“A minimalist home is very intentional,” Joshua Becker explains in an article for Good Housekeeping magazine. “Each possession is there for a reason.”
Most of us aspire to be happy, especially if you're like me and have a tendency to be pulled in lots of directions, and get thrown regularly into a state of overwhelm.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem, which comes from taking the decorating principles of minimalism and applying them to other facets of our lives. It's called Minimalism, a style used in interior design and decoration, as I'm sure most of you are aware, which embraces a modern, rather clinical style, with no clutter - hence, fewer distraction. The word is being used more broadly these days - especially since COVID - to promote a "less is more' approach to life that is kinder to our mental health, and to the environment as well.
Joshua Becker describes the meaning of minimalism in his article What Is Minimalism? in the following way:
“It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it."
You may argue that this new idea would obviously appeal to middle-class, middle-aged women such as myself, who feel newly invisible - and many of those reasons are valid - however, our younger generations are also embracing the idea and changing their priorities. The approach we use to style properties is all about distracting potential buyers from anything other than the property they are viewing - so imagine what a similar decluttering can do for our minds. What’s not to love about a lifestyle that promises us more money, time, happiness, and helps protect the environment? And unlike the decorating style, it can be practical as well.
So how do you become a minimalist?
“The minimalist lifestyle is about living with only the things you need. Minimalists are free from the desire to buy and accumulate more. Instead, they find happiness in relationships and experiences.” Joshua Becker
Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not simply about wasting a bank holiday to do a spring clean – although, that’s exactly what I did last Monday, and it’s a great starting point.
There’s more to simplifying your life than the physical process of tidying up and decluttering. There’s also a lot of mental work to be done and ingrained habits to change, and it can be hard to know where to start. So to help you out, these are the seven changes working for me:
Be more intentional. First of all, you have to really think about the purpose of your decision and what you really want to gain from it. My greatest fault is wasting money on tat when I’m in a funk. I can’t believe it’s taken my over fifty years to learn that quality beats quantity every time, but there it is. I’m that person who gets a thrill out of buying something new (that I don’t really need or want) and then letting it sit in the cupboard . The other important thing to do is to base your changes on what you want, not what your kids or friends expect from you, or even what your partner wants. This is your life – and if your partner doesn’t agree with your choices, chuck them out with the rest of the clutter.
Forget about owning stuff and consumerism. As I’ve already said, this one hurts. I am a shopper and I love that sense of instant gratification, which is why I haven’t caught the online shopping bug yet. I am also creative, so I take a huge amount of pleasure from wandering around malls and looking at beautiful things. An afternoon at the mall is one of the few times my brain switches off, so changing my buying habits is a work in progress. Where I’ve started is by buying less crap and only buying quality things I really need or recycled goods.
Change your mindset and your priorities. A bout of depression or serious anxiety is the best push to make changes in your life. But I don’t recommend them. Instead of waiting for that to happen – to meet unrealistic expectations or keep up with the Jones’ – prioritise things in your life that promote your wellness and health. Step into nature when you can, try some mindfulness if that works for you – it’s not for me, but listening to an entertaining podcast can have a similarly relaxing effect. Exercise, meet up with friends for some free therapy. Make the time to switch off and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it.
Stop worrying about what others think. Remove toxic people from your life, like friends who don’t understand your choices, who don’t value your opinion, who can’t have a discussion without shouting back at you, or who don’t treat you with the same consideration you treat them.
Stop competing with others. Forget about the Jones’. The ugliest part of a consumerist society is the way it pushes people to compete with each another and social media has exacerbated the problem. It’s natural, and throughout my thirties and forties I was guilty of comparing myself to others or attempting to live vicariously through them, but all it did was make me unhappy. The qualities I envy in people these days couldn’t be more different to the ones that impressed me when I was younger.
Be grateful. To my shame, I have loads of why me? days, where all I do is moan about what I haven’t got or why things never seem to go the way I plan them, but once I calm down – usually, on a walk – I am getting better at putting those thoughts into perspective. Don’t feel bad about them. A therapist once told me that feeling sorry for yourself is completely valid, as long as you don’t let that negativity overtake everything else.
Create processes. I have a scatty brain, particularly at the moment, and the days I don’t organise myself and write a to-do list, I achieve much less. Of course, it’s much easier to get distracted when you work from home - one minute, I’m writing, the next I’m flicking through social media, and the next I’m playing with the dog. But you need to be accountable to yourself for how you spend your time. That doesn’t mean you need to always be productive – far from it – you just need to be productive when you have to be. Having processes mean you’re not always chasing your tail, and more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment at the end of each day.
We have applied this theory to our chores at home. My partner and I have a system where we walk the dog, empty the dishwasher and cook on alternate days, and the rest of the chores we have divided up so they are equal in terms of pain. I do more cleaning, whereas he attends to the garden and the rubbish – i.e. We’re fairly conventional. However, being organised to such a degree stops resentment building, frees up our weekends, and ensures we can enjoy our Gin and Tonic each night without feeling guilty.
Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash