Signs that Minimalism is Working for You

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I’ve been rocking the minimalist mindset for a few years now. I had gotten myself deep in clutter during my early 20’s and resolved to change it around 24 or so. Growing up, I had picked up my mom’s habit of never throwing away anything for the sake of not being wasteful. A virtuous reason, but not without its consequences. It took me a long time to realize that my time spent cleaning up and organizing my things was also wasteful, and buying more and more stuff was only adding to the pile. Watch The True Cost and you’ll get a not so rosy picture of the hidden tolls behind our consumption habits (the montage of young teenagers showing off their shopping “hauls” on YouTube stuck with me, but here’s an example of what I mean).

Not everything is bad, though. Minimalism when viewed from the outside is criticized as stark, idealistic, and full of sacrifice. When I first heard of tthe  concept, my immediate reaction was defensive. How many things am I allowed to own to be a “minimalist?” How can I be without my things? What if I regret throwing something away? Who would I be without my treasured possessions? So I tip-toed into the journey tentatively, slowly – not quite Marie Kondo style where you go all in, but as the journey has progressed, I’ve noticed quite a few things.

1. Cleaning takes less time. I used to get tremendous joy from the act of cleaning up and organizing. It gave me a sense of accomplishment – as moving around and other forms of exercise usually dies. But it honestly gets old after a while. It’s a bandaid solution to the problem of why does my home get so dirty so easily that it warrants cleaning it so much? Now that there is so little stuff to put away, all it is is some scrubbing and vacuuming of stray bits of dirt and hair every couple weeks and my place is still largely spotless.

2. You no longer have a need to “organize” things. Everything has its place. Stuff that gets used is returned to their places. But for a while, I spent a lot of time perusing The Container Store, looking for ways to better organize all of my stuff.

Then it hit me: Silly Meg – You don’t need more organizing solutions. You just need fewer things that need organizing. I think my dad said it best when he exclaimed that it was ridiculous that I was buying containers for things that already came with free containers. Decanting is generally an aesthetic exercise (unless you buy in bulk).

Not that an utter lack of thoughtful design in your home isn’t valuable – because it is very much a way of creating a sanctuary you actually want to be in – but reducing the stuff removes some of the need for it. I haven’t had to organize makeup since I switched to rubbing some argan oil on my face when it gets dry. If I need makeup I can borrow it from someone who uses it more often so I don’t need to blow money on something I only use a few times a year.

3. Less time looking for things. When you know where everything is, and your system prevents stuff from getting misplaced, then you won’t need to look for things as often. Given the ridiculous amount of time and panic we put ourselves through looking for our things, clearing out all of the hiding places will make what we do own more easily accessible.

4. A decreased need, and desire, to go “shopping.” With fewer things comes fewer maintenance tasks, and fewer tools needed for those maintenance tasks. With how much thought I put into purchases these days, and how little desire I have to get into my car and drive, it’s no surprise that I rarely go to the mall these days.

5. …and subsequently, a change in your spending habits. With less stuff needing maintenance and care, my trips to Target whittled down from once every two weeks to once a month. Purchases made on a whim were reduced as I got more thoughtful about what would make the cut to live in my home. The price of maintaining, storing, moving, and disposing of the item and subsequent environmental impacts are all questions I’d ask myself before handing over any cash. What I do spend my money on – classes, books, travel, gifts for others –  is all tied to innate desires and goals rather than buying stuff that I’ll get tired of in a few months.

6. Less bumping into things – less stubbing of toes, accidentally whacking an elbow, stepping on odds and ends, knocking over decorative knickknacks, and other annoyances. Helpful for adults, children, and older adults too. With a clear floor, there isn’t just room to walk, but room to dance!

7. More time to ponder life. Ohh, this one is huge. Somehow, I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I’m getting identity crises on a weekly basis. With less time living life on autopilot mode (cycling through routines without any break), I’ve gotten more and more thoughtful about how I want to live, which leads to me questioning my thoughts, behaviors, and actions more thoroughly. Living with intention has thus become a habit.

8. More space in your brain. This leads to more calmness of mind, as you have fewer things that call for your attention and valuable brain energy. There are only so many things you can deal with at any one time, and Type A personalities like me tend to forget that. You’ll then also be more able to comprehend difficult subjects or run your brain through something mentally challenging.

9. You’re more efficient with your time. I suddenly found that I was spending so much less time doing mindless, unsatisfying tasks, and spending more time on things that have proved fulfilling. The workout equivalent for me would be the mindless 30-minutes-on-a-treadmill workout vs the lifting progressively heavier weights workout, where I can see and feel progress.

10. You’re happier . This is the bottom line, right? All of these enhancements should lead you to become a happier, more fulfilled human being. If it’s not working out this way, then perhaps there is another type of change that needs to happen. Minimalism is just a means to an end.

Life on Autopilot

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When we follow a routine, life whizzes by super fast.

Alarm rings at 6. Wake up. Put on clothes. Go to work. Workout if I’m there early enough. Work. Workout during lunch. Work some more. Workout if I missed a workout earlier. Go home. Make dinner. Clean up. Blog, play a game, stretch, and/or plan travel. Shower. Sleep between 10 and 11.

