Sure, you can declutter to have less — but what do you truly need? How essentialism is helping one woman pare down to the good stuff.
“Minimalism,” “making space,” “decluttering,” “tiny houses,” and “living with less” are probably familiar themes to you. You’ve probably seen countless articles touting the greatness of living with less.
It’s no wonder: We live in a society that shouts at us to buy more, look better, compete for more experiences, and make more money. We wrestle with internal tapes that say, “If we just bought that one more thing maybe we would feel better and be more accepted.” “Just maybe if I was better at makeup and fashion; or could create a flashier email campaign at work; or finally buckle down and become that version of myself that could lift heavier weights at the gym; or run farther; or finally cut the cord on sugar, gluten, and dairy, or….”
That’s a lot of mores, betters, and or-ifs. That doesn’t leave a lot of space left to be.
Naturally, the pendulum eventually swings the other way. After we accumulate so many items (and a long list of mores), we often find ourselves in the exact place when we started — but just a little more buried and overwhelmed.
We are still left with the task of being.
I, for one, am grateful for the minimalist movement, which offers practical skills that I’ve been applying to my life for years. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is this: It’s a process. Every month I’m scouring our 1,000-square-foot apartment looking for items we haven’t used or that are no longer useful. The rush of unloading so much from a space has become a sort of addiction for me.
It’s a process because it’s a new way of thinking about living and curating space. But it’s also, on a deeper level, the work of really looking at yourself — your heart, desires, motivations, inconsistencies, and core. It’s taking the time to get to the why. And frankly, that can be a little scary. Because when you start examining your surface environment — like the three blenders and 15 purses in the closet — and the emotional attachments you have to them, you begin to crave this type of curating in every area of your life. To stop at the surface just seems to be, well, not enough.
In my quest of minimalism I’ve discovered:
- The more I get rid of, the less I want to buy (except for those moments when all I want to do is go on a binge-shopping trip).
- The less I want to buy, the more I look into the cost of how these items were made — environmental and human-labor costs. I may spend more on a single item, but I feel like I’m contributing to society and valuing other people instead of just myself.
- I feel like an awful person when it comes to gift-receiving moments. I truly don’t want anything — and I truly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
- I can go overboard on wanting and having less in an unhealthy way.
- It often feels like people think you’re judging them because the same motivations no longer drive you.
- There’s always more to give away — which is this very strange phenomenon.
- I’ve tried to minimize my diet even further to cut out things that aren’t great for me.
- I’ve started trying to pare down and curate my time to create more space in my hours — and in doing so have begun to rediscover what I really want.
- It’s impossible to curate any of your life spaces based on what you think other people would want, think of you, or approve of. It causes you to get to the uncomfortable root of who you are — and then stand up for yourself.
Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, recently participated in a panel for The Mental Wellness Summit. At the end of his panel, he mentioned the two largest insights he came away with after writing his book. He notes that they seem like something you’ve heard before, but it was the way they went deeper into his heart that changed things for him and his wife. These insights were:
- “How pathetically short this life is. How absurdly, unfairly short it is. How ever little time we think we have, we have less.”
- “Work and family aren’t close in being in their importance. The idea that my work and my career is 50/50, it’s just completely untrue. Family is just so much more important than that. At the end of our lives, what will we care about? What will we wish we would have done?”
His conclusion: “I’ve got to chart a different path. A very almost revolutionary lifestyle if I wish to be aligned with those two insights,” he said.
Because I’m such a sucker for minimalism and pretty things, I recently picked up the latest version of Kinfolk magazine. It’s called “The Essentials Issue,” and I felt it was such a quintessential piece of this minimalism journey I’ve been missing. The issue spoke not only to paring down, but belonging, slowing down, and enjoying. It spoke to a chord in me that needed this dissonance to continue on this journey in a balanced way.
“Deciding what is essential in our lives isn’t about paring back our belongings and forgoing our beloved but unnecessary frivolities: Instead of determining how little we can live with, it’s about working out what we simply can’t live without. …. Of course, something can be said for living frugally — the focused attention, the lack of mental and physical clutter — but a life without joy-bringing superfluous additions isn’t really being lived to it’s potential. … Be thankful for the opportunities you have to indulge in being wholly yourself, and start looking at life through an essentialist lens.” — Nathan Williams and Georgia Frances King, Kinfolk, Volume 16
I think there’s something to this essentialism thing. I know I don’t want to say yes to everything (even if it means I don’t appear to be a team player).
I think it compliments minimalism well — and enriches it. And I think we’ll see a lot more of it to come in the future. I at least hope so, for it brings a lightness, joy, and beauty to a curated and often too-disciplined life. It brings a kinder sense of being.