“Happiness can only be found if you free yourself from all other distractions.” ~Saul Bellow
What was your favorite toy as a child? Mine was a Spider-Man action figure. The limbs were adjustable, and there was a switch on his back that made his eyes light up.
I played with that toy for years, even after his fingers broke off and his switch got stuck. While I had plenty of toys as a child, this is the one I remember best.
Maybe you notice a similar trend in your own children. According to a study conducted by British researchers, the average 10-year-old has 238 toys but plays with 12 daily.
Even if you don’t have children of your own, maybe you are inundated with your own toys. Outdated electronics that sit on the shelf, trinkets that sit in the closet, or old sweaters that you haven’t touched in the last decade. How many toys do you play with daily, and how many get in your way and cause havoc?
What if I told you these things are getting in your way of living a happier and more meaningful life? What if you didn’t have to spend time paying off old junk that always needs to be fixed, maintained, cleaned, and repaired? What if you had more time to enjoy friendships, hobbies, and passions?
As I started to ask myself these questions I noticed others, who called themselves minimalists, asking similar questions. After this discovery, I began my own minimalist journey and never looked back.
People become intimidated when they discover minimalism because they think they have to sacrifice all their possessions and live like a monk.
If you think like this, I can’t blame you. I wouldn’t like that either. My five-year-old self would’ve been devastated to get rid of that Spider-Man action figure.
Fortunately, minimalism doesn’t require such sacrifices. In fact, minimalism doesn’t require anything. There are no rules, judgments, or requirements.
If the term minimalism is intimidating, think of it as focusing on all your favorite things, every day. This may sound enticing, but what does it look like in practice? Let’s explore together.
1. Visiting our wardrobe
If I were to walk with you to your closet, there would be a few different types of clothes.
Clothes for work.
Clothes for a formal event.
Clothes for a night out.
Clothes for the gym.
Clothes for lounging and watching Netflix.
Within each of those categories, which outfits do you usually wear? Which outfits give you the most joy? Which outfits do you gravitate toward, and which outfits sit in the back and collect dust?
What would your closet look like if you donated the clothes that took up space and hid your favorite apparel? If donating is too daunting, pack them in a box and stash it away for a couple months.
Giving ourselves space and time helps us realize we never enjoyed, or used, any of that clothing anyways. This gives us the courage to donate the clothes with a sense of pride. If this sounds interesting, but you aren’t sure where to start, look up “Project 333” for some additional tips and support.
2. Reconsidering our relationships
In the 1990’s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar discovered that people can only maintain an upper limit of 150 social relationships.
Thirty years later, this number sounds like an underestimate. Many people have hundreds of Facebook friends and thousands of Instagram followers. In our everyday lives, this translates into the notion that having more friends leads to more popularity, likeability, and a happier life.
But the quality of our friendships also matters. Out of hundreds of digital connections, how many people do you spend time with in real life? How many people can you depend on to lend a hand, listen to a problem, or provide feedback to help you improve and grow?
When I thought about my own friend circles, I realized they were often dictated by proximity rather than by shared values or interests.
As an avid reader, I like to surround myself with people who are passionate about reading. Using modern technology, I created a book club with members from my local community. What started off as monthly conversations around books turned into regular social gatherings.
Through discussing our similar values and mindsets, we became close friends who have been a great source of support and joy for each other over the years. Instead of relying on surface level connections that were simply birthed out of proximity, I can now count on these rich and satisfying relationships to help me thrive.
What would your life be like if you surrounded yourself with people who shared similar values or mindsets? How would your life be different if you spent time with people who enjoyed the same hobbies as you?
Explore different options, like Facebook groups or Meetup activities, that match your interest. It takes time to foster deep and satisfying social connections, but they can last a lifetime.
3. Evaluating our time
I had one of my biggest revelations when I took a hard look at how I was spending my time. I spent all of my time checking my emails and looking productive, while sacrificing the chance to read, write, and spend my time in ways that help me feel happier. I did a lot on any given day, yet none of it was meaningful or fulfilling.
Does this resonate with you? Look at the commitments and activities taking up your time. Can you delegate anything to someone else, or completely let go of it?
Are there activities you’re doing because you think you should do them? Ask yourself these questions to parse down your to-do list:
1) Does this task bring value to my life?
2) What would happen if I didn’t do this task?
3) Does this task align with my values?
Shining light on our habits uncovers fascinating insights. If someone were to ask me why I was engaging in habits like yoga or meditation, it was because it’s what I thought successful people did, not because I enjoyed those habits.
Instead of yoga, I now go on walks. Instead of meditating, I express my thoughts through writing.
Everyone has their own recipes to live a meaningful life, and it will look different for each individual in each season of their life. Consider what you need, what you enjoy, and what habits will be the best tools to help you get there.
By questioning ourselves, we get better answers that best suit our own needs and desires. Start off with those three questions and add others you see fit.
What’re your favorites?
Imagine a life where you only wear your favorite clothing. A life where you surround yourself with people who lift you up and bring joy to your days. A life where you have the time to do the activities that you enjoy most.
You already have your favorite clothes, friends, and activities. Minimalism isn’t about getting rid of everything, it’s about rediscovering our favorite things—some which aren’t even “things” at all.
Being surrounded by our favorites can lead us to a happier and more fulfilling life. This switch may even cause our eyes to light up, like my favorite Spider-Man action figure from so many years ago.