Minimalism is a way of life, it is a philosophy based around value. Minimalist living is mostly concerned with decluttering our lives of tangible objects. Inherently in becoming a minimalist, we relieve ourselves of many of the possessions we own and create a simpler framework for our lives. This will happen naturally when we start to question what we truly value. If you haven’t read my brief exploration of the philosophy of minimalism read it here; an understanding of this will be useful.
Minimalism isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. No one person has the right method or framework, and don’t let anyone tell you they have. But there are many common themes that arise from those that have adopted a simpler way of life. I will go through them here and hopefully you’ll be able to see that the transition to simplicity is a possibility for everyone.
How we consume
We tend not to question what it is we are consuming. In fact, we don’t even realise we are consuming things half the time. Most of our day is spent absorbing some thing or another. We wake up and put the kettle on waiting for that burst of caffeine to wake us up, ignoring the fact that we’ve already started consuming electricity: turning on the lights, the kettle and the heating that automatically comes on. Throughout the day we ignore so many of the little components that make up what we consume: the packaging on our lunch, the tea leaves in our tea bags, the chair we sit on at work. All of these things are material objects that we unconsciously ignore. Yet all of these have an impact, on our lives and the planet.
A fulfilled life is something many people strive for, and happiness is something, I believe, everyone wants to experience. Being truly happy and fulfilled can only happen when we satisfy all our needs. Yet I am convinced that many of us do not actually know what our needs are. For many years I thought I knew my needs. I urged my parents to give me more pocket money so I could buy more things: first it was sweets, then the latest sportswear, after getting a job and my first guitar I constantly bought gadgets to make me a ‘better’ player, then purchasing tech. The constant want for bigger, better, faster was dragging me through my life. The acquisition of one item leads to the desire for another. This framing of my needs developed at a very early age, and habitual satisfaction is a difficult addiction to break.
I order to break our habits we have to be aware of them. This is a really difficult task if you do not know where to begin. Mindfulness is a great tool. It was a phase of anxiety during university that turned me on to mindfulness. I downloaded (the awesome) Headspace app and for 2 months used the free initial 10 days, ‘Take 10’, to guide me through meditation. Planting the seed of mindfulness, and nurturing it carefully, is a crucial element in becoming more aware of your self and improving your life (O’Brien, T. 2015). Over time mindfulness shifts your focus away from external factors and towards internal. It is this intrinsic internal forces that bring us our greatest joy (Lee, M. & Ahn, C. 2016).
Self-growth is a massive area of concern these days, with bookstore shelves filled with self-help books. As a society, we are becoming aware of the importance of inner growth. Mindfulness cultivates the perfect safe space for this inner growth to be cultivated. In one of the earliest surveys on voluntary simplicity, Duane Elgin (2010 ) found that mindfulness and inner growth were highly common themes for those who had chosen a simpler way of life.
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Find your values
Once you are aware of your self. Spend some time to find what it is you value. Write them down. This could be playing sport every week, working towards high grades, calling a friend once a week, going out, reading the news, playing music, drawing, watching films. Alternatively, your values may be focused slightly differently: stop wasting money, eat healthier, read more, exercise more, develop myself, build great relationships…
What ever they are, once you define them you can work towards them.
Manage your space
The spaces we live in affect us massively, and our minds and our home have a very close link. The messier our mind, generally the messier our homes. Alternatively, the messier our home is, the harder it is to be calm and focussed when at home. This intimate connection is down to the fact that the material objects affect us. If you’ve read other minimalism blogs (create a blog list), you will have come across this idea: the objects we own take up our time. We have to clean them, tidy them, think about them, use them, fix them and think about them. That is a lot of ‘doing’ for one item. Take a moment to think about all the items you have. How much time could you save?
Keeping your space clear and clean is fundamental to creating a space where you can relax and enjoy yourself. Marie Kondo, the Japanese guru of tidying, has written extensively on the subject of tidying and space management, highlighting the benefits for us. The KonMari method is not for everyone, but her ideas carry a lot of value.
