Living with Less is a Luxury

(Above: our Aunt Nancy, grandfather and Dad in the mid-1940s in Chinatown D.C.)

Having the choice to live with less (paradoxically) is such a generous idea, don’t you think? Choosing to get rid of what you own because you have so much, is a luxury — a generous lifestyle of surplus. Cath and I have been so lucky to have always grown up with enough, and then some.

We’ve never been truly hungry or without basic comforts. And I do see the minimalist movement as something that people like us can easily do because we’ve always had enough and never had to go “without.”

Gratitude for the stuff you already have and love is a huge part to learning to live with less. But there is also gratitude for the whole concept: that we get to have this choice and it’s not one forced upon us by circumstance.

Growing up, Cath and I did not just have enough, we had more than enough. Part of this was because our dad grew up without very much. So not only was our kitchen always stocked with food, we also had an additional closet in our laundry room full of food too. Cath and I jokingly called our family’s linen closet a mini pharmacy because growing up, our dad would stockpile soap and toilet paper and shampoo whenever it was on super sale. When I was little, I remember being so confused when I was at a friend’s house and they ran out of paper towels — how was that possible? Where was their extra closet of back-up supplies?

Diddy1(Above: A family friend, our Dad doing his best Robert De Niro and our Aunt Nancy)

Our dad grew up in a small one bedroom apartment with his parents and five siblings in DC’s Chinatown. He’s never mentioned not having much, but we know he didn’t. And as we got older, Cath and I realized part of the reason why we had these extra reserves around the house was a direct result of not always having enough.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the current minimalist trend — capsule wardrobes, nothing superfluous, etc. —  but I think it’s always nice to be able to put lifestyle pursuits in perspective and realize how lucky we are to feel the freedom to live with less.

So whenever I’m bemoaning the fact that my closet isn’t perfectly monochromatic or my kitchen utensil drawer would make Marie Kondo blush, I remind myself how ridiculously lucky I am to make these choices. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

13 thoughts on “Living with Less is a Luxury”

  1. So very true!!! Great post Lar 🙂 And as a kid who didn’t have much growing up, I totally recognise the urge to stockpile. I had a lot of difficulty with Marie Kondo’s theory on stockpiling, I understand what she is saying, but for now I am keeping mine because a) it makes me feel happy and secure having it and b) I have one closet set up for it, and when that is full I don’t buy even if those items are on sale.
    I know she says in the beginning of the book not to pick and chose what you want to adhere to, do it all and do it rigiously – I believe she is right, but I have made this my one exception and am doing it in the most orderly and KonMari fashion I can 🙂
    LOL, how’s that for rationalisation, hahaha!

    1. Hi Michelle!
      Oh I think exceptions should be allowed — especially because it makes you secure and happy AND you’ve made space for it. I think that’s totally Marie Kondo approved. I totally understand the feeling of how stockpiling makes you feel secure — I still feel a bit of anxiety living in places without an extra closet.
      x Lar

  2. I’ve been to DC’s Chinatown and that makes me think of it in a different light. And also think about the strength of my in laws (who are Taiwanese and immigrated to Brazil before the US) who were poor and had four boys – who are now all tremendously successful today, in a way that helps me to forget the struggle they endured. You’re right, minimalism is privilege because it’s predicated on an argument of excess is bad. Many people never have the opportunity to experience what we think of as bad. Well said.

    1. Thanks so much, Amy! Yes, exactly! Minimalism is something I can sometimes feel smug about — like “look how much space there is around my hangers!” “I never buy things!” (which is not true). It’s easy to lose perspective on lifestyle choices — we forget how lucky we are to have a choice.
      xoxo, Lar

  3. Love, love, love this post. My parents grew up poor in Communist China and I see the same stockpiling tendencies in them. (They used to keep extra toilet paper in my room!) The point about having the choice to go minimalist instead of having deprivation thrust upon us is a great one too. I read something a while back written by someone who grew up in a trailer park, and pointed out the same thing about the privileged folks spearheading the tiny house movement nowadays.

    1. Thanks so much, Lisa! I feel like our growing-up years might have had a lot in common. What a good point about the tiny house movement too! When something is not a choice but the only option you have, it makes our lifestyle choices seem so decadent — (ironically) including minimalism!

  4. Lar, you didn’t tell me you had those photos! I love this post because it’s so true. There’s something so luxurious about being able to choose to live with less. We are so lucky to be able to feel “safe” enough to live with less. I think I will always understand folks’ need to stockpile because of dad. I wonder if Marie Kondo had parents who stockpiled – I think not.

    1. I wonder if maybe Marie Kondo did and that’s why she really like organizing. She does mention in her book about trying to organize her family home, but probably most places would look messy and too cluttered for her. Yes, we have been so lucky — to always have cereal and toilet paper and a lovely big roof over our heads.

  5. Such a beautiful post, Cath. I am blushing that I didn’t even think about this aspect/perspective of the minimalist lifestyle movement thing. How blessed that I can go around my house saying, let’s donate this to charity. My dad also had a stockpile in the garage. We never ran out of laundry detergent! xo

    1. We had laundry detergent too, Amanda! I felt embarrassed too when I it dawned on me how lucky I was to get to choose to live with less when most people in this world don’t have enough. It’s understandable to lose perspective when we constantly see people through the media that seem, or do, have more than us.

  6. This is so beautifully said, and so true. It reminds me of one of the things from Kondo’s book about thanking your belongings that have served you well. I do that, but it is more general gratitude that I can let something go and appreciate not just the good feelings the item brought me, but that my life is so rich (not just in material possessions) that I can let the item go knowing there will be enough of things that are more right for me. It wasn’t always that way in my life. It is important to be able to recognize all the places where gratitude can be.

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