(ENG only) Labels. We might love them or hate them, but we use them on a regular basis and we identify with them. Using specific labels to identify ourselves and others is probably the easiest, most efficient way for us all to compartmentalize, organize, give identity and characterize. We use labels and specific words to create a sense of membership, affinity, identity. We can be bookworms, soccer fans, rockers, democrats, vegans, activists, photographers, environmentalists, design freaks, workout addicts, creators, expats, fashionistas, queers. And the list can go on and on and on.
We need labels to feel that sense of belonging, to find people similar to us and connect with them, to shape and consolidate ourselves. Labels help us explain who we are, give us an easy, immediate and quick way to describe ourselves to others and to paint them a more complete image of who we are.
Focusing too much on labels and definitions though can be counterproductive and ineffective. Because as human beings we grow, change, evolve and eventually make things differently, make mistakes or take different paths or habits than those we have envisioned/planned/hoped/expected. And that is okay. And just because we momentarily or no longer fit into a certain standard, specific feature or requirement, it doesn’t mean that we failed completely at it. It doesn’t mean that we no longer have the right to feel ourselves a part of that community or group. As much as I consider myself someone who’s thriving on minimalism, sustainability and being vegan for the planet, I am not perfect at it and I never will be. While I might find the thought of identifying myself with these groups and following their guidelines comforting and inspiring, not being able to always keep up with those definitions can be discouraging. Because most of the times WE are the ones setting the bar too high. The key to being good at what we love and identify ourselves with is doing it unperfectly, in our own way and focusing on those things we have control over rather than on those we weren’t or aren’t able to accomplish as we wanted.
We might have difficulties in parting with our books and feel like we’re failing at minimalism, when maybe we already culled a good 80% of our wardrobe, kitchen supplies and home decor. We might feel like a failure at zero waste because for our latest grocery shopping spree we forgot our produce bags, when maybe we have been shopping as plastic free as possible for years already and we’ve just been feeling a little distracted and stressed out lately. We might feel like we are liars for calling ourselves vegan because we allow ourselves to have a piece of milk chocolate every now and then or had a slice of pizza with real cheese, when maybe our diet has been 99% plant based for the last few years. And this can be applied to pretty much anything: not feeling queer enough, healthy enough, creative enough, activist enough, bookworm enough, fashionista enough.
That’s why I am a minimalist, a vegan and a zero waster and I am NOT a minimalist, a vegan and a zero waster. I am because I know what my core values are, I have better judgment and better understanding of my priorities and my actions. But at the same time I am not because I make my own version of those labels and lifestyles, I make my own rules and find that sweet spot that makes me feel comfortable and at ease with my choices and actions. Being hard to myself is not going to change anything, if not it is just going to make me frustrated and demotivated about something that it’s supposed to excite me. Focusing on the things I have control over rather than those I fail at, am not good at or simply don’t have control over due to various circumstances is the worst thing I can focus on and I wish I had realized this way sooner than I did. Especially because we are constantly exposed to other people’s lives due to social media, we might get a completely distorted impression of things. We think we know what their lives look like but we will never know 100% what their lives actually ARE like. And what’s more discouraging than having other people’s successes under the spotlight and your failures curled up in a dark, sad corner as a result of comparison?
What I’m trying to say is that things are not just black and white, but there are a variety of shades on the color palette. I can eat a primarily plant based diet while allowing some rare exceptions (unavailability of vegan food when traveling, avoiding food waste, mental health reasons, eat more locally sourced foods etc.). I can live with less belongings and more intention and still find difficult to part with certain items or make a purchase that is a little too impulsive. I can do my best for the planet and avoid unethical and unsustainable practices as much as possible and shop for furniture at Ikea because my budget won’t allow me to do better than this. And also what I’m trying to highlight is that there is no reason for us to be so stuck in perfectionism, chasing that idea of what we should be. As Dariadaria beautifully put it in one of the episodes of her podcast “A minful mess”, being forgiving to ourselves means to let go of the idea that life has to be a certain way and only that way.
We can decide to make ourselves miserable for not being able to keep up with that idea and those standards we’ve set. Or we can just accept things for what they are, work with what we have and always try our best.