Ask a Minimalist
I put a call out across my social media channels for people to ask me any questions they wanted about Minimalism, I have done my best to answer each and every one in this blog post.
How do you approach minimising clothing?
I have tackled my clothes in a variety of manners, the one I have found the best is to undertake a "Project 333." Simply put you select 33 items of clothing, including footwear, coats, even jewellery and only wear those 33 things for 3 months. I have done this twice now and both times most of the items I had put away ended up going to charity and I found it made getting dressed each day so much easier as there was less choice so less indecision. Plus my drawers were easier to manage. Mostly it meant that I was only ever wearing my favourite clothes, which is how I think it should be everyday. An added bonus was it really minimised how much laundry I had to do. With less to choose from I would wear the same things multiple times until they actually needed washing, resulting in less to wash.
I have also found it helpful to ask some tough questions when going through your clothes;
- When did I last wear this?
- Do I feel comfortable in this?
- Do I enjoy wearing it?
- Does it fit me well? - It took a bit of time for me to be able to let go of my pre-children wardrobe. So long in fact that I eventually realised if I did ever manage to be that thin again none of the clothes would have even been fashionable anymore and more importantly I realised that my body shape was indefinitely changed and so the style of a lot of those clothes were no longer something I would have been comfortable in. For the pieces I had really loved I just told myself if I got that thin again I would deserve a shopping spree to go get some newer, nicer clothes. ;)
- Why am I holding onto this? - The reasons aren't always as obvious as you think, sometimes you really need to get honest with yourself.
Challenge yourself to wear the things you weren't ready to part with and see how you feel in them. It could well be the push you need to be able to say goodbye to those items.
For most of my clothing I donated them to a local charity shop, but you can always sell them online if the money will help add an extra incentive for you.
What do you miss the most? Or have you "Tweaked" Minimalism to mean there isn't anything you miss?
I love this question. I think a lot of people wonder this and I think it genuinely comes down to a basic misunderstanding of what Minimalism is. You see we have realised that things will never make us happy, and we have realised that a life with less stuff to tidy and store, and a life being content with all that we do have is far better than one spent in pursuit of more. Everything that I have parted with during this journey of discovering minimalism has been easy to part with and has honestly never been missed. It has taken longer to let go of some things than others and longer to realise they are not actually adding any value to my life, but once I arrive at that realisation parting is easy. It's getting to that realisation and actively letting go that is harder than living without any of it once it is gone.
Where's the best place to start? In a particular room? Or area of your life? Or with just one person?
Always start with yourself. You'll have a much easier time getting others on board if you lead by example. Children over a certain age, probably 4+ will also benefit from being included in the process. Younger children won't notice as much so go ahead and minimise their stuff whilst you can still get away with it ;)
I would also suggest starting with physical possessions, as your mindset shifts more to a minimalist one you will find it naturally infiltrates other areas of your life, and you can then look at how minimalism might benefit things like relationships, schedules, work commitments etc.
As for the best room to start with I always tell people to start in the kitchen. There is always an exception to every rule, but generally the kitchen is the area of your home with the least personal stuff in it. Most things in there serve a practical purpose so you can begin the process of decluttering it based purely on what gets used and what adds value and it is usually easy to see which utensils, devices etc are gathering dust or are purely excess.
How many meals have you cooked in your life that have required more than 1 frying pan for example? I'll hazard a guess the answer is zero, but I shall also hazard a guess that you own more than 1 frying pan. We tell ourselves we might need it if one is dirty, but how long does it take to wash one pan compared to the length of time it takes to re-stack the pans in the cupboard 'just so' in order to prevent collapse? Or we need different ones for different types of food. How much better to have 1 frying pan that meets all of our needs than several. There are a lot of areas we can easily minimise if we just get real with ourselves about why we still own stuff.
Once you get accustomed to letting stuff go in the kitchen you will find it easier to tackle more personal spaces like your bedroom or living room.
How do you stay on a Minimalist path when you are bombarded every day by adverts?
One of the biggest challenges for any minimalist is the counter cultural nature of minimalism itself. The society we live in is not set up for minimalism, it has no interest in making minimalism any easier for people and it certainly doesn't encourage it. This will be true of any capitalist society. The focus is on both acquiring money, and spending money. Therefore it is in capitalism's best interest to present a world to you, whether it be through advertising or even more subtly through social media, that is improved upon by having more. If we keep buying it, they will keep selling it.
The best way I have found to stay on a minimalist path without having to become some sort of hermit avoiding the real world is to change the way I view these daily bombardments. Try asking yourself these questions next time you feel lured in by advertising...
- Have I ever wanted this item, or even thought about it before this moment?
- Where will I put it?
- Do I have the money for it right now? If you will need to put it on a credit card or go into debt to buy it the personal cost of this item just got even bigger.
- Do I want to store/clean/maintain this item?
- Will I actually use it or get value from it?
These are just a few examples of things to ask yourself when you feel adverts sucking you in. It is also wise, if you find social media is making you feel inadequate or like you need more, to try and see the reality behind what you see online. No one is posting the ugly areas of their homes, or the mess on their social media. They want it to look the best it can so that you will enjoy looking at it. But that doesn't mean their home looks like that in the real everyday moments. So it's unrealistic to think that by buying the "right" thing yours would look like that too.
