I have recently become interested (okay, more like obsessed) with the idea of “minimalism.” I stumbled across the documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix, and to say that my interest was piqued is a bit of an understatement. In digging into the concept a little deeper, I’ve discovered a whole movement supported by countless blogs, podcasts, books, speaking tours, etc. In a nutshell, minimalism is the concept of living in a very simple and intentional way. The Minimalists themselves define it as “a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.” It’s the idea that less is more, which is quite a contrast to our consumeristic culture. The thing that has really caught my attention about minimalism is that it has put a name to something I’ve already been moving toward.
Over the last few years, my husband and I have made the intentional, challenging, and counter-cultural decision to become debt-free and stay debt-free. At a pre-marital counseling conference that we attended when we were engaged about four years ago, we learned the basic principles of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps but didn’t fully dive-in until recently. Ramsey’s teachings on debt have minimalism written all over them. His debt snowball method doesn’t require you to do any calculating or strategizing about how to manipulate interest rates to work in your favor or how to get loan forgiveness after making payments for ten years or deciding whether or not you should invest or buy a home first or any of that craziness. He advises hard work, living on a tight budget, and getting those bad boys paid off! Paying off debt is a simple, straightforward solution. It’s one less thing to worry about and one less thing to make us dependent on income. And a minimalist-friendly side effect is that a tight budget prevents careless spending that will fill our lives with more stuff or waste our money.
Parting ways with social media
One of my biggest struggles in life has been dealing with the cards I’ve been dealt. I have a problem with comparison and feeling inadequate and envious and all kinds of other ugly words. I have dipped my toes in the ponds of eating disorders and depression, and it’s absurd to think that those awful seasons of life can be completely attributed to how much I cared about what other people thought of me. I know that these days, being social media-free has become somewhat of a pretentious, pseudo-hipster thing to do, but I have found that there is definitely some value in backing away from the social media madness! Sometime in the last year or so, I came to the realization that social media was fulfilling no purpose in my life other than making me jealous of other people. The only platforms I’ve ever really used are Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and very occasionally, Twitter. I have now deleted my Instagram app (but to be honest, I have gone through a few cycles of deleting it, downloading it again, deleting it, downloading it again), I only use Twitter for work, I only use Pinterest for specific purposes (finding a recipe, looking for a new haircut, etc.), and I have unfollowed all of my (post-purge) friends on Facebook. I use Facebook a lot for communication with groups I am a part of, communicating with family, event invitations, etc. so it wasn’t practical for me to deactivate my account altogether – but did you know that you can unfollow all of your friends so that your news feed is empty!? It looks like this when you log in, and it’s awesome!
Do I feel like I sometimes miss out on things by not being active on social media? Well, sure. But sometimes it’s nice for people to tell you what’s going on in their lives when you see them in person, rather than finding out by passively and mindlessly scrolling on your device. And the occasional inconveniences are worth it for me to not have the constant temptation to compare.
Present Over Perfect
Last Fall, I read a book by my favorite author, Shauna Niequist, called Present Over Perfect. It’s one of those game-changer books that made me view life in a whole new light. I have an overcommitment problem, and it has taken some hard decisions and a lot of intentionality to let go of some things, care less about other things, and make time for the things that bring me joy and add value to my life, like writing and music. The setting in which I read the book couldn’t have been more ideal for the content, as I read most of it while on vacation with my husband, exploring Manhattan and Boston as the leaves changed color last Fall. The book, the time away from reality, and the perspective of a couple cities that are culturally very different than our hometown encouraged us to make some big changes, including my husband leaving his “day job” to pursue self-employment as a self-taught web developer. Along with that job change came the new year and an opportunity for us to reevaluate our time and commitments. While I still haven’t quite found the perfect balance, I am in a much healthier place now than I was just a few months ago. Busyness is no longer an idol causing debilitating stress and exhaustion in my life.
It’s not out of character for me to tackle my clutter. Clutter gives me a lot of anxiety, and I have a rhythm of doing a deep-dive purge of all of my possessions every couple years or every time I move (which tends to happen a lot for my husband and I). We recently went through every single nook and cranny of our two-bedroom apartment and decided whether or not we’d keep, trash, or donate every possession we own, one by one. This is obviously not a fun task, but it’s so worth it to me! We’ve been in our current apartment for two years, and it’s amazing how much junk we’ve accumulated. We felt like we were running out of room, but after lugging out boxes upon boxes of junk that we don’t need, we have all kinds of extra space!
This is just a small portion of what we got rid of – this was our second Goodwill haul, in addition to bringing several large bags and the bulky TV I got for my 13th birthday gift over 12 years ago to the dumpster! I’ve also filled two more boxes since I took this photo. And let me remind you that this is just stuff we’ve accumulated since the last time we did a major purge a few years ago. It’s sickening! And I think the exact same thought every time I do a big cleanse like this: “Why did I waste my money on all of this junk?” If I am throwing it in the trash or giving it away for free so easily now, why didn’t I think about it more before I bought it? There are several purchases that I’ve thought a lot about, did some research on, saved up for, and now use every single day, like my MacBook or my Nikes or our vehicles. And I will use those things until they are literally unusable anymore. Why don’t I take the same time and care to purchase my clothes or decor or kitchen supplies? Why do I allow stuff into my home simply because it was given to me for free or as a gift if I know it won’t add value to my life? Why am I so attached to physical “stuff”?
Conveniently, as we were neck-deep in our multi-week Spring Cleaning adventure, I saw the Minimalism documentary pop up on Netflix. With the above questions of frustration swirling around my head, it’s not surprising that the name of the film caught my eye. There are many different varieties and buzzwords surrounding minimalism, but the documentary did a great job of exploring a wide array of minimalists. You may have heard some of the popular terms like Capsule Wardrobe, Project 333, Packing Party, The 100 Thing Challenge, Tiny House, 30-Day Minimalism Game, etc. – but the great thing about it is that you don’t have to have set rules to follow. After watching the documentary, I realized I was already practicing many concepts of the movement without the intentionality of considering myself a “minimalist.” It helped me to realize that I can live on way less than I have been led to believe.
Our lives are so filled with junk – social media, advertisements, TV, busyness, useless stuff that we spend our hard-earned money on then donate to Goodwill two years later…How much value do we really place on our stuff? When I honestly think about how and why I am attached to some of my physical possessions, I realize that my value is displaced. I expend way too much time, energy, focus, and attention on things that are dispensable.
Putting a name to this lifestyle I’m striving for – “minimalism” – has allowed me to give myself permission to accept that there are certain things I don’t want, let alone need, and that is absolutely okay! I don’t have to let people make me feel pressured to keep up with certain fashion trends or to buy a house because “the feds are going to raise interest rates!” It’s not what I want, and I don’t have to feel any guilt about it. The minimalism mindset actually makes me excited to reduce the things I own and buy, which in turn reduces my pressure to earn. I feel like I want to brag about how empty my closet is and how small my living quarters are – and that is quite a reverse in mindset for me, but it’s incredibly freeing!
For a short time, I worked for a disaster relief organization, and one of the biggest takeaways I have from that experience is a simple three-word quote I heard while helping to clean up after an EF4 tornado hit a small town in Arkansas. “It’s just stuff.” It seems that the phrase packs a much bigger punch when it’s coming from the mouth of a family standing in the empty lot where their house once stood, watching what’s left of their possessions being taken away from a pile of debris on the side of the road. “It’s just stuff, and we’re thankful to have our lives and the lives of the people we love.”
“Love people, use things. The opposite never works.” – The Minimalists