Mistaking insolence for freedom has always been the hallmark of the slave
William Reich

Happiness

We live in an age where many of us can afford luxury; materials beyond what are necessary for our basic survival and functioning. Often we believe these luxuries can offer us simplicity, where in reality they only offer complication. Being a minimalist is not a matter of resisting temptation. Rather it is a matter of cultivating a mindstate that wants to buy and live with less. In order to do this we need to understand why it is important, and what it can bring to our lives. The first question to address; why would anyone want to live a more minimalistic life? Why live with less? What benefits does it have to offer? Does it increase our happiness? I feel like the best place to start to explain, on this occasion, is with my own experiences.

The Minimalistic Life

The most minimalistic time of my life was also one of the happiest for me. I do not believe this to be a coincidence. I couple of years ago I began to backpack, hiking with my girlfriend. Over the next couple of years we had many adventures, sometimes for over a month at a time, living in a tent with nothing but what we needed to survive (and a couple of books) on our back. One of the most isolated hikes was in the Pyrenees, where the overwhelming beauty was matched by an equally powerful silence; at one point we did not even hear a car for three days.

When backpacking in immense beauty, there's no need for many possessions.
When backpacking in immense beauty, there’s no need for many possessions.

During this time I was able to live completely free from distractions. No emails, no profiles to check, no mobile phone, no music, no television. I hadn’t seen an advert or watched a television for about a month! My clarity of mind was unmatched. I could think clearly about myself, and my thoughts were strong and easy to analyze. Nothing seemed complicated, all decisions became almost intuitive, feelings and emotions cropped up and were explored, and the beauty of the lush forested mountains was constantly within and throughout me. There I was living with none of the usual of what we consider a part of everyday life, and I was the happiest I have ever been. My mind was free from it all. Of course, now I am writing this from my laptop, and I am happy to be able to do so. In my life, at the moment, I have my laptop, a small collection of books, some clothes, writing pads, pens and pencils, and the kitchen is (somewhat!) stocked with food. Still pretty minimalist but with everything I need to advance creatively, as well as to survive. So we see the idea of being minimalistic is situational, at least to some extent. Still it is quite possible to live a minimalistic life in a modern society. I learned the value of simplicity when I lived with very little. It is the quickest way to the understanding that which I am struggling to verbalize, though I accept it is not a valid choice for everyone. So, I recommend you make some small changes now and see how it makes you feel. It is possible to live a normal, healthy, successful life, without the need for physical and mental clutter.

What Are The Benefits:

To sum up quickly why I believe it is worth living a more minimalist life:

  • To spend time with ourselves, and the people we love, free of distractions.
  • To develop a better understanding of ourselves.
  • To understand the value of our subjective view on life, free of the need to be right, wrong, or in line with social norms.
  • To gain mental clarity in an age of information influx.
  • To learn where happiness really comes from, and to stop looking in the wrong places for it.
  • To put our own values into perspective, and to see what is really meaningful for us.

Quick Tips For Simplicity

The best way to know why it is of value to live simplistically, is to try out a few changes for yourself. This article is lengthy, as was required to explore the subject. If you are looking for a quick hit, and some changes you can make right now, then here are some tips for living a more minimalist life:

  • Give yourself at least one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening free of all distractions, especially screens. Do not engage with technology or other objects during this time, even if it concerns business. This is your time for relaxing, stretching, yawning, and to be alone in the comfort of your own thoughts. (Do you remember what those are?)
  • Get rid of unnecessary clutter. Give stuff away, sell it, give it to charity. Whatever it takes, just clear some space. Live in a simplistic physical space, and learn to be free of attachment to materials.
  • Sacrifice the urge to buy for the sake of buying, including buying because something is new, or fashionable, or making a purchase for any reason of status. This will teach you to be humble, and to value aspects of life more important than objects and material wealth.
  • Take a break from social media. Slow down and be kind to your mind. Take one week off social media completely to see how it feels. Until you have done this you cannot know any different. If you cannot manage a full week try one day, or two days. Also consider that if you cannot handle a week without anything, then it is probably a problem, and social media is no different. It is liberating to live without the influence of the perceptions of social images that network sites encourage. It helps shed light on what, and who, really matters to you. Reestablish who you are outside of your constructed social image.
  • Take a stroll in the countryside. Do it regularly if you can. Such a beautiful and peaceful feeling it is to be in such a simple and natural environment. Alone, or with a loved one, learning to be happy outside, in nature, is invaluable. Our connection to nature is vital to understanding how we can be happy without objects.
  • Be patient and kind to yourself. It doesn’t matter if you buy something out of impulse, or eat a feast, or waste a day on social media when you are supposed to be taking a break. We all like to treat ourselves, and we definitely shouldn’t feel guilty about that. We all give in and slip up, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that either. This is about trying to cultivate a mindstate in the long term, so that we come to want to live a more minimalistic life. Enjoy the journey!

