(Note: Since my writing style is very *not* minimalist, I’ve decided to publish this piece as a series! Next week I’ll be sharing simple tips to a more minimalist life)
Minimalism is super trendy on social media these days, but you may be wondering what the heck “minimalism” even means. Is it when your home is completely white and you take a lot of flat lay pics with ferns and stuff? Or when you sell all your belongings and live out of a backpack as a nomad? Don’t worry, it’s not that extreme (unless you want it to be; you do you, boo) and if I can do it, anyone can.
Seriously, anyone who knows me will agree that the irony of me writing on minimalism is almost tangible, but I’ve seen the light, y’all. I wouldn’t yet consider myself a legit minimalist; I’m more, like, if a minimalist had a crumb on her shirt, I would be the crumb. However, after adopting just a few minimalist habits I noticed immediate improvements in my motivation and mental health.
By the end of this post, you’ll understand what minimalism is and how it can benefit you, too!
What is minimalism?
At its core, I view minimalism as a movement toward freedom from material things which centers around making more deliberate decisions about what you buy or own. On one end of the spectrum, extreme minimalists reduce their possessions to the absolute least possible (we’re talking a mattress, a set of cutlery, and fewer than ten articles of clothing – count me out on that), while on the other end, people may reduce their existing possessions a bit and buy items with more intention moving forward (it me).
Here are some interesting stats:
- The average American woman owned nine outfits in 1930. Today, that figure has ballooned to 30 outfits (Forbes) – I think this stat has a lot to do with women working outside the home and having control of their own budgets, but a 333% increase is still pretty staggering
- Per the Self Storage Association, the storage industry generated over $24 billion in revenue in 2013 – that’s 24B just to contain the excess stuff that doesn’t fit in our homes!
- The US is home to 3.1% of the world’s children, but owns 40% of toys consumed globally (UCLA) – makes you wonder how Toys R Us went under, RIP
So, if owning to excess is the norm, why should we behave any differently?
In a world in which we are constantly inundated with advertisements, societal norms, and social experiences reinforcing the message that we must buy, buy, buy to find happiness, minimalism is a rebellion against these influences and a prioritization of one’s unique preferences. According to The Minimalists (check them out here), “minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous in your life.” What a liberating concept, right?
How minimalism can improve your life
Besides totally rebelling against the man aka capitalist greed aka my incessant shoe shopping urges, minimalism has a plethora of other benefits:
A huge part of minimalism is taking inventory of what you currently own, assessing which items are of value to you, and getting rid of anything that isn’t serving you. Your space is yours and each item you allow to inhabit it should be contributing to your happiness, productivity, or wellbeing in some way. I have often found myself clinging to items that I don’t even like because of a scarcity mentality and that nagging “what if I need this someday?” voice in my head. Getting rid of duplicates, donating clothing that doesn’t fit quite right, and tossing chipped dishes, shoes that have seen better days, and other items that are past their prime will give your home a more tidy appearance almost instantly.
Let’s ponder an equation: more stuff = more cleaning and organizing. There isn’t much to this one, but it took a long time for this concept to click with me. I was constantly buying storage systems to organize and re-organize my stuff, but I just had too much! Once I got rid of things, organizing what I had left became so much quicker and easier.
Spending on fast fashion, buying into trends, snagging unneeded items just because they’re on sale, and having zero forethought on impulse buys can add up quickly. Being more mindful about what you choose to purchase will allow you to take pause and resist unnecessary purchases.
Think clearly and reduce anxiety
I have always considered myself to be a “pile” person, living in a constant state of semi-organized chaos, surrounded by piles of clothes, papers, etc. My college roommate can confirm that I would keep multiple loads of clean laundry on my bed for weeks at a time (sorry, Emily!), sleeping in a 2-foot wide space I’d carved out, telling myself I was just a carefree college student whose time was better spent studying or socializing versus folding laundry, but the truth (that I don’t think I was consciously aware of at the time) is that the quantity of items was completely overwhelming and I didn’t have the capacity to deal with it.
It’s always been (and still is) really hard for me to find a place for items to “live” and consistently return them to the same place. I can make a calculated reach into a mountain of laundry and whip out the exact top I was searching for, but the second I try to put things in proper places, the system breaks (my boyfriend can attest to this one; I’m banned from rearranging his things because my attempts at organizing always end in me losing the item indefinitely. It’s the thought that counts, right? *nervous laugh*). Even though it isn’t natural for me yet, once I seriously began decluttering, I was amazed by how much less anxious I feel when there are no piles around.
Don’t take my word for it: studies show that the visual system is limited in how many stimuli it can process at once (Broadbent) and these stimuli compete against each other (whether you want them to or not), so having excess items and clutter around your home subconsciously distracts and bothers your brain. By getting rid of things and clearing up your field of vision, you give yourself more capacity to focus on what’s really important (like how cute your dog looks when she’s sleeping). Additionally, owning fewer things means you have fewer items in “inventory” for your brain to keep track of. Therefore, owning fewer items = happy brain.
Find joy beyond material things
I am a semi-reformed serial stress shopper and have paid the price many times (literally and figuratively) for binge shopping sprees. I’m not where I want to be yet (it’s a journey, after all), but I have put systems in place to gut check myself and evaluate whether I need an item, if it will legitimately bring me joy, or if I am just trying to fill a void that’s completely unrelated to the purchase. Instead of using my belongings as a measuring stick to compare to my peers or influencers online, I feel more peace and content with what I already own and have conditioned myself to resist (most of) those impulsive urges to keep up with the Joneses (is this idiom still valid or is it Kardashians now? Pls advise).
The beauty of minimalism is that it comes in shades of grey, completely customized to and reflective of your unique preferences. Whether you dip a toe in or dive in head first, I’m sure you will benefit from a more minimalist lifestyle. On that note, head on over to part 2, 4 Easy Steps to a More Minimalist Life, to get a head start!
I hope you enjoyed this piece and thanks for reading!