Minimalism: A Year Later (Part 1 of 4)

Over the course of 2017, I focused my sustainability efforts on minimalism. When I started out, I had no idea how great an impact it would make on my possessions, on my mental and emotional health, and on my life’s goals.

While I’ve changed a lot this year, I also learned that there are so many more areas still to go. I now believe my minimalist journey to be one of lifelong discovery.

Possessions: Minimalism and Dress

I’m currently wearing some of my favorite clothes. I feel comfortable, beautiful, and very “me” in them. It didn’t take me long today to choose something I really liked because my closet only contains clothes and accessories that I treasure. This is a far cry from where I began. I had mountains of clothes and nothing to wear. Many were ill-fitting or ill-suited to my body, my style, and the messages I wanted to convey to others about who I am.

I always felt as though I needed something else and was never satisfied with the amount of clothes I had. Now, I have far (far!) fewer items, but everything has been chosen to fit together and to fill a role. I feel content. This means I will be consuming fewer clothes and that the one’s I do buy in the future will be thoughtfully chosen.

This may seem really superficial, but I’ve found a lot of gains beyond looking good (or, better). I’ve learned how flexible satisfaction can be and I learned to listen to myself for cues about personal style. I was never a follower of trends, but I still feel freer for giving myself permission to let them go. I also save time in selecting clothes – just about everything can be paired with anything else!

If you’re looking to get started with a more curated wardrobe, I highly recommend looking up “Project 333” which was my starting point. I love capsule wardrobes so much I do them for my three children and plan to teach them how to make their own when they are older.

My winter capsule includes the following:

  • 3 pairs of shoes (1 pair riding boots, 1 pair nice heeled boots, 1 pair of hiking boots)

    * The hiking boots are made from leather, bought before I went Vegan, and I intend to wear them until they wear out.

  • 1 purse

  • 2 coats (1 warm winter coat, 1 faux-leather jacket)

  • 2 scarves (1 warm winter scarf, 1 fashion scarf – patterned)

  • 1 pair of gloves

  • 1 winter hat

  • 1 pair of sunglasses

  • 1 faux-leather belt (reversible – black and brown)

  • 3 pairs of pants (1 skinny jean, 1 boyfriend jean, 1 brown corduroy)

  • 1 nice jean skirt

  • 2 long-sleeved t-shirts (green and burnt orange)

  • 2 button down shirts (blue corduroy, green)

  • 2 blouses (green paisley, green faux-suede)

  • 1 puffer vest

  • 1 fleece jacket

  • 1 grey sweater
  • 1 corduroy blazer

    = 25 items (does not include Pjs, workout gear, jewelry, or under-garments)

There are three signs of a successful capsule wardrobe:

(1) The collection is paired down

(2) The collection can be combined in many ways to produce a wide variety of outfits.

(3) The collection reflects the wearer. Someone who knows you well could pick out the collection amidst many others and know it was yours.

Mental & Emotional Health: Minimalism and Time Management

Since becoming a minimalist, I’ve changed my relationship to time. Minimalism has helped me to understand that each of us only has 24 hours in a day. I realized that some of my beliefs and behaviors weren’t serving me. I used to behave as though I were immortal. I figured that I could eventually get to “doing it all”. I learned to let go of this idea and to focus on fewer things, cycling them out as interest waxes and wanes. (Or according to season – I don’t focus on snowshoeing in the summer.)

I learned that I had to be more present to be more productive. I needed to stop paying homage to my past self (by doing or having things that I used to feel were meaningful but no longer really care about) or hoarding for a future self that may never come.

Having fewer things means less time wasted in cleaning and organizing. Buying fewer things means less time spent earning money to pay for them.

As I embrace the concepts of minimalism, I’ve become clearer about what my priorities are. Knowing my priorities, I take special care to spend time each day and each week with them as the focus of my time and energy.

I’ve even found a means to structure time on days when I don’t have a set schedule. I break my repetitive tasks into four categories: “parenting”, “housework”, “writing and homework”, and “personal”. Then I cycle them on 15 minute or ½ hour basis (set to a timer) so that in an hour or two I have addressed them all. This works especially well for things like feeding and changing babies.

Major Goals: Minimalism and My Sustainability Efforts

I collected environmental tasks like some women collect shoes. The tasks grew so numerous that maybe I went a little crazy. And, sometimes, consistency went out the window due to overwhelm. I never thought that minimalism could help me with my environmentalism. As I’ve written before, minimalism seemed to be just about throwing stuff away – often adding to landfills.

