Some things have been easy to give up. I have donated and sold clothes, books and office supplies etc. in abundance without batting an eye. It’s easy to see and be honest with myself that these items won’t improve my life by keeping them around. Minimalism is a process, a lifestyle and to that end it is never complete. As your wants, desires and environment change so will your needs. If you’re a couple who live in a studio flat and then have a baby, you’re eventually going to need another bedroom. If you relocate further out of town but away from the ease of public transport you may need a car. If you often host a book group then having 20+ mugs doesn’t seem that crazy. Having a lot of something isn’t inherently bad, but having more than you need to pursue your values is excess.
“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” – Joshua Becker
However, the almost literal elephant in the room has been my piano. I started learning piano when I was 22. During my year abroad as part of my degree I did a lot of reflecting and made a small bucket list of sorts and on that was learning the piano. I had become obsessed with the piano since I’d discovered Ludovico Einaudi. I love his simple, rhythmical scores and more than once (read: everytime) it came to writing essays I would have his albums on repeat in ears, allowing me to focus and get me through the arduous task of writing. Upon returning to England I took up weekly piano lessons and purchased a nice piano to practice on. I knew it would be challenging learning an instrument and music notation at an older age but not impossible. By the end of the year I had passed my grade 3 practical exam and was on my way to taking my grade 5 theory and grade 4 practical. Considering there’s only 8 grades in total I was motivated.
Then I relocated to London for further education. 5 days a week full-time and work on the weekends left little space for music lessons and with the average price at £40 a lesson in London I let my practice go by the wayside. I found it hard to motivate myself and keep a daily practice without the deadline of a lesson each week. I’ve held on to my piano for the past 3 years sporadically playing it from time to time.
Giving up piano would be a loss for me because I’ve let it define part of who I am. Sometimes our possessions can define our very identity. If you’re a photographer you need a camera, if you’re a chef you need cooking equipment, if you’re a parent you need children and while I’m not a pianist, playing piano has shaped who I am. But we are more than our possessions and more than our goals.
“For example, if caring for your children gives meaning to your life, what happens to that meaning when they don’t need you or perhaps don’t even listen to you anymore? If helping others gives meaning to your life, you depend on others being worse off than yourself so that your life can continue to be meaningful […]. If the desire to excel, win, or succeed at this or that activity provides you with meaning, what if you never win or your winning streak comes to end one day, as it will?” – Eckhart Tolle
Learning the piano once brought me happiness but now there are other things I value more; that I want to invest my time and effort in and sometimes you have to get rid of the good ideas to make way for the great ones. To quit is not cowardly, it can be one of the bravest things to do but that doesn’t make it any easier. When we get rid of possessions they leave behind a physical empty space but also an emotional one. Our temptation can be to rush as fill it with other things. There is comfort and security in that. But I am no more than I was when I started playing piano at 22. I am already enough. Which can sometimes be the hardest thing to accept. We look back and brand these ventures as losses and waste and phrase them as such. “I used to play the piano but now I don’t.” However “but” is used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned. What if we used the antonym “and” instead? “I used to play the piano and now I don’t”
Everything we do, have, taste, see, smell, touch, hear and experience in life goes in to shaping who we are. If you were to stop pursuing your aspirations tomorrow, you would still be you. We might physically subtract things from our lives and boy can we mourn for them! But we can never take away value they have given us.
If we can only find meaning by continually striving for outward expression; then our inward expression is left to suffer.