The concept of Minimalism is simple, therefore the means of achieving it should be simple as well. Regardless of how you choose to adopt the philosophy, the fundamentals are the same: keep it simple, or better yet “keep it essential”. It is not about making a fashion statement or getting in on a fad, it is about taking control of your life and focusing on what matters most to you.
Below I’ve outlined what I believe to be the 3 Fundamentals to Living a Minimalist Lifestyle. This is a process that you will undergo over and over again on your journey. But with a little determination, you will have no problem sticking to it.
1.) Identify what’s most important.
I can remember when I first started working in construction, the first paycheck I received was more money than I had ever earned up to that point in my life. So naturally, like every other 20-something with disposable income, I spent it every chance I got. I can vaguely remember my logic – something to the extent that I had to spend it on something, otherwise what was the point of working so hard for it? I worked hard, I deserve to “live a little”. This was something that would come up again and again; it still does in fact, only now I do this with small things: cup of coffee, a used book, you get the idea.
Even before I decided to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle, I was never big on having stuff. I can trace this back to moving quite a bit as a kid, and when you move several moving trucks full of stuff across long distances, you begin to seriously question what you really need. Though this realization began to slip away from me after I met my wife and we moved in together. It wasn’t until we moved a few times ourselves that I began to think back to the days of loading and unloading all of those moving trucks – I wasn’t going to let that be our lives…
Look around you, chances are you will find plenty of things that are just kind of…there. Not serving any particular purpose, they’ve just somehow managed to stick around and take up space. If you don’t use it, think about giving it to someone who will.
2.) Eliminate what isn’t essential (slowly).
…Fortunately for me, my wife was on board with the idea – maybe that was because we were moving to Austin, so downsizing became a necessity. We parted ways with about 80% of our stuff: gave my tools to my dad, sold all of our furniture – what didn’t sell was given away, old clothes were given away as well. What remained were some kitchen tools, our clothes, computers, 2 dogs and 2 cats – that’s it; a Nissan Sentra and a standard Toyota Tacoma full of stuff.
We had reduced all of our things down to the bare essentials, and it was liberating! For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel weighed down by stuff – I felt that we had only what we needed, and I loved it. From then on it just became a habit to assess our purchases and be honest with ourselves as to whether or not we needed, or really wanted something, no longer acting on every impulse that we had.
I don’t expect anyone to downsize at the rate that we did. Go at a pace that is comfortable for you: 1 thing a day, a week, whatever it may be – the point is to get in the habit of being aware of what you own and whether or not it is serving its purpose.
3.) Hold yourself accountable.
In his acclaimed book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg (@cduhigg) breaks down the process in which habits are formed and how they can be changed. He points out that there are 3 steps to any habit: Cue, Routine, Reward. The cue is the trigger to act, and the routine is the action we take to receive the reward.
For example, say that you are working a second shift at work and once you finish the first half of your shift you notice that you are exhausted (Cue). You then do what you always do when you are tired – go for a cup of coffee (Routine), which then gives you a burst of energy (Reward). As we continue to do this it becomes embedded into our subconscious, so much so that we don’t even have to think about it – we just do it.
Duhigg goes on to point out that though it is possible to change the entire framework of habits (Cue, Routine, Reward) it can be incredibly difficult, as most of us know. But there is another approach that is most likely to succeed: changing the routine. To go back to the coffee analogy, if you decide you want to drink less coffee, you may choose to supplement with tea instead. So the next time you get a cue (yawning) to go for a cup of coffee – you opt for tea instead, giving you a more moderate boost of energy but still providing a similar reward.
Lifestyle changes like Minimalism are no exception. Like coffee, there is a reward everytime we buy more stuff. So rather than changing the cue/reward, we are more likely to stick with it if we direct our attention to the routine.
Say you’re like me and you love books, maybe anytime you feel the need to read a new book (Cue) you immediately go on Amazon and buy one (Routine), thus filling you with a sense of acquiring more knowledge (Reward). What if instead, you replaced the routine with going to the library? You would still get the same feeling, only now it won’t take up space on your shelf when you are done with it – you get to give it back.
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When you get into the habit of finding alternatives, and just doing without in some cases, you’ll find that over time it requires little to no effort at all. Once you’ve committed yourself to change, your habits will accommodate your decision.