The more my eyes are opened to the real danger of material possessions and their power over us, the more I realize that this is a battle that we are waging. I feel more and more like a warrior going out to fight every time I step out of my apartment and into the “real world” – full of mental land mines, visual booby traps, and subliminal marketing attacks. Those of us who have always lived in urban areas are so unbelievably numbed to advertising and marketing displays, that we simply tune them out. And by doing that, we believe they don’t work on us, but they do, oh how they do! It’s been proven that subliminal stimuli goes directly into our brain and are processed without us even realizing it, or actually engaging with it. There’s a good reason advertising agencies work hand in hand with psychologists and other “people-experts” to learn what makes us tick, what makes us BUY.
We justify everything we own, we fight and defend our “right” to own this and own that. And of course, we NEED everything we own, I mean, come on, I might need it some day! Believe me, I was there. I was the most selfish consumer you could ever imagine. I *deserved* everything I owned, because I had worked hard for it, dammit, and I was going to spend my money on whatever I wanted. And yes, I needed it all, and I justified it all. Even if it ended up in a corner of my closet and remained there for years, sometimes only a few weeks after buying it.
Only after years of going through this cycle, and going into debt more and more, did I start realizing that there could be another way to live. Being the inquisitive, ever-curious guy that I am, I began to research and read books on the topics of simple living and most recently, minimalism.
I am convinced that the real beauty of minimalism is how it can be adapted to every person’s individual style, stage in life, and level of commitment. And it can grow with you once you’ve started on this amazing journey. I’ve been thinking of a simple, straightforward, and (why not) radical approach to adopting a minimalist lifestyle. I do believe it happens in steps, and each step is different for everybody. Now, in true minimalist style, I will not come up with the “20 Steps To Becoming A Minimalist”. No. It’s a very short list of steps, and this is the system that is currently working for me:
1. Let Go
3. Be Free
Pretty simple, right? Maybe not so much when you start breaking them down. Let’s do just that, shall we?
1. LET GO
Ahhh, this is the tricky part, and also the part that comes AFTER researching, reading, and asking questions about becoming a minimalist. And of the three steps, this is the one that is mostly mental in nature. In our society, we’re told from day one that material possessions will make us happy, by virtue of making us popular or envied, and that the more toys we have, the more people will love us, and hence, the happier we’ll be. It’s a mental indoctrination that starts the day we’re born. The first years of our lives are spent among gifts and toys and nice things that are just that – nice. Not very many of those things are crucial to our survival as human beings. It’s sad to see a young child gleefully opening a happy meal bag and pulling out the cheap, plastic toy (made in China, of course), and then tossing aside the food (not that it’s *that* healthy to beging with). But you get my point. It’s MENTAL. In order to let go, we must shift our mental perception of *things* and realize that they’re just that: THINGS. When you start delving into the incredibly amazing fountain of energy that is a human being, it becomes apparent that a THING cannot make us better people or happy or feel accomplished in life. Letting go is releasing the hold that the item in question has over us. We were once told we needed these things, and therefore we took them. Now it’s time to let them go, and loosen the hold they have on us. When you finally realize that everything you need to be happy is within YOU, suddenly those cheap (or expensive) trinkets start to look silly and unappealing. Learn to let go of the extraneous, and look into yourself for your happiness. As I was telling a friend on Twitter the other day – letting go is both terrifying and exhilarating, but is so worth it!
Once you learn to let go, which again, is mostly a mental process, the physical manifestation of that process is the removal of the excess clutter in your life. This is the physical “noise” in your life, if you will. It’s weighing you down, pushing you back, preventing you from being the awesome human being you want to be and KNOW you can be. It’s time to purge. Armed with what you learned during your research and with the power you just discovered by letting go, now is the time to cull the excess and keep only those intimate, crucial elements that are essential to YOUR happiness, not mine or anybody else’s. If it’s important and brings you absolute joy, then keep it. But you must be RUTHLESS, and truly question EVERYTHING before giving it a pass. Some things, such as physical clutter, will be easier and quicker to deal with (selling on eBay or Craigslist, donating to Goodwill or your local charity, or tossing those broken, useless items), and some will take longer but are equally cluttering (debt, toxic/co-dependent relationships, a job you truly hate but could never bring yourself to admit it, a car that’s costing you way too much money and not bringing you joy in return) and must be dealt with individually. This process can take some time. But with the “little things”, you can see actual progress which will motivate you to continue. Once you get a taste of what minimalism can help you accomplish, you won’t want to stop!
3. BE FREE
Ahhh, the reward of getting rid all the clutter (physical, emotional, mental, and financial), and forging on with your true life. Becoming a minimalist should not be an end unto itself, but rather a propelling system that will help you blast away the things that are weighing you down, so you can be free to pursue your life dreams. How many of us (I know I’ve been there!) have wanted to travel, see the world, go to school, move to a new city, take a sabbatical, write a book, etc.) but couldn’t do it because we were so bogged down in debt that we could see no way to follow those dreams? After letting go and minimizing, now is the time to DO what you’ve always wanted to do. No debt and a minimal set of possessions can be a powerful motivator to just go out there and live your dream life. It will take hard work and determination to get to this point, but you will know when it’s time. You will know when you’re ready. This step will also be different for everybody. Some will quit their jobs and hop on a plane and see the world. Some will start their own businesses and enjoy the entepreneur life. Some will keep their jobs and finally have the time and resources to delve into their favorite hobbies. And some will get involved in their neighborhoods as volunteers or community leaders. Again, the beauty of minimalism is that it allows all these wonderfully different human beings to flourish and give meaning to their lives.
And where am I in this process, you might ask? I’m firmly in Step 2, but quickly making my way to Step 3. I’ve only been a proper minimalist for a few months, and every day, I’m learning something new. The flood of useless trinkets flowing into my life has finally stopped, and the purging is still in full effect. This is a process, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge.
You never truly *stop* being a minimalist, not after you’ve learned what can bring you true happiness, not after you’ve broken the shackles of those useless trinkets that you thought you owned, but actually owned you. Living light and free and open to new experiences and new worlds, can make you a more fulfilled, caring, and open-minded person. And yes, it can also make you a HAPPY person.
So what about you, faithful reader? Which step are you in right now? Do you have any questions or would you like to share your story? Shoot me a comment, and let’s start a conversation! 😀