Minimalism: a tool or an obstacle?

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I have noticed a surge in popularity of the practice of minimalism in recent years. Perhaps you have noticed this too. It’s very normal for parts of society to have some sort of pendulum-swing response to imbalances in our culture. In this day and age where we are (sometimes quite literally) buried in stuff, such a social reaction is to be expected. Thankfully it is because we have been blessed with so much that we have the luxury of seeking out minimalism if we desire to.

As is also typical of human behaviour, many people seem to have adopted minimalism as a sort of religion. Rules are set, various gurus begin to emerge, acceptable and unacceptable practices are decided upon and what was once perhaps just a simple intention to have less things becomes part of one’s self identity: ‘I am A Minimalist.’

Despite the somewhat religious fervour that may be present for some, there is certainly  merit to having fewer possessions.

Pursuing a lifestyle in which we are not chasing material objects gives us a lot more than it takes away. It is one very important part of creating space for what we really want. Rather than attaching our personal identities to minimalism as a cause in itself, it is perhaps better to approach from a basis of simply having and taking responsibility for only those things that we need and love.

It helps to think of ourselves, our personal resources and our time as finite; limited. The truth is that we do not have endless amounts of energy, money, time, mental capacity or emotional fortitude. Having too many relatively meaningless objects in our care that take up our space, eat away at our time and demand our energy as we move them around and take care of them, steals away from whatever resources we have been given.

This means that we actually do have less of these resources to work towards things that are truly important to us. When weighed down with too many physical objects we are left just spinning our wheels rather than making forward progress on our paths.

Removing excess from our lives helps to illuminate and bring focus to what we really want.

As you cultivate a mindfulness around what you own, you are made to consider how each object relates to your end goals, the things that you really would like to achieve within your lifetime. Reducing the distractions around us leaves only the things that matter, a constant reminder of what is important to us and of what we want from life.

Getting rid of stuff we don’t need allows us more space in our homes and in our minds.

This is important because when we don’t have enough space, we begin to feel as though we can’t move with ease. If we can’t move mentally or physically, it becomes more and more strenuous to be motivated and purposeful. This stagnation can rapidly become a roadblock, keeping us from progressing on our pathway to achieving the best for ourselves.

Reducing the number of items we have to care for gives us more time to invest in what matters most to us.

If you are someone who often complains that you just don’t have the time to do what you dream about, one of the very first things you need to tend to is how much stuff you have around you.

Perhaps you can’t immediately see how much time you are losing to trivial things, but once you begin to pare it down the cumulative loss of time will become very clear to you. Less stuff to care for simply equals more time. It would be interesting, if disheartening, to see a tally of how much time we’ve given to any one object over the course of our lives.

Ridding our living spaces of clutter quietens visual noise and creates a more peaceful environment.

Having less visual chatter around us both soothes us, creating a feeling of sanctuary where we’re able to rest and recharge, and stimulates our creativity. The brains of many creative people respond best to the ‘blank canvas’ full of hope and potential. When our visual fields are full of movement and noise, this is actually competitive to our creative drive and can be stifling.

Ensure that you do not put someone else’s ideals ahead of your own when it comes to the appearance of your home.

Many people seem to feel that decor is extremely important and that an undecorated house lacks warmth or doesn’t make an impact. If you’re anything like me, though, you may find that extravagant decor seems to serve very little real purpose and that you prefer to keep things quite simple. Realise that living your life according to the standards of someone else is a really good way to get sidetracked. Those who remain steadfastly on their own paths are the ones who end up reaching their goals.

Having less belongings puts the focus back onto humans and experiences rather than things.

My home is an excellent example of this. I found myself with eight young children and quickly came to a point in my life where I could not take care of all my children AND all of our things to a decent standard. All of the objects in our house were distracting me from my better purpose and depleting my personal resources so that I was no longer giving my best to my family. I actively chose my children over the things. I simplified the way we live, getting rid of many, many items that were keeping me from what really matters to me. Doing this has allowed me to strengthen the focus of my efforts and my resources on my kids.

You may not have eight children, but it is still true that by removing the distraction and noise of what does not matter to you, you’re better equipped and able to focus on the people around you. If you are someone who has trouble finding time for meaningful relationships in your life, simplifying and paring down your belongings will most likely help significantly. Interestingly, I have found that reducing clutter in our house (which includes limiting the number of toys we have in circulation) has helped my children to interact more peacefully and on a deeper level as well.

Once we take on minimalism, or any other ‘ism’ as a lifestyle practice, it is elevated from the position of a tool to be used, to a goal within itself.

Unless becoming a minimalist disciple is on your deathbed goal list, doing this transforms a potentially useful tool into an obstacle. You will be better served by aiming to simply keep things that you truly need or love, and letting go of the things that are invading your space. Let go of the ideology and keep what is practical and useful to you on your path.

As with all things, it’s important to develop a balanced outlook towards how many belongings we keep in our care. This can be achieved by acquiring a mindfulness of the actual cost of keeping things (in terms of time, money, relationships, space, energy and so on) without ascribing to ‘minimalism’ as a set of rules to be followed for its own sake.

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