I’ve lost count of the times people have said things to me like, “But you own all these books, that isn’t minimalistic!”, or “How come you’ve bought another game? I thought you were a minimalist!”
But here’s the thing: minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself of having the things that make you happy or bring value to your life. It’s not about white furniture and empty shelves. And it’s absolutely not a competition.
Minimalism is about living a simple and clutter-free lifestyle. It’s about finding what’s important to you and minimising the less important things so that you can maximise your time on the most meaningful.
For me, that’s family, friends, writing, reading, relaxing, watching anime, and gaming. For you, that might mean baking, working out, creating, hosting parties, or spending less time online.
Everybody is different. That’s what makes the world so interesting.
Telling someone they can’t be minimalist if they own a certain thing is as crazy as saying to someone, “You play sports? No you don’t because you’re a tennis player, not a footballer. Football is the only real sport!”
See how silly that sounds?
I’ve also seen, in several minimalist groups, people posting a photo and asking “Should I get rid of this?”, or posting a photo of a room in their house and asking, “Is this minimalist enough?”
But there’s no such thing as ‘minimalist enough’. Nobody else can tell you to get rid of or keep that penguin figurine collection because nobody else knows the significance of them in your life.
Only you can answer those questions because only you know the story behind your stuff. Only you know what holds meaning in your life and why. Only your heart can tell you when you’ve reached that level of satisfaction.
If you rely on others to tell you what to keep and what to throw, or what looks ‘minimalist enough’, you can’t grow as a person because you won’t be developing those crucial decision making skills that come with minimising and decluttering.
And if the decisions don’t come from you, you will end up living someone else’s version of minimalism. Someone else’s life.
I once shared an image of my minimalist living room. Some loved it, some thought I had too many books, some thought I had too many photos, some people found it inspirational, and some went as far as to say they what pieces of furniture they would change.
None of the people who commented were either right or wrong. What I got what a diverse snapshot of other people’s visions for their own lives.
What you need to ask yourself when minimising or simplifying is, “Is this perfect to me?” Not, “Will my uncle Pete like it?” And certainly not, “Does my house look better than Amy’s on Instagram?”
Minimalism isn’t a war. It is a means to live a simple, more peaceful, and more intentional life.
Comparing your minimalism, or your home to others will not do you any favours unless you’re using it purely for inspiration. In fact, it will drain you and make you miserable and resentful.
Once minimalism becomes a competition it loses its meaning. You become no better than you were when you were subconsciously, or consciously, comparing possessions or status, which is as far from minimalist as you can get.
So, minimise in a way that feels right for you. Inspire others by becoming genuinely happy and satisfied with your own life. Be simply you.
I was reading Bing to my son the other night, when I asked him, “How come you still love the books but don’t watch it anymore?”
He replied, “I’m too old for Bing now, mummy, I like to play my games more now.”
I was shocked, but it wasn’t the first time he’d told me he’d outgrown something. Apparently, he’s also too old now for his Paw Patrol wallpaper and wants Spider-Man, instead.
Why am I telling you this?
Because time is precious, and it passes by faster than a falling raindrop.
Despite that fact, many of us fritter that time away behind phone screens, behind ‘busyness’ and working to accumulate bigger, better stuff. All the while, our children grow up under our noses, our friends and family age or move away, people pass away. But it happens so subtly that we don’t see these things until they’re suddenly upon us.
I was chatting to a colleague the other day, and they said “At the end of the day, once you’ve retired, you’re just another person.” That stood out to me because so many people base their lives on having a particular status, or working all hours to afford stuff that bring them more status.
Some people work so many hours, or place so much emphasis on acquiring more stuff and staying busy, that they’re shell-shocked when they finally stop and see the changes in their reality. Some even forget to look after their health in the process.
Like with my son growing up in a few blinks, it’s the same with other milestones in life. They’re here before you know it. And if you’re not mindful of how you spend your time, you’ll look back wondering just where the hell it all went, like you’ve passed by on an out-of-control rocket.
One of the most prominent incidents in my life that have shown me the importance of time was when I visited my uncle in the hospital.
He was a popular and well-loved man, always laughing and making others laugh until their faces and sides hurt. We were close, but then the day came when he was an old man and ended up ill in the hospital. Even then, he was laughing and joking around. The nurses loved him.
While I was visiting, I did talk to him and laugh at his jokes – but it felt forced because I wasn’t fully present. At the time, I was going through a terrible drama in my young adult life, my mind kept drifting, and I was texting on my phone every few seconds, trying to sort it all out.
I didn’t see his time on Earth flickering like a dying candle. I didn’t see that our time together was shortening to a stub.
Some naive, childish part of me thought he would be around forever because, to me, he was invincible. Nothing seemed to get him down.
The next time me and my family visited him he was in an old people’s home. He was upset from losing his independence and it was the first time I’d ever saw him cry.
My uncle with the spirit of an excitable child, who was the embodiment of joy itself, was having to come to terms with how frail he now was, while I stood there surveying the surroundings, feeling dumbstruck and helpless.
I never got a word in during that visit. And that was the last time I saw him before he passed away.
That’s when I got my first taste of how precious time really is, and of how important it is to give people your all when you visit them. Show them how important they are and make memories because you never know how much time is left.
Although I grieved for a long time, what tore me apart the most wasn’t his death itself, but the immense guilt from not being fully present with him in the hospital room that day; the last time we would laugh together.
When I got the news of his passing, suddenly, the life issues I’d had while I was visiting him seemed as important as whether or not I was out of teabags. I would have thrown my phone into a pit of fire and never owned one again if it meant I could relive that day how I should have done.
