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Becoming Minimalist: The 6 Mental Joys Of Living In Bare Elegance

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Photo by Ren Ran on Unsplash

Remember Diogenes, the attention-seeking ancient Greek philosopher I wrote about in Part ! of my Simple Truths series?

When he wasn’t counting roaches in his barrel or playing with himself in public, Diogenes spent his time being a pain in the backside of the corrupt Athenian society he was a part of. His answer to the age-old question of how to live a happy and moral life was to live in anarchy and detached from all worldly goods.

A more recent version of this type of extreme minimalism can be found in those YouTubers who’ve reduced their (mostly colour-coded and always impossibly stylish possessions) to a crazy low number. They’ll then vlog about how to wear the same pair of underpants for more than three days while offering tips on where to buy a bamboo toothbrush that doubles up as a menstrual cup.

Becoming Minimalist: the more of less  

Most of us minimalists don’t buy into that – pardon the pun. Indeed, the branch of minimalism I subscribe to doesn’t set a maximum number on how many items you’re allowed.

I get a bit annoyed by the common misconception that the more of less approach which comes with a minimalist lifestyle, means surrounding yourself with the bare minimum. But regardless of what those YouTubers will have you believe, minimalistic living isn’t a competition about who can survive with the fewest possessions. Instead, it encourages you to focus on the quality over quantity.  

Joshua Becker, the blogger behind Becoming Minimalist, describes minimalism as:

 “The intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”

Another great definition is the one used by ‘The Minimalists’ – Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus – who describe minimalism as:

 “A tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important – so you can find happiness, fulfilment and freedom.”  

Minimalism reminds you that having lots of something isn’t necessarily going to make you a happier person or make you more fulfilled. But the reason why so many minimalists are such happy people is that they’ve cracked the code of buying just enough to serve them well – no more, no less.

Ground rules for becoming minimalist

Minimalism is strongly connected to the concept of essentialism which I wrote about in a previous article. But while essentialism focuses on doing less, but betterthus allowing you to make your highest possible contribution – minimalism encourages you to embrace the less is more when it comes to buying and keeping items.

My personal journey as a minimalist started following a decision to move countries after 15 years of living in the same place. It forced me to take a hard look at all the stuff I’d collected along the way – or ‘crap’ as my folks referred to it when a chunk of it ended up at their place.

It also coincided with me swapping the safety of a full-time job for the glamour, freedom and zero disposable income that comes with being a business owner in the first few years of operation.

So goodbye things, hello minimalism. And frankly, it grew on me like a broiler chicken on steroids.

Aside from its immediate environmental benefits, I liked the flexibility that came with minimalism. It allowed me to do it in a way that suited my values and my semi-nomadic lifestyle.

Although becoming minimalist is achievable for everyone, there are several basic rules to follow.

1)    Don’t own excess stuff. Ask yourself: “Is this something I use frequently and how much value does it actually add to my life?” Be mindful and catch yourself telling porky pies about the true value of what you’re desiring or looking to get rid of.

2)    Don’t hold on to just-in-case items. The reason why we hold on to so much stuff is the fear that we might need it again one day. Remember that by keeping those items you’re trading mental freedom for future convenience.  

3)    Constantly question your possessions. For each item you own, regularly ask yourself what would happen if you got rid of it, and when was the last time you used it.

4)    Don’t give meaning to your possessions. Remind yourself that all items can be replaced. Detach yourself from their sentimental value as much as possible. Most of the time, it’s not the object we’re sentimental about but the person or the place we associate with it.

Choosing passion and purpose over possessions

Ever since we climbed down from the trees, humans have been largely driven by the pursuit of satisfaction. We feel it the moment we get what we want.

But although new things are exciting at first, we quickly adapt and, almost immediately, we’re back to square one with a new need being created.  

Rather than pursuing satisfaction through gathering material possessions, the key to happiness is therefore to focus on creating meaningful experiences because they’re not subject to those same forces of adaptation. 

Choosing to create more purpose and passion in your life instead of gathering more items, allows you to step off the hamster wheel of reckless spending, comparison and insecurity.

And while your possessions will always remain separate from you, your experiences – fleeting as they may be – eventually they become an important part of your identity.

Psychological barriers

Clearing out is a liberating activity and the emotional release can be powerful. But I don’t underestimate how hard it is to let go of stuff.

Aside from enjoying the feeling of owning things, there are some strong psychological reasons which can make letting go difficult.  

