Why I’m Embracing Minimalism
It all started when I was eight — the quest for what I call ‘the relentless pursuit of more’. Last week, I decided it no longer serviced, and that it was time to stop.
Right now, I’m sitting in my office surrounded by things. Things I’ve collected, things I cherish, and things that occupy my mind, my time and my attention.
Too many things.
For what seems like the longest time, I’ve sensed that the path I’ve followed — the one most of us are on — hasn’t delivered what I’d hoped. It’s a path littered with objects, forged through mindless consumption.
It’s strange when you wake up from something, be it a dream or mistruth; the effect is the same — a realisation followed by an adjustment. Sometimes it’s dramatic, other times, subtle.
This time, it was the former. And like many such moments, it came from a book.
It’s called “Everything that Remains”, by The Minimalists — a profound memoir about two friends (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) and their decision to let go of everything and follow a more deliberate way of living.
I’ve read a lot of books over the years, but this one’s had a profound impact on the way I think about achievement and creating a life filled with the things I really want.
This incredible book resonated on so many levels, but two of its messages truly stuck.
1. Goals Delay Happiness
As a goal-seeking type-A person, this one surprised me the most. I’ve had an inkling for a while that on their own, goals don’t actually deliver happiness — especially the OCD type S.M.A.R.T. goals.
I came to the realisation that if I make the work — the journey — the goal, it was far more likely to lead to happiness than the more common end-of-the-rainbow type goal. It speaks to the principle: Do the work, divorced of the outcome.
But Joshua took it a step further. He said, “I had goals so I could tell whether I was ‘accomplishing’ what I was ‘supposed’ to accomplish. If I met a goal, I was allowed to be happy — right? Then I thought: Wait a minute, why must I achieve a specific result toward an arbitrary goal to be happy? Why don’t I just allow myself to be happy now?”
He goes on to explain some of the profound benefits he’s noticed from dropping his goals — notably a dramatic reduction in stress, greater productivity (surprising, but understandable when you explore why), and an intense feeling of happiness and contentment. He now enjoys life moment by moment, without planning or stressing about the next accomplishment.
He goes on to say, “Living goal-less has changed my life, adding layers of happiness I didn’t realise were possible. I don’t see any reason to retreat back to a goal-oriented life. No more goals for me. My life is better without them.”
One of the great outcomes from this perspective is that it cuts the umbilical cord between ‘happiness’ and ‘stuff’. You no longer recognise a correlation between the two — with only a few exceptions. In other words, you virtually eliminate the accumulation or consumption of things as a gateway to pleasure. Your engagement with your work, your mission, becomes the gateway.
If you think about this deeply — the financial, emotional and psychological benefits are significant. Life-changing, actually. As a decades-long goal-driven person, this all comes as a revelation to me, and yet, it makes perfect sense.
There will always be task-specific goals in life (Eg. finish the Powerpoint presentation in time for the client pitch, etc.), but many of our personal goals can be tossed aside, replaced with themes and direction, instead.
As an example, I’m a lifelong car lover, and I would very much like to own a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S. I’m quite certain I’ll buy one sometime in the future, but I haven’t set a date for it nor a plan for how I’ll do it.
I have a rough idea of how it will happen and I know the direction my earning, spending and investing habits must travel, and that’s enough. I’m not anxious about it and I’m not desperate for it. And that fills me with a calm and steady resolve, knowing it’ll come to pass when I decide it’s time.
2. Accumulation is an Unwinnable Game
No matter what I’ve had, I’ve always wanted more — either in quantity or quality. Whenever I got a nice car, I wanted a better one. When I purchased an item of camping equipment, I wanted the other seven things that complimented it.
Joshua cites an analogy about a child unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. There’s lots of anticipation and excitement while he’s tearing off the wrapping paper, but it’s soon replaced by frustration and anxiety over the items he didn’t get.
Us adults are much the same, minus the tantrums and tears. And it’s stupid. It’s stupid because it’s a game we’ll never win. There’s always better, and there’s always more. There’s no end to it.
Contrast this with minimalism; optimising your life and the things in it to reach a point where everything you own brings genuine utility or personal joy, and you can see that this is a game you can win.
The End of the Beginning
In May, I followed a challenge with some strangers on Facebook — to discard personal items throughout the month, corresponding to the date on the calendar (12 things on the 12th, 28 things on the 28th, etc.).
I have certainly drunk the Kool-Aid, and I’m in. Maybe not all in, but I now have both feet wet.
The story of minimalism is personal and infinitely variable, according to each person’s circumstances and desires. I know that a simpler, more stoic life opens a lot of doors, and it begins with discarding physical manifestations of a consumption-led life.
And the payoff? This is what I’m aiming for:
- Less clutter.
- Less distraction.
- Less stress.
- Less thoughtless spending.
- Less surrendering to external influence.
- More free time.
- More pleasure from the things I own.
- More freedom to do things that matter.
- More immersion in the wonders all around me.
- More connection with the people who are important to me.
More Than Less
There’s a lot more to this minimalism thing than living with less stuff. The physical side of it is just the first step — a tangible manifestation of a culture gone mad. Minimalism runs through many layers, and I plan to explore them over time.
I’ll probably write about this a bit more as my journey through to a more intentional life unfolds. But right now, I’m just glad to have found these guys. If you haven’t watched their documentary, Minimalism: A Documentary, you really should. It’ll change your mind about a lot of the bullshit you’ve been fed over the years. And if you haven’t read their books on the subject, you can check them out below.
As for me, I’m thinking that less is the new rich.
While we’re on the subject of saving money, I’ve written a book on killing debt. It’s only nine bucks, and I promise it’ll pay for itself thousands of time over. If you have debts, you need this book. Get it and thank me later.
Books Worth Reading
Thanks for stopping by and I hope we get to hang out more in the future. And in the meantime, please feel free to share your own experiences. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I respond to all emails. If this was beneficial to you, please consider subscribing and sharing with someone you think would also benefit.
Disclaimer & Disclosure: I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not a financial advisor’s elbow. This material doesn’t constitute financial advice but rather a collection of personal opinions, based on my own experiences. Some of the links on my site are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. I provide links to services or products I have used and liked or researched and recommend. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you believe they will be beneficial to you
Originally published at Midlife Tribe — Midlife Mastery for Trailblazers.