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!

Enough

The minimalist and Zero Waste movements intersect from the start. Béa Johnson, in her book: The Zero Waste Home, introduces the hierarchy of Zero Waste, known as the 5 R’s. The first two: “Refuse what you do not need” and “Reduce what you do need”, are deceptively simple.

But what is need?

We would all agree that we need food to survive, but do we “need” the deluxe food processor or blender? If food goes bad in our fridge week after week, did we “need” it after all? And that handful of chips I had with lunch. Did I “need” that?

The reason that Béa didn’t just write “refuse what you do not need or want” is that wants are such a slippery target. I think we’ve all experienced this at some point. You go into a store to buy something specific, but then you see all sorts of beautiful things around you, a desire you didn’t have before is awakened. Suddenly, you’re less content and left wanting more.

Needs are finite and wants can be infinite. So do we just ignore all of our wants and live in tents, cooking over a fire, what we’ve foraged from the woods?

As much as I adore camping, I don’t think this is the answer. There are so many wonders that humans bring to this world when we’re not over-consumed by acts of survival. Along with camping, I’m also a big fan of the Internet.

So, how do we go about managing our wants so that they don’t overwhelm us?

Step 1: Determine Your Vision

The most important step in determining your “enough” will be to set goals for yourself. Do you want to be a nomad? Do you want to live out of a van or in a tiny home? Do you want a chic, white walled studio apartment decorated with green plants and little else? Or are your goals a little more conventional? Maybe, like me, you’d just like to keep a clean, clutter free home that reduces the family’s environmental impact. Maybe you’d like to live with less stress and less debt. There are all kinds of minimalists. What sort do you want to be?

Does the media you consume support or detract from your goals? I like to watch YouTube videos by extreme minimalists for inspiration about how little I actually need. It still creates a desire to emulate, just as watching a show where beautiful actresses prance around in expensive clothes and in expensive homes portraying the average American, but the result of emulation is healthier for me.

Step 2: Set Your Limits

I can’t sing the praises of limits enough, it seems. I’ve experienced immediate transformation of mindset just by pinning a maximum number or by allotting a certain space for things. When I had no magic numbers for my clothes, my satisfaction went up and down with my boredom or the proximity to laundry day. As soon as I told myself that four bottoms were enough for a season, I had to pick and choose from my favorites. I no longer felt deprived but instead over-abundant.

Step 3: Avoid Your Triggers

Children are often overwhelmed with their wants. Take a kid to the proverbial candy store, or, perhaps a toy store. See what happens.

Some parents will choose to avoid the situation in the first place: don’t take the kids to the toy or candy stores, don’t bake cookies if they’re not on the menu. Get upset with the school district when they serve chocolate milk and pizza with a side of chips for lunch.

This is because young children are under-developed in their decision making skills. They frequently aren’t able to set aside immediate gratification in order to reach more important goals. This is why kid’s toothpaste is sweetened and kid vitamins resemble candy.

The truth is, adults aren’t really that much better. Certainly, we have more life experience and can see that our immediate gratification might not be in our best interest. We can take our morning pill that might be tough to swallow. That said, our ability to parent ourselves judiciously is finite. A few good decisions here or there are easily offset by allowances we give ourselves as reward for making good decisions.

Since our good decisions are limited, it’s best not to overwhelm ourselves with what is often referred to as “decision fatigue”.

Do you always overspend at the mall? Maybe trade mall shopping for going to see a movie or taking a hike instead.

I have the guilty habit of online shopping on pay day. I love the satisfaction of picking just the right things out and then waiting eagerly for the mail to come. When it gets here, it’s a nice little high. Admitting you have a problem, I hear, is the first step.

Your Homework

Now, get out a pen and a notebook. Write down everything you own. Every item in every drawer.

What’s that? Is the idea ludicrous to you? You, like me, wouldn’t consider wasting your time in this way? Chances are, then, that you have “enough” stuff. Maybe, if you were especially terrified by the sound of this assignment, you have more than enough.

Free Yourself With a Capsule Wardrobe

I never thought that I’d be delving into the world of conscious wardrobe design and fashion  – let alone writing about it!

