I hope you’re all doing well friends. Today I have the pleasure of answering the questions you’ve sent in regarding minimalism and the overarching lifestyle behind it. It’s common to be left with a few questions as you begin the transition into different, more sustainable ways and I’d like to ease the burden of unsurety any which way I can. What I like to keep at the forefront of my mind is that no question is a stupid one. Curiosity is said to be one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect. It is the most powerful tool we may learn to unlock across the course of a lifetime. The important thing is to be insatiable in our questioning, for curiosity has in itself has a reason for existence. Make a promise to yourself never to fail to try new things, to explore without reason or boundary, to poke at, enquire about and turn things inside out until they become memorable and sensical to you. For every wall you put up, build two bridges. Minimalism is largely the same way. A lifestyle that you stumble upon, that you chance. That you grow to hold near and dear as it challenges your worldview and reprioritises the comings and goings of your days accordingly. It is an animated and lively existence that exists just as much for you as it does me. Along the way, we will be both the teacher and the taught, embracing the ways of each other with open arms. Put aside your qualms and just embark. This is for you.
If you’re saying yes to minimalism, what are you saying no to?
Once you’ve pared down to your belongings, commitments and relationships to create space for what you care about, there’s a crucial step that follows- learning to say no. Saying no against a natural urge to feel as if you’re missing out is a great challenge but, ultimately, an obstacle that is hardly insurmountable. The confronting thought of replying differently almost feels counterintuitive and as if it may do more harm than good. Saying a firm no starts with being unmistakably clear in what you want. Without properly understanding what you hope to achieve, you fail to realise what you stand to lose or are compromising on when you say yes instead.
Something significant I’ve learnt over the years is that it’s not enough to know what you want. You need to be so set on it that you decline other opportunities with ease, without entertaining the opportunity to overthink, compelling as it may be. It’s through this process that we begin to truly understand ourselves and what matters to us. It can sound pretty straightforward yet it’s anything but. Don’t let this deter you though. We work hard and smart to achieve in life and are rewarded for it, even in ways we fail to recognise. To breakdown this approach, we need to do some deep thinking. I was used to feel guilty when I said no to the important people in my life. What I’ve come to realise however is that this is a matter of necessary compromise. I am finally unlocking depth within the endeavours on my hell yes list. The way I see it, there is no in between. We are offered two choices at any given time. We either commit to saying yes constantly and experience life on a shallow level as we’re spread too thin or say yes sparingly and with proper thought, therefore experiencing the bounties of laser focus and true enrichment. When you respond to offers from a place of truth and honour your need for self love and care, you become more fulfilled. The benefits you derive from this newfound depth become a well of goodness in your day to day. You unlock parts of your life that had never existed or were inaccessible to you before. You reach a state of being completely present and really begin to feel the difference.
Are minimalism and simple living interchangeable terms?
Some people choose to chalk up the difference between minimalism and simple to semantics, however, there are differences that become clearer once you’re on the inside of the debate. Minimalism does typically have a greater focus on one’s physical space. It gets a bad reputation as being stark, whitewashed, uninteresting and insufficient for one to live a proper, full life. All untrue, of course. In some ways, there is a greater focus on external drivers to motivate and encourage but that means very little. Simple living is often praised as it’s seen as more holistic, requiring more introspection than its minimalist counterpart. It embraces life at a more gentle and slow pace. Those who resonate with the lifestyle wish to integrate it across the broader scope of their lives. Instead of focusing on eliminating, austerity, lists and decluttering, as some minimalists may choose to, they revolve around the freedom to be as they are, to live naturally and intentionally, to act with greater authenticity, to care for the environment and to be sustainable, balanced, self sufficient and with a low eco footprint. Does this sound like you, fellow minimalists? I certainly recognise myself as fitting within this loose label as well. I’d say it speaks to an experience of contentment.
There is no cut and dry separation here but minimalism and simple living offer a holistic view and approach to life that is highly refreshing. At the end of the day, you can call yourself one, the other or perhaps identify interchangeably. There is actually a host of other labels within a similar subcategory that tie in with minimalism and simple living. Perhaps you’ve heard of green or frugal living. These concepts are all part of an interconnected way of approaching life. It’s more about what works for you. I happen to believe that minimalism and simple living are like two sides of the same coin. Just as with the yin and yang found in taoism, they serve to strengthen and compliment each other, the external and internal, the black and white, blending slowly but surely, bleeding into each other with a surety. As two parts of a whole,the concepts of minimalism and simple living are constantly evolving and changing as the need arises. Taken alone, they are never as powerful or effective as when connected.
Do you feel there is lack within the minimalist lifestyle?
