Born Minimalist?

Little Miss Minimalist: "Just one, please!"

Little Miss Minimalist: "Just one, please!"

The A&E show “Hoarders” has prompted many a debate over whether the inclination to hoard is something people are born with, or something they learn.

I’ve often wondered the same about minimalism—and mainly because it’s been part of my psyche for as long as I can remember.

I’ve been told that in my early years, I found it upsetting to have toys, clothes, and other things scattered around me. Apparently, nothing made me happier than putting things “away.” My parents assumed they had an extraordinarily tidy toddler. Looking back, however, I’m not sure it’s neatness that motivated me (I had little interest in dusting or vacuuming), but rather an innate aversion to the distraction of too much stuff. To my young mind, hiding it in drawers, chests, or closets made it disappear.

My earliest recollections of being uncomfortable with “things” center around Christmas. Although I’d be just as excited as the next kid to open presents, the thrill would wear off shortly after they were all unwrapped. Or, more precisely, when I had to remove them from under the tree and take them to my room.

I remember being distraught about where to put everything, and simply shoving the whole pile into the back of my closet—I didn’t even want to see the things I’d been so excited to receive. I’d unearth things one by one if I had the desire for them at a later date; but, I’m embarrassed to say, some of those items would stay out of sight (and out of mind) until the following holiday.

When I grew older, this compulsion to “hide” such gifts turned into a penchant to return, regift, or otherwise discreetly dispose of them. (It’s no wonder that my friends and family now give me nothing but consumables.)

My minimalism took on more concrete form when I became old enough to have a say in my room’s decor. Until that point, I’d had a well-appointed little princess’s room: a beautiful canopy bed, floral duvet and curtains, and entire suite of vanity, dressers, and bookcases. Of course, I wanted none of it. Around my early teen years, I had everything removed save for a dresser, bookcase, and simple bed (just box spring and mattress). I was exhilarated at the transformation, and for the first time regarded my room as someplace I could “breathe.”

I don’t know why I’ve always felt “stifled” by stuff. My parents are neither hoarders nor minimalists, and the household in which I grew up was neat, well-maintained, and had what I’d call a “normal” number of possessions. My behavior certainly wasn’t influenced by any extreme experience or environment.

But while my number of belongings has ebbed and waned with the circumstances of my life, I’ve always felt happiest when I’ve had the least amount of stuff. And disposing of unnecessary items never fails to provide me with a natural high.

So, should I call A&E and pitch a companion series called “Purgers?” (You heard it hear first!) Would anyone want to watch a group of minimalists obsessively cleaning out their closets? Unfortunately, I’m afraid that no matter what dramatic camera angles are used, shots of spare, uncluttered spaces simply won’t have the same shock value. (Although interventions in which well-meaning relatives try to add throw pillows to their sofas might be entertaining!)

I’d love to hear from anyone else who thinks they may have been “born minimalist.” Please leave a comment and let me know I’m not alone! :-)

Related posts:

  1. The Exquisite Lightness of Being
  2. Drifting
  3. Study: Experiences Bring More Happiness Than Stuff

45 comments to Born Minimalist?

  • Robert

    Wonderful article, Miss Minimalist!

    My mother insists that when I, as a baby, got old enough to throw things, would throw all the stuffed animals out of my crib. And I’d scream if anyone (my sister) tried to put them back in.

    Sometime after that, I lost my way and until the age of about 30, worked to amass more and more junk. I suspect consumerist marketing got to me. Since 30 I’ve been slowly making progress. I too would end up on your A&E freak show “Purgers” because no mater how much I get rid of, I still feel like I have too much. But the more I get rid of, the more comfortable I feel.

    My sister, (according to my mother), wanted all her toys in the crib with her. I helped her move in April and she STILL has way more stuff than I can stand! I couldn’t believe how much stuff she had to move!

    So unless my parents radically changed their parenting style in the 5 years between us, I’d have to say, at least in our case, we were born the way we are.

  • miss minimalist

    Robert, I love your crib story–that is just too cute! Yes, I think you were truly born minimalist. :-)

    I lost my way in my twenties, too. I think it had a lot to do with “setting up house” for the first time–and then discovering that, despite what marketers would have you believe, a happy home has nothing to do with the amount of things in it. Luckily, I was back on the wagon by my late twenties, and so grateful I hadn’t accumulated a lifetime of stuff in the interim.