I feel very differently about it now.

I use minimalism at the top of my hierarchy of decisions for environmental thinking. As Béa Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, would do: I first refuse what I do not need and then I reduce what I do need.

Minimalism has had a drastic effect on my consumption habits. I buy fewer items and I first consider whether I could do without or do with less. I look for multi-purpose and/or durable items. Consuming less limits a lot of considerations. I no longer have to worry about the waste or the company’s ethics when I decide that something does not serve a purpose in my life. I just don’t buy it (and thus don’t support things that are not adding value to my life). In paring down, and in buying used whenever possible, I can afford to put money toward perhaps pricier items from companies that do care.

I’ve streamlined my lifestyle which saves me time and energy to put toward things I know I value (as opposed to tasks that just ate my time). For example, I spend more time learning how to live eco-friendly and sharing what I’ve learned about sustainable living with others.

Still to Come: Minimalism and Books

One area that I still desperately need to minimize is my book collection and my attitudes and behaviors surrounding reading. I have 7 bookshelves in this room alone. A large proportion of them I have not even read. They sit here like a silent task list. Some of them tell tales of the hobbies I meant to get into or the skills I meant to learn. The fact is, their presence does not make me smarter or more capable.

I believe that by adopting the following behaviors, I will free myself. But only by being consistent with this for awhile will I know if this approach will work:

  • read 1 hour a day

  • read just one book at a time (textbooks, reference books, and workbooks don’t count)

  • only keep books that warrant re-reading or referencing

  • donate, sell, or gift the rest

  • do not buy a new book until I have decided what to do with the last one I bought (or picked up to read)

  • borrow novels from library or buy digitally

  • limit my personal collection to the large bookshelf

I am not done with minimalism by any means. This will be an ongoing process of self-reflection throughout my life.

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Simple Sustainability: Simple Gift-Giving

Want. Need. Wear. Read.

‘Tis the season. For buying too much stuff. Gigantic hauls under Christmas and Yule trees, gifts exchanged beside candelabras, gifts that represent consumption mania, environmental devastation, guilt trips, debt, and disappointment. Kids running out of steam before the present pile has been tackled.

Our gift-giving mantra for the kids has become: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” That totals up as four gifts for each of them.

The reasons we do this are many.

Firstly, it puts a cap on gifts; once we reach a certain number, we know we can end our shopping spree instead of continuously shopping from October through December. After we have acquired the items we can relax.

It also de-emphasizes gifts, making them a part of the holiday season and not the center of it. It’s really hard to ignore a gigantic pile of wrapped mystery in the family room. Instead of focusing on wrapped things, we’ve made family activities our priority.

Obviously, getting fewer presents will save us money. We’ve chosen to budget by putting a spending cap on the total amount as well as a cap for each category.

Acquiring fewer items serves our minimalist goals – we’re not cluttering up our homes as much.

By categorizing our consumption by “wants”, “needs”, “wears” and “reads”, we gain insight into the role each gift is taking in our lives. A pair of snow boots, for example, fulfills a need in our winter climate and allows our kids to see the value in getting a need met (hopefully!).

For inspiration purposes, this is what I mean by each category:

“Wants” = Games, toys, art and craft supplies, movies, hobby supplies, etc.

“Needs” = Functional clothes, bedding, winter gear, sport or club supplies, school supplies, etc.

“Wears” = Clothes for fun (such as a t-shirt with a favorite character on it), jewelry, hats, ceremonial, hand-made, etc.

“Reads” = Books, educational games/toys, magazine subscriptions, etc.

Furoshiki: The Japanese Art of Wrapping in Cloth

My main interest in simplifying my family’s gift-giving habits is environmental. I’ve always mourned the the heaps of wrapping paper discarded at the holidays.

This year, I discovered the Japanese art of wrapping in cloth, called furoshiki, and rejoiced. Since there are fewer presents overall, I have decided to wrap them in re-usable cloth. I already own festive cloth and decided to create a stock of square pieces in varying sizes. We should be able to use these year after year.

Furoshiki is typically done with square cloths between 18 inches and 28 inches wide. The size needed depends on the size of the gift, but a good stock size is 28 inches. There are many tutorials available over the internet for those wishing to embrace this art form.

