To Live Simply is to be Resilient

I came to minimalist lifestyle coaching from a nonprofit career in sustainable buildings and neighborhoods. Resiliency is an approach to addressing global climate change, the most prominent issue in my work. Helping the planet and its built infrastructure become resilient requires action today to lower the impact of climate change tomorrow. My focus on global resiliency highlighted how we lack resiliency at the individual level. Personal resiliency is undoubtedly less complex and challenging to attain and pays off immediately. And yet, many people ignore it as a reason to build a minimalist lifestyle.

We build our lives too thinly, where one wrong move or unanticipated event can send us spiraling. Overbooked schedules are like the moment before the last block in Jenga is removed. Overstuffed closets and cabinets are no different. We approach life believing that we control so much more than we do right before it unravels. We have another option, however. We can acknowledge the complex realities of life and build intentionally around them. We can develop our lives to be more minimalist and mindful.

If resilient, you are “able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” Unexpected life events and significant life transitions can’t knock you down. You can withstand a recession or pandemic. You are adaptable when you don’t build the infrastructure of your life so thick with the unnecessary. You are clear on what you want and need and are accustomed to not consuming for consumption’s sake. You’ve been deeply honest with yourself.

When you evaluate what you genuinely want and need in your life, you play a different what-if game. Instead of thinking, “What if I need this slightly warmer scarf one day? I’ll keep it and buy another bin for all my extra scarves,” you think, “Does buying this house allow for resiliency? What if this house’s water heater goes out the next year? Will I have the time or physical wherewithal to keep the added square footage clean? What happens if I lose my job, will the extra debt spiral my future downward?” Being resilient involves asking the right questions.

As I mentioned in Minimalism is the Best Investment, resiliency includes your financial systems and practices. Simply buying less and having fewer fixed payments like subscriptions or higher-than-needed rent/mortgage payments are examples. Preventative health is similar. Resilient strategies are to eat well, exercise, and visit a healthcare practitioner before a problem worsens. For example, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older. However, with proper exercise and fall prevention techniques, seniors can be far more resilient to an unanticipated wobble.

Developing resiliency of mind and heart are complex efforts. They come with experience, time, and a certain inward tenderness. Practicing mindfulness as part of our minimalist strategy helps to strengthen the mind and heart. With mindfulness’s perspective on non-attachment, most of our things won’t feel like a loss if we have to say goodbye due to a life transition or economic hardship. While intricate, resiliency of the mind and heart are essential components of a minimalist lifestyle.

I’ve been a minimalist for decades and have seen how its freedom allows big decisions or transitions to occur with greater ease. Less holds me back from my most meaningful desires because there is less in general. Of course, minimalism doesn’t erase the problems or result in nil emotional impact. But it keeps things less complicated and more transparent. For example, when I split from my partner of twelve years, I had a lot to overcome. But untangling our lives and dealing with the “stuff” of it all was surprisingly simple. While it didn’t negate the emotional weight of the transition, it made its necessity clearer and kept the path of logistics svelte.

Here’s a less emotional example: email. Whenever someone mentions their email inbox 5-digit count with a squirm, they often follow with the reassurance that it’s not a big deal. They’re “managing.” They can get by this way. But they eventually miss essential emails or can’t locate a pertinent email in a stressful moment. Finally, a day of reckoning appears when they have to delete many emails in a panic because they’ve run out of or must purchase more digital space. They lack resiliency and therefore settle for managing haphazardly instead. Minimalism as a strategy could have made the management more effective, and they would never have had the storage overload crisis in the first place.

Resiliency, like maintenance, is an unsexy aspect of life. Yet, doing it well leaves room for more of the fun stuff we want, even during more challenging times. Things that don’t cost us something to maintain are more resilient than the opposite. When tragedy strikes uncomplicated lives, the disaster can be mitigated with more mindfulness and less fallout. By sustaining our lives effectively, we can maximize joy and fulfillment. An effectively maintained life contributes to minimalism and resiliency, and vice versa.

Minimalism today leaves us with less loss tomorrow. If a significant life transition or an economic recession hits us hard, we have more wherewithal to charge through. Resiliency is an ephemeral asset that pays off, almost like buying an insurance policy. Only you create it, hold it, and can pay it out to yourself as needed. That’s why minimalism is best “done” when you don’t need to apply it. You make the most thoughtful and appropriate lifestyle decisions when not in crisis.

So, what are you waiting for? Focus on building resiliency now.

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