There’s a new movement in town. Instead of amassing stuff for stuff’s sake, people are realizing that less is more. All over the blogosphere (yes, I like to use words like “blogosphere” in casual conversation), people are cutting down their stuff dramatically, and even counting, photographing and documenting how little they have to inspire other people to do the same.
Here’s the thing. Something about delicately counting and tracking all of your possessions seems just as consuming and distracting as obsessing about buying new stuff. In reality, the minimalist movement is as much about a mental and psychological transformation as it is about a tangible one. And if you want to embrace mental minimalism, there are a couple of principles to keep in mind.
1. It’s not how much you have, but your relationship with what you have, that matters. The space your stuff takes up in your mind means just as much as the space it takes up in your house. Do you spent time thinking and mulling over your possessions, whether its because you want more, or because you’re obsessed with owning less? Do you worry about damaging or losing the things you have?
I live in Los Angeles, and there are a lot of nice cars here. Whenever I see a flashy Porsche or Maserati or whatever parked in the middle of two spots in a crowded parking lot because the owner is afraid of their car getting scratched, I feel bad for that person. Imagine caring about your stuff so much that you’d be an obnoxious douchebag to protect it.
Think about your own relationship with stuff. Would you be devastated if you lost what you have, even if it’s not very much? There are wealthy people with a lot of toys who wouldn’t bar an eyelash if you took it all away, and poor people who grasp onto their few possessions with all of their might. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or even how many things you have – it matters if a desire for things consumes and traps you.
2. The best way to practice disconnecting from your possessions is to get rid of them. This is not an exercise in reducing your possessions to “X” number of things. It’s an exercise in letting go.
What you should get rid of depends on how attached you are to your things. Go around your house or space and make a small pile of things you don’t need or don’t use. Pick each one up feel that sensation of discomfort at having to throw or give it away. You know what I’m talking about – that feeling of “I might need this someday…” (even though you haven’t used it in years) or “maybe I’ll just hold onto it a while longer.”
The key is to choose items that are a 5/10 on the discomfort scale. Not too easy to part with, but not too difficult either. Choose two or three things that meet this criteria and get rid of them. As you practice letting you, you’ll be able to part with things you’re more attached to.
Another good way to start small is your closet. Go there and choose 3 things you haven’t worn in a year. This covers clothes that you haven’t worn recently just because they’re seasonal. Take those things and throw them away or bring them to goodwill.
3. Getting rid of the “stuff” cluttering your mind can give you a new clarity and focus you can direct toward bigger and better things. Don’t underestimate how much space your stuff takes up in your mind. It takes a lot of mental energy to keep track of what you have, worry about it, and to think about getting more of it. Desire is a consuming process. When you liberate yourself from this desire, your mind is free to focus on other, more fulfilling things – like relationships, travel, creativity, learning new skills, improving yourself, or whatever it is that’s important to you.
Now, if you have nothing better to do that squander all on your mental energy on buying, maintaining and worrying about your stuff, then by all means, keep doing what everyone else does. But I’m guessing that’s not the case.
Image by Cipher