Limiting Extra Gift-Giving Burdens

One of the most stressful things about the holiday time is the gift-giving game. This is the worry over social niceties and predicting who will give to you and what is required in return.

This spending to save face can lead to unwanted debt. And receiving can lead to unwanted clutter. Backing out of this game is not always possible, but we do try.

Sometimes explaining to friends and family that we’ve decided to simplify and would prefer not to receive gifts is enough. Sometimes we ask for money or experiences en lieu of gifts, but this then obligates us to give something in return. This can be stressful.

We’ve chosen to only give cards to our elderly family members (or those less digitally-minded). We include a few photos. We’ve chosen e-cards for our younger friends and family and include digital photos. We generally do not buy gifts for friends or family who aren’t visiting us during the holidays.

If we know someone will be here, we buy them a gift. We also make fudge batches to give as a pleasant, short order, and nearly universal gift for surprise visitors and gift-givers.

My Wish for You

I hope that this guide serves you this upcoming holiday season. I hope it brings more clarity and peace and less stress.             

Happy Holidays.

Posted in Minimalism, Zero Waste | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Let Minimalism Intimidate You

Minimalism has some baggage. People associate it with all kinds of things. Some believe that to be a minimalist you have to be a single, white, rich guy with only a backpack and a penchant for world travel. These assumptions make it pretty easy to write off minimalism as something that is simply unattainable and therefore not worth pursuing.

Even the assumption that minimalism is the goal and not the process or lens casts minimalism in the light of perfectionism – some distant goal that only the most righteous (or whatever) can achieve. Those who claim to be “a minimalist” are therefore under suspicion because, as we all know, no one is perfect.

Pointing fingers at other minimalists and telling them how they are not quite there because of x, y, or z totally sidesteps the value of minimalism.

Minimalism is actually quite accessible, beneficial, and personal and for the following six reasons, I hope that those who wish to pursue a more curated life don’t simply write it off as an elitist hobby.

#1: You Get to Make Your Own Rules

There is no magic number of items that fulfills everyone’s needs and heartfelt desires. What is crucial to have for some would simply be extravagance or clutter for others. We all have our own interests, talents, and life’s work. Almost everything we do requires appropriate props.

For example, as a writer, I need a computer, Internet connection, and books. Most instruments and art supplies, however, are wasted on me. I wouldn’t want a musician or visual artist to take my list of necessities to heart and deprive themselves of something that brings them joy and makes the world a more beautiful place.

Minimalism is about finding out what makes you tick and it allows you to focus on those things by pruning away those possessions, activities and thought patterns that you’ve collected over the years but only get in the way.

A concrete example is the rule I’ve adopted regarding kids’ books: if I don’t enjoy reading it, it gets donated (or immediately returned) to the library. Life is too short for multiple readings of unpleasant works. A minimalist who is not also a parent may never consider adopting such a rule. To each their own.

#2: Minimalism Can Help You Reach Your Goals

It is easy to spend our time spinning our wheels on useless or repetitive tasks and either lose focus or not recognize what our meaningful goals actually are. Even if we know what our goals are, we may find ourselves blocked from working toward them. Minimalism can help in both of these areas.

For example, I could easily follow my kids around and tidy all day long. Then, wake up and do the very same thing again. Not very productive or fulfilling. Instead, I’ve imposed strict limits on the amount of cleaning I’ll do each day so that I can focus on other things. This allows me to raise my children, not just to look after their messes. It also allows me to work and study and write and film and so on so that, at the end of the day, I’ve achieved something valuable to me that is far more lasting than a tidy room.

#3: Minimalism Isn’t Just for the Elite

I’ve heard the critique that minimalism is only for people with a lot of privilege. You know, those rich folks that can spend their free time decorating their mansions with white paint, green plants, and maybe one framed piece of artwork per room.

I believe this to be nothing more than a distancing mechanism. What does it matter if some people who practice minimalism are rich? Or poor? Snooty? Or down to Earth? It doesn’t bar the rest of us from benefiting from minimalism. We can all still examine our own situations in order to achieve more contentment and connection to what matters to us.

#4: Minimalism Can Make You Happier

I’ve heard that the secret to happiness isn’t to have what you want but to want what you have (a sort of trite observation attributed to multiple authors).