The thing is, you can’t change how you’ve spent your time and you can’t get a refund on it like with an impulse purchase. So don’t waste time worrying about how you’ve used it in the past. Instead, be mindful of how you spend it from this moment forth.
The sad thing is, that all too often it takes a sad or shocking event, or a big slap in the face from the universe to wake us up to what’s in front of us.
So, if you’re one of those people on that rocket, just remember you can get off and walk at any time. You can stop and see the sights.
This week, I finally completed a videogame I’ve had for years called Alien Isolation. For years I would make a certain amount of progress, only to get stuck, scared out of my wits, and quit.
It’s only in the past few months I plucked up the courage to restart it after a friend said, “don’t let your fears rule you”. I realise how cheesy that sounds, but that’s exactly what I was doing. I was acting the same way I used to in real life.
In the end, I pushed through that fear, and my failures when the alien killed me again and again. And in doing so, I finally reached the end credits. I was successful.
But most people don’t keep on pushing through when they fail. Like I once did with Alien Isolation, they give up at the first few hurdles. So many people stay stagnant.
They won’t go for that career opportunity, or start a new business, or ask that guy/girl out, or attempt to learn a new skill, or travel somewhere new, or stand up for their beliefs.
Life is tedious but safe. Unfulfilling yet secure.
At work I stayed in the same old position for ten years, despite many opportunities for growth. Why? Because I was too terrified of failure to try anything else. My life was on autopilot. Go to work, get paid, buy new shiny stuff to feel more alive, dream of winning the lottery, dream of writing, rinse and repeat.
Because of turbulence in my life as a young adult, I felt that I should be grateful for even having a job. My mother often drilled the last part into me.
The message was clear: Stay where you are. Don’t try anything else. Don’t push your luck. Don’t even think about it.
And I didn’t. I fought the symptoms of undiagnosed chronic illness, and when I finally got diagnosed, I thought, This is it. My cards have been dealt. Now I need to fight to keep going, to keep my job. It was the first job which I genuinely loved (and still do).
Supporting students was highly rewarding, and I grew over the years. I became a better TA, better able to build relationships, gained more empathy than ever before, and a wider view of the world.
But there came a point where I started longing for more. Dreaming about creating content that would help and inspire adults. Fantasising about becoming an author. About helping people with their life problems. And I stayed like that for many more years.
Just dreaming and wishing.
Whenever I saw somebody else become successful, it was like looking through a telescope from across a vast, raging ocean. Success was something that only happened to gifted people. Whenever students left the school with their grades and a blank slate, I longed to go back to the past.
If only I had chosen the right courses (journalism or creative writing). If only I hadn’t been so scared to pursue what I really wanted. If only I didn’t have a chronic illness.
All of that was faulty thinking based on limiting beliefs I had at the time: That I was now too old to chase my dream. That I was a crap writer and had nothing worthwhile to say. That I was dumb and didn’t deserve better.
The truth is, if I had made different choices, and if I was free of illness, I wouldn’t have learned the things I have. I wouldn’t have met my husband, and most likely, would be a completely different person. I wouldn’t be writing my first book which is all about coping with chronic illness, and I probably wouldn’t have discovered minimalism and grown as a person, so I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life, or how old you are, you choose how you play the cards you have been dealt in life. You choose if to keep playing or surrender your hand.
It’s only over the past year I’ve wrestled back control of the steering wheel and have a clear aim. Minimalism helped clear my vision. And once I had a clear view of what I wanted and how I was going to get there, I just went for it.
I made this blog and carried on writing even when the writing gremlin told me I was crap. I applied for a BACP counselling course, even though the sneering voice of self-doubt piped up, Pfft. You? You’ve spent years on the wrong path. What makes you think you can help others to find theirs?
I could have listened to that voice and not applied for the course. But I remembered that it was because I had gone down the ‘wrong’ path that I came to the revelation I did.
It’s the people I met along the way. The lessons I’ve learned by teaching others, and by overcoming challenges in my relationships. Relentless studying and reading every book on success and communication I could get my hands on.
Slowly but surely, as I kept reading, applying what I learned, and clearing more clutter from my home, my old limiting beliefs fell away.
I had proved that I could become minimalist, even though I was a hoarder for most of my life. Why couldn’t I work for myself when there are people who have overcome massive adversity and still achieved their dream?
Reading about some of these people, I realised there was always a common thread. They all had a clear vision of what they wanted. And they all worked their asses off to get there. They all kept pulling themselves out of the quicksand. They stopped drowning and kept kicking their legs until they started swimming.
It turns out that some of the world’s most successful people had also been told they would get nowhere in life. Often by teachers, other authority figures, and by the attitudes of the people they were surrounded by at the time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s parents noticed his affinity to physical labour and suggested that he could become a furniture maker, or a mechanic. But what he wanted was to become a famous body-builder. His friends at school thought he was weird for his strong desire to go to America, because he talked about it all the time.
Do you think any of that stopped him?
Can you imagine if Arnold had played it safe, instead? If he had only done what others expected him to do?
One of my favourite authors, Bryan Hutchinson, struggled throughout his education, and was told he would never be a writer. He was even humiliated in front of a whole class once by a tutor who didn’t believe in his abilities. Eventually, he pushed through his limiting self-beliefs and the remarks from his past. Now he owns a successful blog and has published several books.
Once you start believing, and you put in the hard work, the life you envisioned materialises bit by bit, like the sun after a heavy storm.
I decided I was never again going to let myself be told that my dreams were ‘unrealistic’, or that I was being ‘ungrateful’. Of course, I’m grateful. Gratitude is important. The problem was, I took being grateful as meaning to always stick with what you have.