Minimalism, ironically, is centred entirely around abundance. Minimalism is not boring. It is not about living a life devoid of color. It is not about robbing yourself of joy. It’s about the opposite– living life in more color and with more joy by focusing on what’s most important. I don’t think I’ve ever been labelled as boring, despite the fact that I live day to day with a schedule that revolves primarily around a few core things. Perhaps you know about my tendency to sleep in or the food phases I go through. You likely haven’t been told that I call my partner at the same hour each day. You’ve probably noticed that I outfit repeat- my clothing does not change with every square on the instagram grid! my social media channels and the content I produce for them is slow and sustainable. When I go out to a beautiful location that is picture worthy, I’ll make sure that I leave having done nothing short of a full photoshoot. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll schedule in that content and enjoy sharing the moments that have become precious to me. I’ve never understood the concept of combining posts when each should stand alone and have its glory moment.
What should a minimalist’s ideal schedule look like?
We all recognise that point at which our schedule becomes overly complicated and chock full. Suddenly, we find ourselves wishing for more hours than there is in a day. It goes without saying that cramming in work is detrimental to our wellbeing. We must assess our activities our commitments on a regular basis to ensure that we’re on the fast track to a sizzling burnout. It’s as simple as asking yourself whether you feel content with the work you do and the leisure time you get on a daily basis or if you still feel highly stressed and overworked. Don’t let yourself get to the point of tearing your hair out before you act with grace. If you’re experiencing more days than normal where you become exhausted without doing much, if anything at all, treat yourself with kindness and be as gentle as you know how. We can only do so much. We have unlimited options yet limited resources. Our most important decisions will revolve around the elimination of others.
When we’re at our most productive and feel almost superhuman, working as if we’re a well oiled machine, it’s hard to admit that we don’t always feel as such. The reality stand however. First, we must find what motivates us and use it. I challenge you to study yourself today, even for a few minutes. What makes you come alive? When do you feel most human? What serves to remind you that your existence is for reasons being a job and a checkbook? When do you stop acting as a robot, running on autopilot? What tugs on your heart? Where do you find your purpose and when is your keen sense of this greatest? It’s okay if your saving grace has no relation to your greater purpose or makes no sense to other people. If it heals you, motivates you and reminds you of how capable you truly are, don’t hold back.
Life is too short to hold ourselves to unrealistic standards and remain in a perpetual state of frustration. Don’t let lesser matters rob you of the life you could be living, one that is beyond your wildest imagination. Take a good hard look at your life and do yourself the courtesy of being honest. Write down what an average day looks like for you. Make note of the time you wake up and the time your head hits the pillow at night. Do you do anything even remotely remarkable during the day? Better yet, does it align with your priorities. Make note of wasted time, an unfortunate inevitability. Think of it as the tax you pay that takes away from your lump sum income. Not too pleasant, right? If there was a legal way to bypass this particular part of the system, you would, right? Now, cross out any sections that are taken up by common time wasters. Take a moment to realise how many hours you really allowed yourself during the day. Consider what you could substitute in place of these time wasters. It may take a little trail and error before you figure out what works but you’ll make it.
What rules do I need to follow in order to become a minimalist?
There are no rules to anything in life, just guidelines. There is no gun to your head forcing you in a certain direction or demanding you carry out a task. There are just consequences for the choices you do make. There is either a positive or negative lead on effect that will be felt after the fact. As I’ve stated before, the most realistic decision and the one that will be easiest for you to stick to is to take minimalism as it is and make it your own. It would be counterproductive for me to rattle off an arbitrary list of what could only be my personal do’s and do not’s, cannot’s and will not’s and should and should not’s. If you do prefer a level of guidance, however, try taking the following suggestions on board and applying them to your life. There is no right or wrong way to approach a minimalist lifestyle.
First off, in embarking on a more minimal lifestyle, you need not spend money frivolously in the attempt to emulate a certain simplistic aesthetic. Yes, even as a seasoned minimalist, I’m just as tempted by the beautifully sleek, modern Scandinavian furniture in all the glorious neutral shades imaginable. However, that’s the exact opposite of minimalism. A useful tool across the board is to sit with unresolved desire and endure the urge to fulfil it without acting on that- to exercise some decorum and delayed gratification, if you will. Embracing minimalism in your life does not include buying new things that seem less maximalist but by consciously decluttering what you already have. On this note, declutter first and then organise second. Save yourself the money, storage space, energy and work by culling sufficiently and then working out a smart system of organisation. It can be visually pleasing and functional if you make it so. It’s much easier to organise when you have fewer things so pay attention to your timeline for such a project and order tasks accordingly. Use the decluttering process to build your decision muscle. As you make more and more decisions about what you want and don’t want in your life, you’ll get better at making intentional decisions. Building this muscle is what makes intentional living easier over time.
