I’ve been thinking a lot about minimalism recently, specifically the idea of living with less stuff and prioritizing experiences. Over the last two years, this philosophy has been incredibly effective in helping Amy and me slowly craft our lives into what we’ve wanted them to be. There are just so many different considerations that it can sometimes be overwhelming to think about whether or not we’ve landed where we should be.
Is this ideal? Should we keep decluttering?
Many minimalists live out of a bag or two, while some focus on having 100 things or less. Then you have the idea of rational minimalism, perhaps living in a tiny home or an RV, and the list goes on. There are so many different ways we can choose to live our lives, but much of it relies on the constraints or rules that we apply to make those decisions.
Would it really make my life better if I only had 100 things? Despite several rounds of decluttering, we probably still have a couple thousand things in our home. I think it would be an interesting project to count and list everything one of these days, but it’s not high on the list.
As it currently sits, we don’t feel that our possessions are preventing us from living the life we want. Our home is easy to clean, we don’t have financial obligations to things we purchased in the past, and we’re not feeling held down by anything in particular.
It feels like minimalism has helped us get where we want to be. With that being said, we want to make sure that continues to be the case.
One small addition of clothing, or a small gadget here and there wouldn’t make a noticeable difference in our happiness and environment. The problem comes when we slip into a state of relative comfort, things build up, and all of a sudden the clutter closes in.
Indeed, that’s the purpose of the rules that people create for themselves. They’re not something intended to create discomfort or unhappiness in your life, instead the rules should act as a simple guide. An alert of sorts, or a notification that it’s time to consider how things are changing.
Once you run up against that boundary that you created…
It’s time to mentally check in and see if the choices you’re making are still in alignment with your vision. Perhaps something has changed since then and you prefer it another way now.
That’s the benefit of creating these types of checks and balances in your life – they’re wake up calls to evaluate if things are still going as you hoped they would. If not, it’s time to adjust, modify the rule, and move on.
If we spend all of our time obsessing over whether or not we have 100 items or less, or wondering if we might be happier with less clutter, it defeats the purpose of minimalism all together.
I’ve been using these concepts for a few years now, and here are three examples of them in my everyday life:
Undershirts and Graphic Tees. I used to own over 50 tee shirts and I didn’t even like all of them. Free promotional shirts from events, old shirts from way too long ago, etc. They occupied multiple stacks on my closet shelves and took up a ton of space. Doing laundry became a massive chore due to wearing nearly every shirt between washings.
I donated about 40 of those shirts, and have since picked up only a few (I found a love for simple gray tee shirts without anything on them). Instead of putting the shirts in a folded stack in my closet, I stacked them vertically in my dresser drawer in a single column. This streamlined my laundry, and allowed me to take the time to hang dry all of the shirts I have. This makes them last longer, and have less wrinkles, but that’s beside the point.
My life is better owning only the tee shirts that I really love, so I want to keep it that way. As soon as it gets hard to fit all of my shirts into the single column of my dresser drawer, I know it’s time to question whether or not I still want all of them. It’s a quick reminder of all the time I save doing laundry and the extra care I provide to the shirts I do love.
Physical Books. After purging all of my unread books, I decided to create a new rule. I tried the Kindle/ebook thing, and it was not for me. I retain information much better when I’m reading a physical book and decided to stick with the real deal.
The rule? I would not purchase or borrow a new book until I had either finished or given away the book that I was previously reading. I knew that I had a habit of buying books and then not reading them, which is not only wasteful, but simply a bad idea. It was my desire to learn about the book’s topic, but then a new shiny book would come into play and pull me away from it.
This rule forces me to acknowledge when I’m not interested in finishing a book, which is totally okay, and actually makes me act on getting rid of the book before acquiring the new one. Secondly, all of my books are in my night stand drawer. This space limitation allows me to focus on a small number of books that I want to reference from time to time, and similar to the shirts, provides a check-in when I have more than I can fit in the drawer.
Screen time. Days spent in front of a smartphone are some of my worst days. As fun as it can be to check in with friends and loved ones with technology, infinite scrolling social media platforms and media websites play into our human psyche and like a drug, try to keep us coming back.
I use an app called Moment on my iPhone to track my daily usage. It allows me to limit the amount of time I can spend on the phone, enough to take care of business, with some wiggle room. I don’t often have issues with this as I try to leave my phone on its charger in the other room as much as possible, but it’s nice having a backup tool to keep things in check.
It doesn’t feel bad at the time, but looking back on a day when I’ve spent too much time on my digital devices just feels… heavy. We can spend our time in much better ways, even simply relaxing or doing something to calm our minds.
How about you?
While it may seem that creating these type of restrictions on your life may make you miserable, take some time to consider what rules you might make for yourself. Creating check points can be incredibly helpful in making sure you’re still on track with your goals.
While these are just a few examples of how I use checks and balances to make sure I’m living in alignment with my values, there are many more ways to use similar systems. What are some of the things you do to ensure you’re still on track?