Is it possible to live happily with less?
If we accept what most advertising tells us, the answer is almost certainly no. We’re surrounded by stimuli – television, magazines, radio, digital media – that encourage us to do one thing above all others: consume. Modern society demands that we buy, use and discard more than we did the last time around. If we do that, we’ll be happy.
But what if that story is wrong? What if, contrary to what we’ve been told, the “good life” is a result of less and not more?
All around the world, people are embracing a more minimal lifestyle. Eschewing ideals of material accumulation and ever-increasing wealth, they are finding that it’s possible to find contentment in owning less.
It’s a particularly strong trend amongst millennials, who are coupling pared-down living with an environmentally-friendly and sustainable lifestyle.
In that vein, this short post is a crash-course in simple living. If you’ve ever considered a lifestyle that involves less but don’t know where to start, then the six simple steps here will set you on the right path. There’s nothing particularly complicated about decluttering but it can be a little counter-intuitive. Have a skim through and pick out the points that are relevant to you.
I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said that, given an hour to chop down a tree, he would spend fifty minutes sharpening his axe. Something along those lines anyway.
Having a plan at the start can dramatically increase your chances of success. You can hone in on a few important areas and start building that initial momentum that will carry you forward. You’ll also have something to return to if you ever feel overwhelmed.
Start by getting rid of the easiest things: first, those items that are absolutely unnecessary and second, the duplicates. Get a box and go around your home, focusing on the places you identified in step one, collecting everything that is obviously surplus to requirement or that you have two of.
If you’re unsure, stick it in the box! The idea isn’t to immediately get rid of all these things. Rather, you’re going to pop them somewhere out of site for thirty days and see if you need to return to use them. If you don’t then off to the skip it is!
This is a great general strategy for sorting through things you’re unsure about. If you don’t need something over a period of a month, then it’s a prime candidate for the charity heap.
This is a big one! It’s also an area that causes a lot of people to feel overwhelmed. Overflowing inboxes, countless documents, and a list of programmes to uninstall that’s longer than the Amazon! OK perhaps the last point is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
There are a few simple things you can do to clean up your digital life. The first one is to cut down to two email inboxes, or even one if you can manage it. If you absolutely need more than two addresses (multiple work emails, for instance) then have them all forward to one inbox. The second task is to uninstall all the software and apps – yes, you’re phone’s included too – that you don’t need. Set aside an afternoon and go through all the programmes that you no longer need. I guarantee you’ll find it strangely therapeutic.
Next, target your digital accounts. It’s virtually impossible to go through every account that you’ve opened on other sites and close them, but you can build the habit of doing so into your everyday browsing. Whenever you see a newsletter by someone you don’t want to hear from anymore, unsubscribe. Do the same with notifications from redundant social media sites.
Finally, clean your desktop. You’ll be amazed at how good doing it makes you feel.
Did you know that most people use only 20% of their clothes 80% of the time? If you want to cut down, getting rid of some (or most) of your clothes is a brilliant way to start. Be More With Less began an initiative that challenged people to dress with only 33 items of clothing for 33 days.
Mornings will be easier and you’ll feel better about your wardrobe – it will be full of clothes that you love!
Don’t worry, I don’t mean eat less. I’m talking about simplifying your food choices along with your cooking space. Start off with all your unnecessary utensils. You’ll likely have a host of unused pans at the back of your cupboards so target them first. If in doubt, stick with the thirty-day plastic box technique, discarding the items that you don’t use for one month.
In terms of food choices, I’m not going to provocate on the benefits of plant-based vs. paleo vs. fast food etc. You can however use this opportunity to clear out all the old and unhealthy rubbish gathering dust in your cupboards, replacing them with some healthy staples. I clear out my own cupboards once every few months and I always find that my diet is better off for it. When I know exactly what I’ve got I find it that much easier to plan in advance.
You can also experiment with having similar meals. What about having the same breakfast every morning for the next week? Or drinking only water? Cutting down in little ways always adds up.
As a book-lover, I spent years avoiding buying a Kindle. Now, I wouldn’t be without it. I read more or less everything on a screen and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Getting rid of unnecessary paperwork is one of the easiest ways to simplify your life. Have as much correspondence as you can, including bank statements, delivered electronically.
Equally, try and make as much of your digital media consumption subscription-based. Services like Spotify and Netflix are great ways of enabling you to get rid of your old CD and DVD collections.
There are many ways that you can cut down on the amount of waste that you produce. What about composting your food scraps? Starting a wormery in your garden? Opting for reusable food packaging?
An interesting little thought experiment, one that can really put things into perspective, is to try and imagine what it would be like to live out of a backpack. If you were forced to hit the road, carrying only the things you could carry, what would you take with you?
You could probably manage with fewer things than you think.
As much as minimalist living is about creating a peaceful, open living environment, it’s also about fostering positive mental space. Meditation is one of the easiest ways to reduce the clutter of thoughts and harmful emotions that are part and parcel of modern life.
Setting ten or twenty minutes aside every day for a short period of meditation can really help broaden your perspective. There’s also a host of science-backed benefits that regular meditation can bring. One study showed significant improvements in wellbeing and emotional health in participants after only eight weeks of practice.
Another way to open up more “mental space” is to cut down on your internet and technology usage. The internet is particularly good at encouraging mindlessness – there’s always some distraction, some juvenile article or post. If you’re a real online junkie, see if you can go for two or three hours without checking your phone or opening a browser. You might be surprised at just how difficult it is!
Remember, with all of these steps you’re essentially trying to instill new habits. Doing that is never easy. Once you’ve got the minimalist bug, it’s very easy to get addicted to decluttering, but don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally indulge in a little retail therapy.
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