The process of minimising is exactly that- in other words, it’s not a one time project and it will require hardcore focus and a willingness to resist temptation and falling into old habits for your own greater good. You may start small and see only subtle change in your physical and mental but the overall impact and benefit will build over time and show up noticeably. Don’t get too hung up on reaching a certain stage in your decluttering journey. The pace you’re going at currently is just fine. What minimalism will look like for you changes over time, as do your needs, lifestyle and personal circumstances. Perhaps you’ve moved houses, begun living abroad, adjusted to living alone, finished school or started a family. Can you imagine how detrimental it would be to your progress if your thinking remained stagnant and you blocked yourself from action? Let yourself be what you need in the current moment. The rest will work itself out in good time.
I’d like to encourage you to let go of any stereotypes you’ve taken on board regarding minimalism. For one, there is no magical number of items to strive for within the lifestyle and I feel that I’d be very unhappy if I had such a figure looming over my head, taunting me constantly. I have a tendency to overthink in such a way that I start to tunnel, going over and over a select few thoughts in the hope that I’ll find relief through an answer if I deliberate hard enough and for a long time. I know I’d start to beat myself up if I began relying solely on whether I have over a hundred items or not to tell me how good of a minimalist I am. This is just as bad as impulsively buying more than you need, driving yourself into debt and receiving an unhealthy high with each confirmed purchase. In both cases, there is an overemphasis on material items. View minimalism as an ongoing process of continuously letting go. Shed old skins and step into new seasons of your life with confidence. Don’t be held back or weighed down by the unimportant. Another concept you may be familiar with is the idea that experiences are inherently more valuable than items. Studies have come out however that suggest otherwise. Intentional purchases of both experiences and material items are what spark joy, not the replacement of one impulsive behaviour for another. It’s about intentional choices throughout. How could you ever expect to find true contentment in being a carbon copy of another person when you exist with your own likes and dislikes?
Minimalism brings you to a place of high self assuredness. As you declutter and consume less, you begin to detach your self worth from the things you own. You begin to set limits and boundaries and recognise, startled, that there has been a shift in power. Where the things you own once owned you, they no longer have the same hold. Your value as a person has nothing to do with the clothes you wear, the kind of the car you drive. You are defined instead by what’s in your heart. Minimalism isn’t about having an easier life. It may be a less complicated existence but that’s where the buck stops. The philosophy behind minimalism is the creation of space for doing more of what matters, learning different things and tackling bigger challenges than ever before. This is made possible because finite resources have been carved out for you to do so. Minimalism is the process of removing distractions so that you can make more meaningful contributions.
What’s the hardest part about being a minimalist? Surely there are highs and lows?
Of course- there will always be ups and downs. It’s about what outweighs the other that makes this decision so worth it. The hardest part about being a minimalist for me is how contradicted and conflicted you can feel at times. I will often catch myself justifying choices I’ve made and trying to reason them away when I need not be mentally arguing with myself in the first place. Take buying a new dress, for example. I’ve pared down my wardrobe to the point that it is a curated collection of pieces I wear on rotation. I’d give you a figure but I don’t believe counting is important. In fact, it would probably be just as detrimental to the progress I’ve made as weighing myself would, considering I recovered from an eating disorder only in recent years.
I’m slowly learning that hanging a new piece in my wardrobe is a moment of pride. It signifies a willingness to treat myself and acknowledge my needs. It is a reminder that it is my birthright to show up boldly and seek out the forms of self expression that speak to who I am. A power outfit is an extension of self and can tell you so much about a person in terms of their stance on issues of ethics and sustainability, their era, the styles they feel most comfortable and represented in- it makes an incredible statement.
When I’m not thrifting, I choose to support small makers and boutique labels that care for the people in their supply chain and who work towards environmental welfare. I haven’t shopped fast fashion in years and I’d put that down to the mental restraint I’ve developed since shifting my mindset towards quality over quantity. I don’t gravitate towards trendy, seasonal apparel. It’s become second nature to choose slow fashion, a simple way to demonstrate that I have pride in myself and my appearance.
Setting aside the false notion that an investment in myself equates to being wasteful has brought me a greater sense of freedom than ever before. At times I’ve struggled to accept my version of minimalism and questioned its validity as I have my secret stashes. I buy a new magazine bi monthly as issues of Frankie and Teen Breathe are released and I haven’t yet said no to keeping old interior decorating and design issues from friends and family. I’ve yet to see a lot of minimalists touch on this but just like anybody else, we have materials that relate to our hobbies and passions and see no reason to forgo these simple pleasures just because they take up space.