I’m a minimalist, which means I love doing something you probably loathe the very idea of: cleaning. Never did I have to be forced to clean my room as a child. I took to the task merrily, happily, purposefully. I make a mean bed – throws, pillows, configurations, tightly tucked sheets – and I do it upon waking. Likewise, hoovering is an exfoliation, removing the dead home cells to let the lively ones underneath come to surface and shine. Washing up? Well, I get clean myself in the process, is how I rationalize it. Spring cleaning is pan-seasonal for me. Every month I’m ready with my bin liner, ruthlessly shredding accrued stuff that I “need-no-more.” The net result is a very ordered number of things; I am not one of those rare beings who thrive amid the chaos of many possessions.
This need for cleared pathways in my domestic life is a delightful hand-me-down from my Greek ancestry, although not everybody I’m related to is blessed with the clean gene. After 30 years of living in the GCC, my Bahrain-based family is bidding the island a mournful masalama and heading to Greece. But they’ve got to wade through several mountain ranges of stuff before they can get there.
The painful road to paring down
I’ve been making some painstaking trips back and forth to Bahrain to help sort this all out. My family have been living in this specific home-away-from-home for 22 years. Each visit, it’s a sight to behold. Apart from the emotional comedown of seeing spaces that once hung nostalgia on the walls become eerily clinical, I’ve seen items shrouded in decades of cobwebbed neglect come to light.
In the last visit, I jeered at my mother, the no-nonsense ejector in the family, shaming the serious stockpile that has never been seen – let alone used – in 30 years.
“Some things haven’t even been taken out of their original boxes from 1989,” dipped in my dad. After pouring a reasonable amount of scorn on the sorry situation, we vetted through the things that will be taken and the things that will be tossed.
My dad harmonizes the whole “it might be needed” sing-song, only to be shut down with a serrated scowl from my mom. I’m on her side: you don’t need every Jeffery Archer book that will never be read again or the Betamax that died mid-family video in 2007. For what? Display? To show what?
The meaning of minimalism
Think about it — what purpose do any of things we have serve us – I mean truly serve us? Unless the stuff you have is in a constant rotation of use or holds deep emotional value, why bulk your life up?
Going through my own, albeit tidy, pile, all my swimming medals, certificates, old dolls and other childhood memorabilia were vetoed from having a continued presence in my life.
At the end of the day, once we’re gone, all that stuff becomes someone else’s burden. Because the more you own, the more your stuff owns you. In fact, a friend of mine is always seized with shivers at the notion of moving because “we have too much stuff.” To me, having one’s mobility dictated by inanimate objects is just unthinkable.
Minimalism vs. KonMari
When Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant’s series exploded on Netflix, it became clear to me that I’ve had latent KonMari skills all my life. But where do we draw a line in the sand between minimalism and KonMari? Maureen Lim, a certified KonMari method consultant in the UAE, says there are differences but “they are still cousins.”
While KonMari is a tidying method, it can also change the way people think about their possessions and space: more process and less lifestyle choice.
“Minimalism is living with less stuff, tangible or intangible, in order to gain more space, time and focus on the things that matter to you,” she says. “KonMari is the catalyst for being minimal.”
Also, it’s not about numbers with KonMari, because “you can still keep 15 bags if they bring you joy,” says Lim. Whereas minimalism is about reducing your possessions to the least possible.
Minimalism for happiness
Last month, I went to Taiwan for five days. Based on previous Asia trips, where my suitcases were packed with more outfits than sense for “just-in-case” eventualities, my inventory this time was decidedly simple: one pair of shorts, one T-shirt, two spaghetti strap tops, flip flops, trainers and gym gear. I didn’t even take my makeup bag with me, knowing in advance of the region’s humidity. I constantly felt naked but also free and never bereft in the slightest. It sounds grandiose, but being minimal is an exercise in learning about true happiness.
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Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.