Repeat, 5 days a week, for the better part of 365 days a year. I’m an unmarried and childless millennial with a stable career and living quarters. Baked into that routine is well-oiled machine of direct deposits, reps and sets, a standard uniform of minimalist clothes, and slow and steady gains. To me, I might as well say the routine is so automatic to me to the point of making me robotic. Twist the doorknob, check the bank account, cut the kale, flip open the bedcovers, start the car. Day after day after day after day. That routine is my current modus operandi, and quite frankly, it works. It enables stability and self-sufficiency along with steady improvements. It wards off the anxiety of being ill-prepared, but gives me the choice of what challenges I want to take. It’s a simple routine, one that does not make me constantly question my own importance, or relevance, or rightful place on this earth. Site note: If your routine is doing that to you, then you must change it. My routine can certainly be optimized, and it will be over time.

Unfortunately, there are parts of routines that don’t help you achieve anything. Autopilot mode is automatically going to the gym to train because it is your routine, but it is also waking up in the morning and cycling through Facebook, Reddit, or Elite Daily for 20 minutes. Autopilot can be always checking reviews before buying anything, but it is also flipping through the Macy’s catalog for deals for no other reason than the fact that it came in the mail. Autopilot is finishing up dinner and going to the living room to watch TV. Autopilot is believing that you must have a lavish wedding and expensive car. Autopilot is doing anything and believing everything without questioning any of it. It is easy to get suckered up into the gears of societal workings, because that is in itself a well-oiled machine of consumerism. Being in autopilot allows you to be consistent in getting to your goals, but beware, because it can also enslave you. And what better way to see that than by checking your browsing history?

Decluttering Passive Entertainment (Media – Television, News, Radio, Sports…)

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What do TV shows, movies, sports events, Netflix, and radio talk shows have in common?

They all involve other people talking or doing things and you watching or listening. Open any news site, turn on the radio, watch the television, or open a magazine and you’re probably going to be bombarded with things like:

  • How [insert sports player’s name here] made a WINNING PLAY! And [insert someone’s opinion/prediction here].
  • How [insert celebrity’s name here] got involved with [insert 2nd celebrity’s name here] and said “[insert scandalous phrase here]”
  • How [insert product here] will relieve you of your pain and that you should talk to your doctor about it
  • How you might be the next big lottery winner

I admit, I have the fortune of naturally resisting passive entertainment. Even as a child, I hardly watched television, preferring to play with friends or play pretend outdoors. My brother and I would get on our bikes and pretend to order fast food at the mailbox at the end of our driveway. When I was in high school, I had an epiphany about myself that I still remember ten years later: I dislike watching things. I have very little patience for sitting somewhere and watching things happen, like they do at sports events, shows and concerts. I had a much stronger preference for doing those things. At the time, being able to “do” things was not within reach, because so much of my time was consumed by school and well, I was a kid. But when I was released into the real world, I earned my freedom, through hard work and becoming physically fit (read: discipline), and I earned access to doing more activities. That excites me more than any celebrity scandal or sports event.

In life, we are gifted a limited number of hours with which we use our time. Inevitably, some of those hours are going to be used for unpleasant, but important things, like filling out your taxes, dealing with a plumbing problem, calming a screaming baby, or just making some darn money. We do these things in exchange for peace of mind, health, or freedom. Once all the necessaries are done, instead of saying to ourselves, “all I want to do is collapse on the couch and do nothing,” let’s say, “now is my chance to do what I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t had the time.” I don’t know that vegging in front of the tube is something most people wish they had more time to do.

Your freedom is dependent on your financial means, physical means, and mental means (all of which are interrelated). That’s why it kills me that so many of us are using it not to find ways to optimize our lives and get ourselves some more freedom, but throw away the hours watching, sitting, and not creating, crafting, contributing, or well…being active and present in our lives.

Let’s avoid chaining ourselves to the tube of passive entertainment when there is so much out there for us to do. Famous people can be inspirational, don’t get me wrong, and some of them do deserve our attention. And there’s a lot of value in supporting people you care about at their own events and celebrations. But so many people that get the most attention don’t need it, and every time you devote your time and attention to them, you’re voting with your most valuable resource, your time.

Let’s devote ourselves to pursuits that align with our deepest desires. News stations, sports channels, and mobile games are sensational; not necessarily well researched or worth your time.

We can do better. Let’s declutter them.

3 Strategies to Bring Minimalism to the Office


Minimalist workspace

In my 4.5 year career at large Fortune 500 companies, minimalism has transformed the way I approach my work. It has helped me focus, strive to produce high quality work, and develop methods to increase efficiency in everything I touch.

My minimalism journey still comes down to raw beginnings. I was not always this way.

Minimalism is not what first comes to mind when we think of big business. We think of vast, inefficient enterprises rife with politics, disarray, siloed business units, conflicting interests, all in the name of profits. Yet inside the cubicle farm, I’m finding that the vast majority of employees are at work to do good work (if not necessarily their best work), and the image of the evil, heartless businessperson we so often see in the media is a technique used by the media to villainize and stereotype big business. I feel, however, that problems in corporate culture exist due in large part to disorganization, and disorganization is often caused by too much clutter. Physical clutter has a very real effect on our mental states, and that, in turn, will affect our productivity in the workplace.

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