I have been forced into a month of minimalism – and I hate it

<span>‘I feel glum, dispirited and diminished. I want my big spotty mug and my Welsh blanket.’</span><span>Photograph: maruco/Getty Images</span>
‘I feel glum, dispirited and diminished. I want my big spotty mug and my Welsh blanket.’Photograph: maruco/Getty Images

I am living minimally for February – not a Veganuary sequel, just poor planning for my month in the US. Our last-minute Airbnb is exceptionally spartan: I suspect Scandinavia has better-equipped prison cells. There are three forks, two pans, a single teaspoon; there is barely any furniture and no decoration, except a handful of pastel canvas squares with “live, laugh, love”-style slogans and the largest TV I have ever seen. I’m using a breadboard as a desk (there is a table, but the breadboard office proved more comfortable). I also packed barely any clothes, because I knew my pillow would bring me more happiness than any outfit. My capsule wardrobe is three pairs of trousers, three jumpers and five tops. I’m Steve Jobs, basically.

There is a lot of hypocrisy about stuff. What I really mean is: I’m hypocritical about stuff. I find it easy (and, I fear, deep in my awful little soul, slightly pleasurable) to get judgmental about conspicuous consumption, deploring with a righteous shiver the depressing, destructive churn of fast fashion, towers of ultra-processed protein snacks in the supermarket, or influencers gloating about having spent enough money in Hermès to be “offered” the “opportunity” to buy a Birkin.

But it’s bogus. The reason you don’t want stuff, bozo, I remind myself, is that you bought everything in your 20s. The minute I had any disposable income, my main leisure activity became shopping, and that didn’t change until well into my 30s. Having been there, done that and bought all the T-shirts, I don’t want too much now. If I really want something, though, I’ll deploy whatever mental gymnastics are required to convince myself that this purchase is different – ethical, reasonable, a necessity.

Prominent, proselytising minimalists aren’t generally people who had nothing and made a virtue of necessity, either. They consumed, then had a stuff-epiphany. “There was this gaping void in my life … I was filling the void with stuff”; “I had a lot of stuff … closets full of expensive clothes”, the gurus from The Minimalists confess in their Netflix film (though, in fairness to those chaps, they were both distancing themselves from childhoods of extreme poverty during their acquisitive phases).

However much I would like to think I’m enlightened or committed to treading lightly, the truth is, I wanted stuff, got stuff and only then examined my conscience.

So, how is this temporarily monastic existence working out for me, Mrs “My needs are few, I live a simple life”? Guess what: I hate it. Despite being a middle-aged woman and thus functionally invisible, I feel grubbily self-conscious going to cafes wearing the same outfit I wore on my last visit. Given my habitual disregard for hygiene and style, I’m also surprised how glum it makes me to repeatedly sniff-check which of my boring black tops is cleanest. Scarcity has made me strange. I have created an emotional hierarchy of clothes and started thinking magically: a bottom-ranking black bobbly jumper day is inauspicious; stripy jumper means good things will happen. Last night, I foolishly washed everything in a fit of pique and had to sit under a blanket until bedtime. Also, I hate my socks – yes, all of them.

I hate cooking, too, so the lack of kitchen kit is no issue: I’d trade both pans and the teaspoon in a heartbeat for a comfier sofa. But staring at a pastel square that reads “travel awaits” from my breadboard office every day makes me feel as if I’m part of a bleak psychology experiment. I’m hardly William Morris, but I want to look at nice things.

There is none of the monastic calm and focus minimalism is supposed to bring, no lightness or happiness. I feel glum, dispirited and diminished. I want my big spotty mug and my Welsh blanket; my Infant of Prague candle and my weird painting of a dog in a tent. I love my stuff; it makes me feel like myself. If I didn’t have it, I would want and get it again, I realise. No more sneering at Stanley cups – I’m the problem, it’s me.

• Emma Beddington is a Guardian columnist

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