I was one of the fortunate ones growing up. And by fortunate, I am not talking about money. I did not grow up in a castle, I was not fed with a silver spoon and I did not get everything I wanted all the time. I was fortunate because my parents taught me at a young age that money is not everything. They told me about the many children in the world who did not have food to eat or beds to sleep in. They told me how lucky I was to have what I had. They taught how to share what I had and how to be unselfish. And most importantly, they taught me how to stretch money to afford more important things, like travel, that actually give something back, unlike material things that provide only temporary joy. I was also fortunate enough to be a member of the last generation that grew up without the influences of smart phones, laptops and other digital devices. I grew up playing outside, reading books and taking family road trips and beach excursions on weekends. Back then, the concept of minimalism was not something you heard a lot about and when you did, the picture that came to mind was that of hippies living in communes but looking back, I see how much less we actually had back then and how much happier people were. In some ways, we were minimalists…at least in comparison to how we live only a mere twenty-some years later.
When I was a teenager, I often overheard the adults talking about the good ol’ days and how they hated the way things were going and refused to change. I thought this was funny, and like teenagers do, I poked fun at the older people in my life who refused to embrace change and remain living in the past. Today, teenagers are laughing at me. Actually, I am considered to be so far behind in the times that even people my own age think I am a weirdo but it doesn’t bother me one bit. I take pride in who I have become. I like the fact that I do not need various gadgets to keep me occupied and that I embrace nature and planet earth as a whole. I am aware of what is going on in the world and take a keen interest in world affairs and issues within my own community. I am not ashamed to admit that I do not believe in religion because I would rather take action than sit in a church praying. And I am not ashamed to admit that I do not watch television. That is what I am most grateful for in my life; that I have been able to cultivate a life that I love and enjoy so much, I do not need to spend hours every day in front of a box watching other people’s lives unfold while mine passes me by. I sleep 6 hours a night and the rest of my hours are filled with various hobbies and things I love. I have no time for television. Unfortunately, many people do not grasp this concept. When I tell people that I have never owned a TV and have no intention in ever owning one, they either look at me like I have ten heads or just straight out laugh at me…as if there is something wrong with living my life to the fullest. These people do not bother me anymore. They used to make me feel like there was something wrong with me but now I know there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I am giving, I am supportive, I help out in my community, I speak up for causes I believe in, I’m honest and I live the life that has been given to me to the absolute fullest. As I got older, I started to realize that they were the weirdos. Judging me for being a good person? How backwards!! Now, I have nothing to be ashamed of. I know I am a good person. I am happy, I’m well-adjusted, I have much to be thankful for and I am living the life I want to live, not the life others want me to live. I am also becoming less and less dependent on material things and that is really getting the haters talking!
My entire life, all everyone around me was interested in was shopping, shopping and more shopping. If they had money, they had to spend it on some material item. Even as a young child, my parents said I never begged or cried for anything, I never threw tantrums at the grocery store checkout because I didn’t get any candy and I hated shopping with a passion. I still hate shopping. I would rather go to the dentist and have root canals done on every one of my teeth than spend an hour in the mall. Unfortunately, I do have to go once or twice a year to buy some clothes and necessities but that is much less than most people spend at the mall. I know people who go to the mall several times a week! Even on Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember the people who died serving the country, many people were up in arms when the mall was closed.
Although I had heard about the concept of minimalism my whole life, I didn’t really learn much about what it really was until a few years ago. At that time, I didn’t identify completely with that type of lifestyle but I was pretty close. Well, at least closer than mostly everyone else I knew. I admit, in the early days after I moved away from home, I did have much more than I needed especially when it came to various household items that I barely ever used. During various moves from apartment to apartment, things got lost, misplaced and found new homes with friends who needed various items that I had no use for. The move back to Nova Scotia saw my pile of material items get even smaller. I had to downsize fast so I could fit what I needed to keep in one truck and than half of that stuff ended up in storage and is still there to this day. And I am doing fine without it. In fact, besides a few sentimental items that are currently stored, I don’t even remember what else is there. I still have way more clothes and shoes than I need but I did downsize significantly in recent years.
