This is the story of how I decided to live a more meaningful life, with less. I didn’t coin that phrase, I borrowed it from my mentors, the two men who inspired me to completely change the way I see the world and who propelled me on this journey. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
How an island girl became a minimalist in the city
I grew up on a small group of islands called Seychelles (in the Indian Ocean), where the idea of veganism and minimalism were completely unknown and would probably be laughed at. I was raised in a relatively big house, filled with lots of warm and homely possessions and I lived a very happy childhood with very doting parents. My story is fundamentally different from the one told by the people who inspired me into Minimalism.
Roughly 5 months ago I was scrolling through Netflix looking for something new to watch and I saw this documentary on Minimalism. It was appropriately called ‘The Minimalists’. I hit that play button because I was curious, and I’ve gotten into this wonderful habit of embracing curiosity and seeing where it will take me.
Not to exaggerate or anything (because I can be a bit dramatic) but this documentary changed my life.
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, aka The Minimalists, opened my mind’s eye and reiterated things that I had slowly begun to feel but wasn’t (up till that moment) confident enough to say out loud.
Although they spoke of enduring incredibly rough childhoods, parents who suffered from substance abuse, death and heartbreaking struggles, that I had never experienced, they spoke of somehow, after many years (you’ll have to read their book to find out more) coming out on the other side having embraced this beautiful outlook on life called Minimalism. All I could think of was ‘hey! I want in on that!’
Joshua and Ryan are much older than me, they live in the US, are in long-term relationships and Joshua has a stepdaughter named Ella. I’m a single 21-year-old doing her undergraduate in London. We couldn’t be more different. And yet, their values, beliefs and lifestyle spoke to me and opened the door to me discovering more people (some closer to my demographic, and some as further away as can be) that shared the same values as me. I found people like Sorelle Amore, Joshua Becker and Colin Wright and so many influencers who were promoting this wonderful life.
The concept of a life where you don’t have to work a 9-5 that you hate simply in order to make money and reach a certain amount of sales just to get a promotion and to achieve society’s definition of success. The idea that you don’t have to own a massive house, the latest car and tons of stuff to be happy. The idea that consumerism and greed are not just destructive on the planet but on the mental state of the human race as a whole.
Now it may be the case that the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a minimalist is someone who has the bare essentials and you think of a house with a couch and a dining table, ONE spoon and ONE bowl, ONE chair and basically ONE of everything… that’s about it. Maybe a lonely plant in the corner.
You think of a traveller (or one of those super cute Instagram couples) doing his or her tour of the world with all their possessions in their one backpack and you wonder how someone can possibly live a ‘minimalist’ lifestyle in the city or with a family or as (in my case) a 20 something-year-old at university. You wonder how a ‘normal person’, who wants to live a ‘comfortable’ life in a ‘comfortable’ home can possibly live this lifestyle (I put those words in quotes because they’re all relative).
Minimalism is a lifestyle in which you can own whatever you want, and AS MANY of whatever you want, so long as every single of the items you own is something that brings you absolute joy and it adds value to your life. Minimalism is about realising that the time you spend with the psychological effects of all the material things you own, can be swapped for experiences and time spent with the people you love.
It’s about understanding that working crazy hours in an office are useless if you aren’t participating in fulfilling your potential as a human being by contributing to the society we live in. Not just by giving money, but by interacting with other people and imparting your knowledge or strengths to people who need them.
So, getting back to my story, as soon as that documentary finished, I had to drag my jaw from off the floor, and immediately signed up to their website, bought their two e-books and began what is now my weekly ritual of listening to their podcast.
Over these past few months, I’ve gotten rid of several bags of clothes, shoes, jewellery and bits and pieces that weren’t adding value in my life. I was super happy with the fact that I could donate them to people who would love them more than I could.
We often find that we wear the things that are on the top layers of our closet. Why? Because these are the items we’re more comfortable in, the ones that flatter us more, the ones we turn to all the time… ie, the ones that give us most value. So I gave away anything that was on the bottom layers. I cleared out my wardrobe for each season and now only own the things I truly love.
I then took it a step further and told my closest loved ones that I would truly appreciate if they didn’t buy me physical gifts. Minimalism speaks to giving the gift of time, experiences or consumables because these won’t take up space for very long and can truly be enjoyed for the time they’re around. It’s about showing the other person that you mean so much to them, that you would give them your most valuable commodity, your time.
What does it mean to gift an experience? It could be surprising them with a skype call if they live far away or getting them tickets to a concert, planning lunch or a picnic, something that will create a memory for both of you and that involves spending time with one another.
I also happen to be a vegan and I’m very into sustainability so I got asked, ‘well what if we get you something along those lines?’ I was able to say that although I know they mean well, only I will truly be able to know if those items are ones I want to own and want to form an attached to.
We shouldn’t make assumptions about what we think people may want or need unless they explicitly say so. If you tell people exactly what it is you would like them to buy then that’s different, but ultimately, what you really want, what we all really crave, is more time.
Still not convinced? Neither was my 30 something-year-old sister with three kids living in a small apartment in a big city. She tutted it off as something only ‘young people without kids’ could do and that she simply did not have the time. Right up until I went to visit her and demanded she hands me some bags so we could clear our her closet.
She sat on the bed and watched as I pulled out items she hadn’t seen in months and by the end of it we had 3 big bags to donate and she realised that she had no qualms with giving them away. Why? Because they didn’t add value to her life. The things that add value to her life are the three little humans she created that were playing in the living room. She has since then watched the documentary and has started listening to the podcast.
It’s not about doing everything overnight, but it’s about learning that there is hope for a lifestyle freed from the anchors of material things. This act of freeing creates more space in our physical environment, which we then get to enjoy. It also happens that the fewer things we own, the fewer things we have to worry about, leaving more mental space to fill with things like hobbies and sports and whatever it is that builds us as people.
You’d be amazed how the effects of the lifestyle can transcend to so many other components of life such as relationships, love, food, health, debt and money. Ryan and Joshua discuss so many of these in their podcasts but some of my favourite ones include:
- Episode 129: Beginnings
- Episode 141: Parents
- Episode 144: Simple Living
- Episode 145: Challenges
- Episode 148: Breakups (with Nate Green)
- Episode 155: Love (with Peter Rollins)
- Episode 158: Self Care (with Randi Kay)
Hopefully, something I’ve said has sparked something in your mind, so don’t let that spark die because you too can embrace a truly meaningful life. If you want to read The Minimalist e-books, you can get them on Amazon HERE.
Just remember, it’s not about copying Ryan or Joshua or Colin or Sorelle or even me! If you follow me on my other social media, you probably couldn’t tell that I’m a minimalist, because I do live in a ‘comfortable’ flat and I do own quite a few things. But everything I now own is something that truly adds value to my life. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll get rid of it all too and set off with nothing but a backpack and the bare necessities.
It’s not about being able to show that you own less than a certain number of things, because the number is irrelevant. It’s about building your own brand of minimalism, your own lifestyle made up of your own choices, but at the root of it, surrounded by the things and people that add value to your life. It’s about pursuing minimalism in line with your values.
Sit back, grab some Oreos, and I can’t wait to see what life has to offer us next.