Note: This series comes from a previous blog I wrote in the beginning of 2017. I’ve recently been revisiting the topic minimalism and how it intersects with the Financial Independence / Retire Early movement, and gaming. I think it’s still pertinent today. I’ve edited portions of this article to provide some reflection and analysis. Enjoy!
It’s amazing to me in the United States, we continue to see unparalleled wealth and income inequality. This also has given rise to a culture of consumption and excess, the haves and the have nots. Minimalism has gained popularity because we live in a country where excess is an all too common narrative.
I challenged myself to redefine how I see the world I live in. I learned more about the core principles of minimalism, after being introduced to some resources through my wife and her sister. After I watched the film “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” listened to The Minimalists Podcast, and read through their website, I felt inspired. This led me to books like Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye Things, and Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. My goal was to adopt and incorporate ideas of minimalism (from what I’ve learned and continue to learn) into my daily life. Over the past few years, we’ve moved, downsized our belongings, and leaned into plenty of new challenges life has thrown at us along the way.
Hopefully the experiences shared are relatable. This experience provided a lot of learning moments. By sharing my process with you, perhaps you will be inspired to do the same. I focused on the following goals, both in my personal and professional life:
- Achieve happiness by taking steps toward a more meaningful, ideal life.
- Weigh everything by answering the question: “Does ______ add value to my life?”
- Apply mindfulness techniques to be more productive and present in my day-to-day life.
- Tone down my own compulsory consumerism.
These four goals might seem quite vague and simplistic. That’s actually a good thing. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Allow me to explain…
What does minimalism mean to me?
Doing more with less, to be happier.
For me, minimalism is achieving happiness by cutting down on the clutter in my life, so that I can focus on what matters most: my passions and my relationships. During this 30-day experiment, I trimmed down what I own, what I consumed, and what I spent my time on, all within reason. This wasn’t an extreme lifestyle change. In those 30 days, I took a minimalist approach while I explored a range of topics. I hope the reflections and lessons are useful to you.
Cutting out the clutter that clouds my mind.
What do I mean by clutter? One meaning is physical items. My wife and I were on a New Year’s kick to downsize a lot of our household belongings that were collecting dust. Over the past three years, we’ve used different strategies to reduce the physical objects taking up space our lives (and our apartment). I also mean cutting out digital clutter. Specifically I want to cut down on three things: the amount of social media I consume, the time I spend despairing over news headlines, and the overall quantity of screen time to which I commit my mind and soul. A lot of this digital clutter creates noise in my brain and saps my energy. To address this, I used various mindfulness practices including meditation exercises, routine building, and self-discipline exercises. Cue Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism again.
Railing against the message we all too often receive — that we need more.
Minimalists often talk about eliminating compulsory consumption. What does that mean? For me, it really just means avoiding societal pitfalls like impulse buying of the things that I might want but clearly don’t need. From clothing, to snacks that look enticing, or the tchotchke that I think will look good in our home, this is the type of consumption I’m referencing. This consumption takes a physical and mental toll on us. I’m tired of feeling like our disposable income is driven toward purchasing things that we think will make us happy. By spending money on things, we are actively taking a hit on our retirement goals. We constantly receive messages that we should want or need more. Are the things we feel urged to buy really giving us the happiness we’re looking for? The constant bombardment of advertising drives the consumerist, capitalist society we live in. I wanted to push back against this and the broader societal pitfalls we tend to fall into. When purchasing choices did come up, I evaluated whether or not an item will bring value to my life instead of just quickly opening my wallet.
What I don’t mean by minimalism…
…Becoming a monk and living life as a hermit, devoid of worldly possession.
The concept of minimalism might elicit a gut reaction when you first hear it. You might have negative attitudes about the lifestyle, or perhaps you have read and disagreed with a few blogs or articles already. You might think, “Are you really going to live with only a few outfits, pieces of silverware, a plate and cup, maybe a book or two to your name?” I emphatically say, no. I think there’s a key word I want to stress, which is moderation. Humans go from one extreme to the next. One artistic period is followed by a counter movement. We’ve gone from McMansions to Tiny Houses. Minimalism is no different. I believe that there really is a happy medium between having enough than falling into a pit of excess.