So what is minimalism? Minimalism is having only the things one needs to survive and be happy. This varies from person to person. A minimalist is basically someone who has decided that an excess of material items does not make them happy and they choose to live with only the things they need. I consider myself a minimalist in training. For me, the idea of living with less came about when I found myself moving from place to place and having to deal with the stress of transporting and storing and moving items – most of which I didn’t even really use. It is amazing how much stuff one can accumulate over the years. I, for one, didn’t realize how much stuff I really had until I had to box it all up and move it! People become minimalists for various reasons. Some do it as a statement. Others do it because they lost everything and realize that most of material things they lost are not needed. And others do it because they have traveled to poorer countries and witnessed how little people have and how much happier they are than many people in richer countries. The latter is what really got me springing into action. I was already in the process of doing some major downsizing when I first traveled to a poorer country and realized that in some ways, the people were much richer than most of the ones I knew at home. For one, they were always smiling and two, they put family and friends at the forefront of their daily existence, not material items. I was amazed at how little some people had and how much happier they seemed to be than many people who have everything at their fingertips. I felt guilty upon witnessing this phenomenon and suddenly, material things became even less important to me. Now I am embracing this concept for two main reasons: 1) I realized that I can do without a lot of things and still be happy and well-adjusted. 2) In order to travel and move around more, I need to have as little as possible.
When friends and family got wind of the new-found lifestyle I was working towards, they thought I was crazy. Some of the comments I got were “how can you live without a television?” and “what will you spend your money on?” and “You really think you can be happy living with so little?” I was a bit offended by some of these comments but, in the end, just shrugged them off. Obviously these people grew up with material things around them and didn’t have the same experiences I had growing up or did not have the opportunity to learn the things I’ve learned or to see the things I’ve seen. Their ignorance was not really their fault. After all, we do live in a society that teaches us to embrace material things. In order to be labeled successful in the developed world, we need to have a big house, a fancy car, lots of gadgets and expensive clothing. Malls are even open on Sundays now so that shows how much our “modern society” values family time. Now we can spend everyday at the mall spending our paychecks on material things that do nothing but accumulate dust and take up space.
So what are some of the advantages to becoming a minimalist?
1) You have less stuff to lug around. Moving from place to place will be easier and you won’t have to worry about storage.
2) You have more space in your home
3) You will feel liberated once the things you do not use are not taking up so much space and have more time and energy to spend on more important things.
4) You will feel good knowing that your unwanted items found new homes with people who can use them
5) You will save money because you no longer spend it on things you don’t need.
6) Not only will your physical surroundings be less cluttered, but your brain will be less cluttered too. Study after study has proven that clutter can cause a host of emotional and mental issues including stress and anxiety and these emotional issues can go on to cause physical health problems.
7) You will have more time to take part in your hobbies and interests because you won’t be distracted by all those gadgets and doohickeys that took you away from living your life to the fullest..
8) You can make money by selling your used items online or through your local classifieds or by hosting a yard sale.
Since I started downsizing, I noticed many of these positive results in my life. I move frequently but now there will be less boxes to pack. When I get my hands on my things that are still in storage from my last move and go through them, I will have even less and maybe I won’t even need a truck or a storage container the next time I move. My living space is much more comfortable now that I am not tripping over things I don’t use and it’s easier to find something to wear when there isn’t a pile of stuff I don’t wear getting in the way. The feeling of liberation is a big one. At first, it was hard to part with items that had been lying around for so long but after a while it became easier especially when I gave away things that were useful to friends and family members. I have dust allergies but now I notice they are not as bad without all that extra stuff collecting it. Downsizing seems like a daunting task but it really is simple once you get started but it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some tips to help you along:
1. The first thing I got rid of was a television that had been collecting dust because I stopped watching TV years ago. If you watch TV and really do truly enjoy it, this may not be an option for you. If you only have the TV on for background noise or watch it out of habit after work, you could benefit from just getting rid of it. For one, you will save on your cable and electricity bill. Secondly, you will find better things to do with your time because that distraction will no longer be there.
2. Go through your closet and get rid of any clothing and shoes that have not been worn in the last year.
3. Go through everything else you own and remove anything that you have not used in the last year. If you have not used in the last year, you are not going to miss it!
