When I worked in the Danish design store of jewelry and living, I liked telling the story behind the product because the story makes it more personal. I would often tell my customers: “When it comes to such things as jewelry, we want it to have meaning: either they are a gift from somebody dear, a heritage, or they have a story you can connect to”. I was not making things up, this has become my own truth too. I would say: “With clothes, I can go and buy some cheap t-shirt and throw it away next summer. With jewelry, I want it to last many years and have some special memory every time I use it. This is why I like when my necklace is a gift, even if I could buy it myself. And it is ok to give presents to yourself too, if you want to mark an occasion that is special for you. It is also ok when they cost some money – choosing and thinking over is all the part of the process. You would not want some cheap thing – it would not have the same value for you over time”.
I have come to realize that my relationship with things has changed. A lot. Growing up in a very turbulent time in Ukraine, right after the collapse of Soviet Union, I was not spoiled by things. I remember wearing my mom’s shirts and my dad’s flared jeans (I was kinda hippie and loved the 70s style). I remember shopping at second hand. My jewelry was self-made necklaces and friendship bracelets which fitted with the eccentric style of my hippie friends. While my girl peers were busy with make-up, pretty clothes and boyfriends, I couldn’t care less about it. I focused on studying and dreamt about getting into the Moscow university, filling my time and fancy with rock’n’roll music, the Beatles, drawing and making up stories with my friend. I was a typical dreamer.
When I came to Western Europe, first Germany and Austria, then Norway, I suddenly could afford the things that needed months of saving for me in Ukraine. Like a pair of new jeans or sneakers. And while moving around as au-pair, I had to keep my luggage in check and couldn’t buy too many things, when I came to stay in Norway for studies, I was suddenly not limited. So, I was buying stuff and stuff. It was cheap, it was mostly H&M and the likes, but at last the time had come when I could buy all the things I once lacked and wanted: floating skirts of many colors, ballerina shoes, bright bags.
On the turn into my thirties, I was changing my style – from a hippie/tomboy I used to be in my twenties, to a more feminine one. Then came the long necklaces, girly bracelets, pretty shoes. In that period, I got a job at the clothing store, Esprit, which I had fallen in love with since my first year in Germany, and with some staff discount I was buying bags of clothes plus belts, scarfs and bracelets. I also started buying fashion magazines explaining it with my new job in fashion and a need to be updated 🙂 I fell in love with InStyle magazine and collected quite a collection of it which I took with me from place to place, though it was the heaviest thing in my belongings 🙂
So, as you see, I have gone through an acquiring phase, a Soviet child as I was, hungry for things. My many friends from ex-Soviet confessed to me that they too had gone through such a period, carrying full bags from H&M sales. It seems that my generation, hungry for things and impressions, just had to go through this crazy shopping. But when you have done all this – where do you go? You satisfy your hunger and realize that you don’t need more things in your life. You want something else. Less things – more emotions. Maybe, this is what has happened to the Western world too. After-war generations were feeding their hunger for things and status symbols. Modern generation has become fed up with things and the trend has turned into the opposite direction. Decluttering, minimalism, eco thinking. Mari Kondo became popular, minimalistic blogs and designs too, books on decluttering became its own branch of literature. Suddenly, it seems, the Western people realized that getting more things was not making them happy, so instead they started searching for the joys of simple living.
I like this new thinking. I like the ideas of green living, authentic materials, eco development – even though some seem to capitalize on it in some very non-eco way. I bought that famous magical book by Mari Kondo, but I couldn’t make it through the half of it, hehe. But the numerous blog posts brought her point home to me. Own the things that give you joy. Get rid of the rest. Don’t clutter your home. Clean your physical space and it will free up your mental space too.
I could never call myself a minimalist though. I have honestly considered myself a maximalist and a collector, collecting everything from shells, old tickets, postcards, pretty belts (though I stopped using most of them), magazines and newspaper clips. I am that kind of person who should work in an archive or museum – I love old stuff 🙂 My lifestyle made me throw away things and take only essentials with me. I moved many times, not only changing countries and cities, but also for the past eleven years in Oslo I have moved six times. There was a period when I moved three times in one year, without having unpacked everything I was already packing it down again. So, you can say, I was forced to be a minimalist, decluttering regularly before my next moving. But deep inside I wanted to settle down and create a space for all my things: a walk-in closet for all my dresses, and a study for all my papers.
But in the writing moment I find more and more affection for the minimalistic mindset. It may be caused by all those blogs and few pages of Mari Kondo. Or maybe, Scandinavian lifestyle minimalism has crept under my skin. Last spring I felt a need for cleaning on several levels: body, things at home, my thinking. That got me decluttering – on my own, no external need this time.
Last autumn I ran an experiment which I called “Shopping on pause”. I wanted to save some money and change my habit of buying things. During this month I was allowed to go to the shops, and even to buy necessities like pajamas – so I was trying on clothes, taking pics of them and leaving without drawing my card. Playing like this, I became conscious of my shopping patterns. Before I used to buy things that were half-good for me, but I was finding the reasons like “It will be good if I find a matching top/bottom” or “that will work with a belt/higher shoe”. And I would end up with things that I would use once or twice, and the rest of time they would just hang in my closet, with a silent reproach. My hand would go automatically for other things, but these I would not throw away – because hey, there are ok and almost new. I also would not feel my best in these clothes – and use a lot of time choosing between many things, trying to pull together an outfit.
When I realized this, my criteria for buying has changed drastically. I don’t want more things that are just half-good, that are “ok”, but that stay hanging and taking up space. I started to ask for the emotion. “How does it make me feel?” My sign-to-go became: love. “Do I love it?” Like Mari Kondo is talking about keeping things that “spark joy” and discard the rest. I started asking the same: “Does it give me joy? Do I feel at my best, my prettiest in it?” And no matter how cheap or expensive or trendy the thing can be – if it doesn’t make my heart skip a beat, I would not go for it. I don’t need more things like this, I have had enough of them. And suddenly shopping became easy. Also difficult, because there are hundreds of things that are pretty and “ok”, but only few that are love. But also easy. Because I would know the outcome. If I ended up buying something I love, I would use it again and again, and feel great any time I use it. The rest would be just a waste of money, space and my energy.
And I must admit, a closet filled with few lovable things makes me so much happier than the one stuffed with all kind of things, from which I choose always the same couple of tops and jeans. I cannot boast of the perfect minimalistic closet yet, but as I am working towards it, there is a lot of joy along the way 😉
So my take-away tip is this: don’t look for a thing. Look for an emotion. Check with yourself what it makes you feel. If you running a math of pros and cons, better put it back, go for a walk and come back later. Because when it is love, you know it. You know it with your heart. You don’t have to count pros against cons, when it is love. And fill your life with the things you love. The rest can stay elsewhere, pretty and tempting as it may be.
Would you call yourself a minimalist or a maximalist? Have you noticed changes in your relationship with things?