The unexpected emptiness of minimalism

Minimalism has been emotional for me. I didn't expect that at all when I started on my journey to simplicity. As I was letting go of the extra stuff, I was confronted by the reasons why I held on to it all for so long. The hopes, dreams, guilt, expectations, demands, ambitions... It's exciting and difficult. It’s liberating and a little scary.

But after that extra stuff is gone, now what? How do I spend that free time and energy that used to go to my stuff – maintaining it, acquiring it, storing it?... I can't use my stuff as an excuse not to live my life. "Oh, I can't possibly go, I have cleaning to do." "I can't possibly invite people over, I have cleaning to do." "I can't take on this new project, I have so many other unfinished projects already... *long pause*... and I have cleaning to do." etc... And it's not like I would actually do anything about it. It was almost crippling.

You see, before all of this freedom I never really gave much thought about what I really wanted out of life. I didn't have the time or energy. I had an excuse not to really consider it. (You know, the cleaning...) However I knew that I didn’t want the status quo.

So now I'm left with this sort of emptiness. I’m not exactly sure what to do next. There are so many things to choose from. Do I learn a new language? Do I travel? Do I read more? Do I write more? Do I get back into an old hobby I used to enjoy? Do I discover new hobbies? Do I volunteer? Do I just be still for a while and let the dust settle?

It's a little like when you're in a relationship with someone; they take up such a big part of your life. All of that time you spend texting and calling each other and the time you spend together. That's even truer when you live with this person. And when all of that suddenly ends whether it's because of a breakup (especially if you're not the one who wanted to end things) or death, it can leave you with this unexpected emptiness. You mourn the life you used to know.

Now don't worry, I'm not suffering in this. I find the possibilities of how things can be for me to be exciting, but still a little unnerving. I'm not used to all of this freedom... I made significant changes in a somewhat short amount of time. In the span of a few months I went from "maximalist" to minimalist – from suburbanite to urbanite. So I suppose I've lost my bearings a little.

When I go shopping now (usually for food or to take my mom run her errands), it feels weird to be in stores faced with all the kinds of stuff I used to buy. I still have the old habits of looking at these things and considering them. However, instead of buying them, now I walk away. But it doesn't feel quite natural yet. It's not that I necessarily want any of these things; it was just a habit to acquire them.

I've read that a good way to rid yourself of a habit is to replace it with a new one. But I thought that that was just to make it easier to let go of the habit you wanted to change. And since it wasn't that difficult to rid myself of that consumerism habit (for the most part), I didn't even think of adding new habits to replace the old ones.

I've read many articles on minimalism, but I've never really read anything discussing this unexpected emptiness. Are the other minimalists in denial? Did they already know what they wanted to do with the extra free time? Are they just writing about mostly the good parts of being a minimalist? Am I the only one experiencing this?

I've read about how to "fit in to society" after you've become a minimalist. You know the "gift experiences instead of stuff" kinds of advice, or the "people just don’t really care if your wardrobe is not varied" pep talks. I've even read about the emotional reasons and difficulties that keep us from letting go. But I've never read anything that talks about the unexpected emptiness that may occur after letting go, especially when you do it quickly and significantly. Maybe I just missed those articles in my excitement of getting started with minimalism.

I think it's important to write about this issue so that if anyone else has experienced this, they'd know they’re not alone.

So now what? Well, I think maybe we should ride it out - at least for a while. Do a little of that "being still" thing, let the dust settle. And after some time, then we can start looking at taking deliberate action after giving it some thought.


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