Minimalism Isn’t About Less Stuff

Minimalism. The buzz-word. The new, cool thing. Decluttering, joy-sparking, KonMari’ing. What does it all mean? Do you throw away all your stuff and suddenly become cultured, rich, and happy? Turns out there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. The mindsets behind it can be applied to anything, and the benefits are greater than you’d think. Let’s step away from the hype to figure out what minimalism is all about.

Several years ago after working 80 hours per week with no exercise, a terrible diet, not much of a paycheck, a failing business, and a trip to the ER due to a panic attack, I needed a lifestyle change. While looking for answers in places other than the financial success I was chasing, this “minimalism” trend revealed itself from the dark void of the internet. I was all in. I hunted for the best articles, poured over gear posts and ultra-light backpacking communities, read the popular books, and entered super-purge mode. I started selling, donating and trashing everything I owned including my furniture, most of my clothes and knick-knacks collected over the years. I purchased new multi-purpose and light-weight gear and began the process of living out of a backpack. It felt great. I became passionate about it.

Then I started to digitally catalog every item I owned and pruned the list obsessively like an old man working in the garden. I would argue with people on Reddit about how many items were acceptable to own. I would spend an absurd amount of hours researching products on the internet before buying anything. It became a chore that stressed me out more than it helped. I missed the point.

So what is the point of minimalism? Simplifying, organizing and reducing the scope of what you spend time thinking about. Whether it’s possessions, digital life, finances or social life, anything can be improved by reducing clutter and focusing on areas that really matter. The problem with minimalism as a trend is people place value on different things. Are you not considered a minimalist because you own a collection of baseball cards? Trendy minimalists may argue that you are not. Don’t listen to the trendy minimalists. The real question is: how much mental energy are you spending on your collection that you’d rather spend elsewhere? If you can honestly answer none, you are the best minimalist in the world.

We only have a finite amount of mental energy and should keep track of it as we would with our financial budget. Only spend energy on things that are important to you. You already know what stresses you out. Focusing on reducing the mental load in those areas is what minimalism is all about.

These are the areas I focused on.

Physical Declutter

The day I left for college six years ago was chaotic. I was a hoarder but didn’t realize it at the time. I’d spent several days loading my car with everything for my cramped dorm room, feeling the need to bring along every item I’ve ever owned. This resulted in two cars full of stuff. You read that right. I had to ask my brother to drive with me in a separate car because there wasn’t enough room in my four-door sedan. I quickly realized my mistake once I arrived and frightened my roommate with the many boxes. I slowly started to get rid of stuff over the next few years, but thinking back on that day makes me feel a bit sick.

Now I live out of a backpack and wouldn’t have it any other way. I can pack all my things in under 30 minutes to travel indefinitely. This allowed me to take an impromptu cruise crossing the Atlantic, followed by a month in Europe with zero planning earlier this year. A drastic change from taking several days to pack for college. Physical decluttering was the first big step for me, and once I started getting rid of possessions, the floodgates opened and I rode the minimalist high into several other areas of my life.

Digital Declutter

As someone who has been in the tech world for a long time, I’ve lost count of the number of people who asked for help with a virus-infected computer, finding a lost password, or with recovering photos/important documents due to a faulty hard drive.

I will hunt you down if you do this

I’ve always been meticulous about my digital life and spent a good amount of time organizing files, making sure I had a solid data backup plan, saving all my logins in a password manager, deleting unused apps, and limiting pictures I took (this is a big one which I’ll rant about someday.)

Financial Declutter

It’s safe to say money is the biggest stress in most lives. Due to being single and in my 20’s, I’m still fairly irresponsible with my finances and am in no position to give advice. All I can say is try to get a handle on it because a messy financial life can be stressful enough to land you in the hospital (causing more of a financial mess, ironically.) An organized financial life is infinitely valuable.

A few things I did:

  • Threw away useless rewards cards
  • Consolidated credit cards, bank accounts, and investment accounts
  • Froze my credit report
  • Set up autopay for bills that allowed it
  • Digitized all important financial papers
  • Got out of debt

I also ditched the George Costanza wallet in lieu of a money clip with some cash, one credit card, a frozen debit card for emergencies/ATM, a metro card and my ID. It’s crazy to me when people can’t decide which of their five credit cards to use when paying for something.

"You’ve got a filing cabinet under half of your ass!"

Social Declutter

One of the best decisions I made last year was to delete my Facebook account. I could give the cliché justification of, “It wasn’t benefiting my life at all and I was wasting too much time!” Although this was true, I just didn’t enjoy keeping a shallow connection open with every person I’ve ever met. It was taxing, and frankly, I felt a little weird getting likes from people I hadn’t spoken to in years. I’d rather focus on people who are in my life right now.

People are the best and worst thing that will happen to you. Some will help you go further, faster. Others will pull you down to their level and help you lose. Most are OK. Many are average. Some are excellent.

A few people will change your life forever. Find them.
Nic Haralambous

Mental Declutter

Keeping a detailed journal is one of the best things I’ve done for myself (thank you, 6-year-old me.) Not only do I love going back to read old entries, but the act of journaling itself helps clear my mind of things that happened during the day. It gives me a clean slate and I always sleep well knowing I can start fresh the next day without forgetting important details. It has trained my brain to not dwell on the past.

This is the area where you’ll see the biggest improvement in your life. The ultimate benefit of being a minimalist.

Decluttering trains you to let go of things previously deemed to be important but proven otherwise. These skills transfer to your emotions and you’ll find it easier to let go of past hurts, grudges, and negative experiences. You’ll find it easier to organize your thoughts, communicate clearly and control your emotions. These things are infinitely valuable, and I believe, would solve a lot of the world’s problems if it were a widespread practice. Spend your mental energy wisely, my friends. That’s what minimalism is all about.

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