Guest post by: Diana Adams
I’ve read a lot about minimalism. Some of it’s been good, but a lot of it’s been bad. I started exploring the concept last year, and I’ve been living a minimalist lifestyle for a while now.
I guess I’m what you’d call a closet minimalist. I haven’t told many people about it, but today I want to set the record straight about what minimalism is, and more importantly, what it isn’t.
In case you didn’t know, minimalism is controversial. The New York Times calls the minimalism movement “visually oppressive” and “arrogant.” The Guardian calls it a “tedious piece of performance art in our society.”
I’ll admit, when I first heard about it, I didn’t think it was for me.
After all, I’ve always been a “things girl.” I have a lot of things. Most of them are pink, or have a Star Wars character on them. I’m also a tech fanatic, and as an early adopter… you name it, I either have or had it.
But for the most part, I’m just a regular girl. I love shoes, Starbucks and nice people. This is my dear friend Peter Shankman and me in Hong Kong last month. The cute photo bomber is Tamara McCleary.
Last year, I started to feel like something wasn’t quite right in my life. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. The best way I can describe it is to say I started to feel numb inside. I didn’t get excited about life often. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis, or maybe it was something more.
I started searching for a way to regain my focus and realign my priorities. I’ve never been a person who takes pills, and I had never before had trouble getting naturally high on life.
It turns out, a minimalist lifestyle was what I was looking for to resuscitate my focus (and my happiness). It’s been a fulfilling journey, and it’s not over.
One reason I don’t talk about it much is because there are so many misconceptions wrapped around the concept of minimalism. In this post, I’d like to share my experience and explain what minimalism means to me.
I want to build a life around quality, not quantity
Minimalism isn’t about being frugal or limiting the things we love. Instead, it’s about building a life around quality, not quantity.
Minimalism is also very personal. I’ve read some articles that say in order to “do it right” — you have to give up your possessions. Some say you have to stop being a consumer, or you have to live like a social outcast.
None of these things are true.
Sure, that might be the path some people chose to take (and there’s nothing wrong with that). But you have to decide the path that’s right for you.
Nobody can tell you that you’re “doing minimalism wrong.” You decide.
It’s true that minimalism involves getting rid of things in your life that don’t bring value to you. But YOU are the one who decides what brings value to you and what doesn’t.
It all comes down to one question
I’m going to take you on my journey from where I was to where I am now. I’ll explain the physical and mental adventure that came from dipping my toe into minimalism.
But before I do that, I want to get one sentence in your head. It’s one of the most important questions you’ll ever ask yourself.
The question is, “Does this bring value into my life?”
Since last year, I’ve asked myself this question:
- Before bringing anything new into my house
- Before getting rid of anything old in my house
- Before adding anything to my to-do list
- Before eating any meal
- Before agreeing to any requests from others
- Before devoting any time to a specific task
Each time I ask myself that question, I carefully think about the answer. That one question embodies what minimalism means to me.
For example, I’m a ham radio operator. Do all my radios, power supplies and amplifiers bring value into my life? No. About 3 of them do. The rest were just taking up space.
This is how it began for me
It all started last November when I was visiting some friends in Hong Kong. I took an additional suitcase to carry all the gifts I brought for them. My rationale was that since I’d be buying a lot of things while I was there, I’d use the same suitcase to carry my new things home.
When I brought out all the wrapped gifts and set them on the table, one of my friends whispered under his breath, “Oh, I had forgotten about American consumerism.” He was right. I’d known about my “things addiction” for a long time. The ridiculousness of it all hit me like a bug getting squashed on a windshield.
Minimalism cleans up your mind, body and soul
(saving money is just one of the many side effects)
After that trip to Hong Kong, I started thinking more about my habits. I wanted a way out of the never-ending routine of buying stuff, finding places to store that stuff, and then immediately feeling like I needed more stuff. Is this normal behavior? Why? When had I become this way?
I started looking at the environment I created for myself. Did I really need 4 toothbrushes? For the first time, the 26 coffee mugs in my kitchen cabinet made me giggle. What was I doing with all this stuff?
The more stuff I accumulated, the more disingenuous it all felt. It takes a lot of time to find places to store things, maintain and fix things, and keep up with things. Is this what life’s all about? Is this adulthood? If so, I didn’t like it.
When I came to this realization, I felt an overwhelming urge to move deep into the mountains and live off the land. If you know me, you know I wouldn’t survive more than an hour without an internet connection (and I can’t stand bugs), so moving into the mountains probably wasn’t the answer.
However, I could start making some changes in my life.
Start small, and soon it will become second nature
I made a decision to clean up my life. I started small. I began by cleaning out my messy garage. I’m embarrassed to say it had gotten so full of random stuff that I could barely fit a car in there anymore.
As each truck-load left my driveway on its way to Goodwill, I felt much better. About the same time, I found Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix. It resonated with me, and I made made a commitment to myself to create lasting change in my life.
Next, I tackled the inside of my house. Again, I asked myself that ultimate question over and over, “Does this bring value into my life?” I got rid of couches, clothes and anything that didn’t bring value into my life.
That pair of old jeans in the attic that I haven’t worn in 15 years had to go (even though I was convinced that someday I’d be skinny enough to wear them again).
The black leather chair in my basement (the one that my puppy chewed a hole in) hadn’t been used in 5 years — it had to go. You see where I’m going with this. If it wasn’t something that brings value into my life, it had to go.
Keep in mind, the question is “Does this bring value into my life?” — not “Could this bring value into my life sometime in my lifetime?” You know what I mean.
What will you do with all that extra stuff?
There are many different ways to approach this.
I divided my things into 5 categories:
- Things that bring value into my life (I kept these things)
- Things to sell on eBay (I recommend picking up a copy of the eBay for Dummies book)
- Things to donate to Goodwill (clothes, small household appliances, games, curtains, beds, etc – here’s a list of what Goodwill accepts)
- Things to take to the e-waste facility (old computers, phones, TVs, microwaves, consumer electronics)
- Things to put directly into the trash/recycle bin for the weekly curbside pickup
If you can make time, starting an eBay business with your extra things could be a really nice additional income stream. There’s a learning curve with that though, which is why I suggest picking up the eBay for Dummies book (it’s taught me a lot).
Use whatever sorting system works best for you. I found it helpful to move things from place to place in large bins (much better than plastic bags). I bought 6 of these bins from Target for $11 each.
Along the way, something started to happen, something beautiful and unexpected
I’ve read that letting go creates space for the new — new happiness, new freedom, new things (things that bring value) and new passions. I didn’t understand what that meant until I experienced it.
As I continued this process, I started to feel more fulfilled and more in control of my life. I became more focused and my intentions became clearer to me and to those around me. There’s something uniquely refreshing about embracing this way of life.
As I transformed my physical world, my mental world transformed at the same time. It all happened naturally, without any struggle. Life became lighter (less stress and worry).
I didn’t realize how much the clutter in my life was dragging me down until I started getting rid of it.
It’s a never-ending process that requires deliberate daily effort
My life is much simpler now, and I’m a better person because of it (I humbly hope). I do things and get things because I want to — not because I’m reacting to what society says is right or wrong.
I’ve kept everything that brings value into my life. If shoes are your thing, and you believe they bring value into your life — then by all means, keep your entire shoe collection.
To me, minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of things that bring you joy. It’s about getting rid of things that don’t.
Once you start, it might seep into other parts of your life
I’ve started using this approach in other areas of my life too.
For example, I think about this when I look at food options. I ask myself, “Do these ingredients I can’t pronounce add value to my life?” When I answer no to this question, I naturally want to eat healthier (simpler) foods.
This also affects my daily to-do list. If the task doesn’t bring value into your life, why would you devote your precious time to it?
I’ve even started applying this question to my thoughts. If the negative thoughts in my head aren’t providing any value to me, why bother thinking them?
Soon, you’ll find that this simple attitude affects everything you do. It forces you to redefine your priorities.
Every day we are tempted to clutter our lives. We are bombarded with noise constantly. We hear and read ads all day that try to persuade us about what we need, or how we should think and look.
My best advice for staying the course is to just remember your priorities. The decisions you make will be based on your priorities. Your priorities determine the quality of your life.
Now it’s your turn
Thank you for reading my post. I would love to know your experience with minimalism, and how it’s affected your life. And if you have time, please share your ideas about how you’re making it fit into your lifestyle. I’m always looking for ways to streamline my system. 🙂