I’ve seen an immediate change in perspective, from feelings of lack to feelings of abundance, through practicing minimalism. Take my jeans, for example.

Yes, my jeans. I was culling my wardrobe when this insight first struck me. I was looking at all my bottoms (slacks, jeans, shorts, skirts) and noticing how few jeans I had. I had maybe 6 pairs, so I wasn’t running around naked, but I also wasn’t wearing many of them for one reason or another. (Like those jeans I was waiting to lose at least 5 pounds to fit into.)

I was putting together a capsule wardrobe and my somewhat arbitrary target was 33 items of clothes for the next three months. I had decided that in order to have a good balance, I needed about 4 bottoms. Already, this meant my 6 pairs were in excess of what I needed. I was no longer feeling lack. I needed to weed out two (or more if I wanted to wear something other than jeans) so those jeans that made me feel badly when I stepped on the bathroom scale? Out the door! How freeing!

I know this may seem a little shallow, talking about clothes and weight, but this was just the start of the insights that began to flow in. I realized that the media I consumed could help or hinder my feelings of contentment. That comparing myself to others instead of learning what was best for me could immediately affect my happiness. The list goes on. What a wonderful gift this change in perspective has been.

#5: Minimalism Can Save You Money

Minimalists still buy things, but we tend to focus our money in areas that really matter to us. This means buying a lot less on impulse.

It also means a greater awareness of where our money is going and re-evaluating our regular expenditures. For example, we might decide that by moving to a smaller home, we can save money to travel, if that is more important to us.

Another avenue for saving is that with fewer purchases overall being made, minimalists can spend a little extra money on quality things that last longer. When items last longer, replacements aren’t as big a drain on resources.

Finally, when minimalists cull their extra clutter, they can sell those things that no longer bring happiness and make some money at the same time.

#6: Minimalism Can Help Save the World

I’m an ambitious person. One of my life’s goals is literally to: “help save the world”. Why is a sustainability writer and environmentalist so interested in minimalism?

I believe that the adoption of minimalism is the simplest way to reduce our overall impact on the planet.

Minimalists are more likely to use less electricity, less fuel, less water, less natural resources, and so on.

No matter what choices a person faces, by becoming more conscious of our life’s direction and decisions, and by consuming less overall, we can’t fail to reduce our negative impacts and to support our positive impact.

Until next time, keep living lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Minimalist Wardrobes For Boys (Ages 2-5)

Minimalist wardrobes for adult women have become very trendy. But I’m frankly surprised to see this limited range. Everyone could benefit from a curated and thought-filled wardrobe.

Young boys wouldn’t be stuck in finicky pants when potty-training. They would wear clothes in good repair and sized for them. It would be easy for them to pick out their own combinations and dress themselves well. The independence they would get in return for the preparation put in would go a long way.

Parents would benefit from the confidence that their kid has enough clothes and would not be driven to shop due to a feeling or assumption of lack. When shopping is necessary, they would know exactly what they were looking for and this technique would allow them to hone in on what styles, sizes, shapes, (etc.) they prefer for their kid’s clothes.

Turning my sons’ wardrobes into minimalist capsules has been an eye opener. I used to rush off to buy more clothes for them whenever I worried they had nothing to wear. These trips were unorganized and I tended to return with more shirts when I needed new pants or a new jacket when they really needed socks. And I was only dimly aware of what made for a good pair of pants. Obviously, this approach was an unsustainable practice. Now, I feel unburdened and certain of exactly what they have.

Special Considerations For This Age Group

  • Unless you’re very lucky in hand-me-downs (or a shop-a-holic), you will probably never need to “cull” a young boy’s wardrobe. This is because they grow out of sizes or damage their clothes so fast that the collection is pretty self-limiting.
  • I’ve found it necessary to look in the reverse direction. How many clothes do I need to get through a week of regular activity?
  • Your number needs to accommodate “accidents” as kids are generally potty training in these years.
  • If your kid attends a pre-school or day care, the institution may require a small stash in addition to the wardrobe. Don’t count these additions because you may not see them for weeks or months at a time.

Fall/Winter Capsule for 2017 (2-5 year old boy)

I’m providing the list I use to keep my boys stocked as inspiration only. Your particular circumstances will shape your need. Climate, family activities, religious gear, and how often you do their laundry are a few factors that may alter your list.
Since I do diaper laundry (3x/week), I can throw any “accident” pants and underwear into the next batch of diapers. This list could easily support a once-per-week laundry schedule.

