Of monsters and minimalism

As an evolutionary biologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about fitness costs. In this world of limited resources, we see a lot of examples of how organisms limit or eliminate “wasteful” traits. For example, many creatures who come to call a dark cave home end up losing their eyesight completely. If a trait like eyesight truly is costly and becomes unnecessary (like through environmental change of moving into a cave devoid of light), then organisms who lose the trait by chance will have a fitness advantage and increase in number faster than the individuals who still possess the costly trait (we call this natural selection). Eventually, the whole population will be blind cavefish. Natural selection tends to minimize wastefulness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the waste in my own life: the physical items I cling to even though they have become a burden. They might not cost me from a reproductive fitness perspective, but they are costly in other areas where most of us are resource limited: time and money.  I LOVE acquiring stuff. I’m not a fancy person, but set me loose in a Goodwill or Ross Dress for Less and I will come home with a bunch of shit that I picked up “for a good price” and figure we’ll need someday. We live in a 1000 sq ft condo. We don’t have room for a lot of stuff. But just the same, the stuff keeps rolling in. Stupid stuff too. Like, we have 7 complete decks of playing cards, 5 pairs of scissors and over 15 lighters shoved into drawers and closets. How did this happen?

All this stuff that we (mostly I, honestly) bought with the intention to make our lives easier ironically does the opposite. I spend valuable time sorting and organizing it, cleaning it, dusting it, and rifling through it to find the stuff I actually want or need. I really see how much my stuff burdens me when I see how little time my brother’s family spends cleaning, organizing, or looking for stuff in their own home. My brother has 4 kids and exponentially less stuff then my family of 3. They are the type that could probably move everything they own in a pickup truck. My sister-in-law has told me she regularly tears through their (small) house like a street sweeper, getting rid of anything that’s not physically attached to a person (which may explain why my nephew wears a satchel 24/7). Last year, my brothers’ family rented their home for 3 months and lived in an unfurnished apartment for the hell of it. Come on…. that’s so bad ass.

In our case, I think there are two main culprits. First, stuff begets more stuff. We can never find anything so we buy another one. Second, I’m very nostalgic so I have a hard time getting rid of anything that seems meaningful. I have tons of photos, old letters, and trinkets passed down from deceased family members that I never really use and don’t even want but feel bad getting rid of. And now that little V is here, I’m tempted to hoard away every piece of paper he’s scribbled on or onesie that ever touched his sweet skin.

Inspired by theminimalists.com, I’ve been working on my own mini version of a packing party to finally do something about the stuff that has started owning me (yes, that is a Fight Club reference). You probably already know about a packing party. Last time you moved, did you have a few boxes of stuff that you just never unpacked? And did someone tell you “if you don’t unpack it in the next year, give it away because you obviously don’t need it?” The packing party proposed on theminimalist.com is just a more intense version of this. You pack up everything you own. Then you gradually take out the things you need, when you need them, for a few weeks. Whatever is left in boxes gets tossed.

So I emptied every single one of my summer-ish clothes into a gigantic box. Every morning, I rifled through the box to get dressed. Three weeks later I’m SHOCKED by how many freaking clothes I had and how little I actually wore. And no wonder- I am notorious at keeping or buying things that might look good but are super uncomfortable (like a cute black jacket that I could only find in a size small) or stuff I know is currently in style but looks AWFUL on me (damn you maxi dresses!). Almost everything I kept, save for a few things I plan to only wear around the house, fulfill all 3 of these categories: fit well and is comfortable on, in good condition (I had so many t-shirts with holes!) AND is currently somewhat in-style.


One thing this exercise has helped me see is that my “environment” has changed because that how life works- I’ve gotta roll with it, accept it. I’m getting older, I’m a little more modest, and I’ve thickened up a bit. It’s true but probably something I’ve avoided admitting to myself. The cave fish have no more use for eyes than I have for a size 6 strapless dress or short shorts.

Also, I love how getting dressed in the morning has become such a breeze and I’m totally ok with never setting foot in Forever 21 again.




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