Some themes are suddenly trendy. However, I seldom participate in the Trend Du Jour. Most of the time I'm sitting somewhere in the wilderness taking pictures of moose. So, at some point I found out that "freaking out about your life and getting rid of superfluous things" is now called "minimalism".
And for many, it's almost like a religion. Because the True Believers feel you must be a minimalist—but of their own particular sect. They seem to have a secret list of things you absolutely must not own if you want to be a True Minimalist. And conversely, there are some things that they seem to feel are necessary to be a True Minimalist.
Whew. That sounds excruciatingly annoying. As it always does when someone else tries to spin a small, personal idea into a big thing with rules and principles, and then they judge you harshly by their own self-appointed guidelines.
Hmmm. What exactly is this minimalism? White walls? Do I have to throw everything away? Must I live without anything, and rush into the nearest thrift store, plastic-free, riding on a wire bike with a large, vainglorious donation?
I don't think so. I think minimalism is about first cleaning up your own head. Then deciding what you really need to be happy. Because that is what we all want in the end: to be happy. So, let's give that a try!
Clean up your head, I mentioned. Now you might think: what kind of esoteric drivel is that?
But if we stop and consider that for a moment, we may realize that our thoughts, our views, and our whole way of life have been influenced and cluttered like a pile of bulky waste since we were children.
Cluttered by the standard of living of our families, by advertising agencies, and by the media. By friends and by groups with whom we have interacted. By teachers and mentors. By people who try to tell us how to make something of ourselves and how to be somebody.
We grow up knowing what is “normal”: these clothes, this furniture, this home, this subscription, this car, this job, this income, this standard. And if my possessions are not that perceived “normal,” then I should strive to get it—or more—as soon as possible. I hear the urgings to get it all the time: from the kitchen table of the family, from online influencers, from advertisers in commercials, from speakers in seminars. Always more, always further, always better. According to the world, doing without it would be like trading in your current life’s operating system for Windows 98.
This is the moment to clear your head. And to raise a few critical questions. This is the moment to look around. Not figuratively, but directly, by looking in your own home, and in your own everyday life:
And the most critical question:
Because if it does provide you with a sense of well-being: perfect! That is the point of minimalism for me: If something makes me happy, then I don't have to get rid of it, throw it away and flagellate myself just to be a minimalist.
If watching classic movies gives me satisfaction, then maybe I do need a big TV with an expensive sound system. If cooking large and fancy meals gives me a sense of contentment or happiness, then I may need extraordinary kitchen equipment. If coming home tired from a job every night makes me feel good about myself and others, then it may be an exhausting job, but it is a fulfilling job. If this person next to me warms my heart, then it's quite certain that we will argue from time to time, but that person is worth keeping.
And here's the message: minimalism does not mean to sweep the entire table of life clean with one swipe of the arm. Minimalism is reducing the negative bullshit around you so that you have enough money, time, and energy to focus on exactly what brings you happiness.
Many years ago, during a meaningful long-term, solo journey, I realized that I needed very few items and very little space to be happy. I had merely a small suitcase and for months wore the same three (washed-as-needed) shirts over and over, the same pair of shoes, no makeup, no TV, no Netflix, and I often had only a small room with a bed at night. I realized what I could omit in life without missing it.
But I also realized what I absolutely need to be happy. Professional photography makes me happy. I need a good camera. I want to be mobile, spontaneous, and independent; I want to be able to go wherever and whenever the wind blows me. That's why I love having a car. I like social media, and I need a computer for my job as a freelance copywriter. So, I own a smartphone and a fast laptop. I like to travel and I'm often quite enthusiastic, so I want to be able to afford travel tickets, and I want a partner who can share my zest for life.
After my solo journey, I moved into a Tiny House for a while, transitioned from a full-time office job to self-employment, parted ways with negative people, and ridded myself of about three-quarters of all my belongings during a move. Keeping in mind the questions I noted earlier.
It was a liberation. The decluttering was no longer simply in my head, it happened!
Doesn't sound minimalist enough? I don’t really care. Because what counts is not the amount of all things thrown away, but the quality of life change that such an action brings you.
For me, minimalism means removing things from my life that needlessly swallow up my dreams and my happiness, piece by piece.
This can be something material like an apartment that is far larger than needed, utility costs that are far too high, contracts that are far too expensive, or acquisitions that are not used but eat up far too much of your money. It can also be something intangible, like a psychologically stressful job, a toxic relationship, or too little time for the family.
The good thing: It's never too late to ask yourself all those critical questions I noted above and clean up your mind. Clean out the residue of times past, old habits, the expectations of others, or even the outdated or false expectations you set for yourself. It's never too late to find your own personal form of minimalism and happiness.
If you're looking for more concrete ideas for making changes in your life, check out my Guide to Happiness.
[Paul Simon from Simon & Garfunkel]