I never took risks because ‘realistically’ I could fail and look like a fool. I could see people saying “told you so,” with a satisfied smirk. I could see readers making fun of my writing. But being realistic and safe was making me miserable and unfulfilled.
Not too long ago, I put all talented people, or people in a higher position than me, on a pedestal. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was so fascinated by these people that I saw them like a celebrity. In my eyes, I saw a mystical human before me and felt privileged just to be around them.
You can imagine how I saw myself.
I didn’t see the seeds they had planted in the past. All the years of grafting and climbing the ladder, while feeling just as insecure as most other people.
After chatting with these people for a while, I started to notice how different their attitude was. They didn’t complain or hang around in cliques. But they avoided negative people and meaningless tasks as sure as a cat avoids showers.
I was one of those negative people, and I didn’t even realise it. So it was no wonder these more successful people didn’t talk to me for too long.
You attract who you are.
You’ll notice that gossipers tend to hang around and attract other gossips, that toxic people are never far apart. But the successful ones are well out of the way, hanging with positive people and doing whatever it takes to live the life they want.
These people still treat everyone with respect, even if they’d rather be elsewhere in that moment. They understand the importance of positive relationships, and that what they say reflects who they are or who they are becoming.
I’m not talking about people who are in a successful position, but who then abuse that power to make others feel small. You could argue that they’re not successful because their power plays come from a place of deep insecurity and fear. They haven’t mastered their fears and perceived shortcomings, so project them onto others.
Truly successful people are living the life that they want to live, never stop growing, are humble, and treat everyone with respect. They aren’t perfect, because nobody is perfect. But they know that the best way to live a sub-par life is to bring others down, brag about their life, and stop learning once they’ve reached a certain point.
Notice how I never said that successful people are all walking around with high-paying jobs and a briefcase? That’s because it’s nothing but a stereotype. An idea sold to you via the media, through marketing, and by the rest of society.
Success isn’t about having a certain job and wearing a custom-fit suit. It isn’t the amount of stuff you own, or the amount of money you have in the bank. It isn’t the amount of friends you have or the sexual conquests you’ve had.
In fact, there are some obscenely rich and popular people out there who are drowning in misery and can’t quite figure out why.
Success is living the lifestyle you want to live, with the job you want, with quality friends, and continuing to grow as a person.
If happiness, to you, is working a 9-5 while voluntarily working at homeless shelters, and that’s what you do with your life, you’ve been successful.
If it’s about having a happy marriage, and you have many joyful married years behind you, you’ve been successful.
If you’re a stay-at-home parent who values raising children, and you have happy kids, you’ve been successful.
Be careful not to mix happiness up with mediocrity- that is staying safe and settling for less than your potential.
It’s important to know that there are many areas of success which add up to a whole: job, marital, friendship, financial, parental, spiritual…
And you can be successful in as many areas as you want. Not perfect. Successful.
Owning a big house just because you can is meaningless. Owning the latest gadgets wears off fast. Wearing a suit to work every day and earning hundreds of thousands a year is meaningless if you’ve got no plan but to chase more.
People who tie happiness to possessions, or success to a suit and briefcase are destined to become mere shells of themselves.
Some people get caught in the trap of waiting to become a certain way before they go after what they want. But they forget one important thing: It’s our experiences that help shape who we are and how we think.
Without failing, you can’t grow. You can’t know what you need to do to improve, to move further along.
Yes, hone a positive growth mindset. But don’t wait for perfect. Because perfect never comes, and success never comes to those who sit and wait.
Always remember your values. Don’t stray from them. And value yourself highly.
Decluttering is good for the soul. Not only does it create more space and lessen stress, sometimes you can find unexpected treasure.
One of my closest friends was telling me how they were having a decluttering session, and that it made them feel so good that they were going to carry on the next day. But what they didn’t expect was to find was a soft toy that used to be cuddled by a much-loved relative who had passed.
Coincidentally, during one of these sessions, my friend happened to be having a terrible day. Finding this toy brought them a lot of comfort and found a new special place in their heart.
If it wasn’t for decluttering, that treasure might have remained hidden for many more years, unable to offer the comfort that was so desperately needed.
How many times have you tidied or had a spring clear out, only for your jaw to drop and you to shout , “So that’s where that went!”
How many times have you discovered something which warmed your heart, but was found among meaningless objects?
When was the last time you felt guilt for finding something special tucked away in a cold, dark place or buried under piles of clutter?
That’s because through minimalism, you can discover what’s important to you, which can, in turn, help you realise that maybe those other things aren’t as important as you first believed. Sometimes, the recovered space might be your treasure.
On the flip side of the coin, you might also find objects which trigger pain or sadness: a letter or gift from an ex, for example. If you find anything which makes you feel bad, consider letting go to carve a path to the future rather than treading back over the past.
If thoughts about finding and dealing with such objects make your stomach churn, then this post on decluttering sentimental objects is for you.
In the meantime, here’s a simple list of things you can start decluttering today. Perhaps you will find a hidden treasure…
Living room/Office/Junk drawer
Old magazines (unless you happen to be collecting a certain one)
An excess of books – keep only the ones you love or are definitely going to read. Beware of ‘someday’. If ‘someday’ creeps into your mind, donate.
Pens – they multiply like rabbits, disappearing and reappearing in random places seemingly at will.
An excess of notepads
Out of date medicines
Out of date makeup
An excess of cleaning supplies or half-used ancient products.
