Minimalism Musings: Does Less Really Equal More?

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The Challenge

I really do love a good 30 Day Challenge. One that really captivated me a few months ago was the Minimalism Game, inspired by the two chaps behind the documentary currently showing on Netflix. (If you haven’t checked them out I’d sincerely recommend you do so here). The idea behind this is to take get rid of one item from your life on the 1st of month, two things on the 2nd and so on right up until you are shedding upto 31 belongings in one day. The #inspo boils down to the philosophy that in streamlining your possessions you can feel empowered to live a simple, uncomplicated life.

As my Mum took great delight in cajoling my teenage self – ‘Tidy House = Tidy Mind’.

Parameters: Throw Away, Re-Gift or Re-cycle. Not to cheat by counting each individual sock as one item, the premise is to be brutal and really weight up for each item whether it is adding value.

So off I went on the 1st February, fuelled by this self-sacrificial zeal to free my self from the trappings of material life and stride boldly into a life of whale song, wearing hessian clothes and sitting cross legged around some clean lines and surfaces. Or something like this at least. So what was was the outcome?

So How’d I Go?

Was it an epic fail then?

I’m not the biggest fan of giving up on something half way through but it did come to the point where I realised that I was starting to get rid of things for the sake of it – like some form of minimalist self flagellation or the Iron Man of Soft Furnishings. That said any exercise of self-reflection is bound to prove fruitful and this challenge was no exception insofar as my life was concerned.

What did I learn?

The ‘Just-In-Cases’ – Mum has always bemoaned the clutter in her house but each one is a memory or ‘just-in-case’ how much does that connection or potential future need for an extra potato peeler justify keeping the item? The key thing is having a timeframe to work within – if the ultimate use of any given object is not emergency based (i.e. fire/flood/security) and it hasn’t been used in over a year its placed is likely not warranted in your living space. Be bold and throw the beggar away.

Legacy – Looking at all my worldly possessions took me to considering a place of legacy. Should I have kids one day, what place would my possessions have for them?  I doubt they’d rave over my Men’s Health mags.  What am I building for those I am likely to one day leave behind though?  Nice memories and a few photos?  Or should I really start to be spending my time and energy building things that will live on beyond me – be it investment, property or security?  Deep thinking cometh from emptying the underwear drawer.

Clothing and Decision Fatigue – Let’s be frank, I am no fashionista but I, like most, chaps, like to look at least passable.  In stripping my wardrobe bear of a good few outfits however I came to think about how much time and energy can go into choosing what to wear.  Interestingly Barack Obama was known to have only even worn grey or blue suits.  His rationale?  We each have so many important decisions to make every day, why dedicate any of that finite brain power to unnecessary tasks.  Ole Mate Zuckerberg is cut from a similar cloth.

John Tierney, author of ‘Willpower’ describes it thus

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue – you’re not consciously aware of being tired – but you’re low on mental energy.”

Oh Obama, you never fail to impress me!

A space for the sentimental – As much as I think it’s important to be brutal – I equally think there has to be a space for the sentimental. Hoarding cards from every occasion doesn’t make sense but if it signifies a seminal moment in your past then there is no harm. It is with this in mind I have a tiny Welsh woman as a figurine, a pebble from a beach trip with a good friend and a wooden spoon with my face on it – a favour from a wedding. The important thing is to regularly ask your self the question – will this still warm my heart in years to come?

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Gifts and Value per Use – Growing up, while we were never wealthy in financial terms, I have always known a generous family in terms of love, time and nice little gifts.  The issue with the latter is that my actual material needs, are fewer and further between.  Gifts can therefore that are lovely for a season but soon depreciate in the warm and fuzz department.  The way I was able to rationalise some of this process was to apply a Value per View formula.  Similar to when you purchase an item of high value and justify it on the Value per Use/Wear i.e. if I keep this how many times am I likely to look at this and does that value justify me keeping it?

The real richness for me would be spending quality time with people that mean a lot to me – experiences not things are the real things I am likely to look back upon when wistfully reminiscing in my rocking chair comes 40 years time.

Utilitarianism Versus Beauty – God’s creation is to be admired. Consider a flower hidden in a wood that may never once in its life be viewed by a single person. It’s still beautiful and still has a place. There are a couple of things in my room that have no express function apart from colour and making me smile – like a new photo of my Mum and brother following their recent visit. That sort of joy bringing is a purpose in and of itself.

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(Not a true reflection of my life pre or post challenge)

So next stop, Amish living then?

Well not quite, I am however fully committed to living as simply as I comfortably can.  Moving forward I’ve decided to book in a monthly de-clutter session.   Worth bearing in mind too is that feelings, like value, are fluid, so who knows what might hold less value again for me this time from month to month.  

It can’t be denied that the tough love required to take a long hard look at your life can be tricky and somewhat soul searchy but the end result can be pretty cathartic if you can be build in a few checks and balances like I did.

A good de-clutter really is good for the soul

This, like any mini challenge, allows you to stop, take stock and consider where your life priorities are at.  We amass many things along the way but given the cha-cha nature of life there does come a point where that which once served us, no longer does.  The same principle can be applied to hobbies, projects or even the relationships in your life – I’m not suggesting you throw your Aunty Trish into the recycling by the way.  Just reflect – If something doesn’t serve you, ask the question why and consider the alternative.  

The flip, and arguably, the most beautiful thing you can draw out of such an exercise is sometimes not what you need to get rid of, moreover the realisation and appreciation for just how much you really have.

Less really is More because with less stuff to occupy my time I can give my heart’s desire and attention to the things,  or people, which really matter.  

What does that look like for you?
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