I bet you think the first step to living a minimalistic lifestyle is to own less stuff? Actually, I believe the first step it to want less stuff. To make a conscious choice to live a more minimalist lifestyle is to choose a certain mindstate; one that puts less emphasis on objects and materials, and more on simplicity and harmony.
It is first important to be realistic about how minimal a lifestyle is appropriate for you. Contrary to popular belief, being a minimalist does not necessarily mean giving up everything you own and washing only in the source of the river 15 kilometres up the road. In today’s society, where technology and objects can be almost fundamental to our lives, it is more challenging to be a complete minimalist, but increasingly important to understand the role of simplicity.
Let me tell you a little bit about an extremely minimalistic lifestyle I experienced during my travels. It might put some perspective on how the definition of minimalist can change depending on the situation and environment.
In the year 2013 I lived in a tent for over three months straight, the only exceptions being wood cabin refuges in the Pyrenees. I carried, for the sake of weight, and for the freedom of mind, only my food, shelter, clothes, and a writing pad. Let me just express how amazingly liberating it can be to live like this, with no distractions from the self, or from the beauty of the moment. No emails to check. No media. No news reports, or any information from the world outside of my experience.
If this sounds boring to you then let me assure you it is absolutely not. It is inspiring, enlightening, painful, emotional, it tears you down, and sets you free. If you ever get the opportunity to live for one week without anything other than raw life then this is the best way to understand the minimalist mindstate.
Right now I am writing with my laptop. I search the internet. I have a mobile phone, and Skype for business. I own a small collection of books, some clothes, and a large draw full of sentimental photos. When living anywhere except a tent in the Pyrenees, this is probably a more achievable definition of minimalistic.
If you want to be more minimalistic in your life, first consider how much stuff you currently own. Look around now. Do you have a lot of sorting out to do in order to become de-cluttered? The first step for anyone who currently owns a lot of unnecessary belongings is to make the commitment; by getting rid of anything that is not needed anymore.
There are better ways to get rid of unwanted items than to throw them away; anything that someone else might want can be given away, given to charity shops, or sold at car boot sales. It could be possible to recycle a lot of what is left, but if it comes to it, just get rid!
Be honest and realistic with yourself about what you don’t need. There is no need to throw the TV away (although it probably wouldn’t do you any harm!), or to sell the car if you need it to get to work. It is all about looking at what is needed in your life. Only you can make this decision, and it will be individual preference as to how minimalistic to go. Personally, when I am not in a tent, I feel I need my laptop to work, my phone to get in touch with my friends, although it is a very basic £20 model, and some books because I like to read.
Physical de-cluttering helps to bring the same simplicity to the mind, as it becomes less attached to objects and more comfortable in its own company.
In order to maintain the now physically de-cluttered space, and the free mind, a more conscious approach to consumerism is required. It is okay to buy things. It is okay to have warm clothes. It is important to recognize the difference between buying objects because they are required, and buying them for the momentary thrill of owning something new. Take clothes for example; a minimalist may buy a new coat in the winter, some shorts in the summer, and own enough clothes to always have some clean, and to cover every situation. Someone who buys clothes compulsively often buys out of the urge to be fashionable, and for the feeling of owning something new.
It takes practice and balance to understand this fundamental difference. It also takes a change in mindstate, because being a minimalist is not a fashion. Those who truly have the urge to take on a more minimalistic lifestyle will probably already, to a greater or lesser degree, want to buy less. The main sacrifice that has to be made is that of needless spending on objects; slay that demon right away!
There is also a modern aspect, a new challenge for the would-be minimalist in today’s society. I believe it may be equally as important as the denouncement of physical materialism. It is information.
The amount of information we absorb through media channels that we are constantly plugged into is one of the main aspects of mind-cluttering prevalent today. To live a more minimalistic lifestyle it is wholly necessary, it cannot be overstated enough, to switch off every now and again. Switch off the television, switch off the news, switch off even the music. Stop checking social networks every 10 minutes, stop using apps in the middle of conversations, and just live in the real world for some, or most of your life.