Half-empty but unused toiletries
Freebies that never got used
Out of date toiletries
Jewellery you’ve fallen out of love with
Clothes you’ve fallen out of love with or that no longer fit
Handbags – do you really need one for every outfit?
Shoes – too many lead to decision fatigue and lack of space. My shoes are nice enough to be useful both for evenings out, and for a casual summer day in town. I also have a pair of Vans I use purely for casual wear.
Coats and other outerwear (if you’re one of those people who has a coat for every outfit in their wardrobe and at slightly different thicknesses for every type of weather)
CD’s you no longer listen to or that you own digitally
DVD’s you no longer watch or prefer to just watch digitally
Videogames you no longer play, or that you own digitally (unless you’re a collector)
Cables – do you really need 20 USB cables?
Broken or extremely outdated technology that’s useless
Plates and dishes
Cutlery and other utensils – watch for duplicates
Cups and glasses. These tend to build up over the years until you could run your own cafe/bar
Out of date food and condiments, or food that people don’t seem to eat. Certain types of food can be donated to foodbanks as long as it’s all in date and unopened.
Airing cupboard/Under bed
Old towels – animal centres often need these
Old bed sheets, or an excess of bed sheets- once again, an animal centre or homeless shelter could make use of them.
Old school work
Old toys your children outgrew
Gifts that you’ve never used or secretly didn’t want or need
Photos – ones that trigger bad memories, are bad quality, or have a hundred duplicates
Anything broken that you said you would fix ‘someday’
An excess of tools such as screwdrivers, hammers, spare screws etc. Watch for duplicates.
Souvenirs from holidays that mean little to you (often, it’s the actual memories that bring you joy, not the mug with the landmark or country on)
Keyrings (I used to have about 6 on my house key, plus a few more to choose from). Now I have one for my key, and another on my favourite bag. That’s it.
An excess of ornaments and trinkets. These can be a source of hidden stress without you even realising. They take up loads of space and make cleaning tasks take double or triple the time than if that surface was clear.
I talk about some of these things in more detail here
But what if I actually want to refill my space, or bring life to that empty corner?, I hear you panic. In that case, let me tell you; It’s far more uplifting to get plants, instead. House plants give you a sense of being in nature and will help to filter and oxygenate the air. Just don’t be like me and forget to water them.
Have you found any hidden treasure from decluttering? Let me know in the comments.
It was a sunny Sunday at the tail end of summer. I was at home on my computer, when my husband suggested we walk our dog, Yuki, together. We’d already been to town earlier, but something made me say yes. And I’m glad I did.
As we walked in the sun we talked about our desires for the future, our goals in life, and things we wouldn’t have spoken about at home where responsibilities often get in the way and then, exhausted, we go off to do our own thing.
Anyway, we walked to the field that is usually overgrown with grass and wheat. I call it The Blackberry Field. It holds a special place in my heart because it’s where dad used to take me blackberry picking as a child and is also where we used to walk the family dog I grew up with.
This time, the grass and wheat had been cut down, leaving a wide, open expanse of rolling hill on which the blackberries were still growing down one side. The view from the top was breathtaking; all greens, yellows and browns topped with the crystal-blue sky.
You see, we live in a town that is undergoing heavy development. Everywhere you go there are new buildings springing up and huge cranes looming over the streets. Hammering, clanging, and sweating. But here, in The Blackberry Field, there was none of that.
The sky was clear, save for a few interestingly shaped clouds that seemed to stretch to infinity. From the top of the hill, we could see rows of trees, a village in the distance, and other fields that were miles away. I watched as the shadow of a cloud passed over one of those fields like a curtain. I’d seen nothing like it before. I’d never taken the time.
It was such a relaxing, and awe-inspiring sight that we sat down at the top of the hill and took in the feeling of complete freedom. It was as if time didn’t exist.
And here’s the important part. We hadn’t taken our phones or even a watch.
Everything was just as it was in the moment.
Just us and nature.
We let Yuki off the lead and she ran around the field like a wind-up toy while the grass blew gently around us in the breeze. It felt like we had entered a dimension cut off from the hustle and bustle of the world. All we could hear were the birds tweeting from the surrounding bushes, and Yuki as she panted her way back up the hill towards us.
We were present. We were at peace. And we were connecting with each other.
Seeing the fields stretching before us and houses the size of thumbnails made me feel like I was part of something much bigger. A tiny person in this massive world of infinite possibility.
My mood sky-rocketed. I felt happy and at peace, even when I had to go home and prepare dinner (I hate cooking). When you consider the tonne of scientific research which shows how beneficial and therapeutic nature is to humans, it’s no surprise that I returned home feeling renewed. Being in nature also has positive effects on depression and stress, as well as being a great way to practise mindfulness.
Too many of us fly through life not stopping to feel the ground beneath our feet or experience the surrounding calmness. We’re used to infinite busyness, the endless buzzing of notifications, and hurried conversations. Rinse and repeat.
Before we know it, we’ve gained a few more grey hairs and have accomplished nothing. Relationships are strained and people are more stressed than ever before .
There’s pressure to always be available online, to perform at work, to check our notifications, to look a certain way, to be a perfect parent, to be more successful, to make more money, to own the latest stuff, to keep up with the hottest trends and all the latest news. Feel exhausted yet?
There’s only so much of us to go around, and we can only focus on the most important things in our lives.
But if we learn to stop. If we take the time out to enjoy the present, even if it’s only on a weekly basis, it will boost mood, alter perceptions, and give way to clarity for the direction we are heading in life.
You will find yourself thinking about things you probably didn’t think about in the chaos of everyday modern life. See things in a way you had, perhaps, never considered before.
