I’ve been obsessed with minimalism for awhile now, but our recent inability to shop in person has fanned the flames of that crush into a roaring bonfire.
People like me who, thank God, have large families, both nuclear and extended, plus various overlapping communities, are by definition limited in our ability to implement minimalism. My Amazon shopping cart is always hopping. We need a big house with closets filled with towels, linens, toiletries, and supplies. We need pantries with Costco-sized products in them and garages for the extras (extra paper towels, extra fridge and freezer, and most importantly, extra toilet paper). And, as kosher-keepers, we need lots of kitchen space for meat, dairy, neutral, and stuff that got treifed up and are now awaiting trial-by-rabbi.
But I love tiny houses. Every now and then I longingly peruse photos of itty-bitty houses with teeny-tiny spaces and minuscule carbon footprints. Until I remember that these people have no kids, no guests, and probably no food, whereas I have lots of all three.
I dream of making aliyah one day, and can already gleefully imagine the purge that will take place as we unload years of books, toys, furniture. “Downsizing” sounds like a reward that you get after a long life well-lived. I envision having minimal spaces to clean, furnish, and maintain. It all sounds amazing, until I remember that I really, really want to live near my not-yet-born grandkids and to continue to host guests in the Holy Land. How to do both? Can you have hardly anything and still share? I’m not sure.
In many ways I feel that our stuff holds us hostage. It is heavy. It can fill our spaces and take over and suffocate us. Clutter makes me short of breath. I’m constantly purging. When a salad bowl gets a nick or crack, I delightedly toss it. When a tablecloth gets stained beyond repair, I relish throwing it out. Purging, if you can believe this, is often more fun for me than buying. It’s a seriously underrated joy.
There is one small area in which my inner minimalist rules: my own personal stuff. Clothes, shoes, accessories. For years now I’ve practiced a habit that helps. Whenever I buy a new pair of shoes, I choose one from my closet to donate or discard. If I buy a new sweater, I get rid of a sweater. In this way I ensure that my stuff doesn’t overtake me.
I try my hardest to donate whenever possible, making sure that it’s in good enough condition to do so — and if it’s not, I ask myself why I am wearing trash that I don’t even think is good enough to donate. To that end, I make sure to get rid of clothing that is stained, ripped, or doesn’t fit me, even if I haven’t bought anything new. If things can’t be repaired, why hold onto them when you don’t wear or like them? Why wear things that make you feel ugly or uncomfortable? Why wear ripped or stained clothing? Why let them take up space in your closet and mind?
You are a holy being in a holy body. Just as we wouldn’t cover a Torah scroll with a ripped or stained cover, why cover your holy self with anything less than dignity?
So there’s my minimal minimalism. Me, myself, and I. My stuff, my clothes. Because if I can’t change the world, well, maybe I can start by changing myself. And if I can do that, I’ll already feel a bit lighter, a bit more buoyant. A bit more minimalistically minimal.