See, I was one of those awkward teenagers who made serious errors in judgment just about every time she dressed. Further, even the words “fashion” and “style” had an air of otherness to them. Other people thought about this, those girls over there probably did, but not me. As a result, I had collected an eclectic mix of style, color, and pattern, much of which didn’t suit my personality, body, or lifestyle. And so, deapite having heaps of clothing, I never had anything to wear.

That awkward teenager in unfortunate attire? Well, she became an equally awkward adult in probably worse attire (as my body grew less forgiving with age and multiple pregnancies).

Stage left, enter YouTube, our new character. See, the beauty and danger of YouTube is that you can start with watching videos on minimalism and sustainable living and find your way to discovering that these topics relate to how you dress. Now, I had the missing piece, the motivation that made sense for me. I would learn to dress well to spend less time and money and to produce less waste for our planet.

These days, I look better and more put together. I spend less time in my closet in order to achieve this. What I wear matches my lifestyle, personal tastes, and body. I spend money more consciously and I have a much smaller wardrobe.

Discovering the concept of a capsule wardrobe is life-changing. It isn’t just that I look and feel better and have more positive social interactions. I also got my first tangible taste in the lesson that less can be more.

Capsule wardrobing is manageable minimalist change that allows a peek into the benefits of minimalism. No need to overhaul your life and home, no negotiating with family or housemates, just begin with your own clothes. Then, bask in some of the benefits of simplifying.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a streamlined, well-curated set of clothes that:

  • only includes clothes that fit you well and you love
  • has a limited number (the actual number can vary, but a hard numerical cap is helpful for decision-making purposes)
  • includes items that work well together to create more potential combinations to give the illusion of more clothes

A capsule wardrobe is useful for men and women as well as children.

A capsule wardrobe does NOT have to be monochrome or made solely of neutral colors. It is easier to combine multiple garments this way, but if you are thoughtful about selecting colors and patterns, you can make a colorful wardrobe.

Since the items have to pull so much weight, it is good to put careful thought into your selections. Does this support my lifestyle (maybe say “no” to the 3 cocktail dresses if you live in jeans)? Does this look good on my body (is it a good fit and color)? Is it my personal style? How often can I get away wearing it? And in how many different ways? The theory is that if you put thought into your selections up front, you won’thave to spend valuable brain power in the morning when you’re getting dressed.

Variations on Capsule Wardrobing

Capsule wardrobing has many variations. While you can find guidelines (such as Project 333, described below), tailoring your wardrobe to your life will make this practice far more useful.

For example, your region’s seasons may impact how you capsule wardrobe. If you live in a stable climate, an all-season capsule might be achievable. There are also two and four season variations. Some items will be useful in multiple seasons so it isn’t necessary to have four capsules, say, without overlap.

Some of you who work two jobs or have vastly different home and work lives may opt for two simultaneous capsules.

The main traits of any capsule wardrobe are curation and combination.

Project 333

My favorite capsule model is Project 333. It works well in a four-season climate, has a following with a lot of free resources available online, and the item number cap (33) is a challenge that is nevertheless doable.

The Basic “Rules” of Project 333 are:

  • 33 pieces (shoes, purses/bags, outerwear, accessories, and clothes)
  • does not include: active wear, PJs, lounge wear, under garments, or specialty wear (such as swim suits or snow pants)
  • 3 months (you set up for three months at a time and put the remaining or off-season clothes away)
  • you also want to refrain from buying additional clothes for the three month-duration

Project 333 is the creation of Courtney Carver. You can find more from her at: <http://bemorewithless.com/project-333/&gt;

Free Yourself

It may seem that this is a shallow subject, but all of us dress every day. When our choices remain unconscious ones, we can suffer from cluttered space, wasted time, embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions, impaired social interactions, money waste and so on.

If we manufacture a conscious wardrobe, we can save time, space, money, and embarrassment. We can also make choices in line with our values. So what are you waiting for?

Minimalism 101

What is Minimalism?

Minimalism has taken on an elitist air. Popularly, the minimalist image is of a sparsely furnished modern home with no individual touches. And no children, hobbies, or, in some cases, underwear.

