The endless ways that minimalism is like exercise

Do you exercise? Regularly? And if you do, why? And how does this relate to your eating habits? If you investigate your relationship to exercise and eating, you’ll find a correlation between that and the practice of minimalism.

The goal of our exercising and eating habits tends to be to lose weight (along with building muscle and improving overall health). With minimalism, the purpose is to lose the physical and emotional weight of all that stuff stuffed in your home. It also helps release the emotional weight of our calendars, task lists, memories, etc. We make relatively small sacrifices to gain more significant rewards with minimalism and exercise. It’s a trade-off that is often misunderstood or overlooked. Hence why many people abandon gym memberships and forgo closet cleanouts.

One of my clients used to train for multi-day bike rides and likened her training to the same consistency and doggedness needed when organizing her life. Unfortunately, we struggle to perform these activities when they feel tedious or difficult. Or we make excuses that we don’t have the time even though it would help elevate other aspects of our lives. When you work out, the muscles you seldom use become sore, making subsequent workouts more painful. Similarly, with minimalism, decision fatigue and frustration with minutiae keep us from persisting. We stumble through or abandon our goals for these reasons and a lack of discipline.

Much like how unintended weight gain and muscle weakness are symptoms of other problems (ex., not making time for health and emotional eating), a disorganized home is typically a symptom of a cluttered mind and not being clear on your priorities. So we have to unpack these deeper problems to solve how to succeed in muscles or minimalism.

Superficial abs (rectus abdominis) are the abs that make up the much-envied 6-pack. But just as important, though more often overlooked, are the transversus abdominis. They’re the deepest of all the abdominal muscles and can prevent back pain and protect your internal organs. These are “core” to your physical health but don’t get the same attention as a six-pack. Underneath the surface often lies what’s most important. It’s just less sexy. It’s like superficial organizing and tidying up, which helps a home look neat but doesn’t necessarily make wayfinding (and putting things away) easier. Nor does it address the deeper issues of whether you need something and why you’re holding on to it. Meaningful minimalism is the transversus abdominis of your life.

The number of pounds lost or gained doesn’t accurately reflect body transformation. It’s harder to lose weight after restriction, and typically we want to lose fat, not muscle. Counting calories can be helpful to a degree, but not all calories are created equal. In other words, numbers are not the driving force of meaning. Similarly, minimalism should not be measured by the number of bags donated or the number of pants in your closet. It’s more personal and nuanced than that.

As with exercise and a healthy diet, maintaining these aspects of your health is easier once you’ve approached your ideal weight and muscle mass and created sustainable routines. After that, the key is to keep it going. Same with minimalism. Once you do the major work and set up simple systems, you have to keep it up, and it’s easier to do so.

If you’ve had success with an exercise routine or healthy diet, what lessons can you glean and apply to your minimalist efforts? Often we can look to what’s working in our habits and personal proclivities to piggyback on. Only you know how to keep yourself honest. And just like a midnight run to the freezer for an ice cream snack, don’t hide away all the stuff you don’t want to deal with into a closet. We are the only ones that have to reckon with our health and homes.

*Note that some struggle with weight because of genetic reasons or lack of access to healthy food within their budgets or in travel distance.

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