    Interestingly, my one (younger) sibling has been minimalist all his life. I don’t think he’s ever owned more than what would fit in a car. So in our case, the jury’s still out on whether it’s environment or genetics.

  • Katie

    I would say I’m a minimalist-wannabe. I have become acutely aware that I am overwhelmed by my accumulated things, and am trying to do something about it.

    I read the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” (Aron) and found what I believe is some of the explanation for how I feel about stuff. As she says: “Most people ignore sirens, glaring lights, strange odors, clutter and chaos. HSPs are disturbed by them.” And after a busy day, “HSPs need solitude. They feel jangled, overaroused.” This is ME. And it can be very difficult. The man in my life would like to get married, or at the very least, live together, but because he lives a VERY cluttered life (stuff, people, television, outside commitments), I’m unwilling.

    And I’m only slooooowly training friends and family to stop buying me “stuff”. :o)

  • miss minimalist

    Katie, that sounds like a really interesting book–I’ll have to check that out. Fortunately, my husband and I have “grown into” minimalism together; is there any chance that the man in your life may come to appreciate (and maybe even prefer) your more serene environment?

  • nera kay

    You could probably combine “wife swap” and “hoarders” – send a minimalist to a hoarder home and vice versa, and then watch the feathers fly.

    I think I struggle with my minimalism because my life contains a constant stream of charity items. I want nothing less than someone else’s slightly used box of dishtowels, but some how there they are. I dream of dutifully using them up, being a good ecologist and a good economist, and then being able to buy, say three towels, just three, that I love that actually match the kitchen and don’t add to a feeling of clutter. And then I turn around and voila, some other POC box of towels has made its way to my doorstep. I’m working on rejecting politeness in favor of sanity, but now I’ve married a guy who can see the value of anything – and Everything. Aarg.

  • miss minimalist

    LOL, nera–love the “wife swap”/”hoarders” combo! :-)

    Any possibility you can pass on those charity items to someone who needs/wants them more?

  • I swear I was born with it. I’ve never been into “stuff”. Even as a young child I’d rather be out of doors,alone,playing by myself in a stand of pine trees in our backyard. Its funny, I too wasn’t all that fond of the after Christmas dilemma of what to do with all the new (and mostly useless) stuff I’d received. I remember I’d keep a few things up in my room and the stuff I didn’t want/need/use got shoved into the toybox in our basement playroom (that I never played in, I was either outside or in my room, reading)

    It got harder when I married my packrat/hoarder husband and had 3 boys. It was REALLY bad when the kids were young and OMG Christmas with its deluge of craptastic plastic toys for the boys. UGH!

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks for your comment, Carol! I hope things have become less cluttered as your children have grown; perhaps you can introduce all the guys in your household to a more minimalist lifestyle. :-)

  • Heather

    I think I was born a minimalist. When I was 16, I donated all my “stuff” to a local animal shelter for their annual yard sale. I was left with my clothes, a favorite bear, my bedding, 4-5 books and a few favorite pictures. My mother just about killed me but I was uber happy. I have lived in 8 different states and been around the world twice. It is very simple to move when you don’t have much to begin with. I feel happier and calm when I have less stuff. And yes, it can be done when you have children. Just takes some careful planning. Christmas and birthdays make me nervous, because I just don’t place value in receiving gifts. We keep it simple for our son but buying only 4 gifts for Christmas, one of which he has to donate to Toys for Tots. We utilize the library for new “books” for him and he loves to pick out his own!!! What he “owns” fits into one bin for moving. I just have to be very particular in what we buy and keep.

  • miss minimalist

    Heather, if you did that at 16, I think you definitely have a minimalist gene!

    I love how you’ve been able to keep up your minimalist lifestyle with your son–especially how you have him donate one of his toys each Christmas. What a wonderful way to bring up a child–thank you so much for sharing this!

  • [...] clutter. For those with children, consider following Heather’s example in her comment to my Born Minimalist? post. She gives her young son four gifts for Christmas, and asks him to donate one to Toys for [...]

  • I definitely wasn’t born minimalist, but I started to get into it after I began getting weekly+ migraines about four years ago. The migraines made me so sensitive to external noises and lights that it makes me want to simplify everything so I always have a retreat. Not sure if that’s nature or nurture, though….

  • miss minimalist

    Hi SavvyChristine! Did the migraines stop after you simplified your environment?