Coats / Jackets:

  • Rain, light weight jacket
  • Winter coat

Hats:

  • Sun hat / baseball cap
  • Winter hat

Snow Gear:

  • Snow pants
  • Snow gloves

Shoes:

  • Snow boots
  • Athletic shoes
  • “Nice” shoes

“Nice” Clothes:

  • 2 sweaters / hoodies
  • 5 long-sleeved shirts
  • 1-2 plain layering long-sleeved shirts
  • 5 short-sleeved shirts
  • 5 pairs of pants
  • 5-7 pairs of “nice” socks

“Play” Clothes:

  • 5 long-sleeved “play” shirts
  • 5 short-sleeved “play” shirts
  • 5 pairs of “play” pants
  • 4-7 pairs of PJs
  • 5-7 pairs of “play” socks

Emergency / Diaper Bag (*Double if attending day care or preschool) :

  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 short-sleeved shirt
  • 1 pair of socks

Potty:

This is the biggest difference between kids from this age group and their younger and older counterparts. It is also highly individual. The following is my advice:

  1. I recommend keeping finicky pants and coveralls to a minimum if you keep any at all. I prefer to have simple elastic waist bands at this age.
  1. Get underwear with a little extra padding for potty training sessions. I have five pairs of these, but that might just be the bare minimum. I also keep normal underwear to supplement.
  1. Keep some diapers or pull ups (whether cloth or disposable) on hand for the night, for complicated days out, and for “off” time.
  1. I tend to start potty training at home only and keep diapers for outside the home and at bed time. This changes as we build the habit.
  1. Eventually, putting a kid in a diaper during the day time can work against potty training so this will have to be played by ear.

I believe it is important for kids to have some “play” clothes so that they can get completely absorbed in an activity and get messy without driving me crazy.

On My Loose Use of “Minimal”

I know this list doesn’t seem extremely “minimal”, but unlike adults, kids don’t often reuse laundry between washes (the clothes get really dirty) and doing their laundry multiple times a week can be stressful. I feel that this number strikes a nice balance.

 

Until Next Time, Happy Parenting!

Posted in Green Parenting, Minimalism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Minimalist Wardrobe for the School-Aged Boy

I’m always a little startled to see that capsule wardrobes haven’t spread much beyond the scope of adult women’s closets. This wardrobe solution is an extremely useful tool.

A capsule wardrobe has specific benefits for school-aged children:

  1. As tops and bottoms are bought with the collection in mind, any combination a kid comes up with won’t garner outfits of questionable taste. That is, it gives the child autonomy and a good chance for success each morning.
  2. Designing a wardrobe can reassure the parents that the child has enough clothing for the season. The planning stage also lets parents know where the gaps are which can lead to a smarter shopping list.
  3. In consciously designing a wardrobe, parents can become knowledgeable about what they’re looking for in a garment. For example, I learned that elastic waist bands (without any finicky parts) are an excellent feature for pants when it comes to small children.
  4. Culling the closet keeps kids from arriving at school wearing clothes that are too small or too damaged.

My son will be entering Kindergarten this fall and it falls to me to make sure he’ll have something to wear each morning. The following is a plan that will probably work until he becomes more interested in taking over his own closet or he develops his personal fashion sense.

Winter/Fall Capsule

 

IMG_1065

Hanging: Backpack, snow pants, rain jacket, winter coat, sweater, 5 long-sleeved shirts, 5 short-sleeved shirts, 5 pairs of pants, baseball cap and winter hat; Floor: “Emergency/Accident” Kits, play clothes, PJs, winter boots, athletic shoes, “nicer” shoes, “nicer” socks and under wear, and knit gloves

I’ve included my elder son’s fall/winter 2017 capsule as a guideline only. Individual characteristics, such as climate, religion, family activities and laundry schedule will impact the make-up of another kid’s closet.

Shoes:

  • athletic shoes
  • winter boots
  • “nicer” shoes

Misc.:

  • backpack

Hats:

  • sun hat / baseball cap
  • winter hat

Coats/Jackets:

  • Light weight rain jacket
  • Heavy weight winter coat

Snow Gear:

  • snow pants
  • snow gloves

School Clothes:

  • 2 sweaters/jumpers/hoodies
  • 5 long-sleeved shirts
  • 1-2 plain long-sleeved shirts (for layering with short-sleeves)
  • 5 short-sleeved shirts
  • 5 pairs of pants (with elastic, simple waist bands)
  • 5 pairs socks (at least)
  • 5 pairs underwear (at least)

Emergency Clothes:

  • For school:
    • 1 pair of pants
    • 1 t-shirt
    • 1 pair of underwear
    • 1 pair of socks
  • For diaper bag or car (when out and about):
    • 1 pair of pants
    • 1 t-shirt
    • 1 pair of underwear
    • 1 pair of socks

Home:

  • 4 sets of Pjs (minimum)
  • 3-7 pairs of socks
  • 3-7 pairs underwear
  • 3-7 pairs “play” pants
  • 3-7 pairs “play” shirts

I believe strongly in the concept of “play” clothes for younger children. The reason is that having clothes that they can really get messy in allows for more fun and less parental anxiety. I usually down grade school clothes that get damaged.

I don’t normally need to cull the number of play clothes my son owns. As he is still rapidly growing, I feel that he outgrows them too quickly for them to become too numerous.

I also don’t cull an item until I have found it’s replacement. For example, we will need to get my son a new pair of snow pants, but until we’ve gotten it, his old one remains in the closet (He could still be stuffed into it!).

If you have a school-aged kid, have you though about setting him or her up with a capsule wardrobe? What would be your essentials? How might you change it up for a girl? Let me know in the comments below and until next time,

Happy Parenting!

Posted in Green Parenting, Minimalism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cat Food: A Lesson in Minimalism

My cat began avoiding her dried food. I was worried, so I bought one of those multi-packs of cans, a three pack of lids to house left-overs in, and I collected a few pieces of plastic cutlery with which to scoop out the meaty mess.

My cat was quite pleased with the addition of wet food to her diet.

While I was glad she was eating, I quickly grew to hate the additional work. As a long time vegetarian, I liked the dried kibble because I could ignore the more visceral proof that my roommate was a meat-eater.

But of course, I would now have to keep the slop as hygienic as possible. I chose to spray the cans with the diaper sprayer attached to my toilet and wash her dishes in the bathroom sink. Anything to keep my food surfaces from contamination.

Enter Minimalism

This is where minimalism enters our story. When I bought the cat can lids, they only came in a three pack and I also had multiple pieces of plastic cutlery. The facts that I hated the chore and that I had extra pieces meant that I could be lazier about cleaning. I would wait until my three lids ran out before washing her dishes. And, after three to six days, those dishes were worse than unpleasant.

I was washing the dishes and cussing myself out for my laziness when my husband pointed out that I simply had too many dishes and this was the root of my problem.

My husband, for all his playful love of fantasy, also has the firmest grip on reality that I’ve known. Of course! Why didn’t I think of this?

I promptly stored the other lids and cutlery upstairs in her carrier so that they wouldn’t be easily accessible.

Now, every time she goes through a can, I wash her dishes immediately while they are still fresh. There’s no caked on mess. Her dishes are cleaned more regularly but more easily. There’s less to keep track of in our living space.

Local to Global Thinking

So, yes, that is the story of my cat’s wet food gear, but it is also more than that. I mean, how many times have I thought that having more of something would make things simpler when, in fact, the situation becomes harder, more tedious, too cluttered instead?

I’m not saying that one is the perfect number for everything. One pair of underwear, for example, might be beyond my comfort zone and might force more frequent laundry washes. But there probably is an ideal number for most things in my life. My magic numbers will not be the same as other people’s and it may not even be the same throughout my life, but paring back and experimenting with less can be a real game changer.

Until next time, live lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Unexpected Benefits of Minimalism

The benefits of minimalism can seem pretty straightforward: saving money, making cleaning easier, uncluttered spaces, and having a conversation stopper as a “hobby”.

OK, so the last one is a bit of a stretch, but could save you from a boring conversation with a neighbor.

I mean, minimalism seems so simple. The uninitiated might wonder why minimalists still have anything to say about it. Plus, minimalism can seem a little … well, pretentious. Those haughty minimalists seem to have things all figured out in their large, empty spaces and maybe they’re judging us for having too much or consuming too much. Maybe.

At first, I just wanted more breathing room from all the stuff I had collected in my adult life and to make moving day easier on my friends and family. I thought minimalism was all about stuff; how much you owned and how much you could get rid of. I was confused as to why this topic received so much online attention, especially in our wildly consumer-driven society.

