I’m a big believer in simplifying and have been since I was a kid and ditched my Barbies to make room only for LEGO. I always try to simplify everything, be it my kitchen cupboards, a work project or a heated conversation with someone. Taking a high-level view of a situation to see it from the most basic perspective can clarify what’s really needed for the best outcome.
Minimalism? Yep, no question I love this idea, especially when implemented to create freedom from the overwhelming burden of too much stuff and not enough meaningful experiences. I’m completely on board with freeing ourselves of physical and emotional clutter so that we can experience more in life instead of own more. I’ve seen the powerful effect minimalism has had in many lives.
But it’s not always that simple.
Taking a blanket approach that minimalism is the ticket to freedom for everyone is not taking a high-level view, in my opinion. People are different, are in different stages of life, and respond differently to their environments. I’ve witnessed efforts to achieve minimalism that caused anxiety and depression. It can be distressing to give things up that you’ve worked hard for, that give you comfort, or that have been a part of your life for a long time. Guilt can creep in if our homes don’t live up to the calming and perfect minimalist spaces that taunt us on Pinterest and Instagram.
Minimalism can also miss the mark because when people become obsessed with just trying to keep up with the minimalist Jones's.
All of those capsule wardrobe challenges and decrees of living on a mattress on the floor and nothing on the walls is not my idea of freedom. Personally it makes me feel more anxious, like I'm not good enough if I own more than 33 things in my closet. I don't really get the need to have only 4 plates and bowls if that makes your weekly life harder because they're always still in the dishwasher when you need them or you have to do dishes 3x more than you used to and now you have less time to go out for a walk after supper. In that case it's obsessing over owning less instead of simply living acccording to your values and needs.
Less clutter in our lives is certainly a good thing, but there needs to be more to it than just reducing. After all, we want increase in our lives – increased joy, relationships, health, giving, experiences, love and contribution.
I suggest that a better word/philosophy/style to aspire to is Essentialism.
Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism really hit home with me a couple of years ago when I read it for the first time, and I’ve implemented it in my personal life, at work and in my own small business. I even implement it at home and in client's homes in design.
McKeown boils it down to this:
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It’s about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy.”
Essentialism is, essentially, what minimalism is trying to achieve.
It's is about optimizing what we keep in our lives in the pursuit of doing better. It focuses in on what we need for an abundant life that is meaningful, healthy and true to only ourselves. This of course is different for all – some need more, some need less.
At the heart of being able to pursue less but better is discerning between your internal voice and all of the external noise.
That’s where simplifying and minimalizing can be useful as a start. If we reduce the external noise – paper clutter, useless emails, boxes of junk sitting in the garage, unproductive meetings, too many choices of clothing, to name a few – we can better hear our internal voice. We need space for quiet reflection, time for play and movement, the ability to get enough sleep, and discipline to make tough choices.
Once we can hear our internal voice (and it takes practice) and determine what is essential to our own best life, we can intentionally spend our time, money, space, thoughts and feelings on only those things.
“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.”
I’ve committed to living not as a minimalist, but as an Essentialist.
I’m designing my spaces, my work and my time to live in this way. A few examples include:
- Blocking the essentials into my calendar first, so that exercise, meditation, writing, strategy, and relationships do not get crowded out by day-day things - see how I do this and get a free printable Weekly Essentials Planner here.
- Carving out my own space at home for daily quiet reflection, listening, and journaling.
- Making my bedroom an oasis that encourages sleep.
- Painting my walls soothing light colours that make me feel serene and calm.
- Reducing all clutter in my office and home that doesn’t bring me joy, functionality or productivity.
- Putting to use and on display the meaningful things in my life, like the desk my dad hand-made for me, photography of places I used to live, and mementos that make me smile and take a breath.
- Making daily necessities (like morning coffee!) easier and more efficient, thereby saving me time and mental energy.
Minimalism is wonderful for many; I’m not dismissing it. I’m simply advocating that every individual who craves something more, less, or different take a high-level view of their life to get to the root of what they really want from it. Then consider the way of the Essentialist. And maybe make room for more LEGO.
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