Tuesday, December 24, 2019

How Minimalism Keeps You Authentic

Everyone has aspirations in life and bills to pay, so it’s tempting to do whatever it takes to get to your goal. But how will you sleep at night if you aren’t true to yourself? In this post, there are three sections we’re going to cover, listed below.
  1. My recent experience with staying authentic
  2. How to be authentic in the face of temptation
  3. How minimalism helps with authenticity

My recent experience with staying authentic

It’s been a minute since I posted anything. I can’t say my health is too much better (I had shingles twice in two months!), and getting the care I need is moving at the pace of a glacier. And the speed is that of a glacier from maybe a hundred years ago, not even our current climate-change glacier speed. ; ) But I’m hanging in there.
An interesting thing has been happening since I last posted, which gave me a great topic to broach here. I’ve had many businesses reach out to me with requests to add links to my blog or do guest posts.
I’ll be honest—this blog does not make me much money at this time. This is in part because I can't spend as much time on it as I would like. It’s a labor of love because I believe in the topic and I want to help as many people as possible. While these people were offering potential income opportunities for me, I chose to turn them down because they were off-brand. It would be pretty hypocritical of me to gush over reducing consumption and making life simpler and then flood my page with ads for things that you probably don’t need. Not to mention I refuse to endorse products that I’m not familiar with myself, and I had no personal knowledge of any of these brands.
Also, after I left my soul-sucking job, I promised myself that being self-employed meant never bending my ethics just to make a buck. If I was ok with that, I could just go work for “the man” again.
Anyway, the whole ordeal made me think this was a topic that could use some discussing because I’m sure we’ve all had opportunities to do something that we might regret later. Here are some alternatives.

How to be authentic in the face of temptation

Something that I’ve coached many people on is staying on track with your goals. I tell people that whenever I’m faced with a decision, I ask myself whether going through with that choice will bring me closer to my goals, or further away.
On the surface, accepting money (or recognition, or whatever is being offered) may seem like it will get you where you want to be. But will it really?
Think about it like a diet pill, or the ad for that get-rich-quick scheme. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. These are just fads, preying on people who are looking for an easy out. The truth hurts, but there really is no easy way out. I guarantee you that virtually every overnight success story out there was preceded by dozens, if not hundreds, of failed attempts. I’ve seen, read, and listened to tons of interviews of people who have succeeded at something, and they all say the same thing. They put in a lot of work and were willing to move past mistakes before they finally got it right.
But nobody really cares about failures—they want to know about something that works, so they can do the same. So the success is where people start to take notice, and it’s easy to assume that these successes came easily.
But anyone who’s tried a fad diet or paid $99 for their “new business start-up kit” knows that in the end, the shortcuts don’t work. Not only that, but you’re probably worse off than where you started.
So tip #1 to staying authentic is to remember that there are no good shortcuts. Just detours that end up taking you off course and wasting your time.
Tip #2 is to forgive yourself when you forget about tip #1. To err is human. Move forward and do better next time.

How minimalism helps with authenticity

Striving for a simpler life and focusing on what’s near and dear to you creates good habits. As you settle in with minimalism, you become accustomed to consuming less and appreciating what you have. I don’t think that the urge to consume ever goes away completely, but it certainly diminishes with time.
This means that temptations become less tempting. Not only that, but the idea of having clutter, or filling up an empty schedule, may start to feel uncomfortable. You may decide that it’s so much more fulfilling to be…unfilled.
And needing and wanting less is very helpful for the wallet. Simplicity is very affordable when done properly. You’ll find it easier to come up with the money for your bills every month, and maybe even start having some money left over.
You also may start to crave things that are not what others can typically tempt you with. For example, who’s going to pester you to not go out shopping so you can stay home and read a library book (except maybe the library)? Or put up an ad that proclaims you should take a nap?
No, they want you to buy a car or a $50 T-shirt that cost them $0.03 in materials and was made with toxic chemicals by someone who isn’t earning a living wage. And they don’t care whether you can afford it, either.
I don’t want to get too negative here. Not everyone who’s out to sell something means harm and is only out for themselves. But I can guarantee you that every person who came to me asking to post an ad or article on this website was hoping to get something out of it, and I’m pretty sure that is usually the case anytime something seems to be easy or helpful but requires you to bend your own rules a little. Proceed with caution (go back to tip #1).

What is a Minimalist Person?

A minimalist person is often described as someone who wants a simpler life. But I’d like to expand on that definition because as a minimalist I actually prefer things to be easy over being simple. Either way, for me, minimalism is about letting go of anything that takes your time, space, energy, and money away from what’s really important. It allows you to focus down on the most important people, things, and ideas in your life.

Common characteristics among minimalists

Among people I know that are minimalist, there are a few things that I’ve noticed in common:

  • They make what’s most important to them a priority. They willingly give up things that don’t matter as much, and it makes them feel better to do it.

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  • They enjoy having open, uncluttered space in their homes.

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  • Living with less is not seen as restrictive; it’s empowering. It’s freedom.

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  • Minimalists make choices that allow them to have more purpose in their lives.