Once this overflow of information has been stopped, and has become more refined and restricted, the mind can operate with much more clarity, and can discern the meaning of thoughts quite easily, free from the white noise of information it will be dealing with if the flow goes unregulated. Decide what, and when is best to absorb, and do it deliberately. You say; “now is my time to watch David Attenborough,” “now is my time to check my facebook,” “now is my time to lie alone with my own thoughts for an hour just observing them.”
- Have at least one hour in the morning, and one hour at night without any screens. Just to relax in simplicity with your mind. To wake up and stretch. To yawn and fall to sleep.
- Take a trip out into the countryside with a loved one, or on your own, to understand the value of living without material objects, to enjoy each others company, and to enjoy the company of yourself.
- Give up social media for one week. See how it makes you feel to not have to think about everybody else, and what they think of your image. See if it makes you feel different, think differently, Does it put anything into perspective?
- Throw away any unneeded clutter. Get rid of everything you have been meaning to get rid of. Have c a clear out, give to charity, give to friends. Live in simplicity. Sentiment is fine. Hold onto some sentimental items if they hold happy memories. But be selective, and chuck away everything you can part with.
- Take a conscious attitude to consumerism. Buy what you need. Sacrifice the urge to buy for the sake of fashion, or status, or to need something just because its new and on the market. This will save you a lot of money, and make you a more humble person, who values aspects of life outside of materialism.
(Be warned: when you crack this one, you will have to be patient with those around you who insist that having a new iphone makes them indefinitely more intelligent than anyone else. If you need help with a good mindstate for this there is a lyric from a song, “Shame your mind doesn’t shine like your possessions do.” Aim for a shiny mind, not a shiny watch.
- Restrict the amount of information you absorb, especially where it is uninteresting or useless to you. This may involve less time watching TV, and less time on a news 24 website. It is good to be well informed, but the brain needs time to process and integrate information, and it the rate we engage with it in today’s society, we need to slow down, and stop sometimes. Restrict information when you feel blown out. Choose what you absorb carefully; it affects how you think. A minimalistic person does not have to be shy of new information, or of being up to date with current affairs. They do however, value being alone with their thoughts, and having time to digest before moving on to the next meal.
- Be kind to yourself, and don’t think you have failed if you buy something new, or have a feast, or watch TV for a week. It is a matter of cultivating a mindstate that understands why it is important to live in simplicity. The more you allow yourself to experience simplicity the more this mindstate will grow, and the easier it will become. In the end it is not a battle. It becomes easy because you no longer want to be surrounded by materials, or always have something to distract the mind. Of course, you still want a cup of tea every now and again!
Why be more minimalistic?
The first stage involves a release of emotions and memories as the mind, free from distractions, bubbles up with issues that have not been resolved. The second is an immense clarity as the world is understood from a subjective viewpoint, and the full force of the self is felt without any distractions.
We live in an age where it is the norm to fill every minute of the day with something to do. Even when we are not at work, we are often not at rest. We might think it is relaxing to watch TV for the rest of the night, or to browse the web. While both are valid pastimes, neither allow for true rest. The minimalistic lifestyle aims for a simplicity that allows for a free and well-rested mind.
We also tend to think material possessions will fill a whole in our lives, and bring us happiness. Momentarily we feel good from our purchase, and revel in the new object. Eventually its novelty wears off, and we are back where we are, ready to fork out for a temporary does of happiness again. To be minimalistic is to break out of the cycle, and to look within for happiness. To place value on the self, and on relations, on just being, without always having to do.
It is a matter of sacrifice. But over time, these sacrifices become easier, and we see their meaning.
I hope you have been able to take something from this writing. The rest is up to you. How minimalistic can you realistically be? Do you want to live a more simplistic mind, and reap the benefits of a clarity of mind that can bring about real internal change? These are your choices. I hope once you have allowed yourself to experience just a small dose of the minimalistic lifestyle, you will understand why it is so important to integrate into life.