  • Heather

    Thank you for the nice compliment!!! : )

    We live in Texas, so we spend a LOT of time outside. I see no reason to have 1000′s of toys for one young child. He gets exactly what he wants and I find he plays with it longer than have 20 of something that is occasionally looked at. I purchased an unfinished medium size toy chest and finished it myself. This allows for easy clean up and, when he is older, it can be a keepsake with just his extra special items in it. Right now, those few special items are on his display shelf. No storing them and he gets to enjoy them now. I do recommend finding creative ways to display. Example- I have his first ballcap- I found a clear container to hold it—keeps it clean and dust free but we able to enjoy it.

    SavvyChristine- I get the same way when my house or anything else for that matter, is cluttered. I find on those days, if I just clean up and put things out of sight, I feel better. I hope this works for you!!! : )

    For me, minimalist living allows me to LIVE my life.

  • miss minimalist

    Heather, what great techniques for managing children’s items! Very inspirational for parents who want to be/stay minimalist after a little one comes along. :-)

  • Iris

    Absolutely love your blog!!

    I agree with you on this entry. I have always been a bit of a minimalist and shopping spree is definitely an alient concept for me. Why would anyone want to go out and buy lots of stuff?

    My husband find my minimalist attitude stressful though. He thinks that it´s unnatural not to want to possess things.

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks so much, Iris! That’s tough when a spouse isn’t on the same page. You can at least keep *your* stuff to a minimum; and hopefully, he’ll come around when he sees the positive effects of less clutter.

  • Ann

    I was going to chime in on the Highly Sensitive Person theme. I’ve read all of Elaine Aron’s books and am a Highly Sensitive Person. Too much stuff (along with noise,people, drama, etc.) is overstimulating for an HSP’s much more highly refined nervous system. We are actually wired differently from the rest of the population and do much better with the proper self care, which includes having a calm and orderly environment.

    I’ve also studied astrology for years and do readings – great tool for self-awareness! I know from my chart that there is a particular factor in my wiring that shows that I do much better in clutter-free, orderly environments. You may well have this placement, too. If you’re curious or at all astro-savvy, the placement is North Node in Virgo and I can tell you more about it if you’re interested. I’d guess you’ve got Virgo somewhere in your chart; it’s the most fastidious of the signs.

    The sensitivity and interest in minimalism is partly, too, how I found my way to studying Classical Chinese Feng Shui. This is the next frontier in minimalism….not only are there fewer objects in the room, but they are placed such that the flow of the energy supports the sensitive soul occupying the room.

    For me, the external manifestation of minimalism has flowed out of my internal shedding. Dropping baggage, traveling light on every front!

    This is all really quite fun! You are all helping me to strengthen my inner minimalist. For some reason the past few months I’ve been feeling pressure and somehow knowing there are other kindred spirits feels great and reminds me of the way I really do prefer to live. I love traveling light.

    I like the idea of a reality show. :-)

  • miss minimalist

    Ann, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge on HSPs and Chinese Feng Shui! I’ll have to do some reading on both topics, as I’m not at all familiar with them.

    I’m thrilled to hear that you’re embracing your inner minimalist–I think it’s so liberating to live “lightly!” :-)

  • Grace

    It was so good to discover your blog. Yes! I too was born a minimalist. My mother often complained that I was always giving away my stuff from a very young age. I clearly remember being eight or nine and minimizing my toys so they would fit into my Mary Poppins lunch box. I think family interpeted my giving away my Barbies as an act of generosity. It was more an act of purging and liberating myself. I loved cowboys and envied living out of a saddle bag. I’ll be fifty next month and continue my purging routines today. I find it can be difficult being a minimalist and balancing different family needs into the mix. Simplicity and balance is my fantasy.

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks for your comment, Grace–I love hearing about your childhood minimalism, and the fact that you’re still pursuing simplicity as an adult. Great idea to live out of a saddle bag. :-)

  • Alexandre Medawar

    Hello there,

    I guess being born minimalist is about personal character, education and circumstances.
    As a kid, i had the luck to grow up in the countryside, at a time when you play with simple things. So no sophisticated toys for me (they were quickly dismantled for study and became useless) but a knife and wire so i was set up to build my own things from wood, branches, stones, etc. and then throw them away back to the nature.

