A minimalist lifestyle has called my name since the last time I moved. In fact, it tickles my insides every time I accumulate enough stuff to be annoying, which is often. During a move, however, living well with less is especially attractive. To sort, pack, lift, and store or dispose of “stuff” exhausts me.
And I swear each time I move that I will not collect so much. Having more than I need is not necessarily wrong. (Or is it? That’s a whole other post.) The issue ghosts through my psyche every time I spend a significant portion of my day making choices that have no impact on my life, except to waste time.
Like many well-known people, I would rather not waste time on clothing–there are so many important choices to be made. I just don’t care that much about clothes. To simplify or streamline my wardrobe allows me to focus with greater energy on things that matter. Creativity and fun are great, but most days it eats up too much brain-power to create an ‘ensemble.’ So I decide what job I will be doing, and dress accordingly. Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Albert Einstein all did the same.
The Definition–What Is It?
Webster’s Unabridged refers to minimalism as having the “least amount possible,” but the modern movement seems to be more about uncluttered-ness. Clean lines to look at, less decision fatigue, a clear space physically or mentally. A minimalist sofa, for instance, involves a classical line and a place to park your bum.
The Idea of Minimalism
There are as many reasons to embrace a minimalist lifestyle as there are people who signed on. Just a few are:
Social Responsibility–Some people are aware of the ridiculous amount of consumption in our country that they re-train their impulses to counteract the wastefulness. Along the way, they barter, borrow or rent, making community connection with people who have similar values and beliefs.
Financial Reasons–Spending money on items that you don’t use, or don’t need is a great way to end up in debt, with little or nothing of value to show for it. Minimalists ask themselves if the expense is a valuable investment, or just a passing impulse. If you bought those skis only to find out you don’t really want to ski every winter, you’re stuck with equipment that is impossible to get your money out of because of depreciation.
Space Considerations–Sometimes, an impulse buy is just clutter. Just stuff getting in the way. If you have to rent storage space, or buy a bigger house, or re-organize to fit more stuff in the same area, you probably have too much. I mean, storage units end up being money spent for things you don’t use, and don’t even think about year after year.
Personality–Some people (I am one) get bogged down with too much stuff. I can’t figure out what to do with my time and energy because there are so many options surrounding me. It’s like too much noise to think, only it is physical stuff rather than audio stuff. I love a blank wall to stare at when I think. But I can make up my mind about something to do, get up to do it, then discover an optical cul de sac in the form of another great project lying about the house in a partial state of completion.
Applying Minimalism in My Life
So here’s how it works. Sometimes I can’t think for all the visual distraction. I have to stop and work on the preparation for productivity–I have to get rid of the stuff in my way. Obvious examples are clothes I haven’t worn in the past year, for whatever reason. This becomes easier over time because I buy at thrift shops, so I have less money invested. Paperwork is a constant source of clutter, as I write notes on whatever comes to hand when an idea strikes. Sorting and filing helps, but there are still some bugs to work out. I have thousands of thoughts a day! And yes, I have napkins filed in idea folders, but just until I get it transferred to that paperless system!
The biggest challenge right now is deciding that I am not going to pursue some activity, or finish (or even start!) some project for which I bought all the supplies. I let myself off the hook on projects that were great ideas years ago, and discover space–not only in my closet or back bedroom, but in my brain! My age-old habit of keeping things “just in case,” or “because it’s still good” doesn’t cut it anymore.
I decide what to save based on the values I have today. I used to save things for other people’s comfort, just in case I had company. Or keep tools I don’t use in case someone needs to borrow it. The motive is pure enough…oh, wow, that’s a lie…I just wanted to be the one who could be generous so I would be valued, appreciated, and loved.
So we come to the real reason to divest myself of stuff. I use stuff for many things, but it IS just stuff. It’s okay to use stuff, that’s what it’s for, right? I love having and knowing how to use tools. But I give it too much value, and what I hold precious is changing. As I pivot, I see that I can’t buy a good reputation by loaning or giving. I have used things to distract me from the worthwhile pursuit of giving myself.
Getting rid of stuff has made me aware of how uncomfortable I am in quiet emptiness. Items, even practical tools, divert me from the real work on my insides. Having and doing have been stand-ins for being. After I sort and donate a bunch of stuff, I wander around, trying to remember what was in the bottom of those boxes.
It would be funny, except I overcame alcohol addiction about eleven years ago, and being without “stuff” feels remarkably like withdrawal. I feel itchy in my skin, unable to settle, without knowing why. The real advantage arrives in rags and sneaks up on me–I become free. I can run away from home if I want! The less I have, the lighter and faster I travel. But there is an adjustment period that smacks of insecurity.
I have practiced several times, so when I get rid of things now, I get over the feeling of loss or fear sooner. But the curious feeling of discovering some hidden layer of myself, of experiencing new freedom is a delightful surprise. I read an article about a digital nomad who travelled with thirty items, and I wondered how he could do it. Now I see.
How about you? What intriguing, submerged part of you might be exposed if you get rid of things you don’t need? How much more energy and focus might you have for the valuable experiences in your life?
“Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people’s weaknesses. Avoid being one of the mob who indulges in such pastimes. Your life is too short and you have important things to do. Be discriminating about what images and ideas you permit into your mind. If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the highest. It is the easiest thing in the world to slide imperceptibly into vulgarity. But there’s no need for that to happen if you determine not to waste your time and attention on mindless pap.”
Let me know how it works if you try it out; what snags you hit, what unexpected freedoms you discover!
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