If any of these things resonate with you, then you might be a little bit minimalist, too! But even so, minimalism looks different for everybody. In order for it to work for you, it has to change as you do. It must adapt to the different phases of your life.

The key is that it should make your life better. If minimalism makes you feel trapped, unhappy, or deprived, then one of two things are happening. Either you are not applying minimalism in a way that works for your life, or it simply isn’t a good fit for your personality. While I personally don’t believe that having a bunch of stuff or a crowded schedule is right for me, I also believe that trying to force someone to live like I do is not going to make anyone happy. So if you feel like minimalism is too restrictive for you, then maybe you should explore other options to make your life better.

How do I know if minimalism is right for me?

As you saw from my previous articles about different types of minimalism,  there are a lot of ways to be minimalist. If you haven’t read these posts yet, I suggest you go back starting with the first one: What is an Aesthetic Minimalist? Work your way through them, and look for things about them that seem interesting and exciting.

My personal favorite, if you haven’t guessed, is what I call “gradual minimalism.” I’m big on planning, so huge decisions in my life usually do not happen quickly. Choices that I make happen over months or years. I’m nearly a decade into my minimalist journey and I know there will still be more changes. Also, as I mentioned before, I will choose easy over simple. For example, I recently bought an air fryer from Amazon because even though it’s big and bulky, it makes my life easier. I can bake things in there without having to turn on the oven and make the RV hot, which then requires me to use the air conditioner. We use it several times per week, so it’s worth it even if I’m less than thrilled about how much space it takes up. I’m being true to myself and what I need to do to make my life better. Does that make me less minimalist?  If it does, I don’t really care.

So if you’re trying to be more minimalist but it feels like it’s starting to chafe, take a break. Perhaps you’re just going too fast for your comfort. Try slowing down or even stopping for a bit. Look at the situation from different angles. Focus back on what you really want, and see how your current actions are aligning with your goals.

For me, possessions are just one aspect of minimalism. But it’s a good place to start. Owning and managing stuff tends to mess with how much time, money, and stress we have. Not to go all Marie Kondo on you, but is what you own making you happy? She says that as you hold each object, it should spark joy, like how you feel when you’re hugging a puppy. How much joy does your possessions create? How would your life be different if you didn’t own (fill in the blank)?

There’s a saying among minimalists: do you own your stuff, or does it own you? Is a life dictated by your possessions a life that will make you happy and fulfilled?

How would your life look different if you didn’t own the big house with the expensive mortgage? The car with the hefty monthly payments? That outfit you had to use your credit card to buy? The collectibles on your shelf that take you an hour to dust every week? The kitchen gadgets that you thought you needed, but just get shoved out of the way to get to the items you actually use?

No judgment here. Life is full of choices and nobody makes the best choice every time. I've made a bunch of decisions that I regretted later, and I bring those examples up because I have personal experience with a lot of them. But if I look at them objectively, none of them worsened my life irreparably. They were just bumps in the road. So if you feel like something you decided was a bad idea, give yourself some compassion. Look at it as a learning experience, and do what you can to change how things are right now and in the future.

Do I have to get rid of everything I own to be a minimalist?

Absolutely not! I know that there are several minimalists out there who proudly say they don’t own a TV, and maybe even sleep on a mattress on the floor, because owning a bed frame is not minimalist enough for their tastes. If they are happy living that way, that’s what works for them. But that doesn’t work for everyone, and I don’t believe in condemning people because they choose to watch television or own some furniture. I watch TV. In fact, our current RV has three TVs in it. All three of them get used regularly. <<Shrug>>

I’m betting that just about everyone out there thinks they have more than they need, no matter how minimally they live. Life is cyclical, and people often go through times of abundance and scarcity. As we get comfortable with routines, some clutter will build up and need to be dispersed once again.

Also, what you have now may be just right for this moment, but too much or too little for a future version of yourself. I don’t recommend using this as an excuse to hang on to things you don’t need right now, though.

How can I be minimalist if my family isn’t?

This is a common problem and a situation that I have myself. Out of the three people in my household, I am the most minimalist. It can be a challenge to be more minimalist than the people you live with, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what’s right for you.

However, as I mentioned before, trying to force someone to do it with you isn’t likely to work. Even if those close to you agree to become minimalist, it’s likely you still will disagree on the level of minimalism you want in your life.

Here are some suggestions on being minimalist when those around you aren’t:

  • Focus on your personal possessions rather than joint possessions when it comes to decluttering. You can still be minimalist with your own clothing, books, electronics, etc.

Try to carve out a space that is a clutter-free zone. Even if it’s just half of your bedroom, ask the people you live with to respect how you have arranged this space, and not dump their stuff into your area.

  • If other people’s opinions or actions distract you, keep going back to what’s important to you. Maybe it’s consuming less so you can be debt-free, or spending less time on chores so you can take better care of yourself. If it helps, put an inspirational quote or picture up where you can see it to remind you.

