“Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit experience and the last effort of genius.” George Sand
Have you been on the minimalist lifestyle path for a while now? Do you need a little boost of inspiration or recentering on the essentials? Or maybe you’re just beginning to delve into the new world of minimalism and you’re getting a bit overwhelmed by all the advice and many-layered “how to” articles out there? Or you might have read up on so many different approaches and techniques that you can’t figure out how or where to get started anymore. That’s when you need to ground yourself in the central pillars of minimalism so that you can move forward effectively, with renewed motivation. A minimalist lifestyle is like everything else in life…constantly changing and evolving. You need to give yourself the tools to refocus on the important stuff when things start to seem unnecessarily complicated!
# 1 Focus on Experiences
“The secret of health for both body and mind is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” Buddha
There are a lot of different ways you can put this, but the basic gist is the same – focus on experiences! “Okay, but what does that really mean?” It means, in one respect, putting quality over quantity in terms of where you invest your time, energy and finances. This can be one of your main filters when it comes to making daily life choices.
In the world of material goods, when quality is more important than quality, you choose to buy things that will last longer (i.e. that are made better and less likely to break or wear down), are reusable or multipurpose.If you take quality a step further, it means buying things that are made out of products that are sustainable, fair trade, organic or local (all markers of better quality than mass-produced things you buy made of ingredients you can’t identify in far away countries where you have no idea what quality control is like!).
In the social and and work world, it means prioritizing relationship building over productivity and profit. When you have the choice to work overtime or spend an evening with your partner, close friends or family, and the only reason you would work overtime is to make more money (to spend on…more stuff?…and when working overtime probably means you’re in a less productive state of being due to stress and overwork…) you would probably prioritize the experience of nourishing social relations, unless there are extenuating circumstances involved.
If you were to apply the focus on experiences filter to your leisure time, it would mean doing things on your days off or on holidays that don’t necessarily involve consuming…anything! You would take vacations in places where you can slow down, enjoy the simple pleasures of life, connect with the local environment and people and truly experience the place you’re in, be it your own home or a foreign country. The focus shifts from “entertainment” at all costs, to appreciation of the people and environment that’s right there in front of you and that requires nothing but your attention and presence to be fully engaging and worth your time!
In many ways, focusing on experiences over objects is about bringing yourself back to the present moment as much as possible. This doesn’t mean cutting out all long term visioning and planning from your life…it does mean not feeding the hamster in your mind and letting yourself spin off in stressful, anxious thought patterns instead of being present to the people or projects you’re working on or spending time with in the moment! As buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh puts it so well, “life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your life deeply.”
#3 Declutter On All Levels
“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” Joshua Becker
The second pillar of holistic minimalism living is the whole idea of decluttering. Some would put this first, but ultimately the three core principles are pretty interchangeable. Decluttering may be more “active,” but focusing on experiences over objects is really where you need to start on a holistic level as a practical filter and guide for your everyday choices. In other words, we’re working with the “think before you act” principle, which is generally sound advice! Once you’ve got a clear vision and solid foundation to work with, let the decluttering commence!
Decluttering is central to minimalism because pretty much everyone in consumerist society these days has too much stuff — stuff has become a symbol of affluence, success and even simply the basic ability to be a “good provider” for your family, etc. etc. (how many parents have heard from their kids about what their friends have that they don’t and let that pressure them into buying something?).
And it’s not just about physical clutter, though most of us do have that to deal with first and foremost. It’s also about mental and emotional clutter…what are the things taking up disproportionate and unnecessary amounts of space in your inner world? What is filling up your mental hard drive that could, and really should, be deleted forever at this point? What emotional baggage are you holding onto that could be put to rest? What endless to do list are you struggling to remember everyday that could be externalized, or have a few things taken off it cause they’re not really that important anyway?
When you apply the idea of decluttering to every aspect of your life everything becomes way simpler and clearer. Removing physical and mental clutter allows you to better organize your thoughts, your daily routines and habits as well as your long terms goals and visions. It’s as simple and awesome as that! So don’t let yourself be sidetracked or confused by the numerous angles from which you could approach decluttering – pick one and do it! If you find the system or approach you picked doesn’t work well for you, try another one!
The great thing about minimalism as a lifestyle is that you can choose to change and adapt the way you’re integrating it into your daily life as you grow and evolve. There’s nothing set in stone! All you need to lean on are these three central pillars and the rest is trial and error and adapting to your life circumstances as they change over time (which they inevitably will because life is anything but static!)
#3 Consume Less!
“I have to remind myself to live simply and not overindulge, which is a constant battle in a material world.” Sandra Cisneros
It’s true, it can really be a constant challenge to remember not to consume all the time when faced with the pressures of an over-consumption oriented society. This is where the “focusing on experiences” and “decluttering” pillars are great tools to go back to. In order to consume less you have to really anchor those two previous ways of being and thinking into your life. You need to come back to them anytime you start getting caught up on the consumption wave. When you have them in place consuming less just happens naturally!
At the same time, making “consume less” your third principle to live by is essential to solidifying your minimalist lifestyle. Sure focusing on experiences and decluttering is great and hugely important, but if you don’t add “consume less” into the mix you’ll just end up back at point A, where you have to continuously declutter because you keep unintentionally accumulating things! You need to continuously ask yourself, as author Chuck Palahniuk puts it, “Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?”
Again, we’re not just talking about physical things. You can accumulate junk in your brain and in your emotional field as well. Consuming less can be applied to the realm of information as well as to the material world of stuff. Consumerism as a mindset leads us to also view relationships and information as essentially disposable and to treat it as such. The thing is, if you consume large amounts of information every day, it does take up space in your mind, like it or not.
You may think you’re just scrolling your feed and forgetting things that don’t interest you, but your brain is registering most of what you see somewhere. You’re essentially filling your mind and senses with flotsam you’re going to have to wade through latter on. You’re creating energy leaks and impeding your own efficiency and self-actualization. The more energy wasted in chasing after things – things, information, relationships – that don’t add value to your life or nourish your life goals…things you don’t truly “need,” in other words, the less energy you have to invest in things that are actually important to you on a deeper level. Simple as that.
When it comes to relationships, the consumption mentality (i.e. valuing quantity over quality) has you creating superficial connections and chasing after “likes” and virtual friends instead of strengthening relationships with people you actually interact with on a regular basis or who impact your life directly. When you cut back your consumption on every level and focus on experiences instead of objects and on decluttering, you relearn to go deep and create authentic connections. In other words, “to live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people” (composer John Powell).
When you integrate these three pillars into your life, that’s the kind of fundamental shift that can happen. That on top of all the other great stuff, like having more time, space and money, fewer stresses and reducing your ecological footprint!
Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.” Vicki Robin
No matter where you’re at in the unfolding journey of minimalist living, it’s important to recenter every now and then and remind ourselves…”why am I doing this again?” (Oh right. Because it makes my life better!). Now how do you get the best results for the least amount of thought and effort? Just focus on these three simple principles and let life, and your finely tuned minimalist instincts, do the rest!