Gain A Deeper Understanding

In this day and age it is not always possible to live without material objects. It makes functioning in the world very difficult. We rely on a certain amount of technology to help us to succeed in our jobs, careers, and hobbies. The physical world is not something to be denied, and that is not the aim of a modern day minimalistic life. The fact that we do need a certain amount of interaction with objects, social media, technology, and so on, is the very reason it is even more important than ever to understand its impact on our life. We should try to give ourselves time off, to reflect on our own thoughts, and to understand life outside of it. To do this we must train our minds so that our desires are not focused on material objects, and so that we do not expect our happiness to come from them. In the end we must learn not to want. The first step is physical de-cluttering. There are two stages. First, you must get rid of what you don’t need, and the second is to learn to consume consciously.

Physical De-cluttering

In order to live a more minimalistic life, first consider what you already own. Think about it. How much of it do you need, and how much is stuff you have bought out of compulsion? How much of what you own do you use in everyday life? You have to be honest with yourself and try to think about what should be kept, and what is unnecessary clutter. Start small. Pick out some items that are old, and that have no sentimental value. Get rid of them. There are great ways to get rid of unwanted items; recycling, giving them away to friends, or charity shops, or on freecycle.com. All of these ways are better than the bin.

Do you really need all that clutter?
Do you really need all that clutter?

It is okay to hold onto very sentimental items, or to anything you want to keep. This is not a house clearance. But the more junk we can get rid of, the more unwanted clutter we can ditch, the more our physical space starts to feel more simple. When we physically declutter, we also declutter our minds. We are cutting ourselves free form the the need to hold on, and we are training our minds to take the value out of having objects for object’s sake. Keep working at it. Get rid of everything you can, and start to feel good about it. You are keeping it fresh. You start to feel the space, the air around you. You feel free of stale symbols held in the objects you kept hold of. You are letting go of the past, and of your attachments to it. Now that we have done some physical cluttering, it is time to keep it that way. To do this we need to change our spending habits.

Responsible Consumerism

In order to live a more minimalistic life, we must learn the art of responsible consumerism. I have to be honest when I talk here. I think we are all being deceived; adverts are consistently trying to encourage our insecurities, false images of beauty, and materials and items that we are told we need. We must learn to take control of our consumer habits. Irresponsible consumerism is reckless, and is somehow disguised as fun by those who enjoy its snarling jaws. Shopping for the sake of shopping, to spend money on stuff for “fun,” is not a great way to live a minimalist life. We must recognize the difference between shopping for something we need, and shopping in a somewhat compulsive manner in order to try to plug a gap in our happiness. It will never happen. Buying stuff will never fill the gap in your heart. I have to be straight about it. It is not going to change you, not going to make people like you more, not going to bring about any long lasting happiness, and not going to find you love. We are all looking for a similar something in this world, or so I believe. We all want to know ourselves and to feel comfortable in our mind and our skin. We want to love other people, and to be loved. We want to pursue interests, and develop our skills. We want to create. At what point did we start to think we could buy all of this? Responsible consumerism does not say we have to stop spending, and stop owning anything. Instead we should buy with purpose. We should know what we want and why we want it. An easy example is clothes. We need warm clothes and a waterproof coat for winter. We need shorts and a hat when its hot. We have every right to look after our wants and needs, so naturally, we buy what we require.

Does all that buying bring happiness?
Does all that buying bring happiness?

