Finding Meaning Through Minimalism

Yay for the first post of the Mindful Monday series! If you didn’t read the intro post (linked here), then you don’t know that every Sunday I’ll be posting an article on some type of meaningful topic for us all to take into the new week. This is the first one, and I’d be remiss to start anywhere but on minimalism.

You might not be into minimalism or maybe you don’t know what it is exactly. Or maybe you think you know what it is because Jerry at work is a minimalist and as you’re clicking off this page you’re thinking back to all the annoying things he’s told you about his empty white box of a home and how he’s so enlightened now. Don’t click away! There’s two truths here: Jerry sucks and minimalism is actually the best.

Minimalism is(n’t) a stereotype

Minimalism has gotten a lot of press the last few years, not all of it overwhelmingly positive either. Don’t get me wrong, it exploded into pop culture and became a household word, but that’s kind of the problem. Between the over-popularity of extreme minimalist public figures and fad Netflix shows on decluttering, I’m not sure anyone is really walking away with the sense of how meaningful minimalism is and what it means to practice it.

The world “minimalism” itself is over-used. I find it hard to describe myself as a minimalist to others because the assumptions that come with the word are so far-fetched from my actual life. We watch these shows and see the minimalist style edit in our local furniture store, but we don’t walk away with much more than the aesthetic of minimalism. It’s become a stereotype.

Take a similar example, the vegan movement. Veganism has transcended a lifestyle choice and become more of an image: funky vegan cafes popping up all over cities, coffee shops that serve 20 different animal products offering vegan cupcakes, Instagram girl posing with vegan cupcake and skim latte. The stereotype can even be negative - implying pretentiousness and pushiness. I went to join a Facebook group the other day and the rules literally said “no discussion of politics or veganism.” I mean, that’s funny, right? But in reality, those who decide to have a vegan lifestyle are in it for so much more than the Instagram worthy moment or yummy cupcake. Same with minimalism.

Not following? Think of some of the takeaways you have stored about minimalism: is it Jerry’s empty white box of an apartment? A backpacker with no more belongings than his MacBook Pro and clothes on his back? What about extreme de-cluttering tactics where you throw out 90% of what you own and somehow “find joy” in the process? While these scenarios may be minimal, they don’t accurately capture the value of minimalism. You probably don’t see value in any of those things.

I’m no more enlightened than the next, and certainly not as enlightened as Jerry, but I do know that minimalism helped me find meaning and purpose in various aspects of my life. (And I didn’t have to sell all my stuff to find it). In fact, I’d bet that most minimalists aren’t in it for the shock factor or the empty apartment (although, I’ll tell ya, it’s so nice not having to dust candles that you literally never light), but rather they decide to be minimal because it brings meaning to their life, relationships, work, mental state, etc.

For me, living minimally equates to living meaningfully. Read that again: living minimally = living meaningfully. And here’s where it becomes really crazy – a minimalist lifestyle is about so much more than just STUFF. While I aim to have intent behind everything I consume, I also aim to have intent behind my interactions with family and friends, the activities I choose to participate in, and the overall way I face my day to day life.

So how can I find meaning in minimalism?

Glad you asked! There’s only one thing I’d advise you to do at this point: don’t change anything. That’s right, continue to do what you normally do every single day this week. Wake up at the regular time, get your butt to work, maybe drag yourself to the gym, and then come home and prepare to do it all again the next day. Physically go through every task that you normally would and start to realize what you’re doing.

Do everything, but question why you’re doing things this way and if you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Start noticing which tasks bring you value and what just gets in the way. Take good mental notes and promise to revisit them at the end of the week.

You might not immediately recognize inefficiencies or unhappiness in your daily tasks, after all, we choose to do them every day, so here’s an example scenario to get you started:

You might find that you’re late to work again. How did this happen? You only snoozed once, that’s the rule! You even ate your breakfast on your way to work. Oh, but I guess you did spend 30 minutes standing in front of your closet staring blankly into your outfit options. Black or blue pants today? Or maybe a dress? I have that new one I paid so much for, I haven’t even worn it yet. Did my sister return those shoes she borrowed? I’m too tired for this, I need coffee. Then you returned with your coffee and finally decided to grab the same sweater and pants combo that you always grab when you reach decision fatigue.

And that’s all before 9am.

How are you feeling towards this scenario? Are you feeling grateful and happy that you have so many options to choose from? Are you having fun pairing different outfits together and styling different pieces even though it’s taking away time from other activities? Or, are you actually a little miserable that you’re faced with these choices so early in the day? And if we’re being honest, aren’t you feeling just a little bad that you haven’t worn that new dress yet?

When our coworker asks us “how's it going?,” none of us would likely respond that we’re irritated because we couldn’t decide what to wear today, but deep down, that might be our truth. Check in with yourself as much as you can throughout the week and ask if you’re enjoying what you’re doing – and don’t believe your first answers.

This is just a list of things that frustrate me– how is this minimalism?

Trust the process, Jerry! This exercise is all about identifying what brings you value versus what you could do without. It's likely you're looking at your list and not totally sure what it means so here are some things that could be a great target for minimization:

  • The various pieces of trash you have in the center console of your car that kept you from finding parking meter change

  • The stack of Spanish textbooks on your bookshelf that you’ve been meaning to crack open literally since you graduated college but instead just dust every week

  • The box on your floor that you stubbed your toe on 3 times this week

Take a look at anything that made your week harder to get through (and certainly anything that’s brought you physical pain). Question it’s purpose. Are you really going to brush up on your Spanish or do you just like the idea that you are someone who would brush up on your Spanish? If the inside of those books haven’t seen daylight, they should either go or you should make learning Spanish a priority. What will bring more meaning to your life?

Use this list to identify the obvious targets for elimination and start eliminating them! Your list might have some tougher tasks on it (like doing your taxes or talking to your nosy neighbor), put those to the side for now and focus on the easy wins first. That's for another post :)

Revealing the meaning

It tends to not sound like a lot on paper, but I promise you'll start to feel lighter. Sure you may end up reducing tangible clutter, but the real win here is that you're checking in with yourself and questioning how you're feeling. That piece alone is priceless for your mental state and reducing the non-tangible clutter in your life.

Forget the stereotypes and what you thought you knew about minimalism and focus on bringing meaning to your life. Spend your time doing more things that bring you value and spend less time on everything else and you'll be well on your way to living meaningfully and minimally.

Enjoy the week!

I’d love to hear from you! Sign up below with your email to be able to comment (promise you won’t be signed up for any spam)! I’d love to hear your feedback and about your experiences with minimalism/living meaningfully!