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!