I recently watched a documentary called “Minimalism” on Netflix. Until then, I’d believed minimalism to mean owning and using as little as possible. Big, empty living rooms with a TV and one chair. A wardrobe you could squeeze into a backpack.
The version of minimalism in the documentary totally opened my eyes. The film follows two American guys in their thirties, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, as they travel the country explaining what minimalism is to increasingly large groups of people, and interviews a range of other minimalists, from a guy with six children to someone who owns 51 items that he carries around the world with him. To all of them, minimalism is about getting rid of all the extra “stuff” (from possessions to relationships to debt to time-draining-mind-numbing activities) that isn’t serving you or enhancing your life, to make room for the things that really matter to you.
The “fewer possessions” thing is a big part of it – if you don’t feel the need to buy so much stuff, you don’t need to earn so much money or accumulate debt to pay for it, and you’re not constantly surrounded by distractions or decisions to be made. I found the idea both appealing and difficult – I’m very much a person who can’t concentrate if surrounded by chaos, but I do like “things” – shelves full of books, or interesting things to look at and make my surroundings more “me”.
When I moved to London, out of a one bedroom flat and into one bedroom, I got rid of loads of stuff and stored another load of it at my parents’. And yet, I *still* find myself tripping over things in my room all the time, struggling to find room for all the clothes I “need”, and despite being in a decent job, I always end the month with no money left over because of all the random things I’ve bought to “make my life better”.
I decided, therefore, on a 30 day minimalism challenge.
Part One was to not buy any “stuff” until the following pay day – 30 days away. No new clothes, nothing nice to put on my shelves, no make up, no yoga mat to “make me do yoga”. Only food and experiences – and food had to be planned, to stop me throwing stuff away or finding myself with no food and buying crap.
Part Two was the 30 Day Minimalism Game. I had to get rid of (sell, recycle, donate) one item on day one. Two items on day two. And so on, up to 30 items on day 30. Easy on days one and two. Not so much later in the month.
Here’s how Part One went!
I can’t believe how second nature it is to buy random stuff! The amount of times this week that I’ve started towards a shop with an interesting window display and had to turn back around, or started clicking through Etsy before remembering the challenge, is ridiculous. At no point has it been to look for something specific – it’s just been to find out what I might want to buy. I’ve never realised that’s behind my shopping before. I always liked to think I was a bit more autonomous than that.
I’ve also spent this week unsubscribing from every mailing list trying to sell me stuff, and clicking “this isn’t relevant” on all the shopping-related Facebook ads in my feed. It’s taken significantly more time than I’d anticipated.
I spent a day this week counting up all the adverts that I saw in a really boring day. I’ve read that people see anything from 500 to 5000 adverts in any one day, so I wondered how much I was being encouraged to consume.
I decided on a day that I wouldn’t be going anywhere other than the office, and when I wouldn’t read a magazine or watch any TV with ads – a day that I wouldn’t see any more adverts than I strictly had to, to go about my job.
I didn’t count any adverts in shop windows (I did count A-boards – things specifically there to disrupt your path and eyeline), branded shopping bags or coffee cups that I saw people carrying (even though they always make me want a coffee from that exact place), or any ads that I couldn’t read from where I was (because they were moving too fast on a taxi, or a bit far away). I also didn’t count any adverts that I had to go out of my way to see – for example, I only counted the ads on the tube that were in front of me, rather than counting all the ads in the carriage.
That day I saw 249 adverts.
I can’t even imagine how many it would be had I picked up the free magazine at the tube station that morning; if I’d gone for a walk through a high street at lunch time or gone out after work; if I’d watched something on TV that night, or counted the endless branded items walking past me each day.
I’m not surprised so many of us are so drawn to the idea that your life could be perfect, if only you bought X. We’re absolutely surrounded by the message.
It’s ridiculous that I feel so less stressed without buying stuff. It was difficult at first, where I’d become so attuned to buying things as pacifiers all the time. Constantly buying new clothes or things for my room to cheer myself up. Now that I’m getting used to it, though, I’m loving it! I’m not stressed about making my pay check last until the end of the month; I’m not looking out for the next “thing” to make me happy; I’m not trying to find space in my wardrobe for that new thing I bought and will wear once and then regret spending all the money on.
I had no idea consuming all the time was so stressful!
I’ve also started using the Hello Fresh meal service to cut down on my food waste. They send you exactly what you need, and the portions are big so I’ve been able to stretch meals out to do some lunches too. Only having to think about breakfasts and a couple of lunches a week is brilliant! And I don’t think I’ve thrown any food away since I started using it – which makes a change to getting rid of mouldy bread or wilted vegetables at the end of each week.
My laptop started playing up earlier in the month, and has now given up the ghost. I spent three solid days trying to work out which new one I wanted and really stressing about it, before realising I couldn’t buy anything for another few weeks anyway so there was no rush. The time spent thinking about it has massively helped. I was unsure about spending the money on a more expensive laptop, but the breathing space has meant I’ve been able to work out what I really need and what I’ll get genuine value from. It might have meant doing a few things from work that I couldn’t do on my phone, but the time to think, which I wouldn’t normally take (normally I’d be all “MY LAPTOP HAS DIED I CANNOT POSSIBLY MANAGE I WILL BUY THE FIRST ONE I SEE!”) means I’ve made a much more considered decision.
I feel like a grown up!
The money I saved by doing the challenge meant I was able to pay off some more of my student loan and pay for a couple of much needed physio sessions, without even dipping into my overdraft – I genuinely don’t remember the last time I didn’t go into my overdraft at the end of the month.
My biggest lesson has been how much I lean on ‘stuff’ to amuse me and to try and make my life better. I had no idea how much of a habit it was! And I certainly didn’t realise how much it was stressing me out.
I’d like to think this has helped me break some of the habits – I’m definitely already thinking much more about purchases I intend to make, and am far more conscious of the outside pressures and influences to consume. Mostly I now spend half my commute to work being annoyed about adverts :p The awareness is key though.
For me, this month has made me think that minimalism *is* less stuff, but it’s also fewer decisions, more money, less stress, and more time. I like it 🙂