It’s no secret that we live in a consumer-driven world. It’s increasingly difficult to go about everyday life without encountering some form of advertisement. Whether it’s a logo, a commercial, or a brand promotion on Instagram, everywhere you go, someone is trying to sell you something. There’s nothing inherently wrong with advertisements, but more often than not, we buy things that we don’t need, because we’re led to believe that we need them.
Have you ever been guilty of buying something under the false notion that it will, for one reason or another, augment some aspect of your life? Odds are, you have. Don’t feel bad about it! It’s so easy to get caught in the figurative consumerism trap, because society tells us that in order to be successful, we need the big house and fancy car and everything else that goes along with achieving the “American Dream”.
But here’s the thing. The true meaning of the American Dream, the ideal in which any American citizen can have equal opportunity to find success and achieve their goals (regardless of their background), means that you’re allowed to pursue your own happiness in the way that you define it – not by anybody else’s interpretation. Freedom, prosperity, and success are how you define them.
That leads us to the following question: What are the things in life that you truly value? If you weren’t limited by time or financial constraints, what is it that you’d like to do with your life? Freedom means being able to access the things that bring your life happiness and meaning, without being held back by those constraints. More often than not, the culprits that are restricting us from living our ideal lives can be found in the form of debt.
Credit card debt.
Student loan debt.
You get the picture.
We work really hard, to make a lot of money, to get approved for loans in order to pay for expensive things. Then we have to work even harder to pay off the debt that those loans accrued. It’s a vicious cycle. And the worst part? It gives us less freedom to focus on what makes us happiest.
But Allie! If only there was some sort of a tool that could help me eliminate the superfluous and unnecessary things from my life, so I could focus my time and energy into what gives my life meaning and value!
Well, reader, there is. I present to you ‒ minimalism.
Minimalism is a way of pursuing a happy, fulfilling life by getting rid of the excess and focusing on the things that are most important to you. What’s important to you, otherwise known as your values, may be different than the values of your friend or neighbor. Perhaps you’d like to spend less time at work to spend more time with family. Or maybe you’d like to travel more. Maybe you’re considering downsizing your home to reduce your cost of living. No matter what your story is, minimalism can help.
There is a certain aesthetic that’s associated with the term “minimalism”. In fact, if you Google Image search the word “minimalism”, you’ll likely see thousands of photos of white walls, sleek furniture, and simple (if any) decor. Though often associated with style, minimalism in practice is much more meaningful than having an aesthetically pleasing home. To practice minimalism is to focus on the things in life that give you value, and to understand that perhaps those “things” might actually not be “things” at all. Minimalism is a tool to keep us on track towards the things that truly matter.
I was first drawn to this principle a couple years ago after watching the Netflix film “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things”. The film, directed by Matt D’Avella, follows two former self-proclaimed “suit-and-tie corporate guys” as they travel the country talking about the benefits of minimalism.
These men are Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, better known as The Minimalists. They strive to live “a meaningful life with less”. Less physical and mental clutter; less stress; less distractions. By getting rid of the unimportant things ‒ the things we think will make us happy but actually don’t ‒ we can make room for more of the things that actually make us happy: more time; more space; more freedom.
If you ask me, practicing minimalism is one of the most responsible things an individual can do. It allows you to break free of the consumer autopilot we all get trapped in. A common misconception about minimalism, however, is that it’s only about owning as little as physically possible. This has made popular by bloggers and YouTube personalities who post lists of every item they own, often having less than 100 physical possessions. Though that is commendable, it’s not practical for everyone. Minimalism isn’t about having as little as possible. Rather, it’s about the importance of everything you own having a purpose and value to you.
There isn’t one specific formula on how to become a minimalist. There also isn’t one type of minimalist. You don’t have to be an aspiring travel blogger or fit into a certain demographic to try minimalism. Personally, I’m a full-time student living in an urban area, so time and money is already quite limited. Still, practicing minimalism has allowed me to start paying off my student loans early, and travel overseas to Europe (twice) while on a college student’s budget.
It’s simple. I’ve been able to do these things by letting go of what no longer brought value into my life, to make more room for the things, people, and experiences that do add value.
I won’t delve into the step-by-step process of how I began to get rid of my unnecessary stuff. I’ll save that topic for another post. Rather, I’d like to talk about some ways that you, the reader, can start to adopt these principles into your life.
Like I said, there’s no one-size-fits-all on how to be a minimalist. You don’t even have to call yourself a “minimalist”. But there are many useful tools that you can begin to use to see positive change.
Take a minute to look around your home, or your room, or your car. Take a look at some of the items you have in your possession. Ask yourself: how much of what you own actually gets used, and how much of it is stuff that you keep “just in case”? You can even take it a step further. How many of those items require even more items to clean, organize, store, and maintain them? How many items are duplicates, such as extra coffee mugs, or pens, or water bottles, etc.? Sure, it’s helpful to have a couple extras, but it’s up to you to decide once it starts to get excessive.
It’s up to you to decide what does and does not add value.
Suppose, for example, you collect coffee cups. Or books. Or paintings. Or (enter whatever it is that you collect). If your collection brings you joy, and you truly get use and value out of the items in your collection, by all means, keep it! Don’t clear out all physical possessions in the name of minimalism. But be honest with yourself and ask the challenging question: do these bring me joy?
If the answer is no, then you must decide if they are worth keeping.
This practice can be applied in many categories, not just physical possessions. These principles are used in many other aspects of your life, as well. Social media, relationships, diets, and even finances can be changed for the better with the help of minimalism. At first glance, you may not notice how much unneeded time and energy is spent in each of these categories. By making each of these life categories simpler, you’re allowing life to be a bit less complicated. And that’s a good thing!
Now, there are many common misconceptions that can sometimes cause minimalism (and minimalists) to be seen in a bad light. One of the most common, which many people believe, is that the intentional pursuit of less can only originate from a place of privilege. I’ve heard the argument that minimalists aestheticize poverty, by making it “stylish” to have less. There are many people who have no choice but to live this way, and it’s important to acknowledge your privilege if you come from a privileged background. With that being said, the average citizen shouldn’t feel guilty about pursuing a purpose-driven life with less physical and mental clutter.
But while we’re on the topic, let’s address the inevitable. Minimalism is not perfect. Minimalism is not a cure-all.
Let me repeat that. MINIMALISM IS NOT A CURE-ALL!
That’s right. I’ve described a set of tools that can help you live a meaningful life, not the “key” or “secret” to eternal happiness and bliss. There’s really no way to ensure that. My life is still far from perfect, even while practicing minimalism. But that’s life. For me, the benefits of living a simpler life with less stuff eases some of the stress and anxiety that I used to have. Does that mean that I never experience stress and anxiety? Of course not! It does mean that the stressful times are fewer and farther between.
It does take significant change in your mindset and actions to see significant change in your outcomes, but I implore you to try. Determine what your values are, and the steps you need to take if you want to simplify your lifestyle to make room for what matters most.