    Later, in the city, it was just about skateboarding. Owning things, collecting records or clothes or whatever was not my thing, again. Too much choice makes it hard to decide, so i finally didn’t went into consumption. My mother was also helping, explaining me that most of our interest in objects comes to the fact we are influenced by advertising. A bit of financial restriction helps too. Instead of loosing my mind deciding what will be the next things i need, i was more into reading at the local library and learning how to access things you want for free.
    I am also naturally very lazy somehow. To buy/get things you need money/time. And then you have to take care about them. You need also place to store them and energy to maintain them. It’s too much for me… Then there is the worry of permanent update and the fear of being robbed, or simply to lose your stuff. Well, it’s way easier not to have things and have a simple life.

    Later on, after many travels (where you can check what is really useful and what is unnecessary) and a lot of time doing mountain climbing (where you have to carry things on your back, so you start to become very cautious regarding what you throw in your pack), eliminating what i considered unnecessary in my life become a philosophy and an aesthetic with interesting challenge like doing the most with the least effort and very simple selected tools.

    I guess all of this minimalistic lifestyle i enjoy now is linked to my early dream, as a kid, to be a Greek shepherd or a Buddhist monk, living just outdoor with a dress, a bowl and a stick…

    • miss minimalist

      Alexandre, it sounds like you have a wonderful life philosophy. Thank you so much for sharing this; I loved reading about how you’ve grown up embracing a simple life.

      And BTW, I like your dream of being a shepherd or Buddhist monk. :-)

  • Kat

    Very much born a mimilist to family of hoarders lol.

    I don’t think I’m quite as extreme as you seem to be when it comes to minimalism, and since I’m only 16 I don’t have to worry about whole apartments etc, but if I had my I would own a laptop, a bed, a closet for my clothes/spare bedding/to store things liek make up and , a little bookcase for my dvd’s/school books. I also like a little colour like light blue or pink, but nothing garish or overly patterned.

    This is in stark contrast to the rest of my family, who like to amass a great deal of useless things, and it stresses me out no end. I had to share with my two sisters when I was younger and seemed to spend all my time cleaning up and organising our room. Even to this day I still spend a lot of time cleaning up my little sisters room for her because i can’t stand the mess, and I think I even managed to influence my older sister into a similar way of thinking because her flat is pretty minimalistic too.

    I’m at the point wear I’m considering paying my parents off to get rid of the furniture they fobbed on me (My room seems to be the dumping ground for furniture they don’t want but can’t bring themselves to chuck)

    Anyway, sorry for the little life story :S But you are very much not alone, and I’m happy I’m not either. Just can’t wait till I own my place. :)

  • NeedClean

    I hate clutter. I’m a minimalist who values clean, open spaces that is unhampered by clutter. I spend each day thinking about what to purge from files, closets, rooms – everywhere. I become physically stressed out by the sight of clutter, so I try to control the clutter before it controls me.

  • NeedClean

    I also consider expensive jewelry to be clutter. Owning an excess of things can burden a person’s life with more responsibilities. If I were to discover a pirate’s treasure of jewelry, I would simply sell it for money.

  • Dan

    I would like to have been born minimalist, but I was never interested in minimalism until recently, about 6 months ago. I always liked to tidy and get rid of clutter, but I was never minimalist. I don’t remember what sparked my interest, but whatever it was did the trick and I quickly became obsessed with minimalism.

    I was reading some of the posts about “The Highly Sensitive Person”; my mother bought me the book, thinking it described me. I haven’t read it yet but when I read the posts about it here I became quite glad to have it. I too find I become over-stimulated easily – I frequently get headaches when I go to the mall and now I think I know why. I also feel physically uncomfortable when there is clutter around or when things are dirty, a feeling which is heightened by the fact that I have OCD.

    The really tricky part of minimalism for me is this: my partner is a hoarder. Nothing you would see on television, mind you, but he loves to keep things “just in case” and doesn’t like getting rid of stuff. I would say that our apartment contains an average amount of possessions for two twenty-somethings but I would like to own less. Since he objects to me getting rid of things, I have to find storage solutions so that these objects are still in the home but out of sight and orderly. It’s also much easier to clean things without clutter to navigate around!

  • NeedClean

    I agree that it’s stimuli overload for some of us neat/tidy folks. Minimalism reduces the stimuli – otherwise, it just feels like a tornado of chaos. Everything swirls around you, and you hear the Wicked Witch of the West cackling in whirlwind of clutter!