Sadly, I have seen people divorce because one wanted to make life changes and the other didn’t. The objective in minimalism is to make more room in your life for what’s most important to you. So if you find yourself fighting with your loved ones over how much stuff you have, ask yourself: is it more important to you to lose the stuff, or keep your loved one?

Lead by example rather than trying to convince. As you become more minimalist, you will have more free time. You’ll have more focus. You’ll feel lighter and happier.  Seeing these changes happen in your life may be enough to at least make others curious about how they can be that way, too. Be open and free of judgment when answering any questions they have.

Talk to your partner about you working alone in a common area. They may not want to participate but are willing to let you do your minimalist makeover by yourself. Ask if they have any reservations, or if there’s anything in there they really want to keep. Let the results of a cleaner, more efficient space speak for themselves.

Be supportive if your family gets irritable, hurt, or accusatory as you work on your own minimalism. There may be a strong emotional component in their attachment to their stuff that makes them feel threatened by the changes you make. Read my post about why it’s so hard to get rid of your stuff for more information about this.

Employ patience, and look for support elsewhere if you can’t find it at home. Try connecting with other minimalists, or maybe seeking counseling, either by yourself or with your partner. If this is something important to you, then your feelings should be valued just as much as other people’s. Find a way to have your needs respected without treading on other’s feelings.

Being a minimalist person is a journey, not a destination

I’m not aware of anyone who got rid of that one last thing and said, “I’m done now. I’m exactly the perfect amount of minimalist and this is how it’ll be forever.” I think the key to enjoying a minimalist lifestyle is appreciating what you have and how it serves you while being open to change.

Meanwhile, a person who consumes heavily will always be reaching for more. No matter what they buy, it will never bring lasting satisfaction. But I think everyone has at least a little of that pull to consume inside of them.

We all have those moments—the ones where we come across an artfully marketed something or another in an ad, a store, or demonstrated convincingly by someone whose opinion carries weight with us. Our mind starts fantasizing about having what the product promises. Or maybe having the life that the actor or salesperson says we can have if we just owned this one thing.

Sometimes we give in, sometimes we don’t. Which decision is correct? That’s something only you can say for yourself.


What is a Frugal Minimalist?

A frugal minimalist--also called an expense or financial minimalist--is a person who consumes less with the ultimate goal of saving money. We will discuss this type of minimalist in more detail in this post, as well as ways to incorporate this type of minimalism into your life.
This post is the fifth in a series about the different types of minimalism. Here are the others:
Before we get started, I want to say that you don’t have to be one type of minimalist, nor do you have to follow all the tenets of a minimalist lifestyle to consider yourself minimalist. Heck, don’t even use the word “minimalist” if you don’t want to. This is a guide to help you pick and choose ideas that work for you. Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or not. We are humans, not archetypes.

Features of an expense minimalist

First, let me say first that there is a difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugality is about having as much value as possible in your life without spending unnecessarily while being cheap is simply paying the least amount of money possible on any purchase.
Therefore, a frugal or expense minimalist wants to get the most cost-effective value for any purchase while limiting their possessions to those that are most important.  Some reasons why a minimalist might also choose to be frugal include:
  • Trying to reduce debt
  • Wanting to build up savings or retirement account
  • Wanting the freedom to live a simpler life that costs less money so they can work less
There is a movement called FIRE: Financial Independence / Retire Early.  These are people mostly in their 20s and 30s who are working toward a goal of retiring as soon as possible.  They save as much of their income as they can and put it toward investments with the plan to live off the interest.  For a period of time, they work as much as they can, whether it’s grabbing overtime, working multiple jobs, or starting a side gig. Of course, it helps to increase your income, but that is not necessarily a feasible goal for everyone.  A more obvious choice is to reduce expenses as much as possible and live a frugal lifestyle. Many of these people may (accidentally or on purpose) end up also being minimalist.
Another example is someone who is temporarily living this lifestyle as a way to achieve other goals. What comes to mind is someone who rents out a room or moves into a tiny house or RV so they can reduce debt or save money to buy a conventional home. We did something similar when we combined our existing minimalism with more frugality. We left the expensive San Francisco Bay Area in our RV and traveled to cheaper places in our old motorhome. It was actually cheaper for us to travel full-time than to live in an RV park near San Francisco. So much cheaper, in fact, that we paid off over $30k in student loans within just a few years, plus saved up money to buy a newer, smaller RV.

Behind the scenes of a financial minimalist

Financial minimalists have a plan for their lives. They're more likely to have a strict budget which they refer to often. They are willing to take the time to find the best value for any purchase they make, including doing lots of research, clipping coupons, or waiting for sales.
They're likely also fans of things given to them for free. They are willing to accept hand-me-down clothing, furniture, and other household items in order to avoid the expense of buying something themselves. They may be experts at updating existing pieces or learning how to repair things themselves. Or, they may also be willing to accept things as they are, concerned only with their function rather than how they look.
Financial minimalists will hold on to quality pieces as long as possible.  The potential conflict between frugality and minimalism occurs when a frugal person wants to hold on to things that they aren't using, just in case they're needed in the future. The minimalist side of the equation is to of course rid themselves of anything unnecessary. A financial minimalist must find the balance between these potentially opposing ideas.
As with all lifestyles, just be careful to not push yourself so far that you feel deprived. This will not lead to sustainable habits. Leave room in your budget to spend money on things that you really cherish and add value to your life.