I’m sometimes guilty myself of being so focused on cooking dinner, cleaning the house, and being eager to escape at the end of the day, that I barely look at my husband when he gets in the house from work.
I cook dinner straight away, wash the pots, get my son ready for bed, then we’re exhausted and anticipating more of the same the next day. On days where both of us are working, we can both end up too eager to escape to distractions instead of each other.
It’s too easy to pass each other by like cars on a motorway.
In the field where time stood still, I remembered why we put rings on each other’s fingers.
But I also remember back when we were renting a house together for the first time. We were a very close couple for years, but somehow got into a routine of getting home from work and completely ignoring each other. I thought living together would strengthen what we already had. I was wrong.
I got immersed in writing or playing a game while he was busy playing an online game with friends. Then I would get up to cook dinner, and somewhere along the line we stopped eating at the table together, eager to get back to whatever distraction we were at before. We started arguing about silly little things and before we knew it; we were talking about calling it a day.
Our once perfect relationship was almost destroyed, all because we didn’t take the time to connect with each other. Away from technology and away from ‘busyness’. Away from our own self-absorption.
Know what fixed it?
Spending time at the dinner table again. Putting down the distractions to talk face to face.
The more we talked, the more we realised that conversation was moving away from hints about splitting up, and more about what we loved about each other, and where we wanted to be in life.
We realised what had happened and decided from that moment on to always eat at the table together, and to go on occasional dates, whether that be a walk into town, an evening at the pub, or a night spent watching our favourite anime together – no phones or tablets within arms reach.
I’d be so confident as to say our relationship became even stronger than before.
The other day, I was chilling on my computer and my son said, “Mummy, come off that for a minute,” and took my hand. I followed him and he took me to the window and showed me the most beautiful sunset, then he smiled and gave me a kiss. That moment will stick in my memory for a long time, but it’s one I would have missed out on had I stayed glued to my computer.
It’s not just our relationships with others that are in danger of being extinguished if we don’t take the time to nurture them. We are in danger of losing ourselves. And it can be hard to find again. In fact, it can be so hard to get back, that many people give up and wonder why they’re as unfulfilled or as miserable as they were ten or twenty years prior.
In trying to impress others or keep up with the constant rush of life, we forget who we are. We forget our values, what we like, what we dislike, who we love, who we admire, what our dreams are, why we want what or who we do.
We become part of the fast-flowing river, doomed to enter the sea of mediocrity before repeating the same tired old cycle again and again.
So, instead of worrying that the battery is running out on your phone, worry about your time on Earth running out faster than the sand in an egg timer. Instead of slaving over notifications on your screen, take notice of the real life things right in front of you. Instead of ticking off one task after another, take the time to rediscover yourself and rekindle, build, or make new relationships.
One of the greatest things about being a minimalist, is that it forces you to think about the things in your life which are most meaningful to you. That’s no easy feat because at first glance it might seem like everything you own deserves a spot in your heart and your home.
In the not-so-distant past, I thought the same way. Every keyring, every old party invitation, and every trinket felt significant.
But once I figured out what was causing me to hold on to these relics, I felt lighter than I’d ever felt in my life. And after moving house a few years later and having to unpack all my stuff from a larger house into a smaller space, I discovered minimalism.
I thought that I had decluttered all I possibly could, that I had minimised to the max. So imagine my surprise when I was struck with a question which highlighted even more excess in my home.
My husband and I were sorting out home insurance, but we didn’t want to overpay to cover the cost of our stuff. We got asked, “If your home and all its possessions got destroyed tomorrow, how much do you think it would cost you to replace?”
Now, while most people would frantically start estimating the worth of the entirety of their possessions at this point, I altered that question in my mind so it was now asking, ‘If your home and all its possessions got destroyed tomorrow, what would be most important for you to replace?’. Minimalism has trained my mind to ask those questions of myself, but I had only ever asked on a room by room, and drawer by drawer basis.
What would be so important to me that I would have to replace it if it were destroyed? My adult colouring book that I rarely touch? My ornaments which are just there as shelf filler? And if they aren’t that important, should I use up valuable shelf space for these items which I have to clean and worry about being broken?
If I were to have a fresh start, should I replace every book, every mug, every piece of furniture, every cable, every gift, every utensil?
Just the other day, a heart with a rhyme on it that was bought for my wedding to remember my nan, went flying to the floor and smashed. I was upset for about ten minutes, then the feeling passed and I realised that it was simply something bought from a store which didn’t represent her, but my feelings about her. And when it broke, my feelings didn’t vanish along with the rubbish bag the heart ended up in. After all, she resides in my real heart – not some pretty piece of acrylic.
The item itself was meaningless, but I hadn’t considered that until it smashed.
Imagining starting from absolute zero is an entirely new and sobering thought process.
It’s an overwhelming question for most, and one which would have shocked and terrified my past self to think about. When I imagined starting from scratch, I looked around my living room and started noticing things that I wouldn’t waste the time, energy and money replacing.
Then I noticed the things that were special to me (not including necessities such as our dining table), and they included things like my trusty laptop, and some favourite hardbacks which I regularly revisit. Above all of that was my husband and son.
When you challenge yourself with the concept of starting from scratch, it’s terrifying, I know. It’s even scarier to consider it as a consequence of some sort of disaster. But it forces us to think about what we really need and what truly makes us happy. That, in turn, makes us think about who we are beneath our stuff.
Are you a party animal like your wardrobe suggests, or more of a Netflix binger? Are you an avid reader like your shelf suggests, or do you find yourself exploring the world instead? Are you really a fitness freak, or someone who classes a trip into town as exercise?
