“If you would make a man happy, do not add to his possessions but subtract from the sum of his desires” – Seneca
You and I are programmed.
We have been programmed from early age to acquire more possessions and never be satisfied with what we have.
We were told we need to buy new cloths every season, a new car every few years and the latest gadget each time it’s announced.
We were conditioned to trade our freedom for a 30-year mortgage, so we can fill our 4 walls to their maximum capacity with stuff we don’t really need; another candle holder, another piece of furniture, another cute little bowl.
And when the space runs out, we go and rent more storage. The Self Storage industry is now an estimated 20 billion dollar business, and that’s in the U.S. alone. In fact, North Americans have more than twice the amount of space than a few decades ago, despite the fact that the size of their families has decreased in that time.
We have far more freedom than any people in the history of mankind, yet we choose to trade it back for more stuff.
What we do not have though is more happiness.
Do you enjoy running around like a mouse on a wheel, always in a hurry to get things done, trying to cram more and more in just so you can pay off your bills?
Does that luxury item you can barely afford give you real fulfillment?
If this all sounds a bit depressing to you, don’t fret. After all, we did not have much choice. We were conditioned from an early age to be consumers in a well-functioning system built for profit.
I want to use this space to offer a new paradigm, one that I have been embracing for the last three years; a paradigm that advocates for a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
I call it “Minimalist Living”.
What is Minimalist living?
First, let me address what it is not.
Minimalist living is not about being frugal or living on a shoestring budget. I own quality products, I travel the world, I spend when it matters.
Being minimalist is not about denying pleasure or depriving yourself of all the things you want.
It does not mean we have to give up the comforts of the 21st century. Consumerism, after all, is not the devil.
Minimalist living is rather a balancing act.
It’s about being fully aware of all the options we have, yet choosing only those which give us the most benefits and eliminating those that don’t.
It’s about stripping away the unnecessary and getting rid of things we don’t really need, so we can free our time and resources for that which gives us true joy.
It’s about living without an obsession with material goods or an obsession with newness.
It’s about quality, not quantity.
Minimalist living can mean something different to each person. For some, it may be giving away unwanted clothes and cleaning things up, and for others it may be living in a bare-essentials cabin surrounded by nature.
Whatever it means to you, being minimalist is something that is worth getting excited about.
Less stuff, less debt and less clutter mean more freedom, more joy and more room for what’s important.
A story of two lives
Perhaps my first awareness of the concept of Minimalism came after watching the movie American Beauty.
There were some scenes in that movie that stayed with me for a long time (My favorite by far is the “It’s just a couch” scene. Search for it in YouTube)
In many ways, American Beauty represents our Western society’s addiction to consumption in its futile attempt to regain more happiness.
The reality is that racking up debt to acquire more stuff has never been a reliable source of lasting happiness for anyone.
For many years I was craving simplicity and a life of less consumption but it only really happened three years ago, just before I left for my round-the-world trip.
I literally purged 95% of my possessions. I never really realized how much crap I owned until I moved.
Suddenly, my new life was more than the sum total of what I owned; it was rich with freedom and possibilities.
Everything I owned I could carry on my back. I had no return date, flight ticket home and no job lined up.
And it happened not only because of my trip but also because of my newly adopted minimalist lifestyle; a lifestyle with no cluttered schedule, no ongoing expenses and no giant TV.
Simplifying your Life Right Now
Obviously you don’t have to go on a round-the-world trip to enjoy the benefits of minimalist living.
Start by realizing you already have enough. Then start simplifying.
Choose a room in your home and asses each and every single object. Ask yourself – “Do I truly NEED this object?”, “Do I use it on REGUALR basis?”
If the answer is “No”, then pass it along to someone who could put it to better use by selling it, donating it or giving it away. If you can’t even give it away, instead of storing it, simply recycle or dump it.
Remember, less is more in this case.
Here are some specific item groups you want to focus on in your simplifying process:
1. Books – When I was young I had a dream of having floor-to-ceiling bookcases with all the books I’ve read. I’ve rationalized that I may need to go back to these books for future research. In reality, I’ve never gone back to any of my old books and they just collected dust on the shelf, so just before my RTW trip, I gave away 90% of my books to friends, complete strangers and the local library. These days, I own all my books in a digital form and mainly use Kindle or my laptop to read. It’s worked great for me.
2. Music – In this digital age, there’s no better time to get rid off your entire CD collection by converting them into high quality audio files. There are plenty of free software programs that will do the job.
3. Clothing – This might be a challenging one, especially for many women among us, but we’re all guilty of hoarding clothes that we no longer wear. Key questions to ask here: “Does this piece of clothing fit me?”, “When’s the last time I wore it?”, “Do I own too many similar items?”. In my case, I pared my wardrobe down drastically keeping only the most versatile and classic styles. It continues to work perfectly in my minimalist lifestyle.
4. Paper – There is no real reason to keep paper beside a few original documents that have legal signatures on them, such as Birth Certificates and Identification Cards. Everything else can be scanned and stored electronically. Say goodbye to all those overflowing paper folders and cluttered files.
5. Electronics – Multifunctional is the word here. Instead of keeping up with single-purpose devices, concentrate on multi-purpose items such as smart phone or a laptop. With my laptop, I am able to listen to music, watch videos, read eBooks, call on Skype, work on my business, browse the internet, store my documents, and even watch television online when a show particularly appeals to me. As a result, I have not owned a TV for eight years. No complaints!
Despite what the media would like you to believe, you will not die if you don’t own the latest, greatest, soon-to-be-obsolete version of everything.
We are conditioned by a well-functioning marketing system to chase sugar high after sugar high without thinking of the true price we pay for them. Frivolous spending leads to excess consumption, debt, information overload and less free time.
In a world of endless shopping options, buying more stuff is easy, too easy. More often than not we do it in search of more “happiness”, but the truth is that it only brings temporary joy in our lives. We’re merely filling a “hole” rather than looking at what the true void may be.
What you need instead is to make a commitment to simplify your life right now.
- Cut back your possessions to what is absolutely needed. It will free you for the more important things in life.
- Buy and own quality stuff that you’ll love for years. Not in momentary events.
- Choose to spend money on experiences over possessions. Their memories last longer.
Minimalist Living is a rewarding path to a more meaningful life; a life with less attachment, more clarity, and more freedom.
Take the road less traveled and give it a shot. You’ll not regret it.