Ways to incorporate expense minimalism into your life

As with an eco-minimalist who is new to both, I think it's easier to start off with either being more frugal or being more minimalist at first, but not trying to take on both at the same time. You can pick from the suggestions below to see which interests you most.
  • If you don't have one already, create a budget. Examine ways that you can reduce any excess expenses. For ideas about this, see my post: 13 Things to Stop Buying to Save Money.
  • Try using a purchase pause, especially when you are thinking about making a big or expensive purchase.  A purchase pause simply means waiting to buy an item for a certain amount of time to make sure that you really want it or need it. You can pause for 24 hours, a week, 30 days, or longer. I like to wait at least a month, and I find that usually by the end of that month I no longer have an urge to buy what I thought was so important before. While you are pausing, consider how the purchase will affect your finances in the long term. Think about how many hours you will have to work to pay for this item. Think about how much interest you will have to pay to buy it (if you are using credit). Ask yourself how making this purchase will affect your goals in other areas of your life, such as taking a vacation, buying food, or retiring.
  • Look at items that you have not used in at least six to twelve months. Is it realistic that you will need them anytime in the future? How easy and cost-effective would it be to replace this item should you need it? Is it likely that someone else out there could put your possession to use immediately, instead of it collecting dust at your house?
  • When deciding on things to buy, weigh the current cost against their future value. Sometimes, it is more frugal to spend some extra money now than to save money now but pay again later. The cost of living is only likely to go up. Therefore, your dollars go further today than tomorrow.
  • When grocery shopping, look to buy items in bulk. Most grocery store tags show the cost of an item by weight.  Most of the time, buying a 20 lb bag of rice will be cheaper than buying 10 two-pound bags of rice. This will save you money, but only if you eat a lot of rice. We go through rice like crazy in our house, so this makes a lot of sense for us. If you don’t eat a lot of any particular food, then it’s best to focus only on buying quantities of what you will consume within the next week.
  • Try various apps and websites to save money on everything that you buy. some examples are Ibotta, Ebates, coupons.com, and RetailMeNot. Just don't fall into the trap of buying something just because it comes with a discount. Often times, these products still cost more than other brands or generic/store brands.
  • Buy now only what you need right now. Things change, and you aren’t likely to recover the cost of something you buy but never use.
  • For some people, being either frugal or minimalist is not a choice, but a necessity. If your financial situation prevents you from over-owning or overspending, consider this a blessing. You are gaining valuable skills in how to live with less and appreciate everything that you have. If you were previously in this situation and now find yourself with more income and buying freedom, it may be tempting to spend more freely and fill up your house with the things that you didn't have before. Try to measure your choices against impulse. Use reason and logic to decide where your money goes and how your space is used rather than making emotional buying choices that may harm you in the future or leave you with buyer's remorse.
  • Consider the sunk cost fallacy. This is where a person continues to hold on to something because they fear that by letting go of it, they're losing money. The fallacy behind this idea lies in that you can recover the cost you paid by continuing to own something. Generally, everyday items have an unrecoverable cost. You have spent the money, it is gone, and keeping something that you already paid for does not change that fact.
Instead of seeing frugality and minimalism as in opposition to each other, see them as two concepts, each of which can empower the other. Someone who is mindful of their expenses is less likely to purchase items that they don't need. And someone who wants to live with only the things that add more value to their life can easily save money.

Friday, December 20, 2019

What is an Eco-Minimalist?

An eco-minimalist makes decisions about their purchases, possessions, and lifestyle based on their impact on the environment. They want to protect the earth and live as lightly as possible. This post will go into further detail about the different characteristics of an eco-minimalist and how you can incorporate more eco-minimalism into your own life.
This post is the fourth in a series about the different types of minimalism. Here are the other posts:
Before we get started, I want to say that you don’t have to be one type of minimalist, nor do you have to follow all the tenets of a minimalist lifestyle to consider yourself minimalist. Heck, don’t even use the word “minimalist” if you don’t want to. This is a guide to help you pick and choose ideas that work for you. Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or not. We are humans, not archetypes.

Features of an eco-minimalist

With each purchase an eco-minimalist makes, they consider how it affects the planet. This concern often comes before the wish to have conveniences for themselves. An eco-conscious person might own a Prius, but an eco-minimalist might take that a step further and not own a car at all.
Like an essential minimalist, an eco-minimalist will try to buy just the necessities. The difference is that an essential minimalist might have less concern for the origins of the products they buy. Both still want quality over quantity, but the eco-minimalist also wants the products to be responsibly made, with a minimal carbon footprint.
Many eco-minimalist that I know of also try to reduce their meat consumption, buy used goods as much as possible, and encourage local businesses to recycle. They aren’t afraid to reach out to companies they spend their money with and let them know that they want them to act more responsibly. In many ways, they are just like anyone who lives in more eco-friendly ways. They just do it while owning less stuff.
One example of an eco-minimalist that comes to mind is YouTuber and blogger Verena Erin of My Green Closet. She’s a former fit model who lives minimally and carefully researches household products, clothing brands, make-up, and personal care items before making her recommendations about them. I like her because she isn’t afraid to point out the faults in the products she reviews. She also advises people that they probably won’t be able to find everything they want—for example, they may have to choose between a local company and a company that does organic, because it will be hard to find both.

