Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why the Minimalist Lifestyle Appeals to Me

Minimalism appeals to me, because it makes me focus on what I truly love and need.

One of my favorite blogs is Zen Habits. I started reading Zen Habits for the productivity tips, but lately I’ve been fascinated with Leo’s posts on minimalism. If you were to come into my home, you’d never guess that I even think about minimalism. My home isn’t a disaster area, but it has plenty of clutter. It’s definitely well lived in.

So why does the minimalist lifestyle appeal to me? I see several benefits.

Minimalism Means Less Clutter

I have lots of clutter in my house, and I hate it. I would love to actually have a place for everything, but in order to do that, I need to get rid of a lot of stuff. I don’t have a garage, and my outside storage shed is very small. So everything I store would need to fit in one of my five closets. I have to admit, I like the thought of only owning as much stuff as I can fit comfortably in my house.

Minimalism Means Less Waste

If I bring less stuff home, I don’t have as much opportunity to waste. I really try hard not to waste anyway, but sometimes that’s hard in a cluttered home. If the refrigerator or freezer gets cluttered, I forget what I have, and sometimes the yogurt hiding behind the milk goes bad.

The same goes for clothes. If I own the minimal amount of clothing I need to get by, I’m not likely to forget about an outfit hanging at the back of the closet. I can’t count how many times that happened when my daughter was a baby. She had so many baby clothes, that I’d forget exactly what she had. Then I’d pull out an outfit, only to find that she had outgrown it already.

Minimalism Means Learning to be Content

I really believe that having an overabundance of stuff breeds discontentment. It seems that the more things a person has, the more they need. I know that’s true in my life. When I have the ability to buy more, I find that I start buying to fill some sort of unmet need in my life. By cutting down the amount of stuff I allow myself to buy, I force myself to deal with my discontentment. I need to learn to be content with what I have and find satisfaction in my relationship with God, my family life, and with who I am as a person.

Minimalism Means Really Loving What I Have

By forcing myself to cut down on the amount of stuff I own, I cut out the stuff that I’m ambivalent about. By embracing minimalism, I cut out everything but what I really love.

I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods as a child, and I remember reading about Laura and her doll, Charlotte. Laura LOVED Charlotte. I think she loved her so much because Charlotte was her only doll. Charlotte was precious. Charlotte was special. How many things do I own that I consider to be truly special? My photographs are special. Everything else? Not so much.

Though I doubt I have it in me to become truly minimalist, I am setting a goal for getting rid of stuff. Cutting my things to what I really use and love lends itself to my quest to live a more frugal life. So by the end of the year, I will go through every room in my house and get rid of what I don’t use or love. And to be really frugal, I’ll sell what I can and put it toward my debt.

This is the addition to “Omit needless things” that is necessary: not that you have as little as humanly possible, but that every thing you do have counts.

From Zen Habits

Let’s apply this to various areas of life:

  • Possessions: Look around you, at work and home. Is everything you own important? Can you get rid of things, and keep only the things that really matter? Edit vigorously, until you’ve whittled it down to the minimum for the life you want to lead. Read: A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home.
  • Buying: It’s a waste of time to reduce your possessions if you just buy a bunch more. What’s important is being content with life, not stuff, and thereby reducing your needs. If you don’t use buying to fulfill your needs, you’ll only really buy what you need. Or maybe you’ll be able to go without money.
  • Eating: How much do you really need to eat? Do you need the big plate of chili cheese fries? The fully loaded nachos? All those slices of cakes? All those cream-filled sugary coffees? Often the answer is no. Omit needless food, and make everything you eat count — by making your food nutrient-dense, fiber-dense, healthy and filling.
  • Doing: Do less. Make everything you do count. Look at your to-do list and see what’s really important. In fact, examine your work life in general and see whether you’re really making every day count. Omit needless activity.
  • Goals: Do we really need 101 goals? Can we do with just a few, or even one? By focusing on less, you can really pour yourself into it.
  • What you produce: If you produce something, whether it’s writing or music or software or clothing, see if you can simplify and keep it more focused. If you create a website, can you give it one single purpose, with one call to action? Can you do that with your writing or music? Figure out what that purpose is, and edit ruthlessly so that everything that remains counts.
  • The rest of life: In anything you do, see if you can apply these principles. There’s no need to get obsessive about it, of course, but it’s always useful to examine what we do, how we do it, and whether we really need to do it.