Once you become clear about who you are and what you stand for, it enables you create space for your true self to shine, and it allows you to easily discern the most important things in your life. This can save you money when it comes to things like choosing house insurance, or when you shop more mindfully. It can even lead to you making big life changes such as career, or relationship.
Minimalism gave me the space and clarity to think about why I was still in the same job position as ten years ago, despite many opportunities to climb the ladder. I was too comfy, too secure, and too preoccupied with acquiring shinier stuff, instead of listening to what my heart was saying (which was that I’m only fulfilled when I’m writing, growing, helping people with their issues, and inspiring adults to live up to their true potential).
So, if you could start all over again from now, with nothing but yourself, what would you need? What things would you buy all over again? What would you do with your life? What would you be? Who would you spend your time with?
If you struggle with those kinds of questions, turn them around. What wouldn’t you need? What wouldn’t you buy again? What wouldn’t you do with your life? Who wouldn’t you spend time around?
Last weekend, my husband and I went on a major clothes purge. It wasn’t that we hadn’t done so before. We found ourselves revisiting the task after several arguments about me not having washed any of his clothes. The reason? I perceived that he had plenty left because the drawers were always full to bursting with his t-shirts, boxers and socks.
“But I don’t wear any of those!”, he would argue, when I told him he had more than enough.
So, after deciding enough was enough, we joined forces and I emptied all the drawers and the wardrobe so it was all laid out on the bed. Seeing the hoard in it’s entirety was even more of an eye-opener than just picking it randomly out of storage.
Even though I mimimised my clothes collection significantly in the past year, I still found myself getting rid of a dress that didn’t feel like me, and a top that I used to wear on drunken nights out (that I have very few of these days).
The rest was all my husband’s. There were shirts and sweaters he had long since fell out of love with, clothes that he never liked the style of, clothes that were too big or too tight, and those that were seriously worn out.
In the end it filled three bin bags! One of those bags was destined for the trash, and the rest got put in the donation pile.
You can imagine the difference it made to our storage.
Clothes in the wardrobe hung freely and were able to breathe again, and the drawers could close without me having to kick them shut or squeeze everything down. And I’ve not been in doubt about when I need to do some washing because everything in our bedroom now only consists of the things we wear often or are fond of.
If you don’t keep a regular check of your wardrobe, it can and will overflow until you find yourself faced with yet another mammoth decluttering session. These sessions take up a huge chunk of time and patience, so it’s always best if you keep on top of it by being mindful of the clothes you purchase, and to immediately donate or trash ones that are worn out or that you fall out of love with.
That being said, you’re far less likely to fall out of love with your clothes if you don’t fall victim to keeping up with fashion, which changes faster than the seasons themselves. Instead, buy clothes that make you feel fantastic when you wear them, and that resonate with who you are.
And remember, the person you are now might well be completely different to who you were a year before.
If you’re ready to get hardcore with minimising your clothing, you can also try out Project 333 which aims to save you masses of time and space, while still making you look fabulous every day. Check it out, it’s not half as scary as it sounds!
For the past few weeks, I’ve become quite lazy and complacent. Lazy summer days have a tendency to do that to people. I’ve found myself putting things off only to realise that a whole week has gone by, and I still haven’t done what I intended. You all know that feeling, right?
So, I just have to share with you, something I saw in the week which made the excuses I had been telling myself downright comedic.
We all do it, we all have dreams, and things on our to do lists which will benefit us in some way, yet which have been staring at us mockingly for weeks, months, or even years.
That book that’s been sat on your shelf with its story untold. That first draft that’s almost been finished for three months.That table leg you were going to fix last summer. That class you keep meaning to sign up for.
Yet when we get round to doing them, suddenly the washing needs doing, the floor looks dirtier than usual, and the car doesn’t look as shiny as it could. You might know it as procrastination. And when it comes to procrastination, some of us are masters, even when we’ve minimised all the meaningless distractions.
Procrastination will always find a way to keep you ‘busy’, and from realising your full potential.
Since I work at a school, I’ve been enjoying the long, lazy weeks of summer. And I’ve come up with all kinds of clever-seeming excuses as to why I haven’t worked on my book in over two months, and why my box of photos is still on the living room floor waiting to be sorted.
I can’t write because I’ve got my son. I can’t sort through my photos because I’ve got writing to do…and I’ve got my son. I can’t possibly spare the time to cook anything that involves more than slamming in the oven because I have a pile of washing up from lunch.
Yet, an hour or so later, I would find myself playing videogames (which I also tend to procrastinate over completing), or lounging in the garden with an oversized mug of tea.
But while out walking my dog, this week, a woman wearing workout clothes and a look of determination jogged past me… while pushing her toddler in a pushchair. And somehow, she still had the energy to smile at me as she jogged by.
At that moment, every well-crafted excuse I had been telling myself as to why I couldn’t do what I wanted were exposed for the big fat lies that they were. In fact, they were so lame they belonged in the ‘the dog ate my homework’ pile of excuses.
It was as if the universe was saying, Look! Look at this lady! And here’s you, off on your summer break, and you don’t have the time? Ha! Nice try!
Our time on this planet is fast and finite, yet we spend half of it putting things off and wondering why we never became a best-selling author, or an actor, or a life-coach, or a teacher, or a business owner, or super fit, or…you get the idea.
The truth is, you can do whatever you want if you’re willing to stop creating excuse stories, and pour that energy into what you’re procrastinating over, instead.
