On minimalism

I just finished watching this documentary called Minimalism. And I loved how it put into words all my random, incoherent thoughts on living light, my uneasiness with unconscious consumption and spending that I kept dismissing as some sort of mid life crisis.

I was brought up with close to no reward system at home. I mean the maximum I could expect out of a good report card was good chocolate. But my parent teachers meetings were always a mixed bag, good report cards but TERRIBLE feedback about my behaviour in general. I was a handful, so I usually had to settle for a Morton or Kismi Toffee Bar or something close. As was the norm in those days, we got new clothes for birthdays and festivals. Anything more was dismissed as unnecessary fluff. Even when I started working for the first time in Bombay where I lived with my parents, I remember being incessantly judged for the sheer number of Kolhapuri Chappals I had. I collected too many books, I had far too many CDs. But the bottom line always was that that stuff meant something to me, so I never really judged myself.

When I moved in with my husband, our home was barely furnished for a home of fully functional adults. Pretty cane chairs and a coffee table that made up the living and dining rooms, a couple of mattresses and cushions, a bed – that’s all. The only places we went a little overboard was in speakers, books, and plants. Which is why when it was time to move to KL, we fit everything we owned in six suitcases and never looked back.

And then, in hindsight, the sheer emptiness of NRI life hit me like no tomorrow. Over the first couple of years in KL, we collected six devices that all did pretty much the same thing. I started to notice car brands for the first time in life because of the sheer amount of conversation that happened about them – fortunately not enough for me to give up my disgust for luxury cars that nobody seems to agree with me on. I discovered malls and cute clothes. And for someone who was never exactly interested in clothes, boy did I go on a buying spree!

For the next three years, I worked, I travelled, I bought, I accumulated, unconsciously making up for the emptiness I felt being away from the chaos and drama of home. Until 2015, when I woke up one morning to realise that I hated the way I was living. Unconsciously collecting junk in my body, never stopping to think about how I was spending my money or the crappy food I was subjecting my body to. I had enough experiences and warmth in my life to need this clutter – so why did I not just stop. And ever since, I have been struggling to find a semblance of balance between having just enough to live a good, convenient, content life and accumulating things just because they are “cute”.

I have also become extremely uncomfortable about making a lot of money, not because I don’t like money (because who doesn’t, right?) but because I find that nothing ties you down like abundance. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to walk away for the sake of sanity or contentment because money seems like the only acceptable parameter to judge success. Now that I have started to put things into words, I am also starting to realise that in some ways, this entire “opting out” episode I am on at the moment, that promises to pay me in just enough money but a whole lot of flexibility and bandwidth, is a balancing act that I can’t detail here except saying that nothing scares me more than the idea of getting used to too much money.

This is not to say that I don’t want the experiences that money can buy. Travel tops the list. In fact, there is no list. Travel is the only thing on that list, apart from the bare necessities and buying things for people I love. In fact, as an after effect of the documentary, I asked R what are the top five ways in which he wanted to use his money. He also came up with just those three. I am glad we agree. And more than that, I am glad that this is not a mid-life crisis. It is probably only about retracing the old tracks, the one where we studied and aced exams or worked, but not because we expected to be rewarded by things that would make our lives better, but because that’s what we were supposed to do. I am glad that this endeavour I am on, has more to do with my relationship with freedom and money and how the two impact each other than some higher cause that I find pretentious or oppressive or don’t relate with at all. This is an exercise reminding myself that just enough is more than enough, an exercise in being not only conscious of how I spend and how unconscious spending is a habit that is hard to get rid of but also making sure that we, R and I as a unit, have things more than paycheques and increments and promotions to look forward to. An exercise in making sure that we only collect clutter that holds some value and is not as transient as the glee of wearing a new pair of jeans.

Finally, I know.

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