When you feel out of place in a culture that tells you MORE is better.
In today’s age of materialism, online everything, and social media overwhelm, I feel like I don’t belong.
I’ve been feeling that more and more lately.
I imagine it’s like being a salmon that awakens to the fact that every other salmon is swimming downstream and you don’t really want to.
You start getting deeper into the existential questions:
What if I don’t want to?
What do I really want?
Why is the world like this?
One area of life that I’ve become really aware of is consumerism, desire, and the accumulation of things.
Let’s break this down.
I live in a beautiful beach neighborhood in La Jolla, California. I have this big south facing window in my place and for some reason, the blinds have slowly been coming off, one at a time.
It’s become a source of frustration to the point that whenever I re-adjust the blinds, one more blade comes off. To alleviate this problem, I decided to keep the blinds fully open 24/7. My houseplants that love bright indirect light (plant lovers, you know what I’m talking about) have been very happy about it. And I have too, except everyone can see through my window. I was thinking about getting curtains for the window for some time and a few weeks ago on a Sunday, my boyfriend and I decided to go.
This was a feat for us because on the weekends, we usually try to maximize fun and relaxation, and I don’t particularly like doing errands like this because it usually takes longer than expected.
So we got to the home store and I suddenly start to feel overwhelmed in my soul. There are so many people, alone or in twos or threes, picking up things for their homes. As I walked to the curtains aisle, I started to feel this uneasiness and my mind panned out to a hamster wheel.
The hamster wheel goes a little something like this. You live in a box. You start buying things to fill the box. You work for money to pay for the box and said things. Then, one day, you get a bigger or nicer box, sometimes signing a mortgage to do so. Now that you have a nicer box, you also upgrade your existing box accessories for nicer ones, and then you make more money to pay for said things. And the cycle continues until you’ve “made it”. But then you keep moving the needle so it doesn’t really stop.
I know, it’s kinda weird to be having these thoughts at HomeGoods but I found myself there, wandering the aisles and feeling these things in my heart.
I found some amazing curtains, waited in a long line, paid for them and went to another store to find the correct-sized curtain rods.
My boyfriend struggled to hang the curtains. Turns out, there’s no stud in the wall where we needed the center support to go. He tried a few other spots and found the stud but then the rod wouldn’t stay up because it needed to be supported from the dead center. The result was a few too many holes in the wall and a “failed” mission to hang the curtains.
I asked him, hey, did you feel weird walking around as we were shopping earlier? I shared my feelings and he said he felt the same way too. We then got into a discussion about our thoughts and feelings about minimalism, lifestyle inflation, and the never-ending quest for more.
After that conversation, I said, “I know I’ve been wanting to cover this window, but I think I’ll have to go without curtains.” He agreed.
Then he said, “so shall we head out to take all this back?”
I felt so seen.
We packed everything up just like they were when I bought them and we drove back to the two stores, waited in a few more lines, returned everything, and made our way back home again.
The whole endeavor took up most of our Sunday. I felt defeated.
That whole experience really woke me up to just how my perspective has changed so much. My heart desires minimalism.
Maybe it’s the many documentaries I’ve watched since March (including Minimalism). Or everything else that is 2020. Maybe it’s seeing the recent fires in California and realizing it could all change in an instant. Or reading books, blogs, and watching videos on the journey it takes to become truly financially independent. Honestly, it’s all of the above.
Have you been thinking about these things too?
I know I’m not alone in this.
I do a lot of reflection and introspection about contentment, comparison, and happiness. If this year taught me anything, it’s that you don’t need a lot to be happy.
It was such a shock back in March when all social activities were paused. There were no bars, restaurants, malls, or gyms open. The assignment was to stay home. I took it seriously. Through all those moments at home, for the first time in a while, I felt rested. The slower pace of life rejuvenated me. It also woke me up to deeper thoughts on consumerism. With everyone staying home with nowhere to go, shopping for clothes or anything discretionary seemed a bit strange. Like who are we trying to impress here? People on the internet?
For the first few months of the shutdowns, I bought only the essentials. There was a certain freedom to it. My first non-essential purchases during that time were plants to bring life into my home. They made me really happy and I got “good”at caring for my houseplants.
I don’t think any of us knew that COVID-19 and its effects would last this long in the U.S. and around the world. From the way things are going, this is going to continue into 2021.
Meanwhile, we’re relying on technology more than ever and we keep up with people’s lives through social media. With Instagram getting increasingly populated with ads, it’s pretty hard to escape at this point.
How do you exist in a world that continues to advertise the coolest new things, the latest in technology, or the most recent fill-in-the-blank?
What Minimalism Means to Me
For me, minimalism means a simplified life and a content heart. It’s intentional purchasing for the well-being of your soul and not for pure accumulation. It is being aware of your impact on the environment, other cultures, and any stakeholders along the way. It is using your resources to buy freedom, rather than short-term satisfaction.
It’s the thoughtful pause before you buy something. It’s the celebration of quality and how higher quality pieces stand the test of time. It is cooking a well-balanced meal and feeling the satisfaction from the process. It’s making the active choice to reduce your waste. It is buying second-hand when it makes sense and brand new when you need it.
There are no rules to minimalism except that it is an individual journey. A journey that brings a unique kind of peace and a lasting kind of happiness.
The Benefits of Living a Minimalist Lifestyle
The benefits of a minimalist lifestyle are plenty. One obvious one is you realize you don’t need a lot of space. Two minimalists can live in a 650 square foot place and feel spacious in it. You can breathe. The drawers, cabinets, closets, and storage are not full to the brim. Instead, they are organized, thought-out, functional, and clean.
