I have avoided writing on the topic of minimalism because it is both a new lifestyle choice for me (of about a year,) and minimalism is a very precious subject to me. I wanted to make sure I did the topic justice, and clearly explained just how beneficial it is to live minimally.
A brief background on me – I am 31, my husband and I sold our house last year, got rid of almost all of our belongings, moved across the country and went back to school. Wow, thats a mouthful, but none the less, this time last year we had officially sold our 3 bedroom home. We now live in a studio apartment in Los Angeles, probably the least expensive of the “cleaner” apartments that allow pets. We both work part time and have prioritized our education as full-time students. Last month I delivered a speech titled Living Minimally at the Los Angeles City College True Boardman Speech competition, and was surprised to learn just how foreign the idea of minimal living is, so, with that in mind, and now that I feel more confident in my level of expertise in this area, it is time that I share the benefits that I have found while practicing a minimalistic lifestyle.
What is minimalism?
First and foremost, what is minimalism? As defined by Joshua Becker on his website Becoming Minimalist, “at it’s core, minimalism is the intentional promotion of all of the things we most value, and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.” Minimalist vary to their own circumstances, but they have one shared motivation: their happiness is no longer rooted in material belongings.
Just to set the record straight…..
After hours of research, I can tell you this, to be a minimalist, you do not need to throw away everything you own. You do not need to stop doing things that make you happy, and you do not need to only own 1 pair of pants! I think, respectfully, that the stars of the minimalist documentaries that literally own 4 tee shirts and don’t have an ounce of dust on the floor, are actually extremists. I can still have a few books on a bookshelf that both make me happy and add color to my home, while practicing minimalism. Because the bottom line when approaching this lifestyle, is, “will this add value to my life?” And, I have a few things that do add value to my life, that someone else may see as not being a necessity. So really, minimalism is also a form of individualism, and each minimalistic home can look very different from another.
But, you will need to get rid of some things…
I promise you do not really need all of the things that are in your home. The extent to which you participate in living a minimalist lifestyle is entirely up to you. The core of this lifestyle is putting your value into time, quality and experiences. Having a clean slate is not necessary, but it is beneficial. Ridding yourself of the things in your home that offer nothing to your happiness and only take up space, is an act in itself of putting yourself first. When you decide to dispose of something it is a personal decision that can be freeing, it can lighten your stresses, and open your mind to the possibilities of a less cluttered life. Imagine a home, and in that home are only things that are truly valuable and hold deep meaning or bring you joy, I can say from experience it will feel as though a weight has been lifted, a weight you may not have even realized existed.
For those items you just can’t let go of…
When my husband and I were packing up our 3 bedroom home for the move it was hard to decide which belongings were truly valuable, and we don’t even have kids! Deciding which memorabilia was worth saving was torture, despite the fact that most of our stuff had been stored in our basement for 5 years, I still felt some strange attachment to all of that stuff. Until one day, my mom came over, and there were a few items I was hoping to pawn off on her, so I didn’t have to bear the emotional weight of throwing it all away. And, although she refused to take my high school memorabilia (bless her heart,) she did offer some excellent advice. She said, “Meghan, just take a picture of it, that way you’ll always have it.” And thats exactly what I did, she saved me hours of guilt! From that point on anytime I came across anything that I was having trouble parting with, I would take a picture and email it to myself. I now have an email folder dedicated to photos of old belongings I could just barely part with, this email folder takes up far less space, thankfully, and you can guess how often I open it up.
How can living minimally benefit me financially?
I have saved a bunch of money. If you live a true minimalist life, and all your belongings hold value, you will need less, you will find comfort in having less, and you will want less, you will need to be a thoughtful consumer. To elaborate, let’s focus on a few specific belongings. I have a bunch of books that I love on a bookshelf. I can still be a minimalist, and have my bookshelf, I can still purchase new books, because I will read them, they will bring value to my life. To contrast, I had about 4 shelves of DVD’s. I never watched them, so I donated them. So, I’m sure you’re thinking, how does this put money in my pocket? Once committed, you will need to question the things you purchase. I ask myself two questions before purchasing: “Will this add value to my life?” “Do I actually need this?” When you put those questions in front of a $50 hoodie, you’re probably going to answer with “no, I have four hoodies at home, why do I need this one?!” Minimalists no longer seek to buy things just to have the latest and greatest, for instance, why would I purchase a $500.00 iPhone 7 when the phone I have is already meeting my needs? As a minimalist, you will need to question every single purchase, and I think you will be alarmed to see how much of your money you were willing to waste on things that hold such little value.
The true benefits of minimalism do not come in the form of money.
