I Call Myself a Minimalist

Just last week, I went to a local conference in Rochester. As I entered the building on the first day, I was greeted with a name tag and goody bag. The goody bag was a durable, reusable handbag filled with tons of free stuff. The kind of bag everyone is a little excited to open. Excited to see what free items they’re now a proud owner of. What was inside that free bag? Well, I asked my friend because I didn’t take one.

What is minimalism?

Minimalism is a lifestyle where you decide what in life has purpose, practicality and functionality. Minimalism is deciding to value things that matter and completely disregard the things that don’t. Minimalism is creating clarity and simplicity in a life filled with things, objects and distractions.

What turned out to be in that goody bag were vendor branded pens, pencils, chap stick, agendas, coupons, brochures, sticky notes and notepads. And for a brief second I thought, why did I turn down all this free stuff? And just after that I went through my analytical thought process to spoil all the fun and excitement.

  • I don’t use pencils anymore so I’d just throw that out.
  • I carry one high quality pen on me at all times. I don’t have any use for these extra, cheap pens.
  • A conference agenda? I already saved the agenda on my phone and laptop with notes on which sessions I wanted to attend.
  • I don’t think I’ll have interest in anything being sold by these vendors so therefore I don’t need coupons. And the coupons rarely apply to the exact items I’d actually be interested in buying.
  • Brochures, I’m surprised they still print those.
  • Sticky notes I use once in a while at my desk, but I have a certain type I like and already have.
  • Notepads, I just take notes on my phone or laptop.

Phew…. any regret I had for not taking a free goody bag had just been eliminated. And you know what? I’m no longer the one hurting the environment by landfilling unused stuff. I’m no longer worried about carrying around a bag for the whole day making sure I don’t misplace it. I’m no longer worried about constantly being reminded of consumerism from all the coupons and branded items. And I’m no longer worried about where I’m going to put all this stuff when I get home. What I am, is more free to think and live the life I choose.

What are the benefits of minimalism?

Minimalism comes with a lot of benefits. By deliberately deciding what things we need and want in our lives, we’re able to completely disregard the things that don’t matter. Let me give you four examples:

  1. My Perspective: I don’t value clothes a whole lot. I just need clothes that fit well, look respectable, and are functional.
    Minimalist Approach: I only buy clothes on an as-needed basis. I’ve worn the same gym, leisure and work clothes for the past five plus years because they all still fit, look respectable, and are functional. I don’t take the free t-shirts at my 5k races, or buy a funny t-shirt I saw online, or purchase that cool hat that’s trending on social media. I just don’t buy clothes unless I need to. They don’t really matter to me. And for that, I have a clean closet. I don’t waste time deciding what to wear because of my few choices. I save money. I don’t need extra closet or storage space.
  2. My Perspective: I don’t buy souvenirs on vacation. I take pictures to capture and remember the moments.
    Minimalist Approach: For me, souvenirs take up space, are overpriced, and rarely help me remember my thoughts and feelings that made me buy the souvenir in the first place. It’s hard for me to see benefits in buying souvenirs. I don’t even want someone to bring me a souvenir from someplace they recently visited. I just don’t want to think about where I’m going to keep an object that I don’t value and doesn’t have a real purpose. I just don’t want to further clutter my space with more stuff. I just want a picture.
  3. My Perspective: I value quality over quantity. I think about practicality and functionality.
    Minimalist Approach: When brain storming my ideal home gym, there’s tons of great equipment available. Cardio: Treadmill, Elliptical, Rowing Machine, Stationary Bike, Stair Master, Jacob’s Ladder, etc. There’s also ton’s of weight equipment, stretching equipment, recovery tools, and tons more stuff. And they all serve a purpose. And most are rated well and are functional. But having so much equipment just isn’t practical. So, I think about what are the most effective and efficient tools I can purchase to get a great workout at home. And when I do that, I think of a treadmill and adjustable dumbbells. A treadmill because I love running, it allows me to ignore the weather outside, and it can last decades. And, adjustable dumbbells because you can workout any muscle group at varying levels. These too can last decades. With these two high quality items, I can always find a way to get in a great workout. I don’t need every machine in a typical gym (quantity), or an expensive Jacob’s Ladder (practicality), or a preacher curl station which serves one purpose (functionality). I just need a couple core items that server multiple purposes, are practical and functional.
  4. My Perspective: There are a few core people I value in my life. My immediate family, girlfriend and two best friends. Other than that, I don’t have many other relationships consuming my time. I put my focus on the one’s that matter most.
    Minimalist Approach: When it comes to happy hours, team parties, or networking events, I’m usually not interested. I don’t want to fill my calendar with events because of social pressure, expectations, or fear of missing out. I look at the core relationships I have in my life and I try to fill my calendar with activities that involve those individuals. So, although I could attend a happy hour tomorrow night to network and show face, I’d rather just go with my mom and dad to my brother’s soccer game. That’s something that matters to me with people I really value. This approach allows me to clear my schedule from activities and events that don’t really matter, and replace them with activities that include my core social group.

