Minimalism is my form of control

Right now, we live in an 8′ x 20′ room off the garage.

In the winter we freeze, but in the summer it stays cooler than the main house. We are cut off from the heating/AC system. There are two windows but no closet. The overhead light is one of those industrial fluorescent lights that can only be turned on from the main garage entrance. We never use it. It takes forever to flicker on anyway.

There’s a long white support beam on the elevated ceiling, its hardware plastered in generic white paint. The walls are painted stark white but not textured. You can see the tape that joins the drywall, the nails that hold everything in place.

There are just two outlets, spaced about 15 feet apart and located halfway up one of the long walls. The bottom three feet of wall with the outlets juts out about four inches with cracked and stained concrete, creating a useless and uneven shelf. There are no baseboards. The all-weather carpet is stained and torn in spots. The floor slopes down to the front right corner of the room.

Somehow, we’ve made a kind of peace with this space. It’s not nearly as bad as it felt on day one. It almost feels like home.

We’ve overloaded the two outlets with surge protectors and power strips. The only Internet connection port in the entire house happens to be above that concrete ledge. Cables and wires and cords dangle from the wall and run under the bed. Two paper lanterns hang from the beam on the vaulted ceiling, but getting to their power supply behind the wall tapestry is hardly worth it. Daylight is usually good enough.

Arranging and leveling furniture in our room is an ongoing battle. No arrangement feels quite right. Our clothes hang on a cheap plastic clothes rack. Buying an armoire feels useless and expensive. This is temporary. Two mismatched antique dressers occupy perpendicular walls at the entrance. Neither houses drawers quite big enough.

We live in a house with 7 people, 3 dogs, 3 cats and 2 bathrooms (3 if you count the master, but it’s not shared). Everything is more or less always a disaster. Dog hair fucking everywhere. Every flat surface a junk drawer. Nobody seems to clean up after themselves, yet everyone seems to feel the same way about it. We all deflect blame.

The dogs bark. Constantly. Especially the damn puppy locked upstairs. I would know because I work from home. One roommate is allergic to cats, so all 3 cats live and play in our 8 x 20 foot oasis. They keep me company. We go through a lot of kitty litter. Our windows are permanently slid open, diffusing the smell of ammonia and kitten shit.

We live like this because this is the Bay Area, the most expensive area in the US and the 9th most expensive city in the world. Tyler graduates in September 2019. I count the days.

A cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind. I live in clutter.

I feel so frustrated most of the time because it feels like I cannot escape! I feel powerless to change anything. I resent how much we pay and how often we clean and how much shit we have to buy just to keep things organized and how little difference any of it seems to make. It’s useless to keep the house clean with roommates who do not have the same standards. Over time I’ve grown to resent just about all of them. I know this makes me less pleasant to be around and diminishes the quality of my life. But most of me has given up caring about that. I feel like I’m just waiting for it to all end.

Except for one thing.

Minimalism has a certain allure for me. I am obsessed with pairing down belongings to just the bare essentials. I find deep joy in purging, donating, tossing out. I love knowing that I own only what is necessary. I love being surrounded by empty space. Whitespace.

Living like we do, I’ve become even more obsessed with having less. It’s my way of controlling my environment. Creating space to breathe.

But in my obsession with minimalism is also an attachment to material non-attachment. In my quest to detach from material possessions, I’ve become attached to the idea that I need to detach. Does that make sense?

The obsession runs deep and is probably the result of my early childhood when my mom told me I was a pack rat. And I was. I kept everything. My room was always a disaster, an organized chaos. I never threw anything out and I felt comforted when surrounded by all my shit.

Until one day in my teens, I got in trouble and my punishment was to come home to a totally empty room. Mom had bagged all my crap and put it under the house. The walls were bare. The desk was clear. The only items remaining in my room were my mattress, desk, alarm clock, and lamp. That was it.

That’s when I first felt it. Total peace.

It’s why now I have to make my bed every morning. I can’t officially start my day until things are in order. The sheets need to be even under the comforter. The comforter needs to hang symmetrically. Throw pillows need to be centered. It gives me a sense of control.

It’s why I own just 3 pairs of shoes–everyday sandals, hiking shoes, and dress shoes. It’s why I use only one beauty product: coconut oil. It’s why I use a tiny Chromebook for everything, including texting. It’s why I own 1 dress. 1 button down shirt. 1 swimsuit. Enough underwear to get through a week.

I hate having more than I absolutely need because any excess takes up valuable space that could otherwise be empty.

It feels like every month I’m bagging up another load of unworn clothes and encouraging Tyler to do the same. Books I’ll never re-read. Random shit that I thought was sentimental, but is really just collecting dust and getting in the way. There’s always one more thing to give away.

I cannot control what is going on in the main house or what my roommates choose to do with their dirty dishes or junk mail or empty Amazon boxes, but I can control my 8 x 20 foot rectangle. I can control how often I vacuum our carpet or dust the dressers. I can control how often we wash the sheets and do the laundry.

I think minimalism is my form of control. It’s my way of controlling my environment to try to get control over my internal monologue and external chaos. Every time I toss another bag of crap and fold my sheets just so, I feel that same sense of peace I felt in the empty room years ago.


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