Kick-ass Jogging Lady could have told herself, “Screw going for my morning run. I’ve got a young child and a pile of dishes”. Instead, she thought outside of the box, did it no matter what, and the kid looked super chilled. He was probably having the time of his life.
In our distracted world there’s no end of books, articles and courses aimed at beating procrastination, because even the most successful people have fought it long enough to know this annoying adversary inside-out.
But the single most powerful thing you can do to beat procrastination is to act. It really is that simple. You don’t feel like writing? Pick up a pen and start. You don’t feel like DIY? Go get the screwdriver and hammer. You don’t fee like going to the gym? Put on your workout clothes, or step outside your house. I guarantee you that as soon as procrastination sees that you’re armed, it will cower back down.
And there’s never a better time to act than right now!
When thinking of minimalism, it’s easy to think about everything you own, the things you will keep and space you will create. But there’s something even more suffocating than an excess of physical possessions, which has integrated into every aspect of everyone’s lives: a permanent connection to the online world.
Social media, in particular, is a major leech on people’s time and energy.
I think of social media as being like the world’s biggest mosh pit. Every so often you get hoisted above the crowds and passed along in a viral wave of shares and likes. And when you get dropped, you crave the experience again and again, eager to be seen and heard amidst millions of other voices all vying for validation.
One day last year, I sat at the window of a city cafe which had a wide view of the shop-lined street. And I was both shocked and saddened to see that there wasn’t a single person outside whose head wasn’t bent over their phone screen. Mothers with pushchairs, businessmen, teenagers, older men and women…
It’s one thing to see someone at a bus stop or in a queue scrolling away, but there’s something profoundly disturbing about seeing an entire street like it.
With a dawning sense of horror, I realised that before entering the cafe, I had been a part of that crowd, so disconnected with the people around me that I may as well have lived on a different planet.
From that moment on, I decided to apply minimalism not only to my physical life, but my digital one as well.
I had tried many times in the past to regulate my usage of Facebook, including deleting the app from my phone. I thought that if I took extended breaks I could get myself under control. I was wrong. No sooner than I gave it another chance, it ensnared me like a Venus Flytrap, stewing me in likes, love hearts, and bastings of dopamine.
But it wasn’t just Facebook I was addicted to. Email notifications and free-to-play games conditioned me to pick up my phone to compulsively tap and scroll my life away. Every time I pulled my phone from my pocket I would check social media, then email, then news, then I’d ask Google some obscure question that popped into my mind.
I vividly remember the time my toddler son was sitting on my lap talking to me, and because he was watching Peppa Pig for the millionth time, I was absorbed in my phone. “Mummy, you’re not listening to me!”, he whined.
I was about to snap back at him, annoyed, but then I saw his eyes swimming and his lips quivering. “What are you doing on your phone, mummy?”, he asked. To which I had no acceptable answer and replied “Nothing, sweetheart. Mummy should put her phone down. I’m sorry”.
My son’s voice was being lost amidst an ever-rising crescendo of digital noise.
It doesn’t sound that much to start with, but weeks turn into months which turn into years. Over time, those hours spent tapping, typing and swiping add up to staggering amounts.
When you consider that so many of us complain of having so little time, imagine what could be achieved if we clawed back the months spent on social media, apps, email, and other attention-sapping services.
You could write a book, visit a new town or city, see friends and family, discover a new hobby, learn a new skill, learn something about yourself, set your life in a new direction, rekindle a relationship – the possibilities are endless.
There were a few instances I actually forgot to take my phone out with me, and I can say without a doubt that they were some of the most peaceful, and most productive times.
To my surprise, during those outings, I forgot about my phone. I had no desire to check notifications, know what the news headlines had changed to, or to share what I was seeing with digital strangers.
When I first took a hiatus from social media, I went one step futher and downgraded to a dumb phone for a few months. Like is the case with many addictions, I couldn’t trust myself to not fall back into the clutches of digital dependency.
The people close to me were shocked and clearly uncomfortable. I got asked “How will I send you photos when I need to?”, “How will we keep in contact as much now that you don’t use Whatsapp?”, “How will I know what you’re up to?”. The funniest thing I got asked was “How will you know where you’re going without GPS?”. Yet I don’t even drive.
I documented my whole experience of going dumb (which I will share with you some other time), but I can tell you right now that my relationships improved, my stress levels dropped, and my writing sky-rocketed.
There was more to talk about with my friends because I hadn’t already shared everything. And I started to notice what was right in front of me. Not just people, but natural beauty and interesting occurrences.
I discovered a version of myself I hadn’t realised was possible until I looked up from my screen.
Once you leave the cultural norm, people will be shuffle their feet and often try to justify their own habits, or try to tempt you back. A few people told me that although they wanted to, they couldn’t leave social media due to having family many miles away. Yet most of the time, there’s nothing to stop people from writing letters, sending emails, or, even better, making a phone call.
An over-reliance on social media is rewiring us to fear the intimacy of live, face-to-face conversations, as well as setting us up for a life of comparing ourselves to others, and missing huge chunks of our lives.
I mean, think about it: we’ve been walking the Earth for thousands of years, communicating with each other via grunts and cave drawings, then by spoken language, and later, via books and TV. But all of a sudden, we don’t have to talk face-to face anymore. An app can do that for us.
We don’t have to be vulnerable in front of others, or share our true feelings, or even our real appearance. Instead, we craft masks online and forget who we really are.
And like any skill that goes unused for long enough, social skills start to fossilise. Then anxiety sets in. But we are still social creatures, so we desperately try to keep the illusion of connection going, all the while getting lonelier and lonelier.
Of course, social media isn’t all bad.