Behind the scenes of an eco-minimalist

Given that the majority of society is very consumerist and there are still people who refuse to believe or admit how much humans are damaging the earth, it can be challenging to live as an eco-minimalist in the modern age. If one owns any type of electronics or equipment, they are potentially making a negative impact on the environment. Even today, the “greenest” manufacturers of cell phones, TVs, and various appliances still use polluting techniques to create their products. The website globalcitizen.org says that buying an average smartphone impacts the planet through the mining of rare earth minerals, resulting in a pool of toxic runoff, water supplies polluted with black coal dust, and sulfur in the air. Many cell phone manufacturers still use child labor in some part of their operations; one report is that over 60 children were killed inside mines in 2008.
And all of this is before the smartphone is even manufactured, a process that creates greenhouse gases. More pollutants are created each time you charge your phone as well. Lastly, one source says that only 16% of e-waste is recycled. The rest ends up in our mountainous landfills, the components leaching into the soil and water. Landfill waste is often burned, releasing more toxic fumes into the air.
But who doesn’t own a smartphone these days? As you can see with this example, a dedicated eco-minimalist would have to make a lot of agonizing decisions on a regular basis.

Ways to incorporate eco-minimalism into your life

I don’t want to discourage anyone who wants to take better care of the environment. I just know that trying to be a strict eco-minimalist is a tough road. If you’re starting from scratch, trying to minimize your possessions in an eco-friendly way and being conscious about consumption at the same time is a lot to take on at once. That’s why I recommend taking baby steps in either direction as you adjust. Here are some ways you can be more eco-minimalist:
  • As you’re downsizing, make sure you have a new home for things you aren’t keeping that doesn't involve putting them in a landfill. There are ways to find a new place for just about anything out there. Take a look at my post about getting rid of stuff for some ideas.
  • Pick an area of your life where you spend a lot of money. Food is a good place to start for many people. There are many, many things that people can do to make more planet-friendly food choices. Here are just a few simple ones: eating produce in season, choosing products with minimal packaging, and buying whole (real, unprocessed) foods as much as possible.
  • For times when you have to use paper products, choose brands that use recycled paper, or more sustainable paper alternatives.
  • Those of us who are RVers and camp off-grid know about “military showers.” It’s also something many of us grew up within drought-stricken California. It’s where you run the water to get your hair and body wet, turn it off to soap up, and turn it back on again to rinse. Using this method is a water-efficient way to brush your teeth, wash your hands, and wash dishes as well.
  • As they need replacing, switch out appliances for more energy-efficient versions, toilets, and showerheads for their water-conserving counterparts, and incandescent or fluorescent bulbs for LED ones. Try not to change out things just because you want to get green as quickly as possible. Wait until you actually need to do it because the old equipment is worn out.
  • If you do end up getting rid of something, do you really need to replace it? It’s ok to have empty space.
  • When you need to buy something, I recommend using the following order to search out your purchase and reduce your impact on the planet: 1. local and used, preferably of eco-friendly materials; 2. local, eco-friendly, and new; 3. used but online; 4. new, eco-friendly, online; 5. purchase pause. If you’re not familiar with the term purchase pause, I’ll be discussing it in more detail in my next post.
There are ways to renew, reuse, and recycle in the next sections.

Renew

Can you upcycle or update something instead of getting rid of it? Sometimes an alteration or a coat of paint brings enough vibrancy to an item that you don’t need to replace it. There are many TV shows, YouTube channels, blogs, and Pinterest accounts focused on rehabbing old stuff. If you prefer old-school inspiration, look for books or magazines you can check out from the library. It doesn't have to be expensive--free information is everywhere!

Reuse

For eating out, bring a reusable water bottle, travel mug for coffee and tea, and container for restaurant leftovers whenever you go out. Bring your own silverware if you’re eating take-out on the go instead of getting throwaway plastic utensils. You could also carry a cloth napkin with you. It’s better to have them on hand--in your car or bag--so you don’t have to worry about remembering to bring them whenever you leave the house. Ask servers right up front not to give you a straw with any drinks you order, and not to put your take-out in a plastic or paper bag. 

At home, use old rags or reusable cloths for cleaning. Try out cloth napkins instead of paper ones.

Instead of buying new containers to store things, consider reusing empty containers you would otherwise throw away or recycle. I love using old glass jars from pasta sauce for dry goods (or homemade pasta sauce).

Recycle

Did you know tons of recyclable materials get thrown away every year? Part of the problem stems from things landing directly in the trash when they could be recycled. The other issue is that people try to recycle containers without cleaning them first. Many recycling plants don’t have the capacity to decontaminate dirty containers, so they will just throw away whole batches instead. Make it your business to know what you can recycle in your area, and prepare items for recycling the right way.
You don’t have to take big steps to be more minimalist and eco-friendly. I think the two actually go well together. Environmentally conscious decisions are a matter of doing the best you can, whenever you can.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

What is an Essential Minimalist?

An essential minimalist is someone who prefers quality over quantity in every aspect of life—and just the essentials needed for a complete life. They want to own fewer things, but they want them to be durable. Essentialist minimalists want to do less, but their actions all have purpose, efficiency, and high value.
This post is the third in a series about the different types of minimalism. To see the first post, visit: What is an Aesthetic Minimalist? The second post is: What is an Experiential Minimalist?
Before we get started, I want to say that you don’t have to be one type of minimalist, nor do you have to follow all the tenets of a minimalist lifestyle to consider yourself minimalist. Heck, don’t even use the word “minimalist” if you don’t want to. This is a guide to help you pick and choose ideas that work for you. Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or not. We are humans, not archetypes.

Features of an essential minimalist

This type of minimalism is not to be confused with the philosophy of essentialism, and I want to make that very clear upfront. Philosophical essentialists tend to reduce everything to what they consider a basic essence which is universal among each person or group of people; for example, an essentialist might argue that all men are inherently more aggressive than all women due to their hormonal makeup, and this is an unchangeable fact. I don’t agree with or care for this type of stereotyping; if you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that about me. I encourage everyone to express their own individuality and follow their own set of rational guidelines.
In contrast, an essential minimalist believes in reducing their life to the absolute necessities. However, what one person considers essential will be different from another. This is where a lot of people can become judgemental about minimalism. I’ve seen some people get criticized for “not being minimalist enough” or people saying they “hate minimalism because it makes them give up all their stuff.”
But if you are giving away things you actually need to conduct your life, then by definition you are not adhering to the guidelines of an essential minimalist. This behavior would lead to inefficiency in how you conduct your daily living. Furthermore, being in a state where you are lamenting over the items you gave up will not lend to the focus and drive required to live a life where you excel in all actions you take.
The concept of essential minimalism requires you to create a balance by weeding out possessions you don’t have use for until you have exactly and only what you need. Similarly, in your schedule, you would remove all “fluff” from your life by streamlining any and all unnecessary tasks. You also want to hone your skills in any essential tasks so that you do them as well as possible.

Behind the scenes of an essential minimalist

Essential minimalists believe that possessions create stress, distractions, and financial ruin. The opposite of an essential minimalist would be a hoarder: someone who saves everything they have, regardless of its functional use (or lack thereof).
Essential minimalists don’t save anything “just in case;” they are willing to take the risk that if the time comes, they may be without what they need. The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) did an experiment in this realm and found that most of the time, acquiring what you need can be accomplished in 20 minutes or less and for under $20. An essential minimalist will use this belief to pare down their belongings to the bare minimum.
Over and over again, as I help people move through their minimalist journey, I hear the same thing: their story about what physical stuff means to them changes as they become more minimalist. There are things that they thought they needed; once gone, they realized this was untrue because months or years went by and they didn’t need to replace what they gave away. They also had items of sentimental value that they felt were essential to their emotional well-being and sense of self. Yet they were able to let them go. Once they did, they realized that the memories attached to the items were what was important; the keepsakes were not missed at all.
This shift doesn’t always happen immediately, or even all at once. There can be a lot of pain and resistance at first; part of a person wants to let go, but the other part doesn’t. But time after time, I see the same perspective change occur with every person. Once the resistance is in the past, they feel light and free without all that stuff they didn’t really need.
The same goes for a less hectic schedule. When any action you take is important, your life has a purpose. You feel fulfilled and strong and you get things done. Minimizing meaningless pursuits not only allows you to accomplish more, but it also gives you more time to rest. And a rested person is a focused, happy person.
An essential minimalist could also be nomadic. But unlike the experiential minimalist nomad who keeps a home base or stores items, the essential nomad would prefer living out of a backpack that holds just the necessities. They might work for short stints for portions of the year so they can be idle the rest of the year, or focus on ways to create passive income. No matter what they choose, they would likely take pride in doing the best job possible.
Aesthetically, they are less likely to be concerned with the decoration of their space or themselves. Their focus is on function over form. They might choose the comfortable piece of furniture over the one that is more pleasing to the eye, because a beautiful but uncomfortable chair is not useful.
They probably also won’t bother signing up for gym memberships they know they won’t use or associating with acquaintances who are fair-weather friends. They want everything and everyone in their lives to have value and meaning.

Ways to incorporate essential minimalism into your life

  • For those who want to downsize in all areas of their lives, try the 100 things challenge, but instead of giving away the rest of your stuff, put it all in your garage, basement, or storage locker. Try to use only 100 items (total) for an entire month, while keeping the rest out of sight and out of use. But 100 is just a number someone came up with because it seemed catchy—the number that works for you could be lower or higher. It just should be less than what you use right now. After the month is up, challenge yourself to see if you even remember what it is that you stored away. Do you really need all of it?
  • If paring down to 100 things in your entire home seems way too overwhelming and scary, consider doing a trial downsize in only one area of your life. For example, you could create a capsule wardrobe (see My Minimalist Closet for ideas). Or, have only one item per person in your kitchen for a month (one spoon, fork, knife, bowl, plate, and cup per person in your household).
  • As stuff wears out, replace it with higher-quality items that last. For example, instead of having six pairs of cheap shoes that start to look bad after only a few months, buy a single pair of well-made shoes that you can keep on hand for years.
  • Or when something breaks, let it go without replacing it. Don’t hold on to things you never use if they don’t function properly. Face the reality that their usefulness has passed, and find the best way to remove them from your life permanently.
  • Decide to cut down to 50% of what you have in a certain area of your life. For a lot of women, cutting down their beauty products by 50% would still mean they have too much stuff. I see women with bags or drawers full of beauty supplies, and there is no possible way they could use every product each day--or even every week or month! Try a capsule set of items surrounding your normal beauty routine, and throw out or store away everything else in an unmarked box. After 30 days, if you can’t remember what you put away, you probably don’t need it.
  • When you go grocery shopping, don’t buy things just because you’re running low. For example, if you realize you have a bag of flour in your pantry that expired, don’t buy a new one right now. See how long you can wait until you actually bake something. Don’t buy extras of items just because they’re on sale, and limit your impulse buying by having a meal before you go to the store. Try to work off of a list instead of buying whatever looks good, and keep your purchases to what you can eat in a week. Aim to empty your kitchen of food (including most dry, frozen, and canned goods) before you go out to buy more.
  • Unsubscribe from all mailed advertisements, magazines, and emails that are trying to sell products. Not only do they represent the temptation to buy things you don’t need, but they are cluttering your home and your inbox. Not to mention the wasted time to sift through them to get to important things like bills and correspondence from friends.
  • Create a budget that is reasonable and realistic for your income and stick to it. Focus on paying off any debt and putting money into savings and retirement accounts rather than spending it on filling up your space.
  • For one week, cut out any social engagements or activities that are not essential. Essential might be your weekly yoga class, which helps reduce stress. Going to Happy Hour and spending $30 on drinks might not be as essential. Firmly say no to anything that does not fully align with your intentions for the week to get things done. At the end of the week, note how you feel. Did you feel less stress? Did you achieve more goals? Did you notice (and enjoy) having extra free time?
  • On the action side of essential minimalism, take one area of your life where you want to do better, and start working on that. If it’s your finances, take a class about budgeting, getting rid of debt, or investing. If it’s your health, learn more about nutrition and how to cook balanced, tasty meals at home, or make an appointment with a doctor to help you get on track with your health goals. If you always wanted to learn photography, learn it! The point is, choose something that you do and improve how well you do it. Make space for it by putting aside activities that you don’t consider a priority.
  • Give yourself space in your schedule to do nothing. You can even block out time on your calendar. Then, resist the temptation to mess with your phone, tidy up the house, or whatever other productive things you think you should be doing. Instead, daydream about what you want for your life. Sit outside and take in some nice views. Take a nap. Slow down and just be present. This may seem off-task for essential minimalism. But automotive mogul Henry Ford saw how the productivity of his factory workers went down after they worked too many hours in a row and started instituting a maximum 40-hour workweek. We've known for a long time that stopping to do nothing improves our ability to take action.
  • Try using Zen techniques to improve your focus on what you are doing. Leo Babauta from Zen Habits discusses bringing more mindfulness into each day, and each activity done each day. The main concept is to do one thing at a time and focus fully on that task while you do it. When you eat a meal, just eat the food. Don’t also watch TV, or answer emails, or drive. When you take a walk, just walk. Don’t look for shots to Instagram, or keep one eye on what you’re texting. Over time, you will find yourself in a more meditative state and calmer overall.
This type of minimalism can seem daunting to many, but is a very useful tool for gaining focus and clarity in your life about what you want and need. If it seems overwhelming, go back to why you want to be more minimalist. Think about easy ways to incorporate more minimalism in your life, rather than trying to do it all at once.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

What is an Experiential Minimalist?

An experiential minimalist is someone who considers experiences more valuable than possessions. A classic example is someone who saves their money to travel instead of spending it on clothes or housing. I will give more examples below, and also talk about how to incorporate some aspects of this type of minimalism into your life.
This post is the second in a series about the different types of minimalism. To see the first post, visit: What is an Aesthetic Minimalist? Before we get started, I want to say that you don’t have to be one type of minimalist, nor do you have to follow all the tenets of a minimalist lifestyle to consider yourself minimalist. Heck, don’t even use the word “minimalist” if you don’t want to. This is a guide to help you pick and choose ideas that work for you. Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or not. We are humans, not archetypes.

