Ever since I watched the documentary Minimalist, I've been really intrigued by the idea of minimalism. Not minimalism because it's trendy. Not minimalism because tiny houses are all the rage (all though I DO want a tiny house and/or a live-in converted van...but more on that another time). I'm intrigued by minimalism as a way to practice everyday happiness.
You see, I relate very much to the grind that was described in the documentary. It goes like this... first, we may feel an underlying sense of unease or that something's missing in our lives...and our thinking mind (or our ego) interprets that feeling to mean we need MORE. More shoes, more fashionable clothes, bigger TVs, fancier cars, more fame, more fortune, more, more, MORE. And it works...for a while. The gratification of getting something new feels good, and it makes us feel *happy*. But you know where this is going. That happiness isn't real...or at least, isn't here to stay. It's a temporary high; it's fleeting. And the holes we are trying to fill are coming from a deeper place, not from a lack of material things.
As a society, we are trying to fill the gaps in our souls with stuff. How can you fill a soul with stuff!?
"Wait, Jen!" you say. "I don't fill my life with stuff! I love experiences. I spend all my money on travel, massages, yoga, acupuncture, wine tastings, and my dog. I'm NOT a materialistic person."
I get it, that's what I said too. But sometimes, and you have to be honest with yourself, we use experiences in the same way that we use things. We want to experience more and more in order to fill a deeper void or longing within us, and we often feel the happiest when we have one of these experiences to look forward to. But what about being happy now? In this moment. Yeah, this one, right now.
From what I've learned from my short 32 years on this earth, is that first, happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a way of travel. Happiness comes from the way you experience the journey. And the way to experience the journey, the one that will cause you that ever elusive happiness, is to be truly present in every single moment. Find joy in just BEING, rather than rushing through the present and using it merely as a stepping stone to some "future" destination.*
How does minimalism tie into all of this? Minimalism clears our lives of the excess stuff, so that we can be more focused on the source of true happiness. Do you truly need to have the newest and coolest tech gadget? Do you really need 18 purses and 36 pairs of shoes? Is that new car, motorcycle, iPad, or luxury apartment going to fill that deep ache you feel, the ache that silently tells you something is missing in your life? Spoiler alert: No, No, and It Won't.
The way I've started practicing "minimalism" to feel happier
Now, I shall use "minimalism" in quotes because by no means am I living like a true minimalist such as the guys in the documentary, and I don't claim to be. Maybe I'll be there one day. However, I love what I've learned, and I've been incorporating some minimalist practices into my life. I can tell you first hand that I feel so much happier on a day to day basis.
When I left Boston this past summer, I needed to somehow plan to fit an entire apartment (that's about 2 closets, 3 dressers, 3 bookcases, 15+ kitchen cabinets, 8+ drawers, 1 nightstand, a desk, and random piles all FILLED) into an SUV. Hmmm...
Obviously some purging needed to happen. Enter, a book that actually made magic happen.
I won't go through the entire process, because you just need to read it for yourself. But I used this strategy to evaluate almost every item in my apartment and decide whether it brought me joy and added to the vision that I have for my life and my future. Other than a few plastic tubs I'm storing (it's at this place called Mom's Storage. Have you heard of it?), all of my belongings fit in my 2001 Nissan Pathfinder and came with me on the road trip to Florida.
The benefits of practicing "minimalism"
I save more money. I've realized how much I actually own and how much I don't need. Sure, I enjoy getting new things. But I rarely shop now unless I truly need something. And if I really really want something, I first reflect on my current mental status. Am I purchasing this because I think THIS ITEM will bring me more happiness? (It won't.) Am I purchasing this because I want to look a certain way to other people? And I think THAT image will bring me more happiness (It won't.) Am I purchasing this item because I'm a little sad, anxious, irritated right now and I know it will make me feel better? (It won't, for long.)
Decisions are easier. It's so much easier to choose what I want to wear - I love everything that's in my closet. And it makes choices that much easier - does anyone else struggle with indecision? That's a topic for another day.
It's so much easier to stay tidy. We all know that stressful feeling when you have no time and your place is a mess, which makes you feel even more stressed and like you have even less time. With less sh#t in my life, I can avoid that.
I have more time. The above three reasons help me have more time. I'm not spending time shopping, I'm not wasting time trying to figure out what to wear or trying to find one item of clothing in a sea of madness. I also spend less time cleaning or tidying, because there's just less to tidy.
I feel like I have SPACE in my life. Living in an apartment with so much stuff felt like I was suffocating. Everything needed to be exactly in it's tiny little place or else the whole apartment was disheveled. Having more physical space in my life has created more mental space inside my head. I know there's some science or spirituality behind this, and I don't know what it is right now, but I can tell you that it's true. This stuff works.
You can do it too: ways to incorporate "minimalism" into your life right now
Here is a summary of what I did, as well as other suggestions for incorporating minimalistic principles and more happiness into your daily living.
1) Buy the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and actually DO THE WORK. I cannot replicate the wonder of the decluttering system that she has created in this book. But if you won't commit to that, then:
2) Just start donating, recycling, or tossing things you don't use or wear.
3) Get rid of anything you don't love. It may be functional, you may use it, you may wear it. If it's not adding to your life - dump it. Donate it and someone else can enjoy it more than you do now.
4) Pause before you purchase something. Ask yourself why you are buying it. Are you trying to feel good or "self-medicate" with this purchase? Are you chasing that high? Are you trying to fit in, or "keep up with the Joneses"? Newsflash: The Joneses suck.
5) Start practicing gratitude for what you do have. Write down what you are grateful for in a journal, on tiny slips of paper and throw them in a jar, say them outloud, or think about them in your meditation. Or just walk around your house and say "hey thanks, shoes. You've done me well today." Look at everything you have and realize that you do have everything you need.
6) Focus on the activities that bring you joy. What brings you into the present moment? What do you love to do so much that time seems to stop? That's the flow state. Whatever that thing is, DO MORE OF THAT.
7) Focus on what's truly important, and fill your life with true riches. Love, compassion, family, friends, creativity, and appreciation for each and every wonder this beautiful world has to offer. You'll notice that these are the things that make you feel whole and complete. Not the iPhone 17.
I hope this post has helped you in some way, or at least sparked your interest in starting to declutter, simplify, or "minimalize" your own life.
*Eckhart Tolle teaches the concept of BEING in detail in his books, and I'm a huge fan of one I just finished, A New Earth. If you haven't read it yet and this post intrigues you, add it to your list. It's the follow-up to his bestseller The Power of Now. Either is great. He can teach you how to start to practice living in the present moment, and thus experiencing life with greater happiness.