You get to take advantage of the health benefits. An example from my own life is when I moved into my new place earlier this year, my place didn’t come with a microwave. I told myself I’d try what it would be like without one. Turns out, I didn’t need it! I cook and reheat my food from the stove or the oven. I’m sure I receive a sliver of health benefits from not relying on microwavable food all the time. Alternatively, after I moved in, I was still using a hand-me-down blender from a roommate years and years ago. It struggled badly to blend my smoothies and it was always such a loud, inefficient process. I decided to buy a brand-new, high-quality blender that would last me a long while from now. To me, both situations are minimalism in action.
You feel energetically lighter. Your emotions, energy, clarity, and mood can be directly affected by your surroundings. A clear, clean, clutter free space can make your aura feel 10 pounds lighter. You feel unbound by your environment and free to rest.
Your life is easier and more efficient. Having less stuff means less to clean, less to think about, and less to move out/in. Having quality but few things in your life means things work well and you can rely on them to work for a long time. You can gain time so you spend it with the people that matter.
Less is truly more.
How Do You Live a Minimalist Lifestyle?
So how do you do it? How do you begin a minimalist lifestyle?
It depends on where you’re at and how your relationship is with stuff. If fashion is your thing and you love clothes and shoes, you might actually have two closets and if you’re being honest you need a third. Or maybe you’re even more minimalist than me. Wherever you are on this continuum, what I’m about to share here applies.
Start with a Clean Slate
If you are moving soon or you just moved in, right now is the perfect time to reassess your things. Maybe you aren’t moving but you feel like you’re suffocating at home because you’re there 24/7. First thing you should do is get rid of things you don’t use or love. From anything in your medicine cabinet, your bathroom, your closet, kitchen, fridge, pantry, drawers, literally every space in your house. Make three piles: recycle, toss, donate. Then don’t just let your donation stuff sit, really get it done. Organize personal paperwork and file them away. Get rid of furniture that crowds your space. Try to be as objective as you can in the process. This is of course easier to do if you live alone. If not, have a conversation with your partner, family member, or roommate first. One of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had was coming home one day to find all my kitchen things in a box for donation. Have a conversation first. Don’t just act.
Do a Deep Clean of Your Space
Once you’ve cleared your space, it’s time to clean. Or hire someone to do it. It depends on what works for you and your minimalism standards. When your space is clean, you will feel all the more motivated to continue on this transformation. After this, set a schedule with yourself on how often you will maintain this cleaning schedule. For me, it’s a deep clean of the whole place done myself once a week. Sheets every week or every other week, laundry every week, dishes every time I use them. After you’ve gone through the physical steps, it’s time to go within.
Set a Minimalism Goal
For me, my minimalism goal is financial independence, retire early (FIRE). I recently started on the FIRE journey but that’s a different post for another time. Minimalism is strongly tied to financial independence for me because aside from the inherent benefits of the lifestyle, it is also the main pathway I see to reaching my financial goals sooner. Buying less stuff (that I don’t need or don’t bring me joy) directly helps me build my FIRE future. The less money I spend on non-essentials, the more money I can invest and grow, so one day, I will live fully on my investments alone.
When you don’t have a goal, it can seem like minimalism is like self-punishment and a way of making yourself give up short-term happiness for the sake of it (which to be fair has its own benefits too). Tying minimalism with my goal for financial independence gives motivation to the cause.
When I want to buy something that isn’t on my mental list of things I-need-to-buy-for-sure and is on my it-would-be-nice-to-have-this list, I can easily walk away from that purchase because I have the future in mind.
Not everyone who practices minimalism also has a goal for FIRE. There are other deeper motivations. This is just mine. Whatever motivated you to click on this post and read it this far, you probably already have a goal in mind.
Live Your Minimalist Life with Ease
The next step is actually living out the minimalist lifestyle everyday. This is the most important part. You will face choices everyday. You will encounter people making completely different choices than you. One thing to remember is it truly doesn’t matter what other people are doing as long as you’re happy and you like your path. You will want to splurge sometimes. It may make sense to. This is where you get to shape and mold your lifestyle based on what you want it to be, taking note of the lifestyle inflation trap and not getting caught up in the never-ending cycle of more.
It really is up to you. Shifting your perspective to a lifestyle of ease will really clear the path. It’s not hard and it is only what you make of it. There is a sweet spot you will find, where things feel in perfect balance for you and your life today.
Now you may be wondering why the photo of this article is me on the day I bought my certified pre-owned Audi. It’s a few things. My first ever car was a red 1987 Corolla hatchback that had no airbags, rather flimsy doors, manual transmission, and was a hand-me-down. I went through many more cars after that but I had always dreamed of owning an Audi. I leased the Audi I had before this one and after driving it for some time, I realized this car is the one. The one I would commit to and drive it until it won’t work anymore. I got an incredible deal on it, negotiated them to include Audi care for the maintenance, and the rest is history. Every time I get in my car, I feel safe, delighted, protected, and at peace.
This is part of minimalism for me. It’s not so much about luxury or a brand name. It represents quality and ease. Knowing what I know now about minimalism, I still would have purchased this car. Of course, every time I see emails from Audi with the shiny new models, I become aware of the part in me that wants something new or different. I get the same feeling when I see videos and photos of the e-Tron and think to myself how amazing it would be to have an electric version of an Audi (good for Audi loyalists and reducing carbon emissions too!)… But then I come back down to earth and see that I’m almost done paying off my car and remind myself of my goal of FIRE and the simple joys of minimalism.
I try to hold all material things with an open hand, knowing it can all change in an instant. I feel the same way about the things in my house that I love and enjoy. I’ve even asked myself this question. “What plant would I save if my place caught on fire and I could only save one?” It makes me sad to think about but yes, I go to places like this is my mind sometimes.
It’s healthy to recognize our place in this world, our relationship with things and possessions, and come to the realization that we are spiritual beings unattached to the material in the grand scheme of existence.