First of all, our ownership bias makes us assign more value to an item we own than we would to the same item if we didn’t own it. Then there’s the sunk-cost bias which has us believe we should hold on to something simply because we’ve already thrown money at it.

We also have to take into account our optimism-bias which makes us certain we’ll fit into those skinny jeans again once we’ve lost the extra 15 lbs in about a month’s time. While our negativity-bias stops us from getting rid of that unused iPad because we’re afraid we won’t be able to afford one again in the future.  

We’re one biased mess, so no wonder we hold on to stuff.

Major benefits of becoming minimalist

#1: You experience a lot of freedom outside of the ‘who has what’ and ‘how to have more’-mindset

Being a minimalist requires you to be much more intentional about what you collect. Isn’t it ironic that so many of us gather stuff to compensate for the belief that we can never have enough? The latter simply reflects a fear that we are not enough in the eyes of those we love or look up to.

By really digging into what’s important to you – as opposed to what you believe the Jones’s next door think should be important to you – you’ll develop a much truer sense of self.

#2: You build financial security which is a huge anxiety relief

In credit-positive societies like the UK and the US, it’s easy to get caught in a spiral of debt and a ‘spend now, pay later’ treadmill – one that’ll spin faster and faster until you finally lose your footing and crash into the wall.  

By setting aside the savings you make as a result of living more minimally, you’ll take care of those financial fears of never having enough. You’ll also slowly release any debt millstone you may be carrying around your neck.

#3: You get to be more creative

In the words of minimalist Leo Babauta: “constraints force us to be creative”. At first glance the limitations we place on ourselves as minimalists may seem tough, but they can also be very freeing.

By getting clear on what your purchase and ownership limits are, you’ll need to think more creatively outside of your normal way of using things. Indeed, the boundaries you’ve set by living with less allow you to play imaginatively within that space.

#4: You learn to control yourself

From one-click purchases to same-day delivery, our online and real-life shopping habits are dominated by speed and convenience. Remember that not all that long ago shopping was much more of an effort, which meant we did far less of it. When we did shop, it was mostly also with specific ideas in mind of what we were looking for.  

Living a minimalist life doesn’t mean stripping down to the bare minimum. But it does mean adopting a mindset of intentional consumption and conscious choice – one where you’ll learn to spot the difference between legitimate needs versus advertised wants.

#5: Fewer visual reminders that impact on your state of mind

If you feel your home or office space is too cluttered, you probably suffer from an over-attachment to your personal things. Remind yourself that whatever you surround yourself with constantly triggers thoughts, feelings and emotions – both consciously and on a deeper level.

Some of those may be pleasant enough and harmless. But if you’re someone who ruminates a lot about the past, you better think carefully about which items you surround yourself with. And if you’re not sure, use Marie Kondo’s principle to only keep those items which truly spark joy.

#6: You’re more inclined to deal with the root of your problems, as there’s less to deflect your mind.

We all deal with our pain, hurt and trauma in different ways and for most of us distraction is the preferred route out of it. Although often overlooked compared to other forms of self-medication, compulsive buying and hoarding can be as destructive for our emotional health and finances as drink or drugs.

By acknowledging some of the fears that lie behind collecting more possessions and unpacking some of your hoarding triggers, you’ll establish a better relationship with the stuff you bring into your environment. With less crap to distract you and deflect your mind, a more minimalist lifestyle will bring you one step closer to healing.  

Conclusion: less is more  

Indeed, less is better. By gathering possessions we think we’ll plug the hole left by what we perceive as a lack of internal validation. What we’re really doing is feeding a hungry monster that’ll never be satisfied.

Although counter-cultural, living with less will finally allow you to feel like you live with enough. Indeed, by deciding a more minimalistic life, you’ll create space for appreciating the few things that are actually useful and/or truly create joy.

Minimalism is a lifestyle which is achievable to everyone. It’s a way to emancipate yourself from the ideals of what it means to live a life worth living, which you’ve been fed by corporations and the advertising industry.

For further reading and practical tips on how to achieve a more minimalist apartment or home, have a look at some of the links below.

·      The Minimalists

·      Becoming Minimalist

·      Zen Habits

·      MakeSpace.com

Whether you’ve simply got rid of a couple of items that were weighing you down, or you’ve converted to extreme minimalist living, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’d like to talk to me about minimalism coaching, do get in touch.

And if you haven’t read the rest of this series on leading simpler, more meaningful lives, have a look at Part 1 on Essentialism and Part 3 on Stoicism.

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