Today I want to write about nostalgia. This is something that I’ve had to struggle with on a minor scale in my quest to become a minimalist. I say “minor scale” because I don’t consider myself to be an overly sentimental person or someone who is extremely emotional, although this might make me come across as a person with no feelings, a cold, detached zombie. This is not the case, however. Even though I do value a select few items, I’ve always been the type of person that values memories and experiences above physical items. I did, however, go through a phase where I always bought at least one souvenir from every place I visited, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled more that some people I know. But a few years ago, I started feeling like these worthless trinkets (all made in China, of course, never in the country I was visiting, with the exception of some pottery I bought in Colombia) were just taking up space and not adding real value to my life. I had to clean them, I had to pack them to move (I move quite frequently), and they were weighing me down. At one point I realized I could still remember the great times I had in those countries/states without having a visual reminder sitting on that shelf – a visual reminder that needed to be cleaned or dusted off every week. And don’t get me started on the money spent on those trinkets that probably could’ve financed a trip or two. But years before I decided to become a minimalist, I learned I could let go of these items and still remember the good times they represented. Now, when I travel, I stay away from gift shops and souvenir stands. Memories and (digital) pictures are all I need. Yes, I’m an avowed souvenir/trinket/knickknack hater.
Nostalgia is defined by Dictionary.com as “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time”. This is something I’ve noticed to be a major roadblock to many people as they embark on the journey to let go of the things that are weighing them down in life so they can actually *live* their lives. Many possessions feel like responsibilities that must be carried forward (oftentimes literally) in life, and too many people can’t break free from them because of guilt. Guilt – that ugly, ugly word. With society telling us we have to follow certain stages in life and our family pressuring us to “do good” and “make them proud”, guilt can be a lifelong partner of sorts. We learn to deal with it and even though we try to deny it, it rules us and holds us back and limits us. It’s probably worse than fear, and fear is bad enough.
Watching the TV series “Hoarders” has reinforced in me the absolute urgency of severing the sentimentality and guilt that creeps up every now and then and threatens to undo the progress I’ve made so far. Seeing how these smart, caring, nice people become trapped (literally) by their fears and guilt is almost too painful to watch, but it’s a learning experience, a lesson in how you can become immobilized by a feeling that has been kept hidden too long without dealing with it and exposing the root cause of it. Seeing a mother hold on to stacks of paper plates from her child’s first birthday party (when that child is now 35) and hearing her say that to this day she believes that if she throws the plates away, she’s in essence throwing her son away, just broke my heart. How does a material thing (disposable paper plates!) develop that kind of power over a human being? It’s almost impossible to understand, but such is the allure of “stuff”, coupled with nostalgia.
I once read an article about this and it mentioned people living with items that were “bestowed” upon them by older relatives (some of them deceased) and how they felt they HAD to keep these items, because “Aunt Marge” gave them to her. The article went on to ask: Do you really think that Aunt Marge will turn over in her grave if you give away her precious china which you keep in a (heavy) box in the basement and lug around every time you move? I would add to that question: Do you really think she will even FIND OUT if you do? Everybody has different views on what happens after death, and some people may think that their dearly departed relatives literally ARE watching over them and seeing everything, but I tend to disagree. Keeping and carrying around boxes of stuff for someone who has passed on seems sad and defeatist to me. By the same token, holding on to items because they remind us of past events can be akin to walking around in chains, if these items actually prevent us from achieving our dreams. I firmly believe that if something is proudly displayed in the home because it brings back joyful memories of a past event or person that has moved on, then it’s not a burden. But if that item is sitting in a box in your attic or your basement or (even worse) a storage facility, you may want to reconsider why it is that you’re holding on to it.
It’s never an easy thing to do, especially when some family members or even friends may not understand your motives and may criticize you for doing so, but they cannot feel your sense of longing for a life you know you can live and desperately want to live, because they are content with the way their lives are. You’re not like them, you’re a minimalist, you’re an adventure-seeker, you’re a “life-liver”. You want more out of life, and you deserve that better, more fulfilling, exuberant life. But, unbeknownst to you, nostalgia and sentimentality might be holding you back.
Yes, nostalgia is your enemy, my enemy, our enemy. Left unchecked and uncontrolled, nostalgia will blossom and invade everything like a cancer or a virus. It will paralyze you, leaving you longing for yesterday, for something that once was but is now gone, something that happened in the past and is therefore better left in the past.
I don’t want to live in the past. I don’t want to wish for “the good old times”. I want to live in the NOW and enjoy my life NOW, and make plans for the FUTURE, a future I will create for myself and those I love and care deeply about. This is my manifesto.