How I’m Learning to Value Quality Over Quantity

By Carly Bush

I hadn’t heard the term “minimalism” used outside of interior design magazines until a few years ago. For a long time, I associated it with stark white Scandinavian homes void of any signs of life, tiny houses, homesteads, a bare closet in a huge empty house. Paring down. Stripping away. A coat of white primer. It seemed like a form of martyrdom. If you were lucky enough to achieve financial success, I thought, why would you willingly choose that particular hill to die on? Then something changed. For one, I got older. I faced some of the typical obstacles associated with being a millennial trying to make a living in the freelance economy. I left home, seeking freedom on the other side of the country, determined to make it work for myself. Suddenly, I began to understand the appeal of minimalism—not as a trend, but as a genuine lifestyle.

At the time, I was living an uncertain sort of bicoastal existence, flying back and forth several times a year between my hometown in the sleepy wine region of southern Ontario and a temporary sublet by the beach in Vancouver. It was during this liminal stretch of time, now remembered as a haze of endless midnight wanderings through airports, that I began to see the appeal of owning, and desiring, less. The sea water seemed to lull many people into a false sense of complacency, but even on West Coast time, I felt nothing but restless compulsion. I hadn’t accounted for this feeling of entrapment at a time when I knew I was supposed to be feeling free. Slowly, I became aware of what was causing this paradox. I realized that my approach to travel was all wrong. That it would never work if I was thinking only in terms of what every new experience could offer me materialistically, rather than what I could take away from it emotionally.

I had set forth on my adventure with the intention of growing my business, widening my network, living in a beautiful place with interesting new people. But deep down I had always known that I wouldn’t stay. My circumstances were only a stop on a much larger journey I had begun to subconsciously map out in my head. I knew with certainty that I needed to keep moving, to travel more, to experience more. I couldn’t do that and keep buying more and more material items. I couldn’t live my ideal truth while carrying that burden.

When I arrived at my first rented apartment in the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver, my room was attic-like and bare. The previous occupants had left a clothing rack to compensate for the lack of a closet, and there was a small balcony from which I had a clear view of the bold blueness of the ocean. I wasted no time in attempting to make this small place my temporal home. I set to work hanging up my most valuable pieces, admiring the way I could curate a small space for myself, make it my own. I had brought most of my earthly belongings in one small suitcase, but even it had been over-packed. When I think about that time now, I remember the pervasive quiet. The overwhelming drama of the nightly sunset over the mountains. The humbling beauty of the golden hour. I see now that these moments were the catalyst to my later acknowledgment of a very important truth: while material items can and will bring you happiness, only experiences can bring you joy.

Everyone will tell you that minimalism is about more than just clothing and cosmetics, and it can be applied to less superficial matters too, but for young women who have grown up in a culture demanding perfection, this is undeniably one of the biggest stumbling blocks. If your identity is built upon the things you own and the way you dress, minimalism will inevitably threaten that. Like many other young girls and women, I needed that wakeup call. I needed to be confronted with my own entitlement and reminded that what I truly valued was not materialistic in nature. Society has a way of corrupting our ideals, and our own egos have a way of lying to us about what we truly need. I can’t say with complete certainty that I’m living the way I want to yet. I’m not the best I could be. That’s why I’ve personally come to view minimalism as a journey, something I can actively strive towards. A more simplified life is on the horizon, and I’ve already begun to experience the benefits, financially and emotionally.