Brimming with emptiness

How owning less helped me to stare into the void

Words by Oliver Sharman

I wanted the plane to crash with all but one survivor. And I’m not referring to the loud chap of about nine using the back of my seat as a punchbag.

I was returning to the UK from a month-long holiday in Australia. My friends and I had packed so much into those few weeks that I couldn’t quite believe how quickly time passed. Upon my return, however, I felt a numbness. “It’s fine,” I told myself, just a case of the old post holiday blues. Those same blues would last another ten months.

My life was full, yet I had never felt more empty.

The more successful I became at work, the more money I earned. The more money I spent, the more numb I felt. It wasn’t an entirely debilitating numbness. I still had the capacity to feel some emotions, fear, shame, loneliness, anger, you know, the greatest hits.

Then I stumbled across a documentary on Netflix entitled Minimalism. I assumed it to be about minimalist architecture and design, but it quickly became clear that this was not the case. These two guys, Josh and Ryan, found minimalism when they were my age, when they were unhappy in work, when they couldn't keep their finances in check, when they felt something was missing. It was as if they were speaking directly to me. So began my journey into the freeing world of minimalism.

I threw myself into this practice and scoured the internet for anything and everything I could find on the topic, be it books, videos, blogs, films, article, or, podcasts. I devoured them all.

Not very minimal of me.

At first, this was all a distraction from my thoughts around impending doom, but then very quickly I found myself feeling a modicum of control, a speck of freedom, a sliver of hope. My journey away from despair had begun—not through the acquisition of more but through the pursuit of letting go.

I either sold, donated, recycled ,or threw away around 75% of my possessions in three months. A two-bedroom house that I had previously filled suddenly felt vacuous. I moved into a small flat, forcing me to think hard about what possessions I brought into my life. I continued to remove anything that was not being used or adding value. In this smaller home, containing a whole lot less, I felt so free, so calm, as if I had more space.

Wholesale life changes no longer filled me with doubt. Every single aspect of my life began to improve.

I learned self control. Continuous accumulation wouldn’t fulfil me if what I purchased was adding no value to my life. This led to more available funds to pay off any debts/loans I had racked up.

I found that I had more free time, which I put towards more creatively rewarding endeavors such as writing and playing music, as opposed to shopping and consuming.

Perhaps the most rewarding facet of this mindset of simplicity though was the mental clarity. Minimalism afforded me the foresight to look into and tackle mental health issues, through therapy and research, that had previously been either numbed or ignored.

With less to block the way, I began to see the harmful attachments that were causing me misery. Habits and impulses that I could work to eradicate.

Tackling a fear of vulnerability, a smoking habit, and an anxiety disorder now seemed manageable. After confronting the redundant externalities that I had laid around me, I was able to look within.

My health improved. My relationships deepened. My finances grew. My mood stabilized.

I had been revived.

Everyone is different, with varied upbringings and alternate life experiences. But we can all benefit from the tenets of minimalism. Through learning to want less, I have gained a whole lot more.

Oliver Sharman

Oliver is a social researcher and writer from the UK. He publishes essays on self-improvement on his personal site, oliversharman.co.uk.

Website
oliversharman.co.uk
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@oasharman

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