Minimalist value the time that they have over everything else. Today’s society spends so much time working, to pay for stuff, that we have no time to enjoy the things we’re working for. Minimalists have alienated the obligatory needs that consumerism promotes. Somehow, work and things became outrageously intertwined… we need more, so we work more to get the things we think we need. But I learned something very important recently, big screen T.V.’s break, jewelry gets lost… it is just stuff, and we are missing valuable moments of our short time on Earth thinking about the stuff we have, the stuff we need, where will we put our stuff? Now, I know I mentioned before that you can have more than one pair of pants, I have 10 pairs of pants, and a small closet, and 5 pairs of shoes. This may seem like an extreme (low) to you, but I constantly am trying to find more clothes to get rid of. I have decided that I own the most clothes I need, so if I need for something else, I have to get rid of an article of clothing in exchange. Why do I own the most clothes that I should need? Well, I have several different hobbies that require somewhat specific clothing, so for my lifestyle, I have a little bit more clothes than I exactly need, which is perfect for me. This is the deal that keeps me from senselessly purchasing clothes, and accepting that I truly have all that I need. This lifestyle choice does tie back to money though, because if I spend more, I need to work more. If I need to spend more time working my education may suffer, or my time with my husband may suffer, a result of my needing to spend more money.
To sum it up…
I work so I can afford basic neccessities and to spend time with my family, not so I can make an expensive car payment, not so I can afford my expensive clothing. If I am going to spend my prescious time working it is going to be so I can afford things that really matter to me. Because our life is far too short to waste any extra time being anywhere that does not make us happy or fulfill our life’s needs.
So, you see, alleviating yourself from the burden of needing things grants you the thing you most likely, deep down, crave the most: valuable time with the ones you love, free time to do that hobby you love, even time to lounge and read a book. Doing the things that you love creates a more satisfied well-being, and since you’re practicing minimalism, your hobbies are less expensive, more organic, you must find happiness in simplicity.
The most rewarding benefit is not giving a crap.
I don’t care if you don’t like my lifestyle choices. I don’t care that you think my eggs are drying up because I am 31 and I don’t have children (actually said to me!) I am the only person that has to sleep at night with the choices I have made. I am not sure if minimalism came before this independent carefree feeling, or or if I feel care free because I have let go of everything and then adapted to minimalism – but it is so nice to not care and I have to believe they are intertwined.
My car is relatively new (2011) and is fortunately paid off, but what if it were older, what if it was not very attractive, but it was reliable and got me where I needed to go? Somehow this is something we’ve associated with not being successful. I have found that living minimally has redefined success for me. Having an expensive car, and an expensive car payment to make a statement about where I am financially is not worth the time I have to spend working to pay it off. Actually, this situation seems like a lose-lose… I purchase a car I can’t afford, have to work extra hard to pay it off, sacrificing my time with my family and causing anxiety?! F-that. I am happiest for people when I see them doing things and going places that make them happy. I am happy for people when they have children, and share photos of them with laundry on the couch and a sink full of dishes, they get it. They get that this time is all that we have, and you’re not guaranteed a do-over tomorrow, money could never buy you more time to spend with your family. They get that this consumer based facade is reaping havoc on our quality of life. And I am hopeful that someone like that reads this and decides to take on minimalism, because I think it would be most effective for a family with children. I truly don’t think you will ever look back – I know I have not.
And what about society? How can minimalism change the world?
Minimalism itself is a movement that goes against the modern foundation of our country, consumerism. It is impossible to do research on minimalism without learning about the devistating effects of consumerism. As reported by National Geographic News on January 12, 2004, “Approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide now belong to the “consumer class”—the group of people characterized by… lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods (among other things.)” Consumerism is not only misguiding our perception of necessity, it is simultaneously increasing our waste at a rapid rate. That same article goes on to say: “The report addresses the devastating toll on the Earth’s water supplies, natural resources, and ecosystems exacted by a plethora of disposable cameras, plastic garbage bags, and other cheaply made goods with built in product-obsolescence, and cheaply made manufactured goods that lead to a ‘throw away’ mentality.” Being a consumer offers a level of responsibility, many of us purchase without question, it is not often we think “where will this end up when I throw it away?” “who made this?… were they paid a living wage?” As a minimalist, we think about how useful the product is to us, and as thoughtful consumers now we must also think about its global impact. Yes, the products you’re purchasing will cost more money. But, what if the extra money went towards guaranteeing safe working environments and living wages for the workers, or the product was made of parts that can decompose – if it is disposable?
Minimalists, as mentioned before, value time, experiences and quality. If we are purchasing less the things we do purchase should hold value to us, and be of excellent quality, so we do not need to purchase it more than once.
You’re worth it.
Individually, mentally, financially, and globally, we can all benefit from living minimally. For me, it has improved my mental well being and alleviated pressures that I felt, and ones that I did not realized I was feeling. I can breathe, and press on with my life, knowing each step is a step I take consciously. Someone may look at my living situation and presume that I am not successful because I live in a very small apartment and own only a small number of items. The reality is that I feel quite lucky, I have everything I need in my home, and am able to afford my home while going to school full time. Yes it would be nice to have a pool for when it gets hot or a yard for my dog, but when we’re talking necessity… well its just not necessary. I am successful because I have found happiness in a world of ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ I have found the things that make me happy, they can not be purchased, and I have made every effort possible to spend all of my time doing the things that offer the most value to my life.
Where to begin?
Give the Minimalist challenge at try: