In my recent post Can adopting minimalism make you happy?, I talked about Paul and my journey to minimalism. While a continuing process, adopting minimalism has (already) contributed to us being happier, more content people as we live our lives with more awareness and intent, and in greater alignment with our values.
I believe that everyone can benefit from applying concepts of minimalism in their lives. The beauty of it is that we can all adopt minimalism differently, in whichever way works best for us.
So how can you adopt minimalism into your life?
Minimalism is not dogmatic, and as such, there are many ways to go about it. For some people, minimalism starts and ends with decluttering their homes. They want to live in a healthier, less stressful home environment and / or spend less time cleaning it and more time with their kids. And that’s absolutely fine.
Decluttering your physical environment
If this is where you would like to start, there are different approaches out there as to how to go about reducing your STUFF. Here are three links you may find useful:
- One Kings Lane: 8 Lessons I Learned from the Decluttering Bible
- Be more with less: Project 333
- Becoming Minimalist: Creative ways to declutter
I don’t want to add to the seemingly endless list of tips and tricks on how to declutter your home (or workplace). I’m sure you will find a way that suits you.
Decluttering your physical environment – though at times painful and slow – is a very rewarding exercise. But your physical environment is only one of many elements in your life that can contribute to (or distract from) your overall wellbeing. And it may not be the one causing you the most pain.
So, before you blindly (and more or less enthusiastically) jump on the challenge of decluttering your physical environment, let’s look for a moment at the other aspects in your life that are worth giving some thought to.
Checking in with yourself… holistically
I like the concept of the wheel of life (you can tell I used to be a consultant – I love working with frameworks). Ever since it was introduced to me in a resiliency course for women in 2008, I use it to check in with myself and create greater awareness of the areas in my life that may need attention. It helps me to take a holistic and therefore more balanced approach to my personal wellbeing.
The wheel of life is really easy to apply: On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being least and 10 being most satisfied), where are you when it comes to the various facets or aspects of your life? And where do you want to be?
You can see that your physical environment is only one of many aspects in your life. Other aspects important for your wellbeing are your business / career, your finances, your health, your relationships (with family and friends, and your romantic relationship/s), personal growth as well as fun and recreation. As you shade in where you are at and draw a line where you want to be, you may find other areas that need attention. For those areas crying out for help, write down why you are dissatisfied. For example:
- Family and friends: Do you feel your relationships with loved ones suffer because you don’t get to see them as often as you’d like? What keeps you away from them?
- Finances: Does opening your credit card statement make you feel anxious because you are not in control of your finances? Why are you not in control, and what would it take to get it back?
If the reasons for your dissatisfaction are related to the finite resources we have as human beings – time and money – chances are that you can benefit from applying concepts of minimalism in your life to achieve greater satisfaction, beyond the direct impact that decluttering your physical environment will have.
Before I talk about the benefits of adopting minimalism beyond decluttering your physical environment, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves of what minimalism is about. There are many definitions but that of Joshua and Ryan (aka The Minimalists) best reflects our own view.
Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important – so you can find happiness, fulfilment and freedom. (The Minimalists)
Whether you rid yourself of the excess in your physical environment or in other aspects of your life, what is important to us and how we perceive happiness, fulfilment and freedom is different for every one of us.
How to know what’s (truly) important in life?
Whether you are looking back at many years of life experience or you have just turned 18, most of us want our lives to matter, want to live our lives with purpose.
Some people know from a very early age why they exist. They are drawn in a certain direction, and they know that they want to dedicate their lives to pursuing that direction. Think of Mother Teresa. For many others (including me) it’s not that straight forward, and our why (or how it manifests itself) may also change as we get older.
You may be very clear about your why. That’s awesome. Document it… and live your life with your why in mind.
If you are like me (I have a rough idea of what I want my life to be remembered for) articulate what you can. It’s a start.
Ways to uncover your why are manifold. I like (and have used) the following questions:
- What experiences (good and bad) have shaped your life?
- What similarities can you recognise in your most notable achievements?
- What (problems in the world) are you most passionate about (solving)?
- If money was not an issue, what line of work would you be most drawn to?
- Which dreams in your life do you feel the most regret for not pursuing harder?
- What is the lasting legacy you want to leave?
- Whom do you most admire? What characteristics of these people would you like to emulate?
While my why is still a work in progress, I have a clearer understanding of my values… I find it easier to articulate them, and Paul and I documented our shared values as part of our commitment statement to each other before we got married.
Values are principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life. (The Oxford Dictionary)
Applying above definition, ask yourself the following questions:
- What words and / or phrases describe the behaviours and attitudes I want to encourage in my life?
- What is most important in my life?
- What would I not compromise on, or if I did I would feel extremely uncomfortable?
If you now look back at your thoughts around why you exist and what you want your life to be remembered for, you will notice that your why and your values are linked. You can’t truly live your why without living (in alignment with) your values.
Ultimately, we use our values as guidelines when it comes to making decisions. And when we adopt minimalism into our lives, knowing what is (truly) important to us, is essential in deciding what is excess and what isn’t.
How to apply our values?
As mentioned earlier, while a great start, often it’s not (just) a cluttered home that distracts from living our values. Using the wheel of life, work your way through each of the aspects in your life you are unsatisfied with – step by step – and think about the following:
- What values you are compromising on and why?
- What distracts you from living your values?
- Can you remove these distractors?
Just to give you two examples:
- Family and friends: Does spending time with certain people in your life energise or drain you? Do they distract you from people or activities that are far more important to you? As hard as it may seem, you may want to cut ties with people who just take and never give (or at least reduce the space they occupy in your life).
- Finances: Do you spend your money on what is truly important to you? You may want to ask yourself before you acquire something new, whether you really need it. If you’re not sure, you may want to sleep over it, park it for a few days and/or discuss it with a close friend (especially if it’s something that may impact your life for years to come).
It’s astonishing how advertising and societal norms push us to buy or do ‘stuff’ we don’t actually need or want. By asking yourself whether something moves you closer or further away from what’s truly important to you, you can break that cycle.
A few final words of wisdom
Uncovering your why, articulating your values, checking in holistically across all aspects of your life and applying your values (especially to those areas that cause you most dissatisfaction) is not a quick exercise. It takes time… Above is just one approach… If you go about it differently, and it works for you, that’s what matters.
If you have adopted minimalism into your life what have been your experiences? It would be awesome to hear your story. If you have any questions (or comments) please leave a message in our Comments section below or send us a message via our Contact us page.
Feature photo courtesy of Diego Jimenez