Sunday, March 8, 2015

What Minimalism Means to Me

I recently became introduced to a concept called "minimalism" which has drastically shifted my view of material possessions and the value I attribute to them, how I spend my time, and how distraction and "clutter" impacts my daily life. The word "minimalism" evokes emotions of fear and loss and visions of empty walls and cupboards. But in fact, minimalism doesn't mean selling all your stuff or eschewing the pleasures of life. So what does it mean exactly?

Well, I'm still figuring that out but I thought I would start with the opinions of people who have been living and loving the minimalist lifestyle.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are known as "The Minimalists." Their blog by the same name is extremely popular and their book, Everything That Remains, shifted my perspective considerably about what "The American Dream" really means. They define minimalism as "a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution." Millburn and Nicodemus boil the broken American Dream down to this: "Happiness: buy stuff, and it will come." But even though we inherently know that "stuff" does not make us happier in the long-term, we keep buying things hoping that this will change. Inevitably we are disappointed or overwhelmed by the stuff we purchased, never used, and now have to keep track of and manage. Or, as Edward Norton stated in the movie The Fight Club, "We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like."

Another popular blog about minimalism is Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker. Joshua defines minimalism as "the intentional promoting of everything that adds value and removing what distracts from it." He also sees the American Dream as broken, stating that, "We all know that possessions do not equal happiness. It’s just that we’ve been told this lie for so long that we start to believe it, our hearts start to buy into it, and it begins to affect the way we live our lives.”

So how do we understand and promote everything that adds value to our lives? Well, for me it was easiest to start with intentional questioning about what didn't add value to my life. Here are some of the ways that I have been unpacking minimalism over the past several weeks:

1) Room by room, drawer by drawer, I have taken out each of my material possessions and have asked myself, "Does this currently add value to my life?" Now, I'm not throwing away all my summer clothes because it's currently winter, but the idea is to first make a concrete value decision of each material possession, and then decide whether to keep it, throw it away, sell it, or donate it. Anything I keep has to have a specific "home" so that you always know where to find it. Anything thrown away, donated, or sold has to be completed within a one week period. If you are really on the fence about an item because you want to keep it "just in case," put it in a box in a closet out of sight and set a reminder on your calendar for 30 days from now. Then see whether you even remember it's there and whether it still has the same value it did 30 days ago. This is especially the case for clothes, which brings me to my next point.

2) I have gone through my closet, tried everything on, and asked myself whether I love the way I look and feel in it NOW. Not when I lose a few pounds, not when I have an occasion to where it. NOW. This has already streamlined my closet considerably. Now when I pick out clothes to wear in the morning, I am energized rather than overwhelmed. Courtney Carver from Be More With Less started Project 333, where you dress with only 33 items for three months. I'm seriously considering it and would love to have a "capsule wardrobe" buddy to try it out! 

3) I see my finances as freedom. As The Minimalists point out, "One principal I live by is questioning all my purchases. It takes time to earn money, and my time is my freedom, so by giving up my money I’m giving up small pieces of my freedom. Before I make a purchase (even for a cup of coffee) I say to myself, 'Is this cup of coffee worth $2 of my freedom?' This has significantly changed my mindset." Now, before I make any purchase, I carefully consider whether I am using it as a pacifier because I'm hungry, bored, stressed, I feel like I "deserve" it, because it's on sale, or whether it is a mindful choice.

4) By focusing on things of value to me and surrounding myself by those items, I am able to focus my time on things that are of value to me and to recognize "time pacifiers." I no longer watch TV to relax, or spend hour(s) on Facebook or other social media. I'm not saying these things are inherently bad, but the issue is that we are a culture of consumers rather than creators. If you're constantly consuming, what value are you bringing to this world? So I limit my time with TV and social media by setting a timer for these activities and focusing on things that bring value to my life (like writing a blog post!) even when it would be easier to just sit in front of a screen and consume. 

There are more aspects of minimalism that I will address in future posts, but I think this is a good start- don't you? :) Let me know if you have any specific questions and I will answer them the best I can. Thanks for reading!