Most importantly try to remember that buying things will not make you happy. No one gets to the end of their life and wishes they'd bought more stuff, or hopes they are remembered for their Pinterest worthy home. They tend to wish for more time to spend with loved ones. So next time you're thinking of heading to the shops, or even tempted to do some online shopping, decide to make a different choice. Call a friend for a catch up, or go out for a coffee with someone you care about, or take the kids out for a walk, or to a park. The options are endless, but there will always be something more valuable you can do with your time than going shopping.
How do you work through feelings of things giving you worth even though you know that things are just things and won't ultimately make you happy?
This is a hard one to answer. We've all been there. We moved into our house 2 years ago now and for the longest time when people would come and see it I felt a little bit proud of how nice it was and always enjoyed the compliments that always came about how lovely it was. I had really disliked our old house for many reasons so it felt like I had finally made it and could finally invite people over without feeling embarrassed about where I lived.
At some point I had to face reality though, and I still have to remind myself of this often. It is all just my personal perception. People would always compliment our old house when they visited it, but I just shrugged it off as I didn't believe them. I wanted a nicer house, so no amount of kind words would convince me I already had it. Now I get to enjoy living somewhere that I do really love and enjoy, but it hasn't actually changed anything. People don't seem to like me any more or any less than they did before. I probably invite people over the same amount, I just apologise for my house less.
We always think the solution to any problem or feeling of discontent is right around the corner with the next purchase or house move or career change. And whilst sometime these changes can improve our lives to some extent it is rarely purely down to the thing itself, but more about how we feel, our attitude, or our perception.
So when you feel yourself in that familiar place of "if I just had this, then that would be so much better" think about all the times this has not proved true and search instead for the place or people that bring you real, lasting contentment.
When clearing out stuff how much can you actually keep? I think we're quite minimalistic... but there's still possessions on all the shelves.
Ah the magic number question. When I started this journey I was desperate for someone, anyone, to just tell me how much stuff I should have. There surely was a specific number that some study or other had shown was the optimum amount right? Well fast forward a few years and I now know that Minimalism will look different for every single person. What adds value for you, might not for me. It can be difficult when you are trying to embrace minimalism to not feel like your house should look a certain way, and whilst I do quite enjoy the minimalist aesthetic and design style, that is a very different thing to the minimalism that I write about. You could have shelves rammed full of books, or with just a few items on them, but if each of those items is useful, wanted, adding value etc. then both of those shelves are minimalist's shelves.
Try not to despair if it still looks cluttered or fuller than you'd hoped. Just keep asking yourself if things are adding value. Keep reassessing the same things. Often when you first look at a thing you think it is being used or adding value, but when you ask yourself again a few months later you may realise it hasn't been as useful as you'd thought and find you are now ready to part with it. It is a continual process, and one that is also hugely helped by questioning everything coming in as well as what you already own.
Do you see a dark side to minimalism? - I worry about the control/guilt/perfection aspects: 'if I just get organised and reduce everything, my life will work' (a variant of 'I'll be happy when I am thin')
A nice "easy" question to finish off, yikes, where to begin?!
Minimalism, like anything else that becomes a central part of your life, can definitely have a dark side. I know when I began decluttering and pursuing minimalism, the rush of feelings I got when clearing out cupboards, shelves, drawers, etc. was addictive, and there was nothing quite like getting rid of enough stuff to actually be able to clear out a piece of furniture. What a high that was! Thankfully my Husband has been a keen observer of this whole process and has know when to speak up and suggest I might need to slow down or think on some decisions more.
A lot of it goes back to the aesthetic aspect that I touched on in the last answer. You think if you are really going to be a minimalist your home should look like you are a minimalist. I wanted people to come in and say "where's all your stuff?" and whilst a few people did actually say that, I soon realised that isn't actually the point.
I have now come out the other side of the compulsive decluttering stage, and minimalism isn't about winning some imaginary prize for having the least amount of stuff, but it is more about challenging our consumerist society and saying as nice as stuff is, that isn't what I want my life to be driven by.
It is about finding contentment, right now, with exactly what you have already. The pursuit of happiness is a myth, you already have everything you need right now to be happy. No pursuing necessary, you just need to try to find it.
For me, I found it buried under all the stuff I thought I needed but now know I do not. Pursuing minimalism has opened up so many doors for me that never seemed possible before. Realising we could survive on one salary for example has been huge in enabling me to take the leap with my blog and photography business and removing that added pressure of feeling I have to earn a certain amount, or should give it all up for a steady more reliable income.
The key is to remember that it is not a religion, there aren't actually any rules to follow. It is a very personal thing and will be a different process for everyone. The darker side comes out when people feel it has to be a certain way, or are promised certain results. I can only tell you how I have found it and what it looks like for me, and I hope by doing that to help make minimalism much more accessible to everyone, and shatter this illusion that to be a minimalist you need to get rid of everything that makes you happy. When in fact it is actually about embracing everything that makes you happy and letting go of the rest.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to ask their questions, I hope my answers have been helpful in some way. Please don't hesitate to use the comments section below to ask more questions or let me know your thoughts on the issues raised.
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