Let me ask you something straight-up: what do you need in life? Or more precisely, what stuff do you need in life?
I was just reminded of this question at Christmas where this always-present question bothered me: what can I give people who have everything? Is there anything we actually need in life that comes wrapped in a box?
Let me take a step back for a moment. I once saw a comic that showed a father and son watching TV together in a room full of stuff. The TV blurted at them to consume more to help grow the economy. The author’s intention was clear: the two didn’t need to consume more because they already had too much stuff. However, the message on TV was also clear: if you don’t consume, the economy won’t grow.
And that’s the paradox we find ourselves today. Without the consumption of the goods we produce, there won’t be anything to produce and ultimately there won’t be anything to buy.
But do we really need to keep shopping to keep going?
What do we need?
There are only very few things in life we actually need: food, shelter, clothing, clean water, clean air, security, and potentially a source of power – that’s about it. You can also add sleep but that’s a discussion of its own. The point is, we don’t need most of the stuff we own.
Now, there are some people who have come to realise that and who are downsizing their lives. Most of them call themselves minimalists. There is a growing movement of minimalists all around the world. In some cases, it might start with a simple act of decluttering a house or apartment but minimalism is more than that. Minimalism is a lifestyle which needs constant attention and awareness. And minimalism is sometimes just plain hard.
Let me draw out the difference for a moment between decluttering and minimalism. Decluttering can be the beginning of living minimally. It’s an activity that can take any length of time – from a rainy day where you go through your wardrobe to months where you look at every single item in your possession and make a conscious decision about its uses to you. Decluttering can have a very uplifting feeling of being in charge of stuff. A famous example of decluttering actions is the KonMari method. The main question this method asks you is this: does the item in your possession spark joy? If it doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it. Although there is some deserved criticism of the approach I still believe it’s a powerful one. Once you have met your basic needs, everything else should bring you joy and not clutter your house.
The challenge of decluttering and where minimalism comes in is that minimalism as a lifestyle asks you to consider the question of ‘need’ constantly. Do I need this item? And if I think I need it, for what purpose do I need it? You can also go and ask yourself if it sparks joy. The trick is, to be honest with your answer.Once you have started asking yourself that question and accept the honest answer, you will be on your way to becoming a minimalist.
Being a minimalist
The minimalist movement often links itself to such benefits as financial stability, mental health, more gratitude, and generally a stress-free life. While those can be very true for some people, they are in no way a sure conclusion of living minimally. You have to decide for yourself if those benefits of minimalism could apply to you and then get to work.
Let’s look at an example. Financial stability is an often quoted one and something that most people can relate to. So, if financial stability is your goal and motivator then minimalism can be a part of your journey. By asking yourself every time you intend to spend money if you truly need the item in question, you can build a strong foundation for financial stability. In that case, minimalism is a great tool to use.
However, pursuing any goal in life usually requires more than just this one question. Financial stability requires more than just a second of stopping and contemplating. It’s a starting point but not a magic wand.
Regardless of how you feel about minimalism and its proclaimed benefits, I do encourage you to experience its power in your life. Minimalism is a basis for living a more conscious life with better choices and more ownership. Even if you can’t live without a certain device and you are not ready to give up something, being aware of its role in your life is an important, if not the most central, starting point. Being aware of the stuff around us, holding us back from living a conscious life is essential.
A beginner’s exercise
I want to finish this post today with a little exercise for you to do. The task gives you an entry point into minimalism without getting rid of anything in your house.
I want you to take a box and fill it with ten items. Put in two items from your kitchen, two random items from your bathroom, two random items from your bedroom, two items of clothing, and two items from your lounge area. Don’t put in items you need on a daily basis but rather something you need occasionally. Put all the items into the box with a piece of paper and a pen. Then store this box away.
Over the next days, if you hear yourself wanting an item from the box, maybe first look for an alternative. If you really need it, go and get it. On the paper, note down the name of the item and when you took it out. If you want, you can return the item to the box when you’re finished using it and make a note of the time you used it for. But you don’t have to return it. You decide when this experiment is over. It could be when you’re sick of going back to the box and getting stuff out and writing it down, or it could be when the box is empty. It could also be when you have forgotten about the items you put in the box. At this point, I would encourage you to either donate those items or throw them away.
There is no use of items in your house you don’t actually need. Once finished, look at your paper. How much did you miss the items in the box? How quickly did you get them out of the box? Or did you get them out of the box at all?
This task, of course, can be a stepping stone to a much larger decluttering action. I personally always have a box sitting in a corner with items to be donated. And I applaud you if you can do the same. As I said above, minimalism is not a decluttering action once in a while but a lifestyle. Living minimally is not a one-off thing but it’s a continuous decision against consumption which will have to be seen through, every day, every minute of every day. And sometimes it’s hard, sometimes impossible, and sometimes extremely rewarding. Stick with it and remind yourself why you are doing it.
And finally, while minimalism urges you to buy less stuff, it is not anti-consumption. Do we need all the stuff in the world? No, but we do need some of it. The trick of living minimally is to find your personal balance of consuming. What is it you need in life and what is just clutter in your house?