4. When you have everything you do not want to keep all in one pile, decide what to do with it. You can throw away anything that no one will be able to use. Anything that is in decent to good condition can be sold or given to charity.
5. Go through all your paperwork and throw out anything that is no good anymore. Scan everything else and store it on your computer and on a backup hard drive.
6. If you still own hard copies of music in the form of CD’s, transfer them to your computer and onto a digital music player. I know, I know. Music lovers love to have a hard copy of their favorite music but for the sake of saving space, this is one great way to save a lot of space.
7. Books are nice to have but how likely are you to read any of those books again? Donate them to a local library, give them away to friends or trade them for new books you would like read.
8. We all have the habit of accumulating grooming products. Women are especially bad for this because we always want to try that new product that promises thick, full hair or extra long eyelashes. More times than not, those products fail to deliver on their promises and those products end up being tossed in a box or cupboard somewhere instead of the trash. Face it. You are never going to use that hair mousse that made your hair stand up on end or that nail polish that required ten coats and chipped after an hour so just toss it already!
Minimalism is not just about getting rid of physical items. It is also about consuming less and buying less. Not everything we buy ends up being something we take home with us. It can be that daily coffee, or weekly restaurant meal. Minimizing these things or eliminating them altogether takes a lot of discipline but there are some advantages to thinking these purchases out as well. Here are some tips on reducing those costs and reducing your consumption to make your life easier and the world around you better:
1) Take shorter showers.
2) Drive a bicycle, walk or take public transit to work or to appointments when possible.
3) Instead of buying a coffee every day, make your own at home and take it in a thermos.
4) Instead of eating out at restaurants, make a meal at home and have a picnic in a nearby park instead.
5) While going to the movie theater or to a play or concert is fun, it can get costly if you do these things every week or even every month. Come up with new things to do that don’t cost money like stargazing, hosting game night or movie night at your house or taking a walk through your town or embarking on a hike on a new trail you have always wanted to try.
6) When was the last time you used a landline phone? If you are like most people these days, you probably have a cell phone and a landline which you hardly use. Get rid of it. Cell phones these days provide everything you need to stay in touch.
7) Growing a garden not only provides healthier options for meals, it saves a lot of money on groceries.
Many people fear the concept of minimalism because they think downsizing in such a drastic way will disconnect them from reality. But the fact is, minimalism is reality. It is how we are supposed to be. We were not born driving fancy cars or living in mansions full of stuff we don’t use. No other creature on the planet hordes material things the way we humans do. The way most of modern society lives is unnatural. If you’ve already traveled to less developed countries, you’ve noticed the way many people in the world live. If you plan to travel in the future, you will see this too. If you have no plans to travel, you should seriously consider it so you can also see that the people who have the least are often the happiest. The only disconnect you may experience is from people who you were already disconnected from in the first place. Did you really need that friend who was always making fun of your lifestyle and judging you for being different? Did you really need that negative friend who complained about everything but never did anything to fix their situation? Negative people often tend to be very materialistic because they need “things” to fill a void in their life. They also like to put others down to make themselves feel better and if you are thinking about a minimalist approach to live, you are probably a positive person and only harm can come from having these negative people hanging around. Many people will question your new lifestyle and maybe even say you are foolish. They will ask stupid questions like “so what will you do with your time now that you don’t have television?” They will try to talk you into going back to your old ways and some of them will even try to tell you that you are destroying your life and what you are doing will only cause damage.
Once you start implementing minimalism into your life, you will see the positive difference it has on you and the ones who accept you and understand that it makes you happy are the ones who were always worthy of being in your life. A whole new world of possibilities opens up when you remove yourself from the herd and do your own thing. You’ll realize that you never needed those material things that impressed others but really did nothing for you. Most importantly, you will be more worldly and aware of things that most people are not. You will have a better understanding of how life is meant to be and how some of the happiest people on the planet are already living the new American Dream. You must have heard the stories? Millionaire CEO gives up corporate live, sells home and car and trades it all for a life of travel. People are doing it. Many people are doing it…and loving it…and are vowing to never go back to their old, cluttered lives!