  • Nat

    miss minimalist I am so relieved to find your post. I see minimalists here but I don’t feel they are exactly the same.

    As I child (about 7) I took down my curtains and precious moments etc. and put them in a box. I couldn’t stand them in my room – they served no logical purpose and I couldn’t think straight. In college I became obsessed with living out of one box. I get anxious when my office papers start to accumulate. I was searching boards and they kept coming up OCD, but in reverse with hoarding. I wonder if anti-anxiety meds would help??? I am not specifically neat – I don’t really care in the pencils all face the same way in a box – I just have an intense urge to throw out all the pencils.

    I hate gifts too – I love the thought but start to worry about how to give it away as fast as I can. I am not sure if I made it clear how this is different from minimalism. Externally is appears the same, but the motivation is really to relieve anxiety for me. Just wondering, do you have similar feelings about “stuff”? I constantly make my son purge toys and worry that I am overreaching to reduce my own anxiety.

    Again you are the only person I feel that has a story like mine I’ve been able to connect with and say “That sounds exactly like me.”

  • Need Clean

    I finally watched one of those shows about hoarders. What a nightmare! Not only am I naturally organized, but I also prefer sanitary conditions. I like to be in control of my belongings and not have things control me. Hoarders are out of control!

    I am not obsessive, but I do detest germs, toxic products, and mindless clutter. I enjoy an organized and clean environment with few stimuli.

  • [...] Born Minimalist?: The A&E show “Hoarders” has prompted many a debate over whether the inclination to hoard is something people are born with, or something they learn. I’ve often wondered the same about minimalism—and mainly because it’s been part of my psyche for as long as I can remember… {read more} [...]

  • Lis

    I’m a born hoarder chosing to imitate minimalists, which is very hard to force. I always had a bigger connection to my stuff than to the people around me. That’s sad, I know. Everything I get rid of or don’t buy/accept is a struggle, but I haven’t regretted anything yet. It was so overwhelming to start, and now it amazes me how much is still left after getting rid of so much stuff. So yes, I think you’re born naturally inclined to one or the other, but I’m hoping I can change that by choice.

  • I think hoarding is a learned behaviour, either a positive-learned experience, or a negative one.

    Many of the subjects on “Hoarders” or “Hoarding: Buried Alive” are revealed to have a parent – or both parents – who hoard. One subject was the daughter of the local garbage man, who pulled “useful” things out of the trash and saved them. Obviously, this was a positive learned behavior — saving things that might be useful some day, or didn’t need to be discarded forever were things to be kept. It was normal in childhood, and so became normal in their own adulthood.

    On the other hand, many subjects began to hoard after childhood trauma, or loss in early adulthood. When belongings were stolen or destroyed, or when loved ones died or left, collecting THINGS became an emotionally safe way to self-protect. This is a self-learned negative behavior. It’s a coping mechanism.

    I honestly think that people can un-learn hoarding, or even just over-accumulation of stuff. To reverse a positive-learning experience necessitates changing the perception of keeping things from one of salvation to one of self-limitation. Sometimes another viewpoint is all it takes to facilitate change.

    To reverse a negative-learning experience is what is primarily shown on TV, and it’s so much harder to change. A lot of these behaviours have to be dealt with through intensive personal therapy sessions and extreme patience. It’s changing and underlying psychological disorder and addressing and working through the initiating trauma.

    I think this could be argued from both sides (learned vs. innate), but my leanings are above. Regardless, I honestly think 98% of people are capable of change, huge positive change in life, and discussions like this and things like your blog, Miss Minimalist, can help people tremendously.


    • Loralei

      Hello there Dahta. I would like to dispel any untruths about hoarding before we go on just simply for the sake of setting the record straight, dispelling myths and for remaining scientifically accurate. Cell biology, neuron structure and biochemical science influence behavioral differences between us. It has been proven that hoarding is learned behavior but a biochemical one as well that is a disease like male pattern baldness that is a variant in dna pattern. Bipolar affective disorder is proven to “run” in families as alcoholism…..if they are diseases that can run in families then why cant hoarding be seen in the same light? Is this going to be yet another disease that will have to struggle to be taken seriousily by the layman and doctors alike? Hoarding is not something you can “CATCH” but a serious mental illness. The state of your home is a reflection of the state of what is going on in your head. I am glad to say I can CLAP and hear a echo when I walk into any room of my house, I am a proud minimalist! :) fin

  • Elaine

    I sincerely enjoy the suggestions which stay with me and enable me to decide to dispose of an item rather than keep it longer. However, I confess that from time to time I have found myself thinking that some of the words I’ve read here remind me of what I’ve heard people with anorexia nervosa speak. And now I’m reading Purge. The similaries grow. Could become worrisome to certain people who are in denial.

