While living vegan is a huge part of my day, sometimes, other areas of life seem to fall perfectly in line with that huge part without a direct relation. The following is once such instance.
A Story of Stuff and Sparking Joy
I fall somewhere in the middle of the line between hoarding and minimalism. I once took pride in my large collections of CDs, DVDs, and concert t-shirts. Moving a couple of times over the past five years gave me the opportunity to really look at my possessions, paring down when needed and acquiring things seemingly without realizing it. It dawned on me again, with the changing of the season, that I needed to take another good, hard look at all of my stuff.
But first, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo, a lifelong tidying enthusiast, has a large clientele and an even larger following based on her tidying method. Spark Joy, her follow-up book, is titled for the main premise beyond this method: instead of deciding what to toss when cleaning your space, she believes you should decide what to keep by asking yourself whether each item sparks joy.
I was skeptical at first. Can I honestly say that everything I’ve purchased or otherwise acquired has sparked joy in my life? No. Some things are simply functional, like my tube of toothpaste. (Though Kondo would argue that the fact that such an item keeps your teeth healthy is a joy-sparker because it saves you from the alternative.) Functional items aside, as I “kondo” my house – a process that is going to take quite awhile – I see more in this philosophy that makes sense. If my closet full of clothes doesn’t spark joy, then why do I own all of those clothes? If a book doesn’t call out to me from its place on my nightstand, why is it there in the first place? Tidying up gives me the opportunity to be mindful about my possessions: the ones I keep, the ones I discard, and the ones I choose to bring into my home in the future.
Kondo instructs her clients to hold each item in their hands during the “spark joy” test. If it passes, it goes in the keep pile. If it doesn’t, it should be thanked for its service before it’s discarded or donated.
Did I thank the pile of stained, torn, ill-fitting shirts and pants that went in a bag for the donation bin? Not always, and if I did, not out loud. But my Lloyd Dobler t-shirt served me well through my teenage and twenty-something years, and it deserved a fond, if silent, farewell when it left my closet. I was grateful for its presence; for its representation of my abiding love of pop culture. There were other items that held similar fondness and I’ll continue with this practice as I continue my tidying.
When Philosophies Collide: A Meeting in Mindfulness and Gratitude
Life-changing magic can be had in many different ways. When there’s a symmetry to different facets of your life, that’s magic. When you have that “aha” moment that Oprah always talks about, that’s magic. When the universe seems to align for the powers of good, that’s magic.
My veganism has always been intertwined with mindfulness and gratitude. Going vegan on Thanksgiving was a conscious choice – I give thanks on each veganniversary for the human and non-human animals who influenced my decision.
Not using or exploiting animals is a practice in mindfulness. I feel gratitude for the awakening that I experienced when I chose that path. Likewise, not keeping things that have outlived their usefulness and not buying new things to fill a hole that isn’t there is also a practice in mindfulness. I feel gratitude for the opportunity to surround myself with only what I need and what I’m happy to have.
We live in a society that is tailored to make us consume in a mindless way and at a rapid pace. Lease a car for two years, then get a new one. Upgrade your smartphone every year. Stop at the drive-thru on the way home for a quick, cheap, tasty meal. Try this cream, and buy this video game. We’re never asked to consider how these products were made, or where they’ll go when they’ve reached the end of their life. Similarly, we’re never told to stop and think about how our chicken nuggets came to be, or what happens to those dairy cows when they stop producing the milk we’re told to drink by the gallon for stronger bones. But when the lightbulb goes off… wow!
Veganism isn’t the end. It’s a catalyst to bring us closer to compassion, to mindfulness, to treading lightly on a planet that is heavy with our abuses. Thinking about where my food comes from is something I’ve been well-versed in these past several years. Thinking about where my possessions come from, then, must be a natural progression. I don’t need to eat meat for protein. I don’t need leather sneakers. I don’t need fifty shirts, or twenty pairs of socks. I don’t need yet another notebook that looks pretty but sits on a shelf because I don’t want to stain it with my increasingly bad handwriting. I don’t need books that I’ll never get around to reading. I don’t need things that drag me down, physically or karmically. I don’t need all that noise that seems to complicate things.
A simpler life sparks joy because it leaves more space for living. And that is life-changing magic.
Feature photo, public domain by Circe Denyer.