Turn down from 11
Most of us run on 11 – especially if you live in a city. Our phones are ringing, emails coming through, Twitter, Facebook, advertising, coffee, lunch, shopping, drinks, dinner, TV, gym. We cram in as much as we can. Generally from a misconception of necessity. We need to do all these things, otherwise we won’t be happy! Turning down from 11 involves a few steps, some of these take effort and time, but, in the long run, they save us heaps of it.
Unsubscribe from mailing lists!
If you’re like me, you’re probably signed up to loads of mailing lists: my phone company, university, student union, all the stuff I signed up to in freshers week, discount websites, charitable causes, social media notifications… take some time to figure out which ones you want to keep and unsubscribe from the rest! The easiest way I found of doing this was to do it as I got emails coming through. There are other ways, and take some time to plan how you are going to get through this. Once you’re done, create a system to ensure you get your inbox clear every day, this way it’ll never accumulate again.
Turn off notifications
This is a crucial one. Do you really need your Twitter notifications on? Or Facebook notifications? Instagram? LinkedIn? Snapchat, Pinterest, your News apps, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Uni apps, email, Evernote, WhatsApp? Or would it just be simpler to check when you want to check? (Maybe keep your phone & texts on for emergencies, but otherwise… what do you really need?)
I’m a people pleaser. Well, I was a people pleaser. Saying yes to everything and cramming my schedule full of things to do. Unsurprisingly, you can see how that took up a lot of my time. Shàà Wasmund (2015) discusses at length that saying ‘No’ to those things you don’t really want to do will create heaps of time. Here you can come back to the idea of value. When confronted with whether to do something or not, ask yourself, “Will this add value to my life?”. Then listen to your answer.
It’s not more efficient. You do not get more things done in the day. Having the TV on doesn’t help you concentrate.
Multi-tasking does distract you. It is proven to decrease your ability to focus. You produce lower quality work.
This is where Marie Kondo’s ideas really come in handy. The essence of de-cluttering – in effect the essence of minimalism – is to remove excess. Which method you chose is entirely up to you. The Minimalists came up with the Packing Party: placing everything into boxes – that means everything – and over the next 21-days only unpacking that which you need to use. Then everything else goes, Donate, Sell, Throw.The
The KonMari Method is gentler, with it asking you to look at every item and ask if you value it. Moving through your stuff by category, rather than location: first clothes, then tech, then uni stuff, miscellaneous… If you’re at uni, you’ve probably only got one room, but the idea still holds: organise by category. Then decide what to do with the stuff that no longer has value.
De-cluttering is not a reason to buy more to fill in the space you’ve created. By deciding what it is we value and cutting the excess, we should find that we already have everything that we need. There is no need to them fill the space we’ve cleared with more stuff. With mindful practices, you should start becoming aware of when you feel the urges to buy something, take a step back and ask that same question, “will this add value to my life?” Then listen to the answer.
Minimalism is about looking inwards
To start to live a simpler, minimalist lifestyle we must first start by looking in. Only once we have discovered who we are and what we value can we begin to act on the external factors around us. For the younger ones of us, this is particularly hard as we are still cultivating an image of ourselves. This, however, is not a hindrance, as you do not have to struggle to change habits that have had many years to settle in. The younger we can start critically observing ourselves, the deeper we can go with it. The best part is that learning more about your self will push you to work towards your own goals, not those of others; creating a life full of wealth.
Toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich – Duane Elgin
Elgin, D. (2010 ) Voluntary Simplicity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers
Lee, M. & Ahn, C. (2016) ‘Anti-Consumption, Materialism, and Consumer Well-Being’. The Journal of Consumer Affairs. Spring. pp. 18-47
O’Brien, T. (2015) Inner Story: Understand Your Mind. Change Your World. Ideational
Wasmund, S. (2015) Do Less Get More. London: Penguin RandomHouse UK