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  • Caitrin McElroy

Intangible Minimalism | An Introduction

If you’re anything like me, minimalism immediately makes you think of chucking all your junk.

I’m talking boxes full of old papers and yearbooks and cards from your mother. A bin full of rarely-used throw blankets. Closets filled with clothes that you maybe pull out twice a year and consider wearing, but then put them back in favor of that same sweater you wear once a week. Bathroom drawers full of products that you hate but refuse to throw away because of how much you paid to try them.

When my brother introduced me to the idea of minimalism back in 2016, I came to the lifestyle with the preconceived notion that I would get rid of all my excess shit and then call myself a minimalist. And that’s exactly what I did: I spent 30 days letting go of over 500 belongings, and I called myself a minimalist at the end of it.

I realized during that first month of minimalism, however, that my physical space was a manifestation of what was going on inside me. Sentimental items were hard to let go of because I lived in the past. Stacks of academic papers, notes, and research materials from college collected dust in my closet because I dreamt of going back for my PhD. Baskets and bins were filled to the brim with skincare products because a part of me believed that lotions and makeup palettes could fix my self-esteem issues.

I made it to the end of that month feeling better about myself and my minimalism journey, but I didn’t actually address the root of those problems. I acknowledged that I was sentimental—a hopeful romantic living in the past. I thought the acknowledgment was enough to allow myself to move on.

I learned very, very quickly that acknowledgment is not action.

Purging a good chunk of my belongings—even the stuff that was hard to throw away—did not address my mental and spiritual clutter; that’s when I accepted that I needed minimalism for more than just my physical space. I needed to adopt a more holistic view and focus on chucking the intangible junk too.

Holistic minimalism for me meant, and still means, mindfulness of my time, energy, relationships, and wellbeing. Living within my means and making choices that aren’t excessive, unnecessary, or purposeless. It remains the inseparable twin to my physical and aesthetic minimalism; without being mindful of the intangibles in life, the physical excess creeps back into my life, too.

It is a constant battle, and one that I lose sometimes, but one that I am better for living through every day.

Next Monday I’ll walk through the first steps I took to address my intangible clutter. In the meantime: how do you practice holistic minimalism?

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