[Originally published from Seattle International Airport, Nov. 6, 2015]
There are those who can fit all of their worldlies in a backpack. There are those who count their belongings and limit them to 50, 75, or 100. Then there are those who don’t think the number of belongings one possesses is as important as the reason one possesses them. This is the diversity of the minimalistic lifestyle.
The Many Faces of Minimalism
If you do a Google search for minimalists, you find all sorts of folks. You might find folks like Ev Bogue who lives out of a backpack and has for a very long time. You might find Joshua and Ryan who left their six-figure corporate gigs, sold everything and moved to Montana to start a publishing company.
You might find Leo in Davis, California who lives out of one backpack most of the time while having a family and six kids. You might find Joshua (a different Joshua) who blogs about minimalism while raising a family or Courtney who lives with less in Utah with her husband and daughter. You might find me in San Jose, California who lives in a 192 square-foot room with my dog while running a busy consulting business.
There are as many varieties of minimalism as there are people to adhere to the lifestyle. Minimalism isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of definition. It’s largely person specific based on what each person feels they truly need.
Minimalism is not a style, it is an attitude, a way of being. It’s a fundamental reaction to noise, visual noise, disorder, vulgarity. Minimalism is the pursuit of the essence of things, not the appearance. Minimalism is beyond time. It is timelessness. It is the stillness of perfection.” — Massimo Vignelli
The Correlation Between Minimalism and Clarity
I have a working hypothesis that minimalists experience more clarity than non-minimalists. I think possessions and things and stuff weigh on our minds. Perhaps it’s a subconscious weight, but it’s there. The proof for this is the billion-dollar storage business in the US. Rather than part with their accumulated junk, most Americans will willingly rent a storage space to store it. They visit it from time to time like a sick relative in the hospital. I used to be one of these people.
I was a maximalist. When I had a storage space full of outdated possessions, I had no idea that the minimalist lifestyle even existed. All I knew was that I had too much stuff, felt overwhelmed by it, and desperately wanted to be free of it. And then one day I experienced a pinnacle moment of clarity. I fell on hard times and lost my storage space due to non-payment of the monthly rent.
You know what I felt? Total relief. After all, it was junk. The unit held mostly useless items like old toys that the kids never played with, old clothes that I should’ve donated to Goodwill long before, and a lot of stuff I had no business keeping. When I lost the space I was surprised by the sudden burst of clarity and awareness that resulted. I suddenly felt lighter and less stressed. After that, I found Leo Babauta, founder of ZenHabits – his writings, books, and courses change my life forever.
If You Want More Clarity, Box Up Your Crap
If you experience overwhelm from time to time, you might need to look no further than your immediate environment. Check to see how much crap you’re surrounded by. I’ll bet that the more stuff you have in your immediate vicinity, the more stressed you feel.
This is why when we are beside the ocean, in the mountains or trekking the desert, we feel more calm, serene, and more at peace. Just think about how your life would be different if your home was as peaceful as the woods or the beach in the early morning fog?
Try putting all of the things in your dorm room, office, bedroom, house, into boxes. Clearly label them and then either put them in a closet or somewhere else out of sight. Then, as you need things, unpack only what you need at that time.
You’ll find that you not only need less things than you thought you did, but you’ll experience more clarity and calm than you did previously as well.
You don’t have to get down to 50, 75, or 100 things to be a minimalist. You just have to decide what’s essential for you and feel the life-changing calm that accompanies it. You’ll then be free to determine what to do with your unnecessary crap.
Sell it, donated it, recycle it.