To be a minimalist, you don’t have to get rid of all but 50 things so that you can travel the globe by yourself. Though, if that is your pleasure, have fun! Minimalism is as individualistic as its subscribers. Because minimalism is a process, with no end point, anyone who employs the philosophy can consider themselves a minimalist.

So what is it that defines a minimalist approach? What makes someone a minimalist?

Minimalism is a process whereby an individual decides what brings value and enriches his or her life. It also means determining what doesn’t have value and doesn’t enrich. And it is about finding ways to increase the former at the expense of the latter.

We all do this to some extent. We gravitate toward things we like and are repulsed by what we don’t. But, if you don’t make conscious choices and don’t consider trade-offs in the process, you will find that chaos rules out and progress is slow or non-existent. Instead of freeing ourselves, we bog ourselves down with new commitments that could have made us happier. That is, when we accumulate activities/obligations we tend to tap into the wrong resources: our time and our energy. This leads us to feel stressed and exhausted. If we instead make trade-offs, something undesirable for something desirable, then we’re left freer and energized.

10 Benefits of Minimalism

  1. Fewer things to schlepp around. Less baggage to travel with, to live with, or to move with.

  2. Fewer things to clean, which means less time and energy wasted.

  3. Fewer things to buy, which can help you get out of debt and achieve financial security.

  4. Greater satisfaction with the stuff you do have. You’ve surrounded yourself with those things that bring you joy (these are now unburied, dusted off, and placed front and center).

  5. Less looking at stuff that makes you unhappy (those “skinny” clothes you haven’t fit into since your last pregnancy or that picture that reminds you of a fight you had with your Dad).

  6. More space to move in.

  7. More time for family and friends.

  8. More time to pursue your new hobbies, current interests, or writing your novel.

  9. Greater involvement in your own life (less auto-pilot).

  10. Greater awareness of what matters to you. This can help your relationships, bring about a passionate life mission, or allow you to finally identify what you require from a shirt’s hemline.

Tips to Get Started

Physical clutter is a great starting point in a minimalist journey and helps you hone your minimalist skills.

I recommend starting in your closet because it decreases the need to navigate inter-personal relationships right off, it is a finite area, everyone has to dress, and you can see the benefits of minimalism straight away.

Setting space or number limits on things is a great tool for decision-making and can immediately change a perspective from one of lack to satisfaction or even over-abundance. A closet-inspired example of this principle is setting for yourself a cap on the number of jeans. If you say, two is enough for your lifestyle, then you can pick your favorite two, sell or gift the rest and until those two get damaged, you won’t feel compelled to buy more.

Group things before you cull them. It is easier to get rid of the pants you don’t need when you have 20 of them staring you in the face.

Don’t just think about what you’re getting rid of, determine what it is you’ll get in its place (more space, time, energy, a nicer blouse with the money you got from selling those that didn’t fit).

Don’t focus on what to get rid of, focus on what to keep. Clear out the space entirely and then include those things you really want and need.

May this work bring value to your life!

Waste-Free Fashion?

I’ve never been what you’d call “trendy”. This year, I’ve begun building “capsule wardrobes” and learning to make fabulous outfits with fewer clothing articles. This has drastically increased my fashion savvy (I finally learned what a “cardigan” was!).

The thing is, Project 333 (and really most capsule wardrobe planning) is a zero waster’s dream. And while I’ve adopted this habit, I’ve also got a few zero waste tweaks that I’ve added in!

What is a Capsule Wardrobe? 

A capsule wardrobe is a limited number of clothes that are selected to work with each other to create as many combinations as possible. The actual number doesn’t really matter, but most will fall between 30 and 40 items. Emphasis is put on quality, personal taste, proper fit, and coordinating colors.

Some capsule wardrobe projects will suggest avoiding buying more clothes within a 30 day to 3 month time frame, which helps shopaholics from running into further trouble. Since you’re buying with the whole plan in mind, impulse purchases are reigned in. For example, a patterned shirt that looks cute on its own is passed on if it doesn’t go with anything in the wardrobe.

