Yesterday I finished reading ‘Goodbye, Things‘, which I found to be a quick and enjoyable read on minimalism. I’m happy to find another book on the subject, since I find it useful to read (or reread) one every six months or so. It’s like a fresh blast of inspiration to declutter, clean, and optimize my life.
But I think the true power of minimalism is in the mindset shift that follows. Because once you start to appreciate the power of less – the idea can start to spread, benefitting parts of your life far beyond physical objects.
Minimalism feels like a ‘keystone habit’ – a habit that often inspires more healthy habits and growth in other areas of someones life. (exercise is a commonly cited example of this)
Minimalism has changed my life by helping me move my focus from away from owning things, and towards owning myself. My time. My money. My thoughts. My passions.
It has given me a path towards freedom.
A quick overview
Minimalism really comes down to appreciating the notion that sometimes less is more.
Let’s keep this in the physical realm for a moment.
By reducing the amount of stuff in your life you’ll come to appreciate what remains even more. It’s easier to focus on what’s important, and it helps challenge the idea that happiness is related to your stuff. It’s like momentarily stepping off the treadmill of consumerism and realizing that you have more time, money, and enjoyment as a result.
Cleaning is easier. Packing and traveling is easier. Moving is easier.
Even looking around your room will make you happier, since all that will be left are the objects you truly enjoy. You’ll realize that all the stuff you got rid of was somehow tying up part of your thoughts. As if you were always thinking about those things a tiny bit, and now that they’re gone – suddenly your mind is clean, spacious, and efficient.
If you want to read more and get really hyped about this, I recommend ‘Goodbye, Things‘ and the excellent ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up‘. There are also these two guys called The Minimalists who’ve written a few books and made a movie – I don’t recall particularly enjoying the film myself, maybe I was too far down the path already, but I know that lots of people have.
Minimalism is powerful
I’m not going to talk forever about minimalism itself, since that has been done very well in other places, but I believe it’s been one of the most powerful forces in my life. I’d put it right up there on my all-time list of incredibly powerful agents of change.
Some extremely powerful ways to change your life:
- Regular exercise
- Meditation / mindfulness practice
- Healthier eating
- Managing your finances
- Experiences with psychedelics
… and minimalism. I honestly think it makes the cut, even in such formidable company.
But what really surprised me is all of the other areas I’ve found it turning up in my life, and how it continues to help me work towards owning myself a bit more each day. To move towards a state of being content, independent, and free of worry.
I find it pushing me away from the desire to own more shit each day. Whether it’s more stuff, more responsibilities, or more obligations on my calendar.
We know what owning stuff generally looks like. Perhaps it begins with an apartment that fills up with possessions – eventually leading to a larger house… That also eventually fills with things. And perhaps someday down the road an even larger house. And a garage. And a storage unit or two.
All filled with stuff.
The American Dream.
But at some point it starts getting a bit questionable about who actually owns who. Maybe it’s actually the stuff that owns us.
Nice cars are a good example. If someone is making payments on a car they quite literally don’t own it. It even forces them to keep their job so they can continue to make payments on it. It’s more accurate to say that this person is owned by their car.
And there are more subtle versions, even once the vehicle is paid off. There’s a good chance that once it’s paid for they will still be afraid to park it near other cars, to take long road trips with it, or to toss their dirty shoes in the back.
They are still owned by that car.
** This doesn’t necessarily apply to people who love cars as a passion or hobby – who actually enjoy spending 8hrs each Saturday cleaning it. **
At some point I got tired of this treadmill of consumption, of my things owning me, and I came to suspect that maybe the best thing I could buy wasn’t a thing at all.
It was myself.
It was my freedom.
If you really want to own yourself how you spend your money is a very important part of it – because when you buy something you no longer have the cash. Now that you’ve bought item ‘X’, that’s it. It’s over.
But when you make the radical choice to just keep the cash instead, or invest it rather than buying something with it, you’ve purchased something much more powerful. You’ve purchased optionality. You’ve bought back some of your own time. You’ve purchased a small slice of your own personal freedom. Because what’s even better than owning object ‘X’ is knowing that you could buy one whenever you like, or you could choose to pay rent with that money instead, or take a vacation, or maybe breath a bit easier in between jobs.
