Minimalists would not like my mother. She’s no hoarder, but she did pack a couple dozen of her adolescent diaries into plastic storage bins that have been gathering dust under her bed for a few decades.
I was 19 and fresh out of my first year of college when Mom hauled out the bins for me. She let me comb through each journal, starting with one she wrote at my age, with detailed accounts of pining over some guy and bickering with her mother. The diaries had served no practical purpose up to that point, but now I could read them and draw valuable parallels between her life and mine.
I know that I inherited my mother’s sentimentality. I like to hold onto physical memories. And when I became a mother myself, I also inherited all the mountains of gear that come with a baby—nasal aspirators and milk bottles, diaper bags and pacifiers.
Purging material possessions is not so easy when you have a 7-month-old daughter and an affinity for reading old journals. Those two bulky storage bins would not fit into a backpack. My daughter’s diaper bag alone would eat up almost a quarter of the 100 Thing Challenge.
A quick internet search on “minimalism” returns thousands of stark photos of empty rooms and straight lines. No room for dusty diaries or obtrusive baby gear. Yet minimalist blogger Colin Wright explains that this physical lack of stuff is only a result of the minimalist mindset, rather than a requirement of minimalism itself.
“What minimalism is really all about,” Wright suggests, “is reassessment of your priorities so that you can strip away the excess stuff—the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities—that don’t bring value to your life.”
If you don’t have the ability or desire to strip away physical excess, start by eliminating mental clutter.
Can you eliminate any of these distractions?
First, you need to identify what that clutter is. Grab a pen and paper, then sit down and write a list of everything taking up space in your mind. How do you spend your days? Which chores and obligations are occupying most of your time?
Then take a step back to record your most important goals and relationships. What are you hoping to achieve in the next year, five years, 10 years? Which loved ones and friends do you still hope to have a healthy, full relationship with in the long term?
When you’ve taken time to consider these questions, compare the two lists. Do your current obligations support your long-term goals? How much time do you actually spend with the people you care about most?
You might find that you are allocating all of your time and energy toward pursuits that actually mean little to you. Can you eliminate any of these distractions?
Our ability to strip away mental clutter might be limited, just like when we try to strip away the physical stuff. Most people can’t just quit their jobs at the drop of a hat, and some chores are unavoidable. But don’t let this logic serve as an excuse to not make necessary lifestyle changes.
Re-evaluate your current habits, then set up new routines and rituals that will help you simplify.
Start with a healthy morning ritual, and maybe an evening routine that complements it. These habits might involve preparing healthy breakfast foods the night before, waking up an hour earlier to avoid rushing yourself out the door or even practicing meditation to set yourself up for a mindful day.
Maybe you can’t quit your job because you need the income, but can you start looking for a new job that better supports your aspirations? Maybe you can’t stop washing dishes every night, but can you wash each dish as you use it, rather than letting the pile grow larger and more time-consuming over the course of the day?
You can implement the guiding minimalist principles without having to throw away your whole wardrobe and sell off your car.
If digital distractions like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram demand too much of your attention, consider a social media cleanse. Or you can limit the time you spend watching TV, shopping online or otherwise staring at a screen every day.
When you start thinking like a minimalist, you might find that purging your possessions comes more easily.
Or you might not. Either way, you can implement the guiding minimalist principles without having to throw away your whole wardrobe and sell off your car. Abiding by these principles even to a small degree will benefit your life, from removing unnecessary stress to enhancing your relationships.