Why I Decided to Pursue a Minimalist Lifestyle

What is Minimalism? 

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about minimalism it that there is only one way to be a minimalist. That you must own less than 100 things, only eat raw foods, forgo luxuries like a bed frame, and only walk or ride of bike everywhere you go. 

While minimalism looks this way for some people, it is not the only way to be a minimalist. 

According to The Minimalists, “Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” So rather than thinking of minimalism as a strict set of guidelines, it is more helpful to think of it as a lens through which to evaluate your life in order to be sure that your reality is in line with your values.

If you are considering adopting a minimalist lifestyle or even just tackling the clutter in your life, it is important to consider your values, goals, and aspirations. Write them down. Next, consider what your life actually looks like. What do you do daily, weekly, monthly. Write that down too. Then compare the two. Does your reality align with the life you want for yourself? If it doesn’t try to figure out why. 

For example, if one of your goals is to visit one new city every year, but you haven’t even chosen this year’s destination or started saving up money, consider why. Perhaps you are afraid of failure, or maybe you haven’t saved any money because you go on a mini shopping spree each time you get paid. While there’s nothing wrong with buying things you need when you need them, excess and frivolous spending can leave us unfulfilled and prevent us from achieving long-term goals.

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So why did I decide to live minimally?

The concept of minimalism was immediately appealing to me. Cooped up on a cold February night in NEPA, I watched the minimalism documentary from The Minimalists. I needed to know more. So I subscribed to their podcast and read The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own by Joshua Becker. Then I set out to declutter my life. 

Looking back, I think one of the biggest contributing factors that drew me to minimalism was working as an admissions counselor. I spent 5-6 nights a week in hotel rooms, never taking more than one carry-on suitcase with me on the road. It was then that I realized just how little I needed to get by. Everything else is just excess.

I also moved a lot in 2017, and each time I had to haul boxes up and down stairs I thought about how nice it would be to just leave it all behind somewhere. Little did I know that I’d do exactly that in the summer of 2018.

The most important thing to consider is that a minimal lifestyle aligns with my values. I do not believe that things can bring us fulfillment, but rather experiences help us to make the most of our time on Earth. When I consider all the happiness moments of my life, I am always thinking of an experience, whether it be traveling, a personal achievement, or spending time with friends laughing long into the night, none of these recollections involve material possessions. 

Instead, I’ve come to realize that material possessions are burdensome, and often accumulated out of a false sense of want, rather than a genuine need or desire. While I still struggle with the impulse to buy things when I am out and about downtown, I make an effort to be more intentional with my purchases. 

I truly believe that everyone can benefit in some way from minimalism. Whether it’s shrinking your worldly possessions down to the smallest amount possible or just being more intentional with how you spend your money and making room in your home and your life for the things that bring you joy, minimalism has something to offer to everyone. With the new year right around the corner, now may just be the perfect time to consider living life with less, in order to make room for more of the things that truly bring you joy.

Minimalism Challenge: Week One

I’ve written about minimalism a few times before, noting that my inspiration to live a more minimal and meaningful life began back in February after watching a documentary from The Minimalists on Netflix. Before moving to Korea, I sold, donated, and got rid of 90% of my possessions, but after watching some minimalism videos on YouTube today, I thought it might be a good time to check in to see how my minimalism journey is going here in Korea. I haven’t really checked in since I got here, but I also haven’t accumulated much. That being said, there was a decent amount left behind in my apartment, and much of it I have never used.

One thing I came across in my video watching was this thing called the “Minimalism Game.” Essentially how it works is you declutter your space a little bit every day, getting rid of the same number of things that it is the day of the month. For example, on the 1st, you get rid of one item, and on the 12th you get rid of twelve. I love the idea of this challenge, so I decided December, the last month of the year, would be the perfect time to take it on and make sure I am really starting off on the right foot in the new year.

Since I am fairly busy between work, Korean lessons, and other things I do outside of work and studying, I decided to adapt this challenge to better fit my schedule. Rather that go through my possessions each day, I decided to add up how many items I would discard each week, and dedicate one day a week to minimize. Typically I clean my apartment on Sundays, so that will likely be the day I minimize as well. Since I discovered this challenge on a Tuesday, I decided to kick it off right after work, gathering up the first 45 items that I would be ridding my apartment of for the first week.

One of the great things about decluttering is it doesn’t always mean getting rid of large items like clothing, shoes, etc. So to start, I tackled some of the most annoying kinds of clutter that have been piling up on my table, in my fridge, and in my cabinets.

In the first week of my minimalism challenge, I was able to get rid of:

  • 19 papers, including old bills, receipts, and outdated resumes
  • 1 Pringles lid
  • 4 Tupperware lids with no matching containers
  • 1 Tupperware container with no lid
  • 2 half used jars of spaghetti sauce that were no longer edible
  • 1 stained wine glass
  • 1 bag of stale cereal
  • 7 packages of expired seaweed
  • 1 expired jar of tea
  • 1 package of jelly
  • 2 lids for pots I don’t own
  • 4 spuddy potatoes
  • 1 twist tie for a bag of mushrooms

This brought me to a total of 45 items in the first week, and I never even opened my wardrobe. 

I have to admit, it feels great to have all the expired food out of my cabinets. Much of the expired food was left behind by the teacher who lived in this apartment before me. But rather than getting rid of it, I just kept pushing it aside and letting it take up space in my cabinet. Now, I have more space to organize the food I have, which will make it easier for me to keep track of what I have and visualize my meals more easily. 

Next week, I will be going through my apartment attempting to get rid of 84 items. 84! It seems like such a big number, so I am eager to see how easily I can find 84 items in my apartment that aren’t adding value to my life or serving a purpose.

The Most Valuable Thing You Own

Last year for Christmas, my friend Hannah got me one of those prompted journals where you answer one question every day, for five years. The idea is that you write every day, and see how you grow and change over time. One question for the month of October that really made me stop and think asked What is the most valuable thing you own. This question stopped me in my tracks because I have been thinking about the value of material objects ever since I watched the documentary from the Minimalists back in February.

As I sat looking around my apartment, I thought about all the things I rid my life of before moving to Korea. I tried to put a value on the things I brought with me, but I just kept thinking about what it took to get to where I was. The weeks I spent cleaning out my apartment were agonizing, not because letting go of things is hard, but because realizing just how much I let things pile up in my life was a hard pill to swallow. Letting go of so many of my material possessions was freeing. I imagine that many people feel that freedom when they stop putting stock in the things they own and start measuring their life by how much they’ve lived.

So I sat on the question. I thought about what mattered in my life, and about the concept of ownership. Yes, I own things, but my things are not a reflection of the life I have lived. I thought about my experiences, my memories, and my own personal journey toward fulfillment. In many ways, I believe I own those things more than anything in my apartment, because those things can never truly belong to someone else. I can share my experiences and tell my stories, but they will never truly belong to anyone other than me.