When we talk about minimalism we generally think about a few key things. Firstly we think about having less material possessions. We think about not consuming so much. We think about living in a space free of clutter. We may even think about our needs versus our desires. But the intention of minimalism is not just to rid yourself of your belongings. It’s not to learn how to reorganize a bunch of shit that you have and just don’t want to look at anymore. It’s not about living in a space devoid of unnecessary furniture and trinkets. It’s not even about how much you own or whether or not you have a small or large wardrobe, a car, or keys to a home that you mortgage. The key intention of minimalism is summed up sharply by Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist:
“Desiring less is even more valuable than owning less.”
Minimalism, at least for me, is about feeling contented without the urge to fill any metaphorical holes in my life. This may mean not having the urge to shop for things I don’t need, it may mean not wanting to enter into a relationship with a new person because I want to make sure I’m not doing it for the wrong reasons, or it may mean no longer spending a lot of time with people in my life who just take and don’t contribute.
If desiring less is the goal, and not as much the owning or consuming part (though those are generally the first step); then how does this concept translate to each of those above mentioned situations? The first thing one has to do is figure out why we have the urge to purchase, get involved, or spend time. What negative feeling do you have that is urging you to go and purchase material goods? How do you think these items you’ll purchase will correct this negative feeling you’re trying to cover up? Is it a temporary fix? Is it a fix at all? Why do you feel the urge to enter into a new relationship with a person you are still getting to know? Do you feel that it’s difficult to be on your own without that aspect of your life being fulfilled? If so, why do you feel that way? What is it about you that you are so uncomfortable being alone with? Why do you feel obligated to spend your free time with friends or acquaintances who don’t contribute much to your life? Who just complain or drain your energy, or use you as their therapist but never ask how you are doing? Do you feel like you have to? Who is telling you this is the right thing to do?
It’s you! And you get to decide.
I write about this topic because it is a huge part of my life right now, but I am no saint. I struggle daily with the same old urges I’ve always had. To shop for things I like, both things that do actually add value to my life but also some that don’t. To date people out of sheer boredom or wanting affection, or because I’m not used to being single. To spend time with acquaintances whom I rarely feel close to, just because I feel bad that I haven’t seen them in x amount of weeks or months, and I feel like I should.
Shoulda-coulda-woulda. But what do you actually want?
Minimalism became an interest to me for two reasons. The first reason was that I discovered an intense passion for tiny houses. I’ve always studied interior design so I’m attracted to tiny spaces because I love creative use of space, but I’m also a very physically small person and feel comfortable in cozy surroundings. I also fell in love with tiny houses for their ability to A) hold us back from accumulating too much and, B) force us to figure out what we really do and do not need. The second reason was that I realized how much I love to travel, and my spending habits and debts didn’t allow me to pursue travels. Any travels I may have done at this previous point in my life, would have meant going into debt for. I wanted to pay my debts, save money, and have more opportunities in my life because of it.
So did it work?
Yes. It did. I paid off my debts in about two years, saved money, went on an incredible trip to Central America, and was even able to quit my corporate job of nearly ten years and take several months off. Now, I realize we’re all in different financial situations and you may think yea, whatever, she was in a better place than me financially so it was easy for her. Believe me when I tell you this isn’t the case. I had a lot of debt and had to make real sacrifices in order to get out of it. It was not easy, but it was worth it. I live in one of the most expensive cities in North America, so if I can learn to simplify in order to crawl out of my hole; then so can you if you want it badly enough and are willing to as The Minimalists would say – “Say no to good things, so you can say yes to better things”. This idea is key. We don’t need to see our sacrifices as negatives. You do not need to feel that you’re giving up greatness in your life to achieve something else. We are merely saying no to, and walking away from things that are decent, in order to make room in our lives for better. We are learning to curate our lives.
I won’t get into the details of how I went about paying off debts and working towards these other things, because it speaks for itself and is a pretty boring story. Stop spending, reprioritize, and crack down. That’s really all it takes if you really want to get there.
To get me motivated for minimalism I started getting rid of things I no longer wanted or needed – this also speaks for itself. Pretty common sense; if you don’t use it or need it – get rid of it! We surround ourselves with junk often without realizing the subconscious impact it has on us. Being forever surrounded by heaps of shit distracts our minds, and adds an edge of stress. It’s also a physical weight in the sense that if you needed to pick up and leave tomorrow for whatever crazy reason, you would be weighed down by all this stuff you now have to deal with. You have to sell, discard, or pay to move all of this shit. So this was step one – get rid of all my shit. If an item adds real value to your life or you use it often, minimalism is not a call to throw it away and then feel sad about it.
Don’t be silly.
The second step was to take a look at what was left and really do another, deeper evaluation of these things. Do I need this item? Do I want this item? If I want this item; why? Then as the weeks and months went by, I kept going. Kept getting rid of. I found that even when you get rid of the majority of your belongings, if you really look at what remains hard enough, you’ll realize there’s still more to purge. There’s always more. What we actually need to live and be happy is very little. Last night I threw away a large bag of stuff and another small toolbox of things I no longer need. To put that into a little brighter light: I have recently moved into a small apartment with a friend, and all my belongings (with the exception of my few kitchenwares and winter boots/jacket) are in my bedroom. I have a bed, one shelf, and a small side table with a lamp and mirror sitting on it. All the items I own are in a closet in my bedroom so small that hangers don’t actually fit properly from corner to corner. As you can imagine – I own very little. Yet I still found two armloads of things to purge last night. Shit has a way of hiding in corners, unused. Or rather – we have a way of organizing this shit in a way that allows us to ignore it.
The physical aspect of minimalism is an ongoing journey, an ongoing self-evaluation.
The spark of minimalism and binge YouTubing of tiny house videos morphed into a lifestyle for me. The idea of living with less and constantly re-evaluating the different aspects of my life just spoke to me in such a way that I couldn’t resist it. Saying you are “minimalist” or that this is a “lifestyle” for you, does not mean that you (or I) have achieved minimalism. There is nothing to achieve here. There is a road that is sometimes bumpy and sometimes smooth, mostly filled with contentment but sometimes difficulty, and these things ebb and flow just like the tide. You won’t wake up one day and think to yourself – aha! I’m there! You didn’t just pass a bar exam, you didn’t finish the race in first place, you’re just on this road. You’re here.
The choices I made with my physical belongings, after about a year of life, have now morphed into this thing I like to call internal minimalism. It doesn’t need it’s own term, but I like to refer to it like this. Once I purged my life of the physical stuff that I no longer wanted or needed (and learned to purchase things of higher quality, I might add), I started minimizing my mind too. This is much, much harder to do. This requires real work. You have to be willing to dig deep and pick apart many different aspects of your life in order to figure out what it is that you value most. Once you have a better grasp of what your true values are, you start to understand what is important and what it not. What is worth being upset about, and what is not. Sometimes this means who is important and who is not. What you spend your time doing and thinking about starts to shift. Your mental clutter starts to dissipate.
Internal minimalism for me is learning to destress (or rather; avoid stress all together where possible), to take more time alone for myself because I am an introvert, to focus on one thing at a time instead of multitasking, to plan less and go with the flow more, to put less pressure on myself, to spend less time with people who drain me, and to learn to be more self aware so that I can identify moments of discomfort and work toward changing them if they aren’t beneficial.
Don’t mistake discomfort with dislike. Getting outside of your comfort zone is what helps you move forward and gain opportunity in life. I’ve done many things that scared the living hell out of me and quite literally gave me meltdowns, but despite their terror: they got me to where I am today, surrounded by the people in my life right now. I never regret having been outside my own comfort zone in any of these instances. Being outside of your comfort zone is a good thing, trying something for the first time is a good thing, but trying and then finding you severely dislike something – is different. Avoid things that make you unhappy, but continue to do things that challenge you.
I’m not here to preach. I am only here to share where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I think I’d like to go. Hopefully it’ll resonate with you too.
Today, success to me looks like: waking up everyday without dreading going to work, without stress, and without disappointment. A minimalist mentality has helped me move toward this idea of success so far, and I believe it will continue to do so.
For now I’m off to drink more coffee in the sun. Hopefully no shopping. But nobody’s perfect 😉
Bare Necessity Writer