  • Alice

    Some of the behaviors can be learned. We always went through our stuff as kids/teens to donate to those more needy (although we too were poor) and so I still do this every fall and spring and take a bag to the local Salvation Army. I’ve always liked bare walls and hardwood floors but am gently teased for it (told I have no decorating sense? ) and get home decor stuff as a gift. Most goes on to be donated! I remember I did like to get souvenirs when I used to travel… now I get a photograph or postcard and call it a day. No need for all those knick knacks. Although I may never live out of a suitcase, I believe some minimalist tendencies are learned and some you are born with!

  • Rebecca

    What an interesting question! My father is actually a hoarder and so was his mother. My father’s problem was evident even before the word “hoarder” had entered popular culture’s lexicon and was a contributing factor in my parents’ divorce. I’ve watched hours of programs dedicated to hoarders and I have yet to see a case as extreme as my father’s. He essentially chose his stuff over his family. And just to illustrate the physical evidence of his disorder, the last time I saw him (just over five years ago), not only was his four-room, three level Victorian house filled floor-to-ceiling, the 100 ft. by 50 ft. shop that once contained his grandfather’s plumbing business was so full that he could not even take one step into it (he had CARS in there and they weren’t visible from the entrance).

    I believe I had a fairly healthy relationship to things when I was little – I had collections, but I occasionally purged my drawers. Once my parents told me they were getting a divorce, however, I took a lot more comfort in throwing things away. And as the divorce dragged on (it took seven years for the divorce to be finalized because my father kept arguing that my mother’s heirlooms belonged to him, that he deserved more stuff, etc.), my obsession with purging stuff became more and more apparent. For years I kept getting rid of things with the fear that if I didn’t, I would turn into a replica of my father.

    Though I still find that I’m far less materialistic than others, I no longer take it to the extreme that I did in my teens. I only recently began reading minamalist websites, and while I enjoy and agree with a lot of what I have read, there are some “extreme” things (for example, the 100 Thing Challenge) that I stay away from because, to me at least, it echoes the obsessive compulsive behavior that I witnessed growing up.

  • Carly

    Rebecca, I can understand how an experience like that would perhaps trigger your purging. I am 20, and for only the last 6 months or so I’ve decided I want liberation from the weight of material possessions. I see my mother’s hoarding/ocd behaviors and I often wonder if my minimalism is a form of ocd perhaps? Or maybe a result of watching my mother’s apparent struggle with her disorders and yet her ignorance to address these problems as serious. I can’t say I have taken the minimalist route out of fear of becoming a hoarder, as I see no logic or contentment in it.

    I live with my parents still, and I actually wish to move out just because the disorganization, visual distraction and clutter disturbs my well being, I often have to block it out :P I think that it’s a mixture of factors such as life experiences, personality and perhaps genetics that determine. That is, I think some people are just more detail-oriented than others. As a child, I would trace over my writing, just so it would look ‘perfect’ and I would put so much effort into projects that it often made me a step later than everyone else. But I felt it was worth putting in the extra effort and going at my own pace. I was classified as a creative child by all my teachers, and I suppose I was what you would deem the ‘arty’ type. Although I’m no longer like that, I think my great attention to detail and organization plays a large part in why I have chosen minimalism. Does anyone else find they pay attention to detail as well?

  • Miakat

    Interesting question!

    My grandmother was a classic hoarder, like this tv show you all seem to be referring to but which I do not get in Australia? I get the general idea though – my granparents’ house has 3 sheds, all of which are filled to the brim with items kept for that one magical day in which they will be useful. The house is tidy but piled to the brim with boxes and carefully stored items. My grandmother’s room is actually stacked TO THE CIELING. They blame growing up in the Depression era for not being able to throw anything away now, which I think is probably fairly accurate. The interesting thing is that my own mother suffers with various anxiety disorders and always hated the clutter in her parents’ house – but the older she gets the more she is turning into them! She constantly buys storage item after storage item to hold her clutter and frequently bursts into tears at the site of it.