Features of an Experiential Minimalist

Travel is often a key motivator of well-known experiential minimalists. These are the people who sold everything they own so they can travel. They might move into an RV like we did, or maybe they travel the world with most of their possessions in a single suitcase or backpack. A lot of them have found a way to work online as they travel, which is often referred to as being a “digital nomad.”
Since most people aren’t independently wealthy, having the time and money to travel means having to take it away from other areas of their life. This means experiential minimalist travelers do a massive purge of their possessions to both raise some money and also have fewer long-term expenses. If you’re never going to be home, it doesn’t make sense to pay for rent or mortgage on a place that will sit empty most of the time.
There are many people who don’t understand this type of behavior. Before we started traveling, my former boss asked me whether I would keep paying for a space in the RV park where we used to live. I guess she thought I needed a placeholder in case things didn’t work out. We’ve also had a young person ask us, “Don’t you ever just want to go home?” I responded, “We’re always home.” The idea that a particular location is “home” just doesn’t feel applicable to us any longer.
There are other ways to be an experiential minimalist besides being nomadic. It simply means you choose experiences over having other things, because that’s what makes you happiest in life. Here are some examples:
  • Using money to take art classes instead of buying clothes
  • Going out to eat with friends frequently instead of getting a new phone every year
  • Living in a cheap apartment so you can work less and have more time for volunteering, being more involved in your place of worship, or taking a more active role in your community
  • Giving up your home and most of your stuff to move in with a sick relative—or clearing space in your home so a loved one can move in with you
  • Cutting down on expenses so you can afford to cut back on work hours and stay home with your kids
  • Buying books or music instead of furniture or clothing
In short, having stuff is valued less than having experiences. For most people, one must take priority over the other if you want something with any sort of abundance. Most of us have to work to pay bills and have to make the choice about what is most important. I would say in general, having a home full of stuff and also spending money on experiences does not make you an experiential minimalist, because you have not made a choice to exclude one for the other.

Behind the Scenes of an Experiential Minimalist

I’d say for nomadic experiential minimalists, exploring is what makes them feel the most alive. Going to a new place is not scary, it’s exciting. For me, even when I try something different and it doesn’t work out the way I thought it would, I still consider the experience interesting and valuable.
For stationary experiential minimalists, they may also like to try new things more often than your average person. Variety is the spice of life, and experiential minimalists like their lives full of flavor. This doesn’t mean they’re always doing new things; there are sure to be plenty of old favorites in the mix. Either way, it’s all about having the most of what they love, and as little as possible of the things they don’t.
I think an experiential minimalist is also more likely to be a risk taker. They feel that status quo life is not enough for them. They hunger for change. Some are adrenaline junkies, but many are just curious about what’s out there.
I’ve also come across many experiential minimalists who realized life is too short to defer enjoyment to the future. Like me, they’ve had a wake-up call in the form of a health scare of their own or of a loved one. They were reminded how short life is, and that waiting for some uncertain future date to enjoy themselves was a bad bet. Most of us don’t like to think about how long we have on this earth. But sometimes reality slaps us in the face. We realize all those long work hours to pay for things we don’t need, in homes we can’t afford, takes us away from what we really want to do.

Ways to Incorporate Experiential Minimalism Into Your Life

You don’t have to love travel or sell all your possessions to enjoy the benefits of experiential minimalism. It’s simply about making choices that are more aligned with having the time, space, freedom, and finances to funnel toward the things you really want in life.
For example, say you want to quit your job so you can do something else; maybe you want to start a business or be a stay-at-home parent. It’s unlikely you can decide to do that today and implement it tomorrow; there will be several steps you have to take. You will probably need to make some changes to how you live now. There will be planning involved, and for a while you may have to make your life more difficult to reach your goal.
You have to be willing to take actions outside of your comfort zone and expect some disruption in your life now to create a better future. But most experiential minimalists don’t feel like they are sacrificing, because they care more about what they are working toward than what they already have. Change is welcomed.
I’m not saying you have to be a reckless daredevil to live a more experience-oriented life. But you do have to be willing to change, and that probably means some discomfort on your part. If that feels like a deterrent to you, consider this: permanence is an illusion. The nature of life is change; everything about you and around you is fleeting. You can try to resist. But it is impossible to keep everything exactly the same, because there are too many things outside your control. Accepting this doesn’t just help you be more minimalist, it also makes life easier in general.
If you think experiential minimalism is a good fit for you, here are some small, easy steps to make it a bigger part of your life:
  • Choose going out to eat over buying a pair of shoes
  • Save up money for a weekend away instead of using it on decor for your home
  • Take the kids to Disneyland instead of buying them gifts for Christmas
  • Hire someone to clean your house so you can sit at the beach all day
  • Cut your cable bill and use the money on a spa day each month
  • Pay for a healthy meal service so you have time to meditate or exercise instead of grocery shopping and cooking.
  • For your next birthday, ask people to volunteer with you at your favorite charity instead of giving you presents.
  • There are more ideas in my blog post, Spending Money Where It Matters Most.
  • In general, choose to focus on things that have a more lasting positive effect on your life. Most studies show that the euphoria from shopping quickly fades, but remembering events creates more sustainable happiness.
In other words, physical objects can get broken, lost, or worn out. But the memories from a great experience can last you a lifetime.