Minimalist living has become very popular in the last few years, as many have looked for ways to consume less and find fulfillment outside of material wealth. Folks like Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, and the guys from The Minimalists, have essentially made their careers out of espousing the benefits of minimalism.
For me, however, living a minimalist lifestyle was not a conscious decision that I made one day. Rather, it was a slow and somewhat unintentional transition from a typical consumerist lifestyle to one of realizing that less is more, and actually enjoying owning less stuff.
Based on my experience, here’s how to become a minimalist without even trying:
Pack your life into a car
You have to pack your life up into a mid-size sedan. What do you bring? What can’t you live without? What is absolutely essential to your daily life for health, happiness, and comfort?
In 2008, I packed my life up into a Honda Civic and drove it across the country. I spent 3 weeks on the road from Pennsylvania to Alaska, sleeping in hostels, motels, hotels, a tent, and even the car.
Looking back on it now, I have to laugh, because I packed some of the most impractical and silly things for my summer in the Last Frontier. I had just moved from Florida, so I thought it perfectly reasonable to bring my wardrobe of sundresses and tank tops, in addition to more sensible Alaskan-wear. When you think of Alaska, don’t you think sundresses? Yeah.
What happened during those 3 weeks on the road was that I came to realize just how little I actually needed in order to be comfortable, clean, and happy. Most of what I’d brought along remained packed away until I arrived at my destination. All I truly needed were the basics.
Live out of a suitcase and a carry-on
That first summer in Alaska, the weather was quite damp and chilly. Never the less, I still managed to wear sundresses on occasion, cold weather be damned! But honestly, I didn’t need half of what I had brought.
By the time that first summer season was over, I ended up having to ship boxes of my stuff back home to Pennsylvania. It was expensive, and I’m quite sure that I could have lived happily without that random stuff, like books that I’d thrifted, and clothes & accessories that I barely wore. I ended up donating most of it to Goodwill.
When I flew to Alaska again the following Spring, I packed much smarter. I brought one suitcase with weather appropriate clothes and shoes, and a carry on. I had my laptop, my personal care items, and not much else. I had achieved a true minimalist wardrobe!
Over the next 4 months, I didn’t have to spend an hour stressing over what I’d wear, because I had pared down my choices to a few favorites. I didn’t waste time straightening my hair with a flat-iron, or fussing over my footwear options. I just wore what was practical, because I was more interested in experiencing things, rather than dressing to impress.
When you own less, you literally have less baggage. Less stuff to lug around, less stuff to keep track of, less stuff weighing you down and taking up space. Ultimately, you find that life is a little easier when you have fewer options to consider, when it comes to those material things. You own and enjoy the things that you really, really need and love, and that’s enough.
When I wasn’t working in Alaska, I was outdoors, hiking, walking, and wandering. Prior to that, I wouldn’t have really called myself the outdoorsy type, but the more time I spent enjoying nature, the more I grew to appreciate and love it. I didn’t spend my free time watching tv, and I barely even checked up on the news. Nightly entertainment involved walking to waterfalls, or going down to the cruise ship docks and watching the ships pull away.
Spend some time exploring the outdoors, and you’ll quickly realize how much time you’ve wasted sitting in front of a tv, being distracted by shiny things that marketers want to sell you.
Focus on experiences and enjoying the company of others. Spend time outside. When you’re busy exploring, you won’t be worrying as much about how you look, or what you should be buying to “enhance” your lifestyle.
Life can be simple, and rich
In Alaska, I often cooked in a shared kitchen, making do with whatever pots, pans, and utensils were available. I rarely used a microwave. I lived in employee housing, and the furniture I had in my room consisted of a bed frame, mattress, dresser, and a desk. Just the essentials.
I didn’t even have a bedspread, so instead I used my sleeping bag, unzipped. I cooked in a minimalist kitchen, and I slept in my minimalist room. This was how I lived for 3 summers up there, and yet I never felt like I was missing out or being deprived of anything.
Life can be simple and rich. You don’t have to complicate it with all kinds of stuff. Sure, appliances and gadgets can make life more convenient, but whoever said that life should always be convenient? Sometimes, you end up finding satisfaction in the simplicity.
Although I’m no longer living life out of a car or a suitcase, I appreciate the minimalist lifestyle that I adopted over those 3 summers. My life is filled with a bit more stuff these days, but I do my very best to keep it to a minimum. I never want to feel weighed down by my belongings, literally and figuratively speaking.
My minimalist lifestyle is always a work in progress. I prefer it, because it helps keep me focused on the things that truly matter in life, like shared experiences with the ones I love. That, and I don’t really like to spend money if I don’t have to 😛
Do you consider yourself a minimalist?