I am a minimalist! There, I said it.
Does that mean that I'm weird? Does it mean I am part of a cult, a hippie, or maybe even a fruitcake? Nah.
What it does mean, quite simply, is that I am (and will forever choose to be) in the daily process of looking at the stuff I own, and the time commitments I make, and asking myself if I truly enjoy it. Is it something that I value? Does it bring me great pleasure? Do I love it?
If I cannot say "Yes" to each of those questions, then the fact is that IT (the item, object, or activity) will only serve to steal my precious time away from those other things that I was able to say "Yes" to. Which means that the ultimate goal of life enjoyment gets diminished; whittled away little by little by those little "time hogs."
At first it may not seem logical that acquiring possessions, or saying yes to invitations, would ever be a bad thing. Your schedule is filled and your house is full; but without intentional decisions soon enough your closets are overstuffed, your drawers are overflowing and so is every nook and cranny in your life: underneath your bed, in your car, and especially in your attic or basement; and let's talk about that garage.....can you fit a car, or dare I ask....two, in it? Didn't think so. Do you have any time in your busy schedule to just relax and breathe and enjoy life? Not if you’ve been accepting every offer that comes to you.
There is absolutely nothing fundamentally wrong with living this way!
But the real question here is this: are you spending your time doing exactly what you want to do?
If not, is there the slightest chance that you find yourself spending (as in with a credit card here....visualize it) your precious, limited minutes each day searching through all your crap for things when you need them? Are you spending (again.....visualize the swiping of a piece of plastic here, with a whopping 35% interest tacked on!) your time picking up, putting away, cleaning, dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, mowing, and otherwise maintaining the things you own? Now, which of those things that you are maintaining have you used this week to bring value, happiness and joy to your life? All of them. Some of them. One or two of them.
Congratulations! You've just taken the first step towards the self-realization of what you value most in life.
Next, take a look at your day yesterday and identify just one thing you did that didn't bring you very much real joy or happiness. Was it a necessary task (like taking out the garbage) or was it something you could have opted not to do (like going to the neighbor's for a get-together, when you really can't say that you love your neighbors and you've really been longing for some one on one time with your spouse)?
If it was a chore like taking out the trash, try finding the simple joys in that chore (because someone in your house has to do it!). Were the birds chirping when you went out to the trash can? Did you unexpectedly see a squirrel or rabbit? Was there a slight breeze that reminded you of being at the beach? Was there a stunning sunrise or sunset that at that exact moment only you were enjoying, in peace and harmony? Never thought about taking out the trash that way before? Try it, and see if your perspective starts to change a little.
If it was an activity like the neighborhood get-together example; while it may have been a fun time spent hanging out with some friends and acquaintances, was it ultimately more important than nurturing your relationship with your partner in this life? Would the world have crashed down if you had just declined this time? I can tell you from personal experience that it really would be just fine. I used to be the center location of my street's activities, the house where everybody on my street hung out. Now, I rarely attend any community events. And it is NOT because I don't like my neighbors, it is because I am being much more intentional and selective with my 168 hours each week. And more often than not, I have missed out on family or personal time more than I preferred to when those community offers came up. So I politely explained that I am already tied up on a date night with my husband or movie night with my children. And I get on with enjoying what brings me the most pleasure in my life – spending time with those I love.
And therefore I am living more intentionally. A little bit more, day by day.
The same philosophy goes for possessions, buying stuff, consumerism….whatever you want to call it. If you begin to think more intentionally about whether or not you really need, or love, that new gadget or outfit; you find that you don’t as often as you once thought you did.
The next step: Going through all of your crap and getting rid of things you don’t love.
Pick a room, a closet, a drawer, the space under just one bed in your house. Then take everything out of it. Go through it intentionally and put it into 3 piles (this suggestion comes from minimalists who have been doing this much longer than I have – check out Leo Babauta, for one). The first pile is the trash can: for things that are broke or no longer work or are truly just garbage (can you say, “too many McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys!”?). Put them in the trash can and don’t give them a second thought. They have taken too much of your precious time by either requiring maintenance (constantly cleaning them, or moving them around because they were in the way when you were looking for the stuff you really did need/want!). The second pile is the stuff you absolutely want to keep. You enjoy it. You love it. It brings joy and happiness to your life. There are no doubts here about “What if…?” What if I need it next month, or next summer, or if company comes, or if I have another baby or if my grandchildren come to visit, etc? DO NOT PUT THOSE ITEMS IN THIS PILE. They go in the third pile. The third pile is for any item that you couldn’t say you love, you completely enjoy, you use regularly, you know you will miss if it was not in that drawer or closet. The third pile is the “What if?” or the “Just in case” pile. Anything you couldn’t put in the second pile goes in the third pile. Simply. Just do it. Don’t over-think it.
Not that you’ve sorted your stuff into the three piles what do you do? Take the trash can out of the room and empty it into the bigger trash can – get it out of the house, NOW. Put the stuff you love back, neatly. Look at how much space there is. Now you can see, easily, at a glance the things you chose to keep and you can find them when you need them. What a wonderful feeling. Feel the weight of too much crap starting to dissipate. It is so fabulous! What do you do with the “What if” pile? Put it in a box or bag. Write the date on it. Choose a time (30 days, 90 days, 6 months) and if you haven’t gone back to that box to get something out that you needed, give it all away. Take it out of the house. Do NOT put it back inside the walls of your new, sacred minimalist home. Do not even open it!
Enjoy the freedom that this first minimalist activity brings you. Then feel the fire burning inside of you to do it again in another room, closet, or drawer. One space at a time…..become a minimalist. You’ll find that it truly isn’t a scary experience and removing the stress from your life of having too much stuff is a renewing, reenergizing activity.
Don’t forget the most important step!
Do not use this exercise as an excuse to accumulate more crap, I mean, stuff. What good did that do you? Each time you are shopping (insert a bad, negative connotation here – don’t do recreational shopping. Window shopping is evil. The devil uses idle hands….never forget it!)….where was I? Oh yes, each time you are shopping, if you find something you want that was not on your shopping list, WRITE IT DOWN – do not buy it right then. Make a 30 day list. Think about it for 30 days. Just the name of the item, the date you wrote it down, and the store name. 30 days later, if you still are pinning for it, still can’t live without it, and have the CASH to purchase it. Then do! It is obviously something that you will love and that will bring joy into your life. So get it. Love it. Use it. And when it no longer brings you joy….get rid of it. Do not put it in a drawer or closet. Ick! That area has been cleaned and we wouldn’t want to defile it with junk that doesn’t fulfill our lives, would we?
So, let’s say you kind of like where this article is going and you think you want to try being a minimalist. What can you expect? Peace, tranquility, happiness…..sometimes. Being a minimalist won’t solve all of your problems in life. You will still encounter headaches and things that don’t go as planned. That’s not what this is all about. It is simply about being more intentional when looking at the stuff you own and the time commitments you make so that you can say at the end of each day that you did the things you wanted to do, that you loved your day, that your life was fulfilled, full, and satisfied because of your choices today. That’s all. Enjoy!