It’s funny how when you say you are a minimalist, people automatically assume you are a radical, privileged, white male, vegan, nut-job who lives in a one-room house with no possessions off the grid somewhere. I may even have thought the same thing at one time.
But now that I have embraced minimalism, I realize that it means many things to many different people. The guys over at TheMinimalists.com have this to say about it:
Minimalism is a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.
Yes, for me, minimalism has been about freedom, but also about simplifying my life and removing the normal stress and baggage that most people are carrying around. We, as citizens of the world, have this overwhelming need to gather and carry with us all kinds of stuff. We work abnormal amounts of hours to gather more stuff, some of which sits in closets and garages and we never see. We spend our whole lives obsessing about how to get more and more stuff.
But all this stuff never makes us happy. Sure, there is that endorphin rush we get when we buy stuff, but that goes away quickly, and we start thinking about other stuff we want to buy to fill the void.
How I Became a Minimalist
I became a minimalist somewhat by accident when I moved to the Philippines in 2011. I met and fell in love with a wonderful Filipina woman and decided that my life needed a change.
I was a fat, miserably depressed shut-in who only left my apartment to go to McDonald’s and the convenience store to buy cigarettes. I’d been this way for quite a while and was only getting worse. So, I decided to make a drastic change.
In my preparations for the trip overseas, I realized that at most I could have one suitcase and a carry-on, which would be my laptop. I soon saw the need to get rid of everything I owned, but I didn’t know how big of a task that would be. As I was going through boxes, I began to see just how much shit I had accumulated over my 40 years of life. I found things I hadn’t looked at in years: old love letters, souvenirs, reams of old bills and correspondences. The sheer amount of crap I had gathered was astounding!
It took about two weeks of very long days to either sell or throw away everything I owned. I shredded and bagged everything that wasn’t worth anything, and what I didn’t sell, I gave to Goodwill. I can’t begin to tell you the extreme weight that had lifted off my shoulders as I stood in the middle of my empty living room, with only my suitcase and laptop bag and surveyed what I had accomplished. Just knowing everything I now owned fit in a small black suitcase at my feet was very satisfying.
I didn’t even know it at the time, but I had taken my first steps to a minimalist lifestyle.
What About Now?
Even after seven years, I haven’t gone back to my old ways and bought more stuff. Okay, so I have a little more, but I can truthfully say that I personally own less than 50 items, including my clothes. I don’t own a television (I don’t even miss it). The only real items of value that I own is a laptop, car, and I just bought a very small and economical house.
But Jason, you can’t be a minimalist if you own a car and a house, can you?
Sure, you can. We didn’t go out and buy an expensive gas-guzzler or a mansion on the hill. We have what I would call a minimal car and a tiny house. The car is just big enough for my little family and a few groceries when we go to the store. The only reason I bought it was it was easier to shuttle my 5-year-old around, and easier on my back since most of the public transportation here in the Philippines wasn’t built for a big guy like me. The house is enough for our small amount of possessions, and a stable place to work since my wife and I both work at home.
As an example, we just moved about two months ago into this smaller house. When we had gathered all our belongings together, we realized all we had were a few boxes and a little furniture. If I told you we only made three trips on a motorcycle with a big sidecar to move our things, would you believe me?
So How Did It Help Your Mental Health?
Getting rid of all my stuff didn’t help radically with my mental health. Sure, it removed a lot of stress, and the practice of getting rid of everything taught me a new and simpler way to live. The freedom of no longer chasing material possessions started something that did help though. It started to remove my mental clutter.
As humans, we all carry around an extreme amount of mental baggage. We worry about the future, which we can’t control because it hasn’t happened yet, and we ruminate about the past, which we can’t change because it has already happened.
I found that once I got rid of all the material distractions, I started thinking about ways to get rid of all the worry and stress my brain was creating for me. It has been a hard battle, and I still struggle with it every day. Changing a lifetime of bad habits does not happen overnight. It’s a day-by-day process which I happily work on because the more mental crap I remove from my thought processes, the less miserable I am.
Every day I get out of bed and remind myself to think about today. The future will happen soon enough, so why worry about it? That is not to say I do not have goals. I do have plans for my future, but I try to remove any negative “what-ifs” that clog my brain. I have also done a lot of work trying to remove regrets about my past. I have many. But I’ve found if I have a forgiving attitude, both for myself and others, the pain of the past fades more every day.
I still have a long way to go, but every day I learn something new about myself!
Will It Work for Me?
I’m not suggesting everyone take the same drastic measures that I did. It is just not realistic to expect that. What I am suggesting is that you work every day to remove your mental clutter and I guarantee you will begin to feel like a new person. I think everyone would be happier without the clutter, whether you have a disorder like me, or not.
What I suggest is that you read a little about minimalism and see what changes you can make in your life for the better.
We could all use a little more freedom.