Minimalism isn’t just about decluttering.
Did you know it’s also about enjoying simple moments? And feeling grateful for loved ones?
I accidentally became a minimalist when I left the US with $800 and a suitcase to live in France.
It wasn’t my first time living out of a suitcase.
But this time I had no return ticket. All I knew was that I’d be teaching English and staying at a fellow teachers’ home.
When I finally arrived, I plopped my suitcase on the modest, sagging bed. One by one, I hung up my clothes in the closet. Dozens of hangers remained empty, dangling like forlorn wind chimes.
Besides some personal care products, I had brought a book that would surely delight my students: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Like Guy-I-Am, one of the main characters, I hesitated trying new things. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am!
But over the years, living with less completely changed me. I decluttered my mind of limiting beliefs and focus on things that matter most to me.
Minimalism taught me these 3 life lessons.
1. Let go of control
Vincent Nguyen via Becoming Minimalist writes that many people who adopt minimalism worry, What if I get rid of something I need in the future?
When I settled down in an apartment, I amassed handbags, books and cheap tops: You never know! Gifts from old lovers recalled painful breakups.
Then, as I sat back and evaluated my possessions, a question popped up. Which objects do you tie to the past or future?
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons we hang on to stuff is the fear of uncertainty. Regretting the past or worrying about the future gives us a sense of control over the uncontrollable.
We invest objects with the power to make us feel secure.
Of course, we all need a home, clothes and food to find physical security. Once we’re physically safe though, philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti warns us of seeking emotional security in things and people.
Peace of mind comes from letting go of control and the desire for certainty.
So, decluttering our home shows us how we’ve been escaping the present moment. But taking minimalism to extremes can also keep us from embracing difficult feelings.
For example, my perfectionism reared its ugly head when I began organizing and lining up everything. Putting order in my belongings gave me instant gratification. But I couldn’t put my shame, the source of perfectionism, into a cute storage box.
In mindfulness meditation, we learn how to allow thoughts and emotions, instead of avoiding or reacting to them. By welcoming past hurts and future concerns, we free ourselves from their weight and make better choices.
Similarly, practicing minimalism helps us detect the fears we’ve accumulated, but haven’t yet given our full attention.
2. You’re good enough
I couldn’t help comparing myself to Rachel.
After several weekends of partying with the other English teachers, I began “recycling” my outfits because, as you know, I traveled lightly.
Rachel, on the other hand, seemed to always dazzle the guys with a new outfit. She captivated us with her snappy dance skills. Her intelligence and humor made her irresistible.
I tried to console myself: Rachel may be the life of the party, but I have plenty of things to be proud of.
But focusing on my achievements and positive qualities helped only a bit. I still felt pangs of inadequacy.
Have you had a similar experience?
Looking chic, performing or having the next shiny object never seems to be good enough. More isn’t necessarily better.
Our culture touts we must be perfect to gain love and respect. We’ve been conditioned to believe in certain images of success and beauty.
But these images don’t yield the results we’ve hoped for. Contrarily, measuring our worth in objects, goals, people or even our positive traits breeds anxiety, fear and disconnection.
Meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein asks us, How much of your life and energy do you want to spend in this endless pursuit?
Instead, we can practice detachment, a Buddhist concept that invites us to avoid clinging too firmly to any one thing or person.
We can notice our chase for more, better and faster. And reflect on its flawed premise.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t enjoy the good things in life nor make any plans.
But seeing through the illusion is key to accessing true happiness.
3. Live life on your terms
Clutter not only reduces our focus, it drains our energy, time and money—resources we could devote to our loved ones and well-being.
In a culture where people judge others based on what they own, being intentional with your possessions makes you an outcast.
For instance, my friend Mathilde and I love sharing our latest cooking experiments. When she treated me to a homemade crème brûlée, I wondered how she created the golden sugar crust.
I sighed, Oh, you need a blow torch? Too bad.
Why do you say that?, Mathilde asked.
‘Cause I don’t want to buy more stuff…
A minimalist lifestyle looks different for everyone though. You don’t have to have bare walls, neutral decor or a capsule wardrobe.
Just identify what’s most important to you in life. Then remove distractions.
Keep in mind there are some cons to minimalism:
- takes time and energy to declutter
- might garner disapproval from loved ones
- reveals painful wounds linked to fear, guilt and shame
- might flare up your perfectionism and obsession over details
- may cause you to feel left out or compare yourself to others
And here are some pros:
- frees up your time, energy, money and mind
- challenges consumerism
- favors deep feelings of gratitude
- develops resourcefulness and discipline
- makes room for rich experiences and relationships
Ultimately, you’re the master of your fate and captain of your soul. (Thanks, Mr. Henley.)
No one else should decide what you do with your life.
I’ve cultivated a no-nonsense attitude toward things, situations and people that deplete my energy. The world constantly grapples for my attention. But I don’t have to comply.
As a result, I feel more joyful and peaceful.
I get to hang out with true friends, contemplate the Loire River and support causes I’m passionate about.
Minimalism isn’t a cure-all
But it teaches you how to find contentment.
You learn to appreciate simple pleasures, nurture an “enough” mindset and feel deeply grateful.
Decluttering physical spaces helps free up our mind, so that we can make wiser choices about how we want to spend our scarcest resource: