The 7 Changes Required For A Minimalist Lifestyle

“A minimalist home is very intentional,” Joshua Becker explains in an article for Good Housekeeping magazine. “Each possession is there for a reason.” 

Simplicity. A glass jar with gum leaves on a white background.
Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash

I’ve spent the past six months bogged down in the restructure of my manuscript, hence the reason I’ve not been as vocal on this site as I once was. Anyone who has been through the visceral pain of editing 90,000 words knows that you have to isolate yourself, without distractions.

But you also have to balance that sacrifice of your free time with the reality that years of hard work may ultimately amount to nothing. That was one of the reasons for my last post, in which I purported the idea that there’s nothing wrong with contentment – a state of mind that seems particularly relevant right now.

Learning to be content with what I’ve got is important if you are like me, the sort of person with a tendency to be pulled in lots of directions, hence regularly in a state of perpetual overwhelm.

Which is why I’ve decided to take the idea a step further and I’m endeavouring to create my own sense of contentment by adapting to the whole living with less idea – the principles of which you can apply to every facet of your life.

It’s got a name, it’s called being a minimalist.

Minimalism, as most of you will know, is a style employed in interior design and decoration. It embraces a clean, modern, clinical feel, with no place for clutter – and you can adapt it to your lifestyle as well. These days, the word is being used more broadly to promote the kind of pared back, simple lifestyle many of us aspire to live – especially since COVID.

Joshua Becker describes the meaning of minimalism in his article What Is Minimalism? in the following way:

“It is marked by clarity, purpose, and intentionality. At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.

You could argue that this new idea appeals to me because I’m a middle-class, middle-aged woman, feeling my invisibility, and it’s easier to simply opt out of society than fight the discrimination. Or it may be that because money is tighter these days – as a result of our personal decision to semi-retire early – we are being forced to cut our cloth accordingly. And both of those reasons are valid.

However, it is evident that the younger generations are also embracing this idea to change their priorities, and while I admit that during my thirties I laughed at couples on Grand Designs and sea-change shows who opted out of the rat race, I think they may be having the last laugh.

After all, what’s not to love about a lifestyle that promises more money, time, and happiness, and contributes to the protection of our environment at the same time?

So how do you become a minimalist?

The minimalist lifestyle is about living with only the things you need. Minimalists are free from the desire to buy and accumulate more. Instead, they find happiness in relationships and experiences.” Joshua Becker

Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s not simply about wasting a bank holiday for a spring clean in your home – although, that’s a great starting point.

There’s more to simplifying your life than the physical process of tidying up. There’s a lot of mental work that needs doing and ingrained habits to change, and it can be hard to know where to start. So to help you out, here are seven changes that are working for me:

  1. Being more intentional. First of all, you have to really think about the purpose of your decision and what you really want to gain from it. My greatest fault is wasting money on tat when I’m in a funk. I can’t believe it’s taken my over fifty years to learn that quality beats quantity every time, but there it is. I’m that person who gets my thrill from buying something new (that I don’t really need or want) and then letting it sit in the cupboard . You must also base your changes on what you want, not what your kids or friends expect from you, or even what your partner wants. This is your life – and if your partner doesn’t agree with your choices, throw them out with the rest of the clutter.
  2. Forget about owning stuff and consumerism. As I’ve already admitted, this was difficult for me. I am a shopper and I love that sense of instant gratification, which is why I haven’t caught the online shopping bug yet. I am also creative, so I take a huge amount of pleasure from simply wandering around malls to look at beautiful things. An afternoon at the mall is one of the few times my brain switches off, so changing my buying habits is a work in progress. Where I have made a start is by buying less crap and only buying quality things I really need or recycled goods.
  3. Change your mindset and your priorities. A bout of depression or serious anxiety is the best push to make changes in your life – but I don’t recommend them. Instead of waiting for that to happen, prioritise things in your life that promote your wellness and health now. Step into nature when you can, try mindfulness if that works for you – it’s not for me, but listening to an entertaining podcast can have a similarly relaxing effect. Exercise, meet up with friends for some free therapy. Make the time to switch off and relax, and don’t feel guilty about it.
  4. Stop worrying about what others think. Remove toxic people from your life, like friends who don’t understand your choices, don’t value your opinion, who can’t have a discussion without shouting back at you. Your friends should treat you with the same consideration you treat them.
  5. Stop competing with others. Forget about the Jones’. The ugliest part of a consumerist society is the way it pushes people to compete with each another and social media has exacerbated the problem. I hasten to add that it is natural – and throughout my thirties and forties I was guilty of comparing myself to others who had more and attempted to live in their shadow or vicariously through them – but all it did was make me unhappy. The qualities I envy in people these days couldn’t be more different to the ones that impressed me when I was younger.
  6. Be grateful. I have why me days all the time, where all I do is moan about what I haven’t got or why things never seem to go the way I plan them, but once I calm down – usually on a walk – I am getting better at putting those thoughts into perspective. Don’t feel bad about them those negative thoughts. A therapist once told me that feeling sorry for yourself is completely valid, as long as you don’t let the negativity overtake everything else.
  7. Create processes – I have a scatty brain, particularly right now, in menopause, and the days I don’t organise myself and write a to-do list, I achieve much less. Of course, it’s much easier to get distracted when you work from home. One minute, I’ll be writing, the next I’m flicking through social media, and the next I’m playing with the dog. But you must be accountable to yourself for how you spend your time. That doesn’t mean you have to be productive all of the time – far from it – you just need to be productive when you have to be. Having processes mean you’re not always chasing your tail, and you’re more likely to feel a sense of fulfilment at the end of each day. The old man and I share certain chores in our home, such as walking the dog, emptying the dishwasher and cooking, and then there are some we have divvied up like the cleaning, garden and rubbish, i.e. we’re fairly conventional. Being organised stops resentment building, and we find we can enjoy our Gin and Tonic each night without feeling guilty.