And, if you live in a four season climate like I do, you don’t have to have 4 40-item wardrobes. You can transfer items that can pass between seasons – or not if you prefer.

My experience with this so far has been amazing! Building with an entire plan in mind meant fewer purchasing mistakes and I’ve finally got a closet that is a pleasure. I’m not so terrified of pictures capturing my unfortunate fashion faux pas for posterity either. I genuinely look passable.

Minimalism

“Refusing what you do not need” and “reducing what you do need” are the first two R’s in Bea Johnson’s approach to Zero Waste. They are also fundamental to the minimalist philosophy.

Buying Used

Re-use is an important part of the zero waste movement and thrift stores and clothing swaps have been personal life-savers in the past. Unfortunately, my new home doesn’t seem to have either in the area. So, I shop thrift stores when I go visiting, but at home, I’ve been using a site called ThredUp. Most of the packaging is recyclable and the clothes are both on trend and once-loved. I love how the site’s curators help me to keep somewhat up to date!

These pieces were bought to flesh out my running / workout capsule. I got these previously loved and cheap from ThredUp.
Beside the sticker, the waste is either recyclable or compostable. I may also be able to use the tissue paper for gift wrap.

Disposal

Once I’m finished with still usable items, I’ll send them back to a thrift store. I will try to down cycle pieces that are stained or irreparable. One possibility I’m looking forward to trying is making t-shirt shopping bags.

I tend to buy organic cotton socks and when these become unusable, I’m going to cut the elastic off and try to compost the rest.

Areas To Address

Bras? Not sure I will replace them when they finally fail.

Underwear and intimates? I must admit I tend to buy these new and cheaply, but I will look into greener options in the future.

A Year Later…

I’ve become very specific in what I’m looking for to flesh out my capsules and a little aggravated by the selection in thrift and online stores at times. Though this is still my preference.

To save on aggravation, I’ve learned that you can get very specific, and search used, on ebay. So this will be the route that I’ll be turning to in the future instead of giving up and buying new, a recent habit I’ve developed.

I will put a cap on the new items I can buy each year. For 2017, I’ve bought a vegan themed t-shirt, maternity pants, a fleece jacket, a plain maroon t-shirt, and a pair of workout leggings. I was thinking that 5 was a good number cap, but looking at this list, I guess I’m done buying new for the whole year! Ooops! I guess I know my challenge better.

How About You? 

Has your zero waste lifestyle affected your wardrobe? Has it changed how you get, keep, and dispose of your clothing? Have you heard of capsule wardrobes? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

Channeling Ms. Fixit

I’m a passable seamstress. While my creative expletives over sewing machines are rarely child-appropriate, I can mend a pair of pants until the fabric gives up the ghost. This willingness to mend has saved us a ton of money and garbage over the years.

However, kids. Ah, kids will wear through knees before you can blink and keep you busy until you cry for bedtime. Needless to say, the mending pile has grown out of control. So, I will begin to address the mending pile and try to get at least one item repaired a week.


But mending clothes is not the only way to keep stuff from becoming junk. And I will look for opportunities to keep our stuff serviceable including:

  • Treating stains
  • Repairing furniture
  • Sanding door frames (that the cat scratches)
  • Fixing our roof

(Really, this list is endless.)

A Year Later…

I’ve learned that the list for repairs and mending is indeed endless. The pressure to repair everything that has ever been broken has been too much. No one needs that amount of stress in their life. Last year, I had the tendency to add tasks in my zero waste efforts. Adding tasks isn’t really productive, though. Tasks are endless, but specific results can be much more finite.

I choose only to repair the stuff that matters and to let go of the rest. This is where the introduction of minimalism in my life has really helped me to breathe. Why repair 24 pairs of 2T pants, for example, when I’ve determined that my kid needs 7-10 total pairs of bottoms and only 5 of those have to be “nice” enough for school and outings?

The concept of repairing what is needed can be extended elsewhere. Is it important to repair that chair if there is already enough seating in the house? Put out a “free” sign and curb it instead.

How About You?

What things have you learned to repair? Was your inspiration zero waste living? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, keep that talk walking!