A year and a half ago, I felt heavy. Really, really heavy. My room was full of unbearable clutter, and I had a lot of to-do’s piled up that I couldn’t prioritize. Everything felt pressing and essential. It was weighing me down.
By way of intense procrastination—on deep dive into the reserves of Wikipedia—I found myself on the page for “Anagarika”. An Anagarika (literally “homeless one”) is someone who has forgone most or all worldly possessions in order to sever feelings of attachment, a vital step in becoming a Buddhist monk.
I looked at the junk that had metastasized throughout my room, and blocked off my weekend. All of my to-do’s could wait until Monday.
It was time to shed some weight.
The Anagarika generally retain things like culinary utensils, robes, and a few monastic items. I’m a 21-year-old actor, not a Buddhist monk. In order to begin eliminating the extraneous, I had to define what was essential in my own context.
I laid a few ground rules.
Emulating the context of a monastery, I allowed myself amenities reasonably provided by basic communal living. Cooking supplies, toiletries, basic underwear and socks. Three basic tee shirts and a pair of jeans. Glasses, contact lenses, and prescription meds. Wherever possible, I would consolidate; One pot, one pan. One tube of toothpaste, one brush.
Modern utilitarian necessities were retained with minimal personal expression; A flip phone, a key ring with no keychains, a standard black backpack, a chair, desk, and reading lamp. No bed; I opted for a portable sleeping mat.
Non-basic articles chosen on the basis of personal style were allowed in accordance with the Buddhist idiom for robes; one to wear, one that is dirty, and one that is drying. I chose three graphic tees, three button downs, three pieces of outerwear, three pairs of pants, etc. Any new clothes would have to take the place of something else.
I couldn’t quite part with as many pieces of clothing as I would have liked, I did manage to weed out 60% of my clothing. The garbage bags marked for Goodwill were piling up outside my door.
It was time for personal items.
Anagarika may possess only what is “useful to one’s practice”. Since I wasn’t practicing Buddhism, but instead trying to uncover my personal essentials, I chose to limit my items by number. I landed on seven.
Right away, I had some tough decisions to make. From a stone globe a family friend gave me when I was eight to a statuette my best friend bought me when he went to Greece, I was going to have to part with most of my keepsakes. I was choosing the seven things I would take with me going forward. Pieces of nostalgia were for looking back.
The hardest omission was a foul ball hit that I caught when my dad took me to my first MLB game. I remember it as the happiest moment of my life. Yet, as I looked down, I saw that I was holding nothing more than a ball in a case. What I treasured was the memory, and the memory will be with me forever.
I chose Max, a stuffed rabbit who arrived on my very first Easter. A bit of nostalgia pick, but he doubles as my pillow. I wasn’t ready to let him go, anyway.
Free of my many totems, I filled out the list with six items that allow me to do the things I value most.
A pen, for writing.
A notebook, to write in.
A passport, for travel.
A Complete Works of Shakespeare, for study.
A camera, for film.
An Ipod Classic, for music.
If you want to get really technical, the pen has a cap, and the ipod has headphones. For an Anagarika, this would have been cheating. To me, they felt like unnecessary sanctions. Satisfied with my list, I started getting rid of everything else.
I’m no monk, but my room is pretty minimalist now. I ended up keeping a few things I had deemed inessential, like my laptop. I kept the foul ball, too. And much as I would love to get rid of my bank information, that would be going a bit too far.
I don’t feel like that stuff weighs me down as much anymore, though. My credit card is just a piece of plastic with my name on it. It doesn’t define me as a person.
In an age of consumerism, it’s easy to get bogged down. Advertisers are constantly trying to pass off luxury products as essential, telling us that by owning a certain car, we’ll get closer to who we want to be. It’s exactly the opposite. With nothing, you can find yourself. Then you can decide what car you want. By letting everything else go, you are that much freer to focus what is essential.
If I woke up tomorrow and my room was on fire, I know exactly what I’d grab on the way out. What about you?