A couple weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were watching a documentary and were shocked to see our faces on screen. Part of a small crowd at a place called The Last Book Store in downtown Los Angeles, we stood listening to a duo who called themselves The Minimalists.
This was in 2014, two years after I began reading the Minimalists’ blog. Shortly after graduating college, I moved to Irvine, California to begin my design career. Removed from a mid-Western influence and that of my family and friends, I was free to become my adult self and realize my personal values and identity. The following two years were the most formative years of my life. I had discovered minimalism and had couldn’t have guessed how it would change my life. The documentary I referred to is called Minimalism, a Documentary About the Important Things.
Minimalism is a journey and a lifestyle, not a label. It’s a simple, yet deep-rooted practice that, ironically can’t be summarized in this single article. However, I’d like to share three seasons of minimalism that highlight the value and effectiveness of the simple lifestyle.
Minimalism is Removing The Clutter to make room for the important things.
Minimizing is the act of reducing or removing. For many, minimalism begins with identifying sources of clutter. Clutter takes up space, physical or immaterial, without adding value. For example, sources of stress, abuse, discontentment, anxiety, depression, overwhelm.
Once the clutter has been identified, we can begin reducing it. Let’s say you’re constantly stressed about the debt you carry and you work long hours to compensate. Then, your back and neck hurt because of over-working. As a result, you spend less time with your spouse because you’re working late. Now, you’ve gained weight because you no longer have time for the gym and as a result, you’re having less sex since you no longer feel attractive.
It’s easy to set the domino effect in motion and as milk sours over time, so can various parts of our daily routine. We clearly need to declutter, but first we need to work backwards to identify the source of the clutter. To do this, ask five whys.
For the above hypothetical example:
- Q: Why am I less intimate with my spouse or significant other?
A: Because I feel less attractive.
- Q: Why do I feel less attractive?
A: Because I’ve stopped exercising and have gained fat.
- Q: Why have I stopped exercising?
A: Because I’m over-working.
- Q: Why am I over-working?
A: Because I’m falling behind on my debt payments.
- Q: Why have I fallen behind on debt payments?
A: Because I’ve spent more money than I earn.
Asking five whys leads us to the root of the problem: I’ve spent too much money. This exercise prevents us from blaming our spouse, or our employer, or treating a symptom, rather than the cause.
After identifying the source of stress, I can look for solutions. In this case, I can try to either reduce my spending or increase my income, or do a bit of both. In this example, some clutter I would minimize would be:
- Physical clutter
By selling items I no longer needed to put money in my pocket.
- Mental clutter
By reducing the amount of debt I carry, the less energy I spend worrying about financial concerns.
- Emotional clutter
By removing the resentment that’s built up for myself or my (hypothetical) spouse that’s arisen from a decrease in physical and emotional intimacy due to the additional fifteen pounds of flab I now wear.
Minimizing is often the first step in taking conscious action toward creating positive change. By minimizing the clutter, we begin to feel better immediately, while slowly making room for things that matter most to us. Now that we’ve minimized the negative, it’s time to maximize the positive.
Minimalism is removing the clutter to Make Room For The Important things.
Minimalism isn’t about a life of deprivation. Try taking a deep breath, then another, and another, and another. Air is good, it keeps us alive, yet, we need to make room in our lungs before we can take in more good air. After minimizing, we need to maximize. We should maximize that which makes us happy, and extends beyond ourselves. Often, contribution leads to happiness. How can you have fun, while serving others?
Health and wellness can be applied to all aspects of life, not just your body. Think you have a good level of health? Ask yourself how you stack up in these ten areas and how you contribute in each category:
How even-keeled are you, and what’s your self-image like?
Do you stimulate and tax your analytical brain every day?
Do you have safe, supportive relationships, both platonic and romantic?
Are you open, communicative, supportive and satisfied?
Do you regularly get intense physical exercise?
Do you moderate sugars, meats, processed foods and eat variety?
63% of Americans don’t have enough savings for a $500 emergency. What about you?
If you have spiritual beliefs, do you find comfort in your spiritual relationships?
Do you feel in control and happy with the decisions you make every day?
Is your occupation fulfilling?
There are plenty of other categories, but I chose these, just to get you thinking. Surely, you are doing well in some areas, but I’ll bet you’ve identified areas that need work. These are the items that should be maximized. This is what we made room for when we decluttered. Author and Philanthropist Anthony Robbins teaches that one of the keys to success and happiness lies in contributing beyond yourself. Minimalism is about living a meaningful life. Focus on personal development and maximizing contribution.
Minimalism is removing the clutter to make room for the important Things.
My own journey into minimalism was slow and steady. Despite living in luxurious Orange County, CA among the Joneses, I began to curb and then smother my desire to consume mindlessly. I now question every item before reaching for my wallet. I try to buy used items before buying new. I stopped buying items that are marketed as disposable and try to make everything I own last as long as possible. Minimalism brought awareness to my habits of consumption and spending. I improved my health and developed new interests and grew my social circles.
After I’d embraced the idea of minimalism and spent months decluttering, and many more months maximizing the good, I noticed something really exciting. Slowly and surely, the gap between what I aspired to be and who I was closed. This didn’t happen overnight, over six months or over a year, but closer to two or three years. As minimizing and maximizing the right things became habit and second nature, I had lots of positive energy and free time—time I spent deliberately. I stayed busy trying new things, and quickly learned what brought the most value to my life.
In one year, I:
- Took yoga and pilates classes
- Started swing dancing
- Began bouldering (took 2nd place in a competition)
- Helped build local dirt jumps and began BMX dirt jumping
- Tried surfing
- Learned photography
- Started weight-lifting
- Got a motor cycle permit
- Went on meet-ups with strangers
- Became a local at a coffee shop
- Met local business owners
- Went on dates
- Learned about marketing and start-ups
- Began freelancing
- Built a website
- Began writing
These were the things I always thought would be cool or sounded fun, or that I’d never to experienced before. After establishing my values, reducing stress and distractions and increasing positive energy, I hungered to learn and experience new things.
I had the time, the money and the energy, the three things I guarantee you’ve used as excuses to not be a badass and do something you’ve always wanted to do.
What made this work is that I didn’t put pressure on myself to perform any one of these things at a high level. I also began contributing beyond myself. I’ve interacted with others who want to learn what I do professionally in design. Through video tutorials, writing, webinars, Skype and emails, I’ve mentored dozens of designers and creative professionals and done pro-bono design work. This is my way of giving back to the world that has given me so much.
Thanks to Josh and Ryan who introduced me to minimalism, I now live a happy and meaningful life. The process of becoming a minimalist shaped who I am today and allowed me to focus on self-development in a conscious manner while contributing beyond myself. I’m calmer, wealthier, happier, healthier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been.