    I used to be a hoarder (surprise!)because I could not bear to throw anything away, but as I slowly did, I am learning how happy it makes me. The more emotional baggage I shed, the less I feel the need to hold on to material things – and the happier I become! I have always been very sensitive and curious, always wanted to learn and explore, and that hasn’t changed as I have aged. This puts me at odds with my other mid-20s friends, who are all aquiring property, cars and mortgages and gadgets to fill those houses, but I couldn’t care less how little I have. In fact – the less I have, the more FREEDOM I feel! The experience of people at birthdays and Christmas has always meant more to me than recieving presents, and I am slowly training people to give me consumables instead of stuff!

    Any advice on how to say no to gifts without offending would be great though – perhaps in a future post? I am surrounded by very Christmas-centric people and, well, it’s that time of year again… the thought of my house filled with clutter is incredibly stressful! I don’t know how other people do it, but would love to.

  • susan


    I’d like to share my story, because i need to get it out. I am 30, a hoarder, and desperately craving simplicity and order.

    I don’t believe I was born a hoarder. I am actually a very organised person; I love order, functionality and efficiency and get stressed by mess and things being out of place.

    When I was six my father died, my mum remarried too quickly (in my eyes), I struggled socially right through school because I was a bit too ‘nerdy’, and we moved twice – once when I was ten and then again when I was twelve. When Mum was helping me pack my things for the second move she found I had a whole pile of old tabloid magazines. I had kept them (and goodness knows what else!) because I thought I might want to use the pictures later. A year or so later I started collecting recipes and sticking them in an exercise book, because I would want them when I moved out of home. I was thirteen! I wasn’t going to be moving out any time soon!

    Gradually I was collecting ‘useful’ things. I had a folder of magazine articles, and a folder of useful pieces of information such as the Periodic Table. I couldn’t bare to throw out any of those things in case I needed them later. But things got worse after I had finished school and had my own money. I was studying Music and English at uni, with the intent that i would become a teacher. I went scouring the second hand bookshops for the novels for my set reading, and come home with three extra books that I wanted to read, or some sheet music or scores that would be useful when I was teaching. I kept buying CDs because the I would need the songs on them when I was teaching. Then I got it in my head that I would need stuff for when I moved out of home – so I would buy ladels and glasses and tea towels. I was still living in my parents house, sharing a bedroom with my sister. Admittedly, it was the size of two bedrooms, but my half was crammed full of… junk.

    To make matters worse, I love to sew and make things. I have stuff in my cupboard that I bought ten years ago to make something and have never made it. I think ‘hey I’ve got an idea! I’m going to make…’ and then go out and buy all the bits and pieces to do it before realising that I am lacking either skills or time to actually complete the project.

    While I was studying, every so often I would get really stressed and just have to clean up. My sister would sit on her bed and watch me and comment that I wasn’t tidying up, just moving the mess around. She was right. I was trying to create a bit of order in my mess so that I could study, but it wasn’t working.

    I moved out of home at 22 when i finished uni. I moved to a different town and took about half of my stuff with me, then collected some more of it when I went home to visit a few months later, and then Mum put the rest in a box in her shed when she moved house. Then I moved house, then got married and moved into my new husband’s house where we had to combine two households worth of stuff. (Fortunately, I didn’t have furniture, only ‘stuff’.) I had been growing increasingly frustrated by having not enough space for all my things but didn’t really realise there was a problem.

    Then we decided to go and live overseas for two years, and that’s when it hit me. i had all these things and I was about to PAY to put it into storage. I didn’t know if I would even WANT those clothes in two years time. And i had no clue about living or travelling lightly. We didn’t know when our things would arrive in our new country, but I took all the wrong things with me and was bored out of my brain by the time our belongings arrived three months later. (I didn’t have a job, and it was a very isolated place where we lived.)

    Just before we left to come home I gave away most of the clothes I had with me, and just kept the things I particularly liked. I hadn’t bought new clothes in two years, and most of them were worn out. When we moved into our new place back in Australia and all our things arrived from the various places they were being stored and I started culling. A heap of pants didn’t fit me anymore because I had since given birth and my hips were wider now. They went. A lot of our kitchen stuff was cheap and in a bad state, and we had more than one of most of it. I got rid of a lot of that. One day I got really radical and admitted that I wouldn’t be going back to work in the near future, not until my babies were much older, and culled my teaching resources drastically. Most of them I could either find or make again. Especially class sets of worksheets!