It can be great for meeting new people, and communicating with people on the other side of the world. It can be invaluable for disabled people who might find it more difficult to meet up with people, and it’s perfect for finding others who share your interests. It can also be a great business platform.
The problems arise when being used as a main source of contact. It’s extremely poor at forming truly deep and satisfying bonds with people.
Trying to plug social voids with excessive social media usage is like trying to fill a sieve with sand. The sense of connection and satisfaction quickly drains away, so you check and click like again and again and again.
Services such as Facebook and Instagram, and any other time-wasting app you can think of have been designed to be as addictive as slot machines. Companies are profiting from our attention, our memories, and the loss of our souls to our screens.
Currently, I’m back on social media, and back to using a smart device, but with a reversed relationship. I’m the master of my device and the services I use, not the other way around.
To stay in control, I began by minimising the apps on my phone.
I deleted everything I rarely used, started to embrace digital minimalism, and cleared everything off my screen that would serve as a temptation to open. I unsubscribed from news apps, turned off all notifications except for texts and phone calls, and started leaving my phone out of my bedroom at night.
I also started to leave my phone in my bag when talking to people, instead of in easy reach where it could dampen my conversations and remind them to reach for theirs.
You don’t have to go as extreme as I did and downgrade to a dumb phone, nor do you have to delete your social media accounts. All you have to do is become more mindful of the time you spend on your phone, or on other devices and services.
There has been an explosion in apps dedicated to helping you keep track of the time you spend on certain device activities, or to aid you in blocking yourself from distractions.
Brace yourself for this post because I am about to talk about something which sounds scary, but which could dramatically improve and simplify your life.
Waking up at 5AM (or earlier depending on your job/career status).
If you’re anything like me, and just the thought of removing your blankets makes you want to run a mile, I implore you to stay with me here, because what I’m about to tell you could further enhance your minimalist lifestyle and transform your mindset.
I was fascinated, although slightly sceptical of what waking up at 5AM could possibly do for someone with chronic illness, but I gave it a go. The trouble was, despite the massive improvements to my life, I only managed to keep it up for a couple of months before the winter months dampened my resolve.
But the benefits of rising with the sun were so great, that I’m going to reintroduce 5AM back into my life. And I’m going to share with you, exactly why early mornings can be your greatest ally to a better you.
The reason I tried it in the first place was because I was fed up with the stress of rushing around in the mornings trying to get myself ready for work and my son ready for school.
I loved to write but by the time the evening rolled around, I was too burnt out to hammer a single sentence out on the keyboard and would inevitably get drawn into mindless activities instead.
Perhaps you can relate?
Things like scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed (which you know turns into an endless time sap), playing videogames, or watching Youtube took over my free time in the evenings. Anything but doing what I really wanted to be doing.
I’d feel guilty, then the cycle repeated itself. And after rolling out of bed on the weekends, I would go on entertainment binges which was detrimental to my productivity as a writer.
It was time to make a change.
Now, waking up at 5AM, (or earlier) isn’t easy if you’re used to hibernating, and you’ll probably have to ease yourself into it by gradually reducing the time you spend in bed.
I was mad enough to roll out of bed the instant my alarm went off so that I didn’t have time to register how bleary-eyed and zombified I was. I even did what Hal suggested in The Miracle Morning, and found myself an accountability partner.
As soon as I woke up, I would message my accountability partner, and sometimes she would message back with a picture of a beautiful sunrise from her abode. Living in the UK, I saw more overcast skies than pastel sunrises, but just the feeling of that part of the morning being mine for the taking was enough to motivate me.
Here’s the benefits I experienced from becoming an early riser:
My mornings were quiet and peaceful. I found that I was able to think calmly, and had a burst of ideas for my writing.
I could do what I wanted; read a book, write, meditate, or a combination of all. The extra time was all mine.
Because my mind was starting off uncluttered and without the noise of a busy work day, I had far more ideas for my writing than in the evening. This meant I got far more writing done. In fact, I churned out most of the first draft for the book I’m working on.
I had the time to journal or write a stream of conscious(getting all of my thoughts down on paper) which made me understand myself on a much deeper level. It also ensured I was starting the day with a positive mindset.
Before it was fully winter, I got to see a couple of glorious sunrises (as many as I was going to see living in the UK).
It changed my mindset on what was possible because I achieved so much while everyone else was still in dreamland.
I was more organised because I had so much more time on my hands.
By the time my husband went to work and took my son with him to school, I was often already dressed, so I formed a new habit of leaving home early and going to my local cafe to write once a week. Not only did that cement a writing habit, but I got to see my town in a tranquil state of awakening, which was surreal.
I was happier throughout the day knowing that I had already got my most important things done. Therefore, my days ran smoother and were much simpler.
By this point, you’re probably thinking ‘but what about the downsides?’ And I’m not going to lie to you, here. There were downsides to rising so early.
I couldn’t stay up as late which meant that when my toddler son was in bed, I had little downtime before I felt ready to crawl into bed myself. You can’t be a morning person on too little sleep; at least not without risking physical and mental health
That’s it. That was the only downside I discovered.
Admittedly, living in the UK makes 5AM wake-ups much more challenging in the winter months because mornings are cold and dark, the days are short and the days are often overcast.
That’s enough to make anyone want to hibernate in the beckoning warmth and comfort of bed, and unsurprisingly, people’s vitamin D levels drop to an all time low.
But as soon as I let the winter beat me and stopped doing the Miracle Mornings, I noticed that I was back to old habits of procrastination, achieved far less (my book is still in first draft) and am less fulfilled.
To give you the best chance of success at becoming an early riser, here are a few tips: