On my desk at work I have a small monk statue in a meditating position surrounded by rocks. I keep it in the corner where I see it every time I look up as a reminder to breathe and take things lightly through the day. It centers me, and I’ve learned after thirty years that I need that in my life. A few weeks ago, one of our executives stopped at my desk to ask about a project and paused as he took in the statue. He pointed and asked, “Is this supposed to relax me?” “No,” I replied, “it’s supposed to relax me.” Many people overlook the benefit of embracing relaxing and self-affirming habits throughout their day, and one thing I have come to understand is that I am much happier and less stressed when I have an environment that helps me live a more self-conscious lifestyle. In my pursuit of this goal, I recently stumbled onto minimalism purely by accident and am starting to think it might be a solution that aligns with my goals for a more zen-filled lifestyle.
While reading through several blogs discussing minimalism this past week, I noticed that many bloggers dedicated their first posts to discussing why they embraced minimalism, and while many might have answered the question to justify their writing, it is a good exercise to understand one’s inspirations and goals in deciding to simplify one’s lifestyle. Minimalism is not a one-size fits all concept, and it’s ironic in how difficult it is to define because it is a type of action with a single goal in mind: simplifying your life so that you have more time to experience the experiences and activities you love the most. The things that you are most passionate about. The activities that you wish you had done when you close your eyes at night after a long weekday. The experiences that you plan to have someday but never get around to doing. Minimalism is about removing excess and distractions from your life and space in a way that minimizes stress and creates a relaxing environment. And it’s so easy that it’s complicated.
A lot of people associate minimalism with discarding all your possessions and living with the absolute minimum, and for some people that is an accurate portrayal–but that’s an extreme example. Minimalism does require you to get rid of excess, but how much you discard (give away, donate, sell) is up to you and a matter of personal need or preference. For me the idea of reducing how much we own with the goal of reducing clutter was an immediate attraction. One of the things that irritate me the most about our home is clutter. I feel like we’re always picking up and trying to reorganize or declutter practically every day. When we downsized from a two bed/two bath apartment to a one bed/one bath apartment with a study, we lost around 400 square feet and a lot of storage space. I had initially thought that the packing process would help us get rid of things we never used anymore, and while we did donate A LOT of stuff, we somehow still have a lot of…stuff. We have stuff everywhere. Our spare closet is packed from wall to wall, our master closet is overflowing, and our kitchen island has become a catch-all. So when I discovered minimalism, I was intrigued to say the least.
For us, minimalism is about being honest about what we need and how it makes us feel. We just started going through our apartment and contemplating how we use items, why we have them, if we need them, and if they would be better used by someone else. An example is our duplicate DVDs. When my partner and I moved in together, we brought our DVDs with us, and that resulted in several duplicates that just sat in their cases. It always bothered me that we had movies that just sat on our shelves that we never watched, so we started there and ended up giving several movies away to our family and friends (along with a few other items). Even that simple act reduced some clutter and simplified an every day decision of figuring out what to watch, a simple decision but one that crops up a lot for us. While we still have a lot of movies, the action of going through our movies now takes less time and simplifies our lives in that regard. It’s a small bit of time that we get back but little changes like that add up over time. If we simplified that part of life just by giving a few DVDs away, I can’t imagine how much our lives will be impacted by reducing our possessions throughout our entire home and simplifying our tasks to provide more time for us to do what we want to do the most.
This leads me back to the goal of minimalism. For many people, including me, reducing tasks, distractions, and excess doesn’t stop with possessions in the home. Minimalism can be applied to the largest aspects of your life such as rethinking your career to focus it on something that makes you happier and allows you to pursue your passions, to reconsider your relationships and how they impact you, and to contemplate the influences that you allow to pull at your time and resources. But the level of detail that you choose to consider when practicing minimalism is completely up to you. For us, some of the larger applications are not possible right now: we require two cars and use them both regularly, our careers have us on paths toward particular goals that we want to reach (professionally and financially), and, while it would be great to give up the stress of corporate life and move into a tiny house where we can garden and have our own compost bin, our finances won’t allow that right now. Instead, we are using minimalism to adjust the things we can’t change to that strong of a degree, like rethinking our spending to save and focus our finances to put us closer to our goals. We’ve also let this mindset take us on different paths in how we do everyday activities such as recycling regularly and learning how to live a low-waste life that also aims to eliminate excess from a consumer mindset.
When I imagine what minimalism will do for us, I see us not necessarily having less possessions but having more time and less stress. Being able to do more of what we aspire to do. Having more adventures. And being able to breath more easily about life. It will be an experience and require us to rethink about how we live every day, but I am excited to give it a go and see where we land after it all!