Minimalism can mean living with less stuff, less stress, and less distraction. It's a phenomenon that doesn't seem immediately synonymous with college life. But could I make it work? 

College students, many of whom are made semi–nomadic because of summer internships and study abroad, have a lot to gain from owning less stuff. Moving into a new dorm means packing up everything you own and dragging it to campus, whether your long–suffering parents can make multiple trips in an overstuffed minivan or you're forced to pack all your belongings into a couple of suitcases. 

Not needing a caravan to move out this summer sounded appealing. It took two car trips to schlep everything I own to Penn, and it showed. So I turned to my closet, with its towering piles of unworn sweatshirts and rows of battered shoes, to try minimalism out for myself. 

Léa Kichler (C ’18) said cutting back on her belongings has made her frequent moves a lot easier. She “realized every time I moved I’d have to kind of consolidate my entire life into my suitcase…I realized that I really like having less things.”

For Léa, eliminating the amount of stuff she owned came naturally over the course of many moves. It started with clothes. She tries to keep one of everything: one striped shirt, one pair of blue jeans. The system makes getting dressed in the morning easier, and means that every item is her favorite "and the things that [she] didn’t use every day, [she] could kind of disconnect from.”

In the semi–darkness of my dorm room, I rifled through overstuffed faux wood drawers, extracting holey T–shirts from my precarious stacks. I’ve inherited a family tendency towards hoarding. My mother has always made things over, mended them, but so many of the things we buy inexpensively in today’s consumer culture aren’t worth fixing. 

I forced myself to think about this as I threw out a pair of jeans that had ripped up the thigh—not in the overpriced, Abercrombie & Fitch way, but in the public indecency way. I added a skirt I hadn’t worn since high school to the donate pile. I tucked some of the things I was less sure about donating into a bin under my bed, an idea I got from Léa, who suggested putting clothes away for a while to “see if [you] miss them or not.” 

I finished my purge with almost a quarter of the clothes I’d brought from home in a bag marked “donate.” I hadn’t worn most of those things since I arrived at Penn last semester, either because they didn’t fit, they were damaged, or I just didn’t like them.

In addition to getting rid of things she didn’t need, Léa emphasized buying things you really care about. “Over the course of this process of purging things I’ve become a more conscious consumer,” she said, adding that it’s important to account for the environmental impact of all the stuff we have—and that it takes over 650 gallons of water to make a single cotton T–shirt. She also stressed that the ability to reduce your belongings has an element of privilege. “I’m lucky that I had this problem, that I had too much stuff.”

After Léa made a YouTube video about how she pared down her closet, friends in college told her they realized they didn’t need as much either. “Usually it’s when they were in these transition periods that they needed this reminder that you don’t need everything, that it’s okay to let go.”

I used to think minimalism was living in one of those all–white, impeccably dusted Nordic–looking houses, or pulling a Shailene Woodley and throwing out all your stuff to live out of a suitcase. In reality, it’s something else entirely: learning to value what you have. Dragging a black trash bag full of clothes to be donated into the high–rise hallway, I felt a little nostalgic about letting those things go—but a little lighter, too.


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