Becoming a minimalist these days is about as trendy as being vegan or ketogenic. We are obsessed with simplifying our lives because we inherently know that the less baggage we have—including material distractions, social networks, and burdensome obligations—the more happy we become.
It’s January 1 in my house. We’ve just finished the Rogue Running Black-Eyed Pea Run (Thanks, Rogue!) and have decided to hold off on the Barton Springs Polar Bear Plunge. Instead, we're plunging into a different cold and deep water first—purging stuff in our house that no longer serves us. It’s become our annual New Year’s Day tradition.
Did we use this at all in the last year? If the answer is no, it gets put in the donation pile. Some items are easy to part with. Why are we holding on to an electric knife that’s still in the original box from our wedding ten years ago? We don’t eat meat, and you sure as hell don’t need an electric knife to cut tofu. Gone.
However, I’m as guilty as everyone else of having extreme emotional attachment to something that has no practical value. Take, for instance, my old guitar. I bought a new one this year that I absolutely love. The old one has been parked in the back of a closet all year. Why, then, is it so difficult to part with it? That guitar moved with me to Austin 20 years ago. It got me through long nights when I first moved to town and had no friends. I did, however, have Mary Chapin Carpenter CDs and that guitar. It may only be worth $10 at this point, but it’s priceless to me. I think I’ll keep it another year.
It’s all relative, right? There is no blueprint or rulebook for what constitutes living a simpler life. However, as Courtney Carver writes in her new book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More, “Simplicity is about more than making space in your home. It’s also about creating more time in your life and more love in your heart. What I learned is that you can actually be more with less.”
When we think about minimalism, we immediately think of ditching clothes or possessions, but it’s more than that. In the process, we’re also ridding ourselves of destructive patterns and exhausting routines that no longer serve us. The health benefits of doing that may be intangible, but are so very powerful.
Less clutter and outside obligations lead to healthier choices. You live with more purpose and, ultimately, with more self-love. Exercise becomes a priority and, as a result, you’ll make better eating choices, you’ll sleep better, and you’ll prioritize your health over other destructive decisions.
Carver writes about the truth of ownership in her new book: “When you own something, it owns you, too. It’s yours to take care of and pay for in every way every day.”
The more stuff you own, the more you have to exhaust your energy and reserves into taking care of it. Think about those things you own that seem to be weighing you down emotionally and financially (kids not included). Are they depriving you from freedom or keeping you from attaining something else? Can you minimize any of those things? If you can, do so! That extra time and money will give you more freedom to pursue things that your heart is craving.
Wouldn’t it be great to come home and not have to look at piles of books, magazines, clothing, or old toys that seem to box you into a corner like a prisoner in your own home? If you have a stressful job, the last thing you want to come home to is more stress. There’s a reason why fancy spas play soothing music and have little clutter. Chaotic distraction leads to stress. Start to think of your home, or even a room in your home, as a sacred space. Might it be your bedroom or bathroom? Create a clutter-free and stress-free environment that can be your escape, even for just a few minutes each day.
As for the old books, newspapers, and magazines? Purchase a box that all of those things go into. When the box is full, head to the recycle bin. As Carver says, “We have to do things we don’t want to do to be who we want to be and feel how we want to feel.”
Not only is living with less a money-saver in the long run, but it also puts you in the driver’s seat of your day. How many of us are involved with too much? I don’t know anyone who isn’t. When I first moved to Austin, I started joining tons of groups to fill up my time because that was supposed to make me happy. I volunteered at church, I joined a running group, I did stand-up comedy, and I coached other athletes. Guess what? I was miserable doing everything I was supposed to love. What I didn’t realize was that I was creating distractions from doing real inside work on myself. I distinctly remember a co-worker telling me to slow down and do less. “You don’t have to do it all at once,” she told me. Of course, my 24-year-old brain couldn’t process the idea of slowing down, but my 45-year-old brain now embraces that philosophy. Be more selective and empower yourself to say no. It’s the most powerful word in the English language. Now, when I choose my extra-curricular activities, I do so because I want to do them and not because I’m trying to fill space. I’m in the driver’s seat.
How often do you shovel in breakfast or lunch in two seconds flat, without so much as a moment of gratitude or mindfulness about what you’re putting in your body? Half the time, I’m not even finished chewing one bite before I’m already starting another one! I eat standing up, and I even eat lunch at my computer some days while I’m catching up on emails, Facebook, Instagram, and other time-sucking outlets that don’t actually make me feel good.
Creating more simplicity often requires a change in routine—a painful one. Carver recommends making a list of ten things you don’t want to do that you know will help you. Might this be time for morning stretches or journaling? Creating an evening routine so that you get better sleep? What about actually reading a book? We’ve become fearful of idle time because society equates it with non-productivity or even laziness. Rationally, we know that being more mindful and selective actually makes us more productive and happy. We know that giving our minds a break from the noise (external and internal) is therapeutic and can literally change our lives. Yet, we are fearful.
In order to live a more simple life, hold tight to the “whys” and the benefits you know you will gain. Carver sums it up so beautifully: “Getting rid of everything that doesn’t matter allows you to remember who you are. Simplicity doesn’t change who you are, it brings you back to who you are. Simplifying your life allows you to start peeling back the layers of excess, outside and in. Once you remove all of the things that have been covering you up and holding you back, you can step into yourself, back into your heart, and be you again.”
Here’s to more happiness, health, control, freedom, space, mindfulness and, ultimately, love.