Freedom of choice is actually the most valuable possession of all.
I will say that minimalism doesn’t always lead to spending less, as people often buy fewer nicer things once they head down this path, but there are often savings to be had in the long run.
But most importantly, once you become a bit more minimal in where and how you spend your money, you’ll probably find that you own fewer things and a little bit more of yourself each day.
If you take this idea to the extreme you wind up with the concept of financial independence, where people have reduced their expenses and stacked up their investments until they no longer need to work at all.
If you hate mowing a lawn, get rid of it.
If you don’t enjoy fixing/charging/dusting/organizing stuff on your time off, it’s time to start getting rid of extra cars, bicycles, toys, and anything else that’s not worth it.
Perhaps you start having fewer, better, friends. Maybe you start becoming more efficient in how you prepare food, and start living closer to work.
Suddenly, through a few minimalist tendencies, you’ve begun to create more time for yourself. This space is called your life. And there is nothing more liberating than spending more of it doing exactly what you want to do at that very moment. Whether it’s going to yoga, walking through the park, reading a book, writing in your journal, grabbing coffee with a friend, or working intensely on your side-hustle, your passion project, or your art.
But the idea is to keep reducing the things that squander your time in ways you don’t truly enjoy. Automate, eliminate, and simplify your life until there is ample free time in your day. It will help reduce stress and bring a bit of that magic into each day that comes from doing whatever you feel like at that very moment; rather than something scheduled a week ago that you have to take care of – and don’t really feel like doing.
Perceptions of self-worth
Once I started to think about my possessions from a more minimalist mindset they quit defining who I was. They began to lose some of their power over me.
You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.Fight Club
This feeling is liberating! Over time I’ve come to feel that I have everything I want. The possessions I have are the things I’ve chosen, and it’s not that I couldn’t have more things – it’s that I don’t even want them. And if there’s something I can’t afford, I don’t even want it anymore.
This mindset has helped shift me into a stronger position of power over my belongs, over desire, and it has really improved my sense of self-worth. Separating my own value from that of my possessions has also made dealing with other types of external validation much easier.
I am worthy of love even if I am single.
I am valuable even if I am unemployed.
When you begin to own your perception of self-worth, you are much closer to feeling free. You own yourself, and your belief that you alone are enough.
You are enough.
Society does not need to control your feeling of love for yourself.
Maybe at this point embracing the idea of less has, ironically, begun to leave you with more money, more time, and more control over your own sense of self-esteem.
It feels like a fresh beginning.
And from this new perspective, lightly-liberated from a few societal burdens, you might find that it’s much easier to get a clearer view of your personal ambitions and desires – rather than the ones heaved onto you by friends, family, and society.
This is a chance to be introspective, to evaluate all of “your” ambitions and verify that they are genuinely things you care about. Because often we take on the desires and teachings of our parents, our friends, our society, while believing that they are our own.
But when the mask finally comes off – we might realize that some of “our” desires weren’t actually things we cared about at all. Maybe you never really wanted to be a career person, or perhaps marriage isn’t actually on top of your to-do list right now.
That was just your parents.
Or your friends.
But somehow, sneakily, their influence implanted those ambitions deep within you, masquerading as if they were actually your desires.
But now that you’ve made some time for yourself – you realize they weren’t actually your ambitions at all.
You’re uncovering yourself.
And it feels like owning yourself.
I really do believe that dabbling in minimalism, the pursuit of less, might just leave you with a whole lot more than you expect.
So give it a try.
And if it’s not for you – you can always go back.
And that’s progress too.
This post is so minimalist I didn’t even include a photo – which is probably some terrible SEO/website-blogger-professional faux pas.
Minimalism itself is not a goal, it’s a means to an end. There is no competition and there is no singular definition – each persons ‘needs’ are entirely independent someone else’s. What counts as minimalism for one person might not for another.
I really like outdoor camping and adventure gear.
These are my minimalism challenges.