I have moved eleven times over the past seven years. Somewhere along the way, I accidentally become somewhat of a minimalist. You can only carry so much stuff between so many spaces before you start to question the necessity of it all. You inevitably start to think about how you might lighten your load.
I first heard about minimalism as a lifestyle a year or two ago, although the ideas embedded in the concept are familiar. On the surface, minimalism is about getting rid of things you do not use or need so that your life is simpler and less cluttered. Deeper extensions of minimalism ask us to purge not only material possessions, but any other attachments that no longer bring us value. For example, the budding minimalist may reconsider some of their relationships, the ideas they fill their heads with, the number of tasks they do at a time, and the countless activities they jam into their overbooked schedules.
I like the way that Colin Wright boils it down; minimalism is a matter of establishing priorities so that you can “strip away the excess stuff.” This gives us more time and space to focus on the things that align most with our values and ambitions, ultimately leading to a life that is lived more meaningfully.
In any case, I wasn’t introduced to minimalism as a concept until fairly recently. I didn’t have much of a theoretical framework to think about what I was doing over the past seven years and eleven moves as I shed many of my possessions. It was a matter of pragmatism more than intention. In order to keep moving around, I needed to learn to let go of some stuff.
Clothes, shoes, kitchenware, outdated documents and papers containing information available online, decorative items I no longer found beautiful, musical instruments I had stopped playing long ago, art supplies I no longer had the time or passion to use, old makeup and beauty products and styling appliances that had become obsolete as I simplified my maintenance routine. I let them go.
Yet there is one category of material possessions that I cannot imagine shedding:
Ask my family. They will tell you. Every time I have moved, I have carried an unreasonable number of books with me.
If I was to move anywhere for more than six months, I usually took a considerable portion of my book collection with me. This filled at least one very heavy, impossibly dense suitcase.
Despite the burden of that suitcase, I would obligingly carry it with love. I would load it into my car and take it to my next transient home, because I was (and still am!) deeply attached to my books. I would tenderly unpack each book and set them on a new shelf, out in the open, so that I could see them. My books served as a visual reminder of all the ideas that have come to pass in and out of my life, the ones that have stuck, the ones that have carried me through my most formative years.
Sure, it was a heavy relationship, but I found my book collection worth the weight.
Moving to Jordan in 2016 presented a challenge to my romance with books. Carrying a massive suitcase of books overseas would cost me hundreds of dollars. It wasn’t worth it, unless I really planned on staying for the long haul. So, I resigned myself to bringing only a carry-on bag full of books that I haven’t yet read, and filling my bookshelf in Amman with those.
Before leaving Michigan, I deposited the rest of my beloved collection onto a cluttered, unorganized bookshelf in my family’s house. I’ve visited home twice since moving to Jordan, and each time I come bearing handfuls of books I accumulated abroad. I add them to this overflowing bookshelf back at my permanent address where I rarely stay.
I am scared to gather too many books in Jordan, worried that I will be forced to get rid of them someday. When family and friends come to visit me, I send them back with books and a promise that they will put them on my shelf at home. Through this process, I have managed to pare down my Jordan collection of books to some twenty titles.
Living abroad has forced me to adopt some minimalist strategies toward how I approach my relationship with books. I check out books at the library much more frequently than I used to, and abstain from purchasing any, unless it is a book that I anticipate truly loving and wanting to read more than once. I have recently added audio books as a companion to my everyday walks, and this keeps me from buying at least one physical book per month. I exchange books with friends so that I can read more without adding to my collection here. But I haven’t wholeheartedly adopted the minimalist mindset toward books, and I don’t know if I ever will.
I still have that security blanket, those books that fill the shelf that may not be on my person at this moment. But I still know exactly where to find them all. And most importantly, I know they are still mine.
Maybe I will learn one day to gracefully let go of the books on this shelf. It might be all at once, I decide that I am ready to move on, and I donate every last one. Perhaps it will be a slower process, one book at a time, as I come to realize that the idea this or that book represents is no longer valuable enough for me to continue carrying in this short life.
Or maybe one day, if I ever stop living out of suitcases, I will place all the books on a big, beautiful shelf in my own home. The shelf will encompass an entire wall. I will be happy, maximally happy, in the excessive company of all these ideas.