There’s an old boating safeguard of throwing cargo overboard to lighten the load of the vessel during times of distress. The official word for the cargo cast overboard is jetsam.
The throwing off of unneeded cargo or equipment can help to lighten the vessel, to stabilize it during a storm, or remove flammables during a fire.
I can remember first hearing about this practice when I was kid hearing the old story about Jonah and the whale. But this is a practice that is still used today.
I think the analogy is helpful as we consider minimalism in a crisis—the benefit of removing unneeded cargo from our lives. To be fair, this principle applies to any crisis we may be facing such as the loss of a job, an illness, or a natural disaster.
But today, allow me to address minimalism during a societal crisis. Specifically, what we’re all going through right now trying to make the sense of COVID-19.
There is a reaction that some might have during a crisis to gather as much as possible and hoard as much as they can in their homes. We can see that reaction around us as people run to the grocery store or the pharmacy, grabbing as many things as they possibly can in their cart.
But there is an opposite response to this crisis we should consider: throwing off the non-essential cargo from our lives. Rather than hoarding possessions, we would use this crisis to begin removing the ones we do not need to help us find better stability.
Why use this crisis to own less?
Let me offer five important benefits:
When we own less, we find more freedom in our spaces and we find more freedom in our life.
When our homes are filled with unnecessary possessions, the environment is constricting and frustrating. But as we declutter our spaces, our homes become calmer and more peaceful.
Another reason we throw off non-essential cargo is the flexibility that it provides us going forward. The world is going to change, no doubt about it. Your life is going to change. Normal will be new.
Who knows what tomorrow holds? Who even knows when this storm is going to end? But when we own fewer possessions, we become more flexible for the future—whether we need to move, find a new job, or make changes in the way we live.
3. Financial stability.
As we own fewer possessions, our life costs less. It costs less to maintain our things. Even more importantly, we begin to buy less going forward. Suddenly, it is easier to find financial stability than before.
4. Benefit others.
Another reason to embrace minimalism in a crisis is because it helps us provide goods to those who need it. I realize, at this point in time, different locations have different guidelines in place for donations. But if your local authorities have deemed it safe, this is an important time to help those who desperately need it.
One last benefit of throwing off unneeded cargo during a crisis is that we begin to look for security in places that can actually deliver. One of the problems in looking for security in material possessions is that possessions never provide the security we desire. That’s why people start hoarding more and more and more. They believe the added items will help them feel safe, but they never do.
Instead, we can turn to friends and family and faith. We can turn to things that we know to be true about ourselves: our talents, our abilities, our work ethic. When we begin to rely on those things for our security going forward, we begin to find more lasting security in a crisis.
Now, don’t mishear me. I’m not saying it is wise to go out tonight and throw away every single thing you own.
What I am saying is this: Whether you are going through a personal crisis or societal crisis, begin to see how owning less can help bring back control of your life. Minimalism will bring intentionality. It can bring freedom and flexibility and financial stability going forward.
As you remove the items from your home and life that you do not need, you will be more stable and more equipped to weather any crisis that you may be going through.
MIso Jang says
Thank you for the great sentences.
When this crisis started, I had a chance to change my job and I and my husband moved to Seoul where is a lot bigger, expensive and noisy city. At that time, my husband quit a job and started learning computer programing that he wanted to study before.
So we had to reduce our possessions inevitably to move Seoul.
Because I had a big apartment with 4 bed rooms and one big living room before, but now I live in a studio. Our place is smaller than before but I am satisfied because I am with my husband and I can make money in this crisis.:)
Covid 19 is not the only one reason that I had to declutter things but I totally agree with your articles and always thank you to remind me the benefits of minimalism.
I am using this time of Covid 19 to downsize my possessions, organize things that really matter to me, so I can eventually rid myself of my storage unit. That bill will then be applied to my credit card bill. Once that is over, my goal is to move to Europe. It’s a long process but I’m focused on my goals with the help of these articles. Thank you for the motivation!
Sam Kamees says
My wife and I use times of stress to dump debt. Especially if things are as uncertain as they are today. So we pay down as much debt as possible the “right the boat” of our finances. It is amazing how stress can disappear when a financial burden is removed from our cluttered lives. Thanks for the article. Josh. It is a reminder of our on going plan to stay afloat.
Bano Younus says
Thank you for the reminder Joshua. My home was filled with stuff and I was struggling with CFS, PTSD and GAD. With this crisis my home did not feel like a home so I did a big clear out and gave some things away to those who needed them more than me. Hoarders are not comfortable in this situation of being home all the time and often try to escape from the stuff which is around them. This situation is a good opportunity to clear and organise the home environment – which I have been doing and there is more to do but the reward is to have a clear space to think and relax as well as less things to maintain.
Susan Celi says
Thank you for all the helpful comments. I have been on this journey of downsizing and deleting for about six months and I feel wonderful about it (I am 70). I do have some fine art that I am having trouble selling. It was a big investment in some cases and I don’t know a good website or avenue where this can be sold. I am not inclined to donate it at this point because I can use the money back. Art is just hard to sell…because you have to fall in love with the piece. Thank you for any suggestions you may have.
Laura dybdal says
With the current emphasis on cleaning and sanitizing to prevent the spread of germs I offer this thought ..Less stuff also means less to clean and sanitize if a member of the household gets sick. Putting things like knick knacks and stacks of papers way (even temporarily) makes room for a much cleaner home.
Eric Bender says
Please use slightly larger font & pay attention to your margins. I enjoy your eMails & would like them to be easier to read.
Flotsam & Jetsam
From Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Great stuff, Joshua.
I’ve followed you for quite awhile on YT and receive your newsletters. I agree wholeheartedly!!! Thank you!
As far as donations (and selling) I heard it suggested to post locally on Facebook Marketplace. Folks are finding creative ways to do business while maintaining social distancing.
Edda Emery says
Brilliant Idea, Jacqueline. All the Op shops are closed and are recommending not to leave things in their bins either because there’s no-one to process it. So your idea is a good one, thank you. :)
Eric DePetris says
Facebook marketplace is a wonderful venue to sell goods locally. I have sold so many items during this Covid crisis. It is very simple and the extra money is wonderful.