The acquisition of stuff is expected to trigger certain emotions: purchasing a car is expected to instill independence, buying a house (and, almost certainly, the debt obligation) is expected to create a sense of accomplishment in life, and acquiring a huge fancy television is expected to create a feeling of knowing how to entertain well. Of course this is all just social conditioning, something that minimalism makes glaringly obvious to those who practice it. You can feel independent, accomplished, or that you can entertain well without any of those things; the amount stuff you need to feel those emotions is entirely up to you, and many times it’s very nearly zero. What I’ve found is that the emotions themselves carry expectations as well: you’re expected to feel excited when you’re independent or accomplished, just like you’re expected to feel dejected when you fail or experience a tragic loss. And just like stuff, the extent to which you need to let those emotions impact your life is entirely up to you… and it too can be very nearly zero.
Now, this is not to say that I’ve started eliminating emotions from my life Vulcan-style; rather, I’ve been reducing or eliminating their undue impact. That is to say, I get to decide how much any given emotion is going to affect me, not what others expect it should. The excitement of buying a new car doesn’t drive me (no pun intended) to overspend on features I neither need nor want because I choose to view the car simply as a tool to get me to where I need to go. My choice to not purchase a house does not leave me feeling stigmatized or foolish because I choose to value the freedom that comes with not being so anchored. And when terrible things happen to others in the world, I am not overcome with feelings of grief and helplessness; instead, I choose to not let the injustices slow me down, and sometimes even feel emboldened to go out and make a difference.
Minimalism entails stripping away the excess to expose and value the important. When applied to the psychological realm rather than the physical, this leads me to stripping away emotional expectations to expose and value the equilibrium just beyond. Instead of being buffeted around by waves of emotions, I’ve repositioned myself to where the waves do not crest; I can gently bob in the water and let the emotions pass by without incident. It’s a calm and serene place, this realm just outside the reach of emotional expectations. Care to join me?