Minimalism of possessions has long been a point of pride for me, perhaps overly so. When I travel (which is often), I live out of my school backpack and/or a small suitcase not much larger, and up until the acquisition of furniture for my grad school apartment this past summer, all I owned fit into my 18-year-old car. In fact, I regularly threw things into that car and moved... and moved, and moved and moved. Between school dormitories and a highly transient working life, the longest I've kept a "home" since I was 14 is 11 months, and that was my apartment in Raleigh. And I spent perhaps 20 total days there out of my first 5 months "living" in Raleigh.
It's been extremely disconcerting to spend most of my time in Indiana. My classmates, I think, see me as traveling a ridiculous amount, especially for a first-semester grad student... but I still feel like a bird with clipped wings, pacing, pacing, pacing back and forth between the walls I've actually hung pictures on (but you'll move so what's the point of decorating?) and the shelves and fridge and pantry I've actually stocked food into (but you'll move so why get such a giant sack of rice if it'll go to waste?) and it is profoundly uncomfortable to make myself comfortable, at ease, at home, to sit down and unpack my bags and not be wary of always being able to go at a moment's notice.
I know that it's better to build whatever sort of home you can instead of never letting yourself settle in a bit; if you need to get up again and keep running eventually, it's good to breathe in the little spaces you can have - why would you pass that up? I think it comes from the same sentiment as "it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" -- and trust me, I have problems with that too. We lose everyone and everything eventually (if nothing else, we die), and that doesn't mean nothing is worth having, but... I struggle with this. And I know there is a difference between knowing - the intellectual, I-have-logically-solved-this-with-a-pencil knowing - and knowing. And I know (intellectually) that knowing takes time, and that this time must often be spent sitting in discomfort.
That doesn't make it any less uncomfortable, though.
Back to the original topic of possession-minimalism, since this is more of a braindump attempt to get my thoughts out there in solid form than anything else... I recently gave myself permission to view work-things as separate from life-things. (Or more accurately, to have a view of life that separates work-things from life-things; there are plenty of other views I have that don't.) One thing I've experimented with is explicitly telling myself that it's ok to have a lot of books, that I'll set up a little force field around my bookshelf that protects it (temporarily) from my constant urge to purge things from my life, and see what happens...
Because here is the thing - yes, for some people, purging books is wonderful and cleansing and healing and cathartic and all sorts of stuff, and those books have been gathering dust for sentimental reasons and all that (and I have felt good shedding baggage like that too). But right now, I am a fledgling academic. I'm learning to work with books, on books, books books books... and up until I said "Stop! Temporary suspension of minimalist tendencies on bookshelf!" I was artificially impoverishing my world. I've done the minimalist bookshelf thing, and likely will again someday... but right now, I'm exploring new terrain and it's okay to allow myself to play with tools and take a chance on them. The books I'm getting are all deliberate, purchased to add a specific thing (even if that specific thing is "randomness and inspiration") to a specific project, and I read them - actually, devour them - shortly after they arrive at my door. They're not "someday" books, they're not sitting unused. They are actively bringing insights and joy and growth into my life. That's great! That's okay! I can buy books! It's okay!
At some point, some of these books will probably not be adding anything to my life. At some point after that, I'll discover that they aren't. And then at some point after that, I can pass them on to a better home. I don't need to freak out about making sure I discover that right away - I mean, it's not like books that aren't useful to you explode and set your house on fire if you don't catch them within a week.
There's an interesting relationship between how much you worry about later and how much you're able to deal with now. Everything eventually becomes a "now" for you - you can only deal with stuff in your present. So if you're confident that you can handle anything that happens to you in any sort of future-now that might come up, you don't worry about later, because "later" is just a future-now.
Sometimes I find that space; sometimes I find it in parts of my life, sometimes it feels like I have it in the whole. It comes, goes, shifts around. I'm not sure how to find that space consistently when I need it; I'm not sure how to stay there once I'm in, but I have noticed that worrying about staying in is one of the quickest ways to fall out. I'm trying to get myself to stay and watch, but watching's hard; it's sitting in that itching, tickling discomfort. But I think it's the discomfort of something that's stretching, budding, growing. (Or it could just be complacency. Sometimes it's hard to tell.)
If I had to pick the biggest thing I learned in 2011, it would be "how to not run away." What do you do instead, though?