A Minimalist Adapts

The first topic that occurs to me today is an emotions-related one from last week. Yes, I now have a Northwest Territories driver’s license and I’ve applied for territorial healthcare. I’m feeling more settled and I know my way around downtown better, but you don’t want to read about all that. Here’s what was on my mind as I got used to living with a partner again: How do you balance extreme minimalist tendencies with a “normal” level of possessions?
I’ll readily admit I was having a hard time getting used to living in a place with stuff again.

A side-note though: Even though I got my possessions down to a very small amount, I’m not above having clutter; I’m not a neat-freak, or a particularly good cleaner for that matter.

But still – our apartment has a lot of things that I previously got rid of or have no real interest in owning: tools, pictures, shelves of miscellaneous things. The exact amount or type of items isn’t what matters. What matters is my reaction to them. Do I really want to put my feelings about stuff or my personal preference of owning very little above a good relationship? No.

But I cannot just ignore my mild-anxiety about the issue.

On the flip side, asking someone to give up their items just because you don’t like them isn’t a workable solution either.

What can the partners do in this situation?

  1. Openly acknowledge and discuss the issue.
    I brought up my feelings with M, as a “by the way, I’m having a bit of trouble with this,” kind of talk. As the mature person that he is, this resulted in a decent conversation; not an argument.
  1. Break it down into the actual problems.
    1. My high sensitivity to visual stimulation: One of my realizations while we talked was that in general, I have a hard time with any excessive visual stimulation. I hate places like casinos, cluttered stores, even video games with a lot of colour and activity. All these trigger my visual sensitivities. Even the art that M has– even though it’s art that I like, definitely to my taste — bothers me a little. I’m actually someone who prefers/is fine with, blank walls.
    2. My concerns about the hassle of moving/storing/cleaning all the possessions: But in my situation, this is partly unavoidable and partly M’s burden. Also if we move it will be paid for by his employer, so moving a lot of items isn’t as troublesome as it was for me without a car and paying moving costs myself.
    3. The cost of the items: The majority of the items are ones that M already purchased. I didn’t have to spend any money on them and they will be things we are able to keep for a long time. When we make future joint purchases I am very aware that I need to be honest with myself and with him about whether I truly want to contribute money to whatever item it is. (I ran into trouble with boundaries regarding this issue in my marriage, so I am keenly aware of it now.)
    4. A dissatisfaction with my life in general greatly increases my response to clutter: The more I’m busy with work, hobbies, exercise, etc, the less I notice the clutter. I find that anxiety about possessions is greatest when something else is bothering me – when the relationship is not good for other reasons, for example.
  1. Have some areas clutter-free.
    Our living room/kitchen is mostly a clutter-free zone, so when I hang out there I feel relaxed. Also when I am working at my computer or in bed, there’s nothing that particularly bothers me, so that helps.
  1. Use visual barriers.
    Shut more doors as needed. As far as our storage shelves I may buy fabric to make some easy/cheap curtains to hide our possessions from view.
  1. Work together to minimize needless clutter.
    M agreed that certain items don’t need to be displayed in our main living areas. He’s happy to accommodate reasonable requests to reduce the visual clutter. For my part, I know that I need to straighten-up more often. I cause myself as much anxiety as anyone else, due to my lackadaisical attitude about putting my possession away.
  1. And lastly, just calm the fuck down.
    I’m trying not to think obsessively about our items. If I’m feeling anxious, I purposely change my thoughts to how I’m very happy with M and that I like our life. I remind myself about what is more important. Of course I’m not saying that everyone can calm themselves down; certainly in more extreme cases obsessive thinking is a psychiatric disorder. But for mild cases, some self-soothing thoughts can be helpful.

I first started thinking about this issue 5 or 6 days ago, and since then I’ve been doing a lot better. What has helped?

  • The conversation we had.
  • His willingness to help with this issue.
  • Increased excitement in my life (I may have a job soon), going out more, more fun hobbies and projects.
  • Adaptation. I’m just generally more used to living here now.

I know I’m not the only one in this situation. How have you melded your life with someone who has a different idea of what the right number of possessions is?

2 thoughts on “A Minimalist Adapts

  1. >> How have you melded your life with someone who has a different idea of what the right number of possessions is? <<

    Wife #2 moved into what was my house before we married. I had it set up largely the way I like it. DW definitely has a different esthetic, although it's not diametrically opposed to mine.

    It has to be a compromise. DW often suffers from "sensory overload" as well. Like many guys, I have a decent-sized TV and some audio equipment in the living room. As a compromise, the equipment is black (so it fades into the shadows), down to as few pieces as I use regularly, and the speakers are pretty darn small. DW has a sizable collection of African wall-hangings and sculpture, not all of which _I_ find esthetically pleasing; a few pieces are displayed in the living room; the rest are either stored until they're "rotated in" or they are displayed in her room (one of the bedrooms).

    In the kitchen, we've agreed that the only items which warrant counter space are those in (near-)daily use. The stand mixer we rarely ever use? In a closet nearby. Dirty dishes go in the sink if they don't immediately go into the dishwasher; they don't sit on the counter. DW is somewhat forgetful about utensils she's used, which is an issue. But it's part of a larger lack of awareness and I don't think there's going to be a change there.

    The "rooms" help, too. Two of the bedrooms in the house have become our rooms, each decorated/set up as we see fit. The doors close on each room, so clutter and such is not introduced to the main living space.

    You have to live with each other. :-) In addition, there were some comfort issues involved with her moving into my house (not "our house") and so some changes were made so she feels more like it's her place, too.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Steve, and more good ideas. There are 2 things that could be moved off our kitchen counter. Interesting food for thought about making the house feel more like mine as well. Getting my own computer desk helped a lot. (It was one of the first things we did.) I keep items around where I use them frequently. I’ll have to ponder that more. Eventually we’ll move as we’re just renting here, so that new place may feel more “ours”. However I’ve already made it clear to him that I have little to no interest in decorating or colours, whereas he does somewhat. As long as I don’t hate the colour (which won’t happen as we have similar tastes) he can do whatever he wants. My main concerns are the location – near bus routes, walkable, etc, and the price. So we have to agree on the big picture things, but the aesthetics I luckily don’t care about so no compromising needed.

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