These four examples are from my perspective. You may find value and purpose in having lots of clothes and friends, or buying souvenirs, or an extensive gym. Everyone’s implementation of minimalism is different but the approach is similar. It’s deliberately looking at the things in your life, and deciding if they really matter. Do they provide value? Do they have a purpose? Am I better off with these things than without them?

By asking these questions, you can start eliminating a number of objects and activities in your life that don’t matter. And this has many benefits.

  • Declutter your living and work spaces
  • Focus on the important things
  • Experience freedom from consumerism
  • Save money for things that matter
  • Create a more meaningful life
  • Reclaim extra time
  • Reduce stress and anxiety

This is just the tip of the iceberg. For more benefits, I recommend reading 10 Benefits of Minimalism by Allison Fallon. In that article, it describes better health, increased self-confidence, improved relationships, and clarity of mind.

Where’s a good place to start with minimalism?

So, if this idea of minimalism interests you, I’d recommend starting with two steps. One, look to clear out the clutter you already have in your possession or on your schedule. Two, come up with a process for preventing this from happening again in the future.

Clear Out Current Clutter

For this step, you might need to allot a good amount of time depending on how much stuff you’ve accumulated. So, let’s say you want to minimalize your living space. That’s a good place to start. Once you’re ready, you’ll need to begin going through all your stuff and deciding what’s needed and what’s not. If you’re moving apartments or houses, this is also a good time to begin this process. When going through all your stuff, go room by room. Start with the smallest room and as you get better with the process, the bigger rooms will seem less daunting. I’ve found myself going by three key questions when deciding whether to keep or toss an object. Q1: Have I used this thing within the past year? Q2: Am I going to use this thing within the next year? Q3: Am I better off with this thing? If the answer to all three questions is yes, then I keep the thing. If the answer to any of these questions is no, then I almost always discard it. It’s a way for me to systematically take emotions and feelings out of the process which usually get in the way.

Example: How many times have you kept something because you’re “planning” on using it but never do? A lot. If you haven’t used it in the past year, you’re probably not going to use it in the next year.

Example: How many times have you kept something because you “should” but it has no benefit? Like when your coworker bought you a shirt last year for the Christmas exchange but you never plan on wearing it. If you’re better off without the thing, get rid of it.

I’ve found that these three questions keep me on track. And before you know it, you’ll have a minimalized, clutter free, purposeful living space. You can use this same strategy at your office or with your calendar too.

Prevent This From Happening Again

Once you’ve cleared out any clutter in your life, you’ll want to make sure you don’t go back to the same routines and habits. If you do, you’ll be right back to where you started. So to prevent this, I use an active process of really thinking about things before I buy them, or events/activities before I accept them. Before I buy something, I’ll do a few things. 1) Research it. What are the reviews like? Are people actually enjoying and using this? 2) Wait a few days before buying. Sometimes we get lost in the moment and just want something. Take a few days and see if you still want it then. 3) Ask yourself if you’re better off with this item. I’ve found that these three steps help me decide what’s important and what’s not. It’s a process you’ll have to get in the routine of doing. But once you’re there, you begin to really live and thrive off of the minimalist lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

Minimalism is a concept focused on living with less. Living with only things that matter. Living with things that are needed or loved and completely disregarding the things that aren’t. It’s a concept I’ve implemented in my life to help create clarity of mind, freedom, financial independence and purpose. Although it may not be for everyone, I believe there are many aspects of minimalism that can be very impactful for most.

Next time you’re buying something or putting something on your calendar, think twice. Then deliberately decide if you’re better off without it.

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