Over the years, I’ve balanced competing perspectives by carefully assessing which possessions add value to our life and then carefully cut out the unneeded. This included keeping useful items serving a practical purpose, but getting rid of what we didn’t use. This also included analyzing the many beautiful gifts we’ve received that have been shared with love to each other, or are from our parents, family members, and friends. These items have been both decorative and functional in nature, and carried some sentimental value, too. For other items that didn’t serve as a tool or bring us value, we’ve found ways to donate, sell, or pass them on to someone we know.
…Ignoring my passion for social justice.
Social Justice is a philosophy that continues to guide my life. We live in a society that grants privilege to certain social categories of people. Attitudes are shaped that favors one group over another, and institutions and structures are built around these attitudes, granting power and privilege to specific groups and marginalizing others. I’ve felt a strong pull towards social justice since I was a young child, and it is something that I hold closely to this day. I try to challenge myself on how much I consume the headlines (sometimes the headlines consume me, which is what I try to avoid). I have focused on being intentional about when and where I engage on social media, so I can be more active and practical in my own community and the relationships I do have control over and can invest energy in.
By cutting down, I don’t want anyone to make the assumption I’m tuning out. I still make an effort to know what’s happening in our country and the world around. I continue to be more intentional when I am civically engaged. What I haven’t done, is allow myself to swirl in the headlines (sometimes for hours, at the cost of my mental energy and productivity) and continue to feel powerless at what I can’t change.
I want to name that this article does visit the topic of social class. It will visit other areas of identity. I want to name that I consider myself middle class, and I am fully aware of the privileges associated with that group membership. I don’t want this blog to feel like a collection of first-world problem entries. So if it ever feels like I’m being classist, please call me on it. Please share your thoughts when our identities and experiences differ. I’m going to be mindful of myself and others when I’m writing. The goal is still to declutter my life as a whole, so that I’ll be able to spend more time on my passions.
…allowing “busyness” culture to prevent me from excelling in all responsibilities of my work.
Humans by nature, are inefficient. In this age of information, this inefficiency is exacerbated by the distractions around us. At the time when I wrote this article, I was a Hall Director for a residence hall at a public university. There were lots of competing priorities for my time and energy. A lot of my time was spent among various meetings, speaking with students, or doing administrative work at the computer or desk. I can humbly say that I performed most of my responsibilities well to very well, but I was a master of none of them.
However, broadly speaking our work culture centers around the concept of “busyness”. If you were to ask someone how they are doing, I’ve commonly heard the response, “You know, I’ve been really busy.” Everyone’s busy, but it seems people are frequently distracted, distant, and not fully present. I believe there are tons of stimuli which influence our emotions and feelings, creating noise in our minds as we go about the day. This has personally happened to me (frequently), leading to inefficiency on things I truly care about as I approach my work. Enough!
However, I’ve also felt this when I don’t disengage effectively when I get home at the end of the day, only to wake up exhausted for the following day. This impacted my mood for the day. It can completely spoil the goal of engaging in each task with energy, presence, and passion. So, I’ll be sharing some of my experiences that have helped me stay balanced and productive.
What comes next?
These next few articles will include reflections around the money we have, and how we spend that money. It includes things, possessions, and the sensation of having enough. It will include how I’ve learned to be more mindful, intentional, and deliberate with my mental energy to feel more energized. I’ll also share my reflections about disengaging from technology for thirty days, which yes, includes video games. With it comes all of my observations and feelings, and the lessons and reflections that came after.
If you’re interested in some more in depth reading and ideas about minimalism and FIRE, please check out Tightwad Gamer’s Favorite Resources. There’s a wealth of information and great reads in there!