Millennials love to “find themselves” and talk about “self discovery” and take time to “figure out what they want.” Some millennials achieve this through extended solo travel. Some millennials find themselves through dedicated yoga practice. Some find themselves by starting a business. Or going back to school. Or a fulfilling relationship. Or having a child. Or buying a house. Or changing jobs. Or quitting a job. People talk about “finding their calling,” but that isn’t what this post is about.” When I talk about “finding myself,” I mean it on a more personal level. I mean it in a peeling-back-the-layers-that-make-up-a-person way. We don’t like to think of ourselves as complex, yet we are, thanks to our brains.
As crazy as it sounds, I started to find myself when I began to declutter.
Changes happen so suddenly. One day I was studying for my last final and the next I was completely free. I had already accepted a full time position at my first employer, so all that was left was to move all my stuff back to my parents’ house before hauling it all to Buffalo. Despite the graduation ceremony where we were repeatedly told that the world was beckoning us to make meaningful contributions, I was completely clueless in my protective little university bubble. I had no idea what I wanted my life to look like. Everyone tells you to pursue happiness, but for millennials, they want more than happiness – we want to lead fulfilling lives. The problem arises when everyone around us presents a different picture of what fulfillment looks like.
I spend too much time on social media, but I have learned a thing or two about my generation. A select few seem to know exactly how they want to run their lives after college, and they jump at it from day one. These people are most visible when they eagerly announce via social media when they achieve classic hallmarks of success – advanced degrees, dream jobs, weddings, marriages, relationships, buying their own houses, having babies, and achieving career milestones, soaking up the flood of “likes” and niceties and compliments from friends and family. They usually accompany these announcements with photographic evidence. For fellow millennials who witness the celebrations of these fast trackers, angst tends to creep up and render us uncertain and unsatisfied, manifested in our tendency to move from place to place, job to job, relationship to relationship, not always certain of where our path will lead, but somehow certain that things will work themselves out. When we feel inadequate as we benchmark our progress against our peers, we feel compelled to justify our lives through less conventional ways, explaining ourselves by displaying other means of living a purposeful or enjoyable life. We travel, volunteer, cook, buy cool stuff, dress up, go out, eat fancy food, and show off our athletic accomplishments. And in so doing, we frantically tell the world that these are perfectly valid things to pursue, even if they are outside the realm of “normal adulthood.” We want to prove to the world that we are proudly unconventional. And if we aren’t doing that, then some of us swiftly criticize the rest of the world for “settling,” or vent our insecurities and injustices to the world in an attempt to say, hey, there is an important problem affecting us (though perhaps not me directly) and something needs to be done.
We outwardly and swiftly fault the world for its shortcomings, but procrastinate taking action to work on ourselves.
Our lives are not necessarily going to look like status quo, but we still want to feel accepted and validated by our peers. It’s a perfectly normal human desire. Anyone who states otherwise is probably in denial. The reality is, there will always be naysayers and there will always be supporters, no matter what path we choose.
Whenever I began to question my path in life, I first turn to my stuff because it is the most visible evidence of choices I’ve made. Items chronicle lives as physical representations of moments, however insignificant. They conjure up memories, like pressing play on a videotape filed away in the depths of our subconscious. I had, for example, a little white teddy bear that I won in third grade. The class had had a naming contest, and whoever’s name was one of the most creative would win the bear. I named the bear Blizzard, and a few weeks after submitting my entry, a lady called me and left me a voicemail (this was a huge deal for third grade me), telling me they loved the name Blizzard and that I could pick up my bear at a local store. Many years later, I found myself looking at this bear, wondering why I held onto it for so long. The memory played in my head so clearly, but it would be so silly for an adult woman to be cuddling a teddy bear from her childhood. No one cares about such a moment in my life, and winning a stuffed animal in third grade isn’t something that I need to broadcast the world. I never quite found a good place to stash it other than my desk or closet. I struggled to get rid of it, because gosh darn it, I named the thing, and it was mine and no one else’s. I concluded that that was a silly reason to keep something.
These collective confrontations with my belongings are a huge part of how I live as a minimalist. Interrogating the physical clutter forces me to confront my mental clutter – the two are intimately tied.
I invite my fellow millennials to do the same, because when we let go of relics of the past, we remind ourselves that our present selves can move forward without anything holding us back. Blizzard probably was not holding me back in a way that an ex-lover’s letter or an oversized antique chair that I despise would. We can live with utmost intention. We ought to thank the past for what it has taught us, then cut the baggage and move on.