recent years. I care more about my material possessions. I think it started with all of my hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, and getting gear for that (and not just my old backpacking gear from Taiwan). Changing the way I related to my backpacking gear also shifted how I started to relate to other material possessions – I don’t think it is a coincidence that I replaced my bed months after completing the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail. (Maybe I’ll elaborate more on that in a future post.)

And then, went I got into making my own gear, such as this and this, my relationship with my material things became even deeper. And once again, I extended it to making some of the items I use at home in San Francisco, such as this.

I think I may have become more ‘materialist’ because I started connecting material goods to the quality of my experiences. Having the right thing can definitely foster a better experience, and making one’s own materials goods and then using what one made is a very cool experience.

And I am still and always more interested in the KonMari process as an experience than in the material outcomes. My main goal was to experience the thoughts and feelings of the process; tidying up my space was a really cool extra. And now that I have completed the KonMari process, it has improved the quality of the experiences in my home.

Nonetheless, I don’t think living in a messy home held me back much. Having a tidy home is more of a nice flourish than something essential to me. I think the introspection and personal insight I gained through the KonMari process is more valuable than the physical organization of my space.

And by now, I’ve read/heard enough about other people experiences to understand that a messy home causes some other people a lot more strain/disorientation/etc. than it does for me. There have also been a few cases, when people displayed ‘before’ and ‘after pictures for their tidying/organizing project, and I personally preferred they way things look in the ‘before’ picture. Yes, the ‘after’ picture looked tidier, but their ‘mess’ looked more beautiful to me than their ‘tidy state’.

I understand that for many people (probably including me) working through physical possessions is one of the easiest entry points into this kind of introspective process. I can understand why so many minimalists focus on ‘decluttering’ as a way to get into minimalism, especially when they are making content for people new to minimalism. But sometimes, I still feel a disconnect between minimalists claims about not valuing material stuff and then focusing so much on how to manage material stuff.

Marie Kondo’s philosophy of choosing to keep the right things so that one can cherish them properly makes more sense to me. This philosophy openly acknowledges that it values and cares about material things.

1 thought on “Emphasizing Decluttering/Purging Material Stuff Is Also Materialistic

  1. Pingback: I poke at the essay “The empty promises of Marie Kondo and the craze for minimalism” | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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