I am a minimalist. Or so I would like to believe.
For years – 3.5 to be exact – lived out of two suitcases and traveled the globe for work as a Trip Expert for Backroads. Out of necessity, I learned to live with the basics. I am talking I-only-own-one-pair-of-jeans-basics. While wearing company-branded, synthetic clothing that can be washed in a sink is not necessarily glamorous, it certainly was simple. Everything I owned brought me either joy (thank you, Marie Kondo) or was something which I needed on a daily basis (see: The Minimalists).
This continues to be the case today except now I have settled down, swapping my suitcases for a ‘normal’ job and giving up sharing bunk beds with random travelers for a king bed with my boyfriend. My closet contains not much more than what I had before, taking up so little room that my walk-in closet is actually my dog’s bedroom (really).
When I slept in a closet.
There is one glaring exception to this minimalist picture I have painted: my gear.
Gear easily makes up 75% of my current material possessions; both the sporting equipment itself and the complimentary gear needed to (in no particular order): road bike, gravel bike, hike, run, pool swim, open water swim, downhill ski, backcountry ski, and compete in triathlons. Including the ancillary products needed to do these activities in every type of weather imaginable.
So… there goes the self-appointed minimalist title. Is it possible (the horror!) that I am in fact a maximalist? A gear junkie?
There is not much discussion of gear and minimalism. I don’t see many pictures of skis and bikes in The Minimalist’s houses. Rather, gear overindulgence has taken much of the spotlight. Case in point: the 2012 Portlandia episode, the one where Kath and Dave decide to go for a hike and instead ‘get the gear’.
Minimalism is a trendy topic these days. Bi-weekly someone in my social circle asks me if I have seen Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things on Netflix or read about Ikea saying the West has reached ‘peak stuff’. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up can still be spied next to the register at Book Passage, although a saavy saleswoman recommended I not give it to a friend as a gift (thank you, saavy saleswoman).
So naturally, the question has been on my mind: do the same principles of minimalism apply to gear? This category of possessions plagues not only me, but apparently much of the US, in an outdoor recreation economy totaling $646 billion a year in consumer spending (read full report here).
Mark Remy discussed his bloated running closet in the January/February issue of Runner’s World: How Much (Running Gear) is Too Much?. Remy applies one of the minimalist principles to his running closet purge, citing Marie Kondo and asking himself “Does this bring me joy?” before deciding to keep or get rid of his collection of running gear.
The problem for me is: it all brings me joy. Gear helps us #optoutside and explore. It is part of what facilitates travel and exploration. It keeps us in shape. It connects us with social circles and communities. It enables us to set goals and then work hard to meet them. In fact, my job literally entails giving away gear and marketing it to the masses. I see immense value in gear; not in the gear itself, but the person it enables me to become.
If the question, “Does this bring me joy?” cannot be applied to gear, then what is a better question to ask?
“Is it a duplicate?” Well, that’s an easy one to answer; as Mark Remy demonstrated, you do not need 20 pairs of running shoes. You can easily let go of those extras.
“How frequently do I use the gear?” is an interesting one. And by interesting, I mean embarrassing. Confession: I bought an entire backcountry ski set up when I lived in Jackson Hole five years ago. After breaking it in, learning the skills, and using it that whole winter of 2012, I have not touched the backcountry set up once. Not once! If my rudimentary math is correct, then I have been schlepping around unused skis, skins, poles, a backpack, a beacon, etc, etc for FOUR YEARS. I realized as much as I like to say I was a backcountry skier, the simple truth is: I currently am not a backcountry skier. And it is time to let all that gear go.
“Is this gear out of date?” This question has potential. Because if the answer is: yes, it is out of date then that means… time for new gear! Do your research, evaluate your options, make sure it makes sense for you and most importantly: get rid of your old gear. Think of this as an opportunity to replace and upgrade your gear – not hoard more of it.
Gear specific mindfulness is a quality I am hoping to embrace more going forward. After a long weekend spent organizing my (first!) garage with my boyfriend, we learned… we don’t want to ever go through that process again.
The final product.
I have everything I need to enjoy my life right now. And while my apartment might never look like this, I am happy with what I have – and immensely grateful.
Spoken like a true minimalist, right?