Fashion however might be different. (And the fashion police leap from the bushes and rip at my throat!) Very often the fashion industry implies that we need a different outfit every time we go out, that we should always look our best, and never wear the same as a friend. We feel under pressure from our peers, and the judgement of those around us, and from the dolls on the adverts that look so angelic with their flawless skin. Most of all, we feel pressure from within; we are judging ourselves, and masking our insecurities. We think we can make ourselves feel happier by buying something nice again, by looking our best. But really we end up with a cluttered space, a cluttered mind, and the only real change is to our bank balance – it goes down. We must break through these barriers in order  to live a more minimalist life. Clothes are only one example. But we must remove ourselves from wanting the latest, the most expensive, the most beautiful of everything. “Why?” you ask me. Because each and every one of us is already beautiful. I do not say this to massage your ego, I say it because it is true. And every couple in love knows this, and they love each other for the internal beauty. Often we feel closest to our lovers when we are stripped of everything, down to bare skin, with no make up, clothes, or need to shop for happiness. We know our friends best when we first get up in the morning and make coffee together, with no barriers or need to pretend. We know ourselves too, when we do not hide from who we really are. Once we come to understand this we start to learn what it is that is essential to learn in order to live a minimalistic life; all truth, love and real beauty is contained within. It is not a result of things or stuff, or buying, or from having the latest gadget. It is a sunday morning with friends, or a sunny afternoon with a lover. But we can only see this fully when we learn to free ourselves of our false conceptions of happiness, from our attachment to objects and material wealth. Instead of falling for the trap, buy only what you know will aid you in your quest for happiness. Survival needs are a must and there is nothing wrong with a bit of luxury every now and again. The trick is in balance, and in understanding that nothing you buy will make you happier. Instead know that the strongest and happiest moments are immaterial. Enjoy objects for what they are, but never focus your desire on them, nor assign them any value outside of novelty.

Mental De-cluttering

There is a new challenge in modern society for anyone who wants to live a more minimalistic life, for we live in the age of information. Every day we are seeing news from around the world, reading about loads of new topics on the internet, watching television, and engaging constantly with social media. This has a wearing effect on the mind. We currently absorb too much information to be able to integrate it into any relevant constructs in our mind; every time we come close to understanding something, new information is telling us about something else. Information sources often contradict, leaving us feeling dissonant, and like we cannot internalize the information we are subjected to. In this age of information we must learn to control the flow. If it goes unregulated it will cause mental clutter. No one is free of this. We are not supposed to know every event that happens across the world every day. We have enough information to deal with in our own lives. In order to live a more minimalistic life we must switch off every now and again. Stop engaging with social media every minute, stop watching TV every free second, and have some time off world affairs every now and again to think about your own life. So wrapped up we are that most of us discusses the affairs of political leaders more than our own life, we talk about the lives of soap actors like they bear as much relevance as our own family. When we disconnect from the flow of irrelevant information for long enough, we give ourselves time to think about what is important and relevant in our own life. We soon begin to see our priorities are vastly different to what we thought they were. Without the constant social pressure, pressure from the media, and information flowing in from all directions, we soon see that we really just want to look after ourselves and our loved ones, and grow as a person. A lot of irrelevant stuff gets churned around our minds when we are always plugged in, and it is intensely liberating to cut lose from the masses of useless information. Live in your own mind for at least some of your life.

Conclusion

Sometimes I discuss technology and materialism with close friends. My inclination is slightly away from it, theirs slightly towards it. We almost always agree on at least two aspects; we do not understand the social impact it is having because it moves too fast to study and isolate. We, as a society, are becoming increasingly reliant on it for everything we do, love it or hate it. It would therefore be bad advice for me to tell you to consider living without any materials or tech. Some good advice I can offer to everyone, is that we must learn to live at least some of our lives beyond the influence of materialism, so that we can see beyond the distractions, into our own mind, and into the all-pervasive oneness of absolute reality. Mental de-cluttering, and physical de-cluttering, are the first two stages of learning to live a more minimalistic life. The final stage is to realize deeply that you actually don’t want all that stuff, and that you don’t want pointless information all of the time. Then you are well on the road to minimalistic living. Your understanding and awareness will do the rest.


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