Eight months have passed. I have fewer items in my home, which is much less cluttered and easier to clean, but nowhere near as sparse as an extreme minimalist’s home (if they even still have a permanent one). I’m not any less a minimalist than they are.

That’s right: because minimalism is a process not a destination. Anyone employing the tools of minimalism is a minimalist. And it is precisely the tools and the process that hold the secret to the unexpected benefits of minimalism.

Benefit #1: Confidence-Building and Avoidance of Decision Fatigue

Making decisions about what things to keep and what to lose, especially when done regularly, increases confidence in your abilities to make good decisions. Minimalism allows you to test your decision-making skills and to see the results on your life. Practice makes perfect.

The practice of minimalism also helps guard against “decision fatigue” – the idea that we only have so many decisions to make in our day before we feel worn out. It may seem counter-intuitive, especially in light of my “practice makes perfect” claim above, but by addressing and then weeding out those unnecessary decisions we make every day, we can focus on more productive decisions going forward.

A prime example is a minimalist wardrobe or uniform that eliminates unnecessary decisions made every day while getting dressed. There is really no need to waste our decision-making power before the day begins in earnest.

Benefit #2: Self-Awareness

When you spend conscious time evaluating your needs, wants, values, and personal style, you learn what feeds you and what drains you in your life. This allows you to confront self-delusion and bring about the changes you’d like to see.

A prime example is when you hold onto the objects of a “hobby” you think you value but haven’t made time for in years. If you really valued it, you’d make the time. But now that you recognize that this hobby doesn’t bring a spark into your life, you’re free to let it go. Release the guilt for not practicing that instrument, for example, and to find something that lights your fire instead.

Benefit #3: Conscious Life Design and Priority Assessment

So much of our lives are lived on auto-pilot. Minimalism is all about bringing awareness to one’s life. It helps you to understand your values and priorities, as I touched on above, in coming to better self-awareness.

But the benefit doesn’t stop at self-awareness because when you understand your priorities, you can better chart your daily lifestyle to be that much more fulfilling and productive.

This might mean that your life’s direction gets re-evaluated, leading to drastic change: quitting your job, moving or divorce from an unfulfilling marriage. It could also manifest as a lot of small tweaks that add up to something great.

What is in your life that doesn’t have to be? Bad habits? Time wasters? Toxic relationships? What could you use more of? Productive habits? Support? Knowledge of this or that topic? Greater skill?

Benefit #4: Feeling Abundant

Media impresses upon us a feeling of lack. Often a lack we never knew we had. A lack for specific consumer gadgets (such as in a commercial) or a dissatisfaction with our life’s situation. Perhaps we feel loss for what “might have been” when we watch gorgeous actors and actresses trot across the screen in beautiful clothes. The distortion can be especially cutting when these actors are portraying the “average” American on sets that resemble mansions.

We end up in the rat race, keeping up with the Jones’, wanting more while feeling as though we have less and less.

Minimalism frees a person from this, or at least allows us to see the scam for what it is, even if we’re not entirely freed. We have to work on the freeing.

Through the process of minimalism, we understand that our needs are in fact very finite and smaller than we ever imagined. We understand that our wants are flexible and can be measured on a scale that we choose.

I enjoy watching videos and reading blogs by extreme minimalists, our own celebrities. They provide a sort of inspiration in direct contrast to the Hollywood actress. They teach me to scale down.

In scaling down, we can set our own caps and limits, ones meaningful and personal to us, the realization that we mostly live in surplus sinks in.

Benefit #5: Leaving Less for More Abundant Generations

When we die, our possessions stay. That’s right, the dirty pizza boxes, the unpaid bills, along with the charming mementos no one really knows what to do with. The folks you leave behind will undoubtedly get to know a lot about you.

But what if instead of leaving behind junk no one needs, you left more trees in the forests? More clean air and more clean water and less trash in landfills? Less mess? A smaller footprint for future generations to tackle?

My chief interest in minimalism has always been the oft overlooked lighter impact that living simply has on the planet we live on.

The Grand Secret of Minimalism…

…is that it is about more than the stuff we choose to keep or toss. Because what we value today may not be the same things we value a year from now. Allowing for the process of minimalism can be quite the radical journey.

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged | Leave a comment