    I still have too many things. Too many clothes. Too many unfinished sewing and craft projects. Too many plates and cups and saucepans. The kids have too many toys. Too much house to keep clean.

    I understand why I keep things: my losses as a child made me fearful, on an sub-conscious level, that if I didn’t hang on to things I might lose something important. I’m trying to face those fears. Stuff is just stuff. It’s replaceable. Sometimes I wish that I could just get rid of everything and start with a clean slate. Just have the basics. Just what I need. Except for my piano. It was a rare find to get as good an instrument as i have… and not exactly a minimalist activity! Instead I’m just dealing with things one box and one shelf at a time, until we can have Saturday afternoon to go out for ice cream as a family, not maintaining an overload of junk!

    The other thing that has clicked only in the last twelve months is that there are only 24 hours in a day. I don’t have time to read all those books on my bookshelf, or finish all those craft projects. I’m never going to be a painter. I’m never going to be a knitter (I live in the tropics, for goodness sake!). I don’t actually cook that many different dishes, so I don’t really need to have on hand all the ingredients to make every meal in every recipe book in my cupboard (which I have culled my more than half). I only go through a 500mL bottle of olive oil every two months, so there is no point in buying a 4L tin. I wash clothes every day or two, so my son doesn’t need twelve shirts. I have even started writing my ideas into a notebook, rather than onto a shopping list.

    I feel liberated.

    Well, almost. I’m still burdened by my clutter, but I’m getting there.

    I want to be a minimalist, because deep inside I know that is who I really am. That’s who I was born as, but I got sidetracked.

    Thank you for letting me share.

  • susan

    Sorry, my comment is incredibly long. Feel free to discard it! It was cathartic for me at least.

  • Lauren

    I would love to see that Purgers show be made! I think it could be a hit!( I secretly love Hoarders. Never fails to make me start editing my things.) I usually do both simultaneously lol.

  • Caroline

    haha! On very gift receiving occasion of (almost) my entire life, the part I looked forward to most was shifting around and getting rid of stuff I already had that the new stuff could replace. It was just another excuse to purge (often the gifts themselves if I didn’t like them)! Not that I’ve been very minimalist until the past couple years. I love to organize and downsize and make things more efficient, but I never got as far as actual minimalism. Over the past 2ish years I’ve probably gotten rid of at least half my stuff, and it’s still not enough (though I live in a 580 sq ft apt with my bf and 2 cats, so it’s not like I had tons to begin with). I fantasize constantly about grad school abroad and how little I’ll bring with me. Love your blog!

  • Rachel

    I am a born minimalist! My family is not. I have always fantasized about only owning a few things. In grade school I got rid of bags and bags of clothes after reading Heidi–I don’t remember the point of the book, only that she ate simple meals and had two dresses. I loved The Boxcar Children for the same reason. After swimming as a child, I would be in a bathroom stall changing clothes, and I would always think, “I wish I could fit everything I owned in here.” Kind of geeky, I guess. Anyway, there is a Plethora of similar situations, but I have been a minimalist ever since I can remember. I purge regularly and am now going uber-minimal–well, I can’t control my husbands stuff, but I’m pretty sure I could fit my stuff in a suitcase now. Yay, me!

  • Minimalism is something I discovered not too long ago rather than being something that I was born with. I had quite a lot of things as a child, even though we didn’t have much money. When you have a huge family, you get a LOT of gifts!

    I think my love of minimalism is due to my two flaws of not being very neat and getting distracted easily. On the positive side, there’s my love of Zen and liking things to look clean and organised (yeah, goes against my untidiness). Minimalism solves all of it.

    My HUGE obstacle is my husband. He doesn’t understand minimalism at all and it’s hard to explain to him. He is from a quite posh background and his mum has a contrary type of thinking to mine. To her more is better, quality doesn’t matter. My thinking is less is better, especially if using quality items. Perhaps he has influence from his mum?

    I wish I could apply minimalism to our house, which is quite small (only two beds, tiny kitchen, living/dining used only as living – conservatory used as dining) but too cluttered, in my opinion. My husband likes clutter though. Ugh!

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