It’s almost Christmas, and although it’s different to previous years, what isn’t so different is the mad panic to buy, buy, buy, either to show love to friends and family, or out of sheer obligation.
But as I’ve turned minimalist over the past couple of years, dramatically reducing my possessions and experiencing endless self-growth, I’ve come to realise that stuff isn’t the key to love or happiness. In fact, an excess causes untold stress, financial hardship, damage to relationships, and to the Earth.
As a child, I’d physically always had everything I wanted, never going without the latest console, latest games, or best toys. The walls of my bedroom were lined with toy boxes, but even back then, I was never satisfied. There was always a new toy I wanted, a new book, or a new video game.
From my teens to my early 30s, I was what you’d call an organised hoarder. I had so much stuff that it was breaking my bedroom drawers, had filled up several storage boxes under my bed and on top of my wardrobe, stuffed every cupboard and lined every shelf. But no matter how much I had, I wanted more, more, more.
No matter how many games, consoles, books and trinkets I had, it wasn’t enough. I often dreamed of owning a bigger house, certain that if I only had more space to keep everything and entertain my friends, I’d finally be happy.
It didn’t matter whether I’d just acquired an entire wishlist of stuff for Christmas, either, come January I’d hit the sales to fill the hole inside me. You see, I didn’t realise at the time that one of the sources of my unhappiness was the sheer amount of stuff in my life. Greed and excess.
Another reason was low self-esteem which was further exacerbated from going down the path people expected of me rather than what I really wanted. Stuff was acting as a bandage for the trauma in my past, and as a smokescreen for decisions I had made that I wasn’t truly happy with.
I hated myself with a passion, but as long as I didn’t face it and kept the smokescreen going, I convinced myself I’d be fine.
Except I wasn’t. I was as far from fine as one could get. All of this hoarding and consuming caused countless arguments between me and my fiance, Leighton (now my husband), and I was forever in overdraft with my bank due to spending splurges. I was also a hot mess inside.
Then, one day, my mum had a declutter of the attic at her house. A huge amount of the stuff, she said, was mine, and she was bringing it to me to sort through.
When she arrived, I was stunned. It took her several trips back and forth between my house and the car to bring the bags and boxes. Years of my childhood and school life bulged at the seams and was dumped on the living room floor for me to sort.
At first, I wanted to put it all in our attic, but Leighton stopped me. “No way!”, he said, “That attic is rammed as it is with your crap and we aren’t having any more. Either you sort this or it goes in the trash!” So, with that, I was forced to confront some of my hoard, and the past I had been clinging onto.
And 75% of it was trash.
This experience didn’t instantly turn me into a minimalist, but unbeknownst to me, it was the first step.
Fast forward to the present day and I can tell you with a hundred percent certainty that freeing yourself from the burden of your excess physical possessions is one of the most freeing things you can do.
The second most freeing thing you can do is to free yourself from the desire to own more, and the pressure to buy more for others ‘just because it’s the norm’.
Free yourself from the expectations of marketers and focus on being grateful for everything you already have, especially the people and experiences in your life. Advertisers would have you believe that to ‘give her the best Christmas ever’ you should buy their latest scent or designer handbag. That to be a true friend you should buy any number of random seasonal gifts.
Instead of buying your friend yet another pair of socks and a novelty gadget from the gift aisle, why not connect with them and get them something that aligns with who they are and what they want for the future? Maybe they want nothing at all, in which case you should believe them. After all, most people are already drowning in a sea of clutter and years of unwanted gifts.
Why not spend time with them or donate to a charity of their liking instead?
Not only will this be lighter on your wallet and your stress levels, but will help people (or animals) in need, and give you both a far longer lasting glow than any physical possession can.
According to Nationaldebtadvice.org.uk, over 16.9 million people borrow money to pay for Christmas gifts, and one in twenty will skip paying a bill over Christmas because they can’t pay it.
We’re falling prey to marketing and trying to buy love and connection – things which cannot ever be bought. And when you think about it, would your loved ones want you to go into debt for them? Would you want your loved ones to go into debt for you?
Furthermore, an eye-watering amount of unwanted gifts end up in the trash or in charity shops, 60,000 tonnes of which simply gets sent to landfill.
When there are so many people in need, this is a troubling figure; not to mention the damage done to our planet.
I shocked myself last Christmas when I found there was nothing I wanted my family to buy me. I had minimised so much and had been practising gratitude whenever I could, so I felt grateful for what I already had. I also didn’t want to add potential clutter back into my home, undoing years of decluttering and emotional work. Instead, my husband gifted me money to put towards the counselling course I had applied for.
Rather than short-lived pleasures from receiving physical gifts, I invested in myself. As it turns out, taking that course was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Since then I’ve also bought a photography course because I love taking nature photos and want them to be the best they can be. Without minimalism, I’d never have discovered any of these passions or invested in them because I’d be too busy organising my stuff and looking for more. I’d be too broke.
It wasn’t easy to reach this mindset, especially as I was used to always receiving piles of presents and spending beyond my means for everyone else. Most likely, it won’t be easy for you either, but I can assure you it will all be worth it.
If you’re new to this I suggest starting off with small steps and changes, which will gradually snowball into huge life transformations if you let them.
With that, I wish all of you, my amazing readers, a Merry and stress-free Christmas. You deserve it.