Practicing Simplicity In Middle Age

plant-1842299_1280There is a “family and lifestyle” blog called Practicing Simplicity, by Jodi Wilson. It offers its readers a stunning vista of photographs and tales of motherhood with affiliated yoga, cooking and lifestyle tips. I love the name: Practicing Simplicity. Scrolling through the site, there is an aura of calm that bounces off each photo captured of wild flowers, toddlers innocently at play and simple, wholesome living.

 

The idea of “practicing simplicity” is a discipline that I’ve tried to incorporate into my own lifestyle for a while now. This is not some innovative new trend I’ve discovered, you only need look around you at the wealth of organic food cafes, the current trend in home decor for clean Scandinavian lines and simplicity, or the yoga havens, but it does seem that the more I clean up my lifestyle, in terms of what I put in my mouth, how I plan my day, and most importantly, how I plan my relaxation time, the more I get out of my life. When I remember to approach everything with a calmer, more rational approach, rather than my scatty, “me first”, impulsive alter ego, everything turns out so much better.

 

I settled a client into her new home last week. With three young boys, she was telling me about how guilty she felt for not letting them do a certain sport at the weekend because it clashed with another, and was simply too hard to coordinate with her husband who is often away.

 

‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘I want them to make the most of the beach while we’re here.’

 

Like many of my generation of Xers, I imagine, I don’t remember doing any extra-curricular activities as a child, except for Brownies and Sunday School. Forgive me for showing my age by harking back to the simple pleasures of riding our bikes in the street, playing with the neighbours kids and learning through exploration, because I do wonder how much value our kids get today from being shunted through busy traffic from one activity to the next, after a full day of interaction at school. I’m not shaming, because I did the same with my own kids, and as I admitted to this mum, if I could turn the clock back I would do things differently now – especially with a kid with ADHD. Children need time to relax and reflect on the day, to be given the chance to talk, ask questions and cement close relationships.

 

I wish I’d been brave enough to hone down the list of activities we forced our kids to do to “keep up with the Jones’”. Such over-commitment left me running ragged; a headless chicken who was often bad-tempered and resentful when I collected them from school after my own hard day at work. I blame the old man’s hair loss on those weekends when NC had soccer one day and Kurt the next, after a 45hr week at work. I don’t think that those frantic, wasted hours on the weekend spent in search of that lost soccer boot or leotard, learning lines and cutting up orange segments, contributed much to our children’s education, unless they’ve since learned how to say ‘no.’

 

Sure, they made more friends, but I’m sure that their mates from school and the neighbours would have sufficed. How many times did I choose to ignore the ‘I’m tired’ whine from the back seat because I had over-committed, or because we’d paid the term’s fee or I was worried about letting the team down? How many evenings did I waste sitting in a dark car park, waiting for them to finish?

 

Kurt never did become that league soccer player and looks back on that whole team sport period with horror; NC recoils with similar distaste every time I remind her about “dance”.

 

I’m not under that pressure these days and I understand that it is a difficult one to protest against. My pressure is that blurred line between recognising when I have enough on my plate and over-commitment – although, self-imposed isolation is equally dangerous for over-thinkers such as myself, when your crazy brain errs on the side of feeling unwanted and useless.

 

If you didn’t know, finding the balance is key.

 

Life is busy enough with work, family, friends, hobbies and exercise, and these days I take far more pleasure from simple activities like reading a book, trying out a new recipe, taking a long walk or sitting people-watching on the beach, than I do from organised events where I have to reinvent myself again.

 

I’m getting older. 

 

Practicing simplicity for me is about forcing myself to relax. I’m never going to be stretched out on the floor for long periods of the day in the Downward Dog position, but forcing myself to do things on my own that have no stress attached, counter-balances the triggers of anxiety. After the last turbulent few years of life with teenagers, “me time” is about lowering my heart rate and not having to be somewhere at a given time to find my inner peace.