The other week I had to take a day off work as I had damaged the nerves in between my vertebrae whilst messing around playing rugby in the park at a weekend. Consequently I'd been to A&E to get some strong painkillers, and they had rendered me useless for that day until I had got used to them. In this time I turned to Netflix for some background distraction while I lay on the sofa whacked off my head on morpheme from the hospital and co-codomols.
The first thing I watched was a documentary called 'Minimalism' - it was a real mind-opener, and resonated with me on a significant level. To say that I'm now turning full-on minimalist as a result of having watched this would probably be an overstatement, but I am curious as to how adopting some aspects of this ideology into my day-to-day life could conceivably increase my happiness and help to focus me on what I really value in my life.
One of the things that really connected with me was the focus on being grateful and mindful of the fact that it's not the materialistic possessions that truly make us happy, at least not on any significant level.
There's a befuddling contradiction in here somewhere for me in that I love tech and I am the classic early-adopting consumer who always gets the latest Apple products on launch day, will shop for sales on ASOS and add gadgets to my desk left, right and centre. But it's not about cutting out the things in your life that truly make you happy and enrich your life, it's about cutting out the stuff that doesn't really add anything, the physical noise if you will.
More on what it's all about
With less of an emphasis on the quest to own everything that the media tells me I should own, I will hopefully be content to enjoy the things in life that really provide constant, meaningful happiness. The happiness I get from being able to share experience with my friends and family, versus the happiness for 2 days of having the new iPhone, shortly followed by my frustration at how outdated it is after just 10 months, "now I want the new one, this one is rubbish".
I often catch myself getting a little obsessed with buying new stuff, usually luxury items that although cool to have, aren't really necessary. There's nothing wrong with owning such things if they bring you long term joy or value, but it's this constant societal pressure to keep buying and wanting to own more that I want to disconnect from slightly.
So I use 4 monitors on my desk for work, do I need to get rid of 3 of them? No. I only need to get rid of them if they are no longer useful. But as long as they make my work life easier then they hold value to me, and so should be a part of my desk.
On the other side of the spectrum I have an extensive wardrobe of about 300 items of mostly expensive clothing: suits, shoes, boots, belts, wallets, ties, shirts and knitwear of every colour. Do I wear them all regularly? No! Are they effectively clutter? Yes! If I change my mind then I can always add or take away a new piece, as long as I can justify it to myself then that's all that matters.
The point I'm making is that I'm not restricted to any limits, there's no book on how to define myself as a minimalist. I don't have to give up, cut-out or restrict myself from anything I love or use regularly. I just want to remove the unnecessary stuff.
Being a minimalist isn't about being a soap dodging hippy who doesn't care about earning money. I know the importance of money, I fully appreciate that it undoubtedly makes life easier, but I'm determined that it's not going to be the everlasting pursuit of money that dictates my future happiness. I want to appreciate what I have now, and stop worrying about always wanting more, just enjoying what I have in the present. One of the quotes in the documentary is from the actor Jim Carrey, who said:
"I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it's not the answer"
I completely get this, I don't want to bust my balls in the pursuit of happiness to the exclusion of things that really matter, only to realise that I already had everything in my life that I needed to be happy, and I didn't fully appreciate it. I'm still going to try and make a heck of a lot of money, because for me it's almost like a game (it's the entrepreneurial challenge that makes me tick and gives me a buzz), but I know it's not the money that's going to be the route of all future happiness. It's all the things that I currently have: A loving family, a wonderful and beautiful wife, unlimited access to drinkable water, a roof over my head, a cold sunny day, the sound of birds, the taste of my favourite foods etc. It's these intangible/abstract things that have, and will, always be there whether I'm a billionaire or not!
The concept of all this, is that being a minimalist should help me be more mindful of this fact, and force me to ask myself if what I surround myself with is really necessary.
What am I doing?
Obviously, I had to start by having a big clean-out, some things that are just old and haven't been looked at or used for ages (and couldn't be given to charity) just went in the bin. Some stuff is really nice and could foreseeably be useful in the future, and so will go in the loft. Some things I definitely will not use again, so it's off to the local charity shop for someone else to enjoy. Notice that I'm not throwing anything away unnecessarily, nor am I giving anything away that I think I may want in the future. I'm basing all this on what I need in the present. It might be that after 6 months I really didn't need to venture into the loft to reclaim any of these old things and at that point I know I can permanently release them to charity or friends.
So here's what I was left with; the following is a list of my possessions in my life at present that I either need, or that I feel adds value to my life on a regular basis. My wife Steph isn't too fussed about doing this, and that's fair enough, so this only relates to my possessions, not hers, or our shared things (like our house, coffee machine, TV, sofas etc.):
- Apple Pencil
- LG screen
- Trading Screen 1
- Trading Screen 2
- Trading Screen stand
- Tennis racket
- Xbox One
- Time Capsule
- Hair brush
- Drivers License
- Reading glasses
- Wardrobe x1
- Scent Diffuser
- Desk light
- Selfie Stick
- Favourite Pen
- Shaving brush
- Shaving soap
- Golf clubs
- Gym Padlock
- 1 book at any given time
- Bonsai tree
- Bamboo plant
- Office chair
- Bottle of aftershave
- 40 items of clothing
My concern with all this is that I would end up becoming neurotic about how many possessions I have at any given time, although it's not about having X number of items, it's about having only the necessary and life-enriching possessions in your life.
Even though the above list appears rather extensive still, it's actually going to be an enormous cut back, I have A LOT of clothes, and A LOT of tech. A quick glance at this list tells me that my work means a lot to me, keeping fit, and being able to get out and about easily.
This initial stripping back is more of an experiment, and I fully expect to get a few things wrong in the first week/month. For example, I may miss my Apple Watch and end up adding it back, I'm not forcing myself to go without things I like, but at present I figured I have my iPhone and although less practical for exercise etc. I can happily survive checking the time and push notifications on my iPhone. And if I cut out the Apple Watch then I can also cut out yet another charger and watch-stand for my desk, one less thing to remember to pack when I travel etc. If I miss it then I'll just re-add it to my day-to-day, simple as that!
As long as I can honestly justify it to myself, then that's the only criteria. You don't have to fit any specific mould to become a minimalist, it's not a something that's cool or not cool, it just is what it is. Hopefully it helps. Worst case scenario I have a very clean office and wardrobe :-) I already feel better for having organised all this, everything I look at is important to me and is useful. This alone just helps me to think more clearly. I'm excited to see how living this way over time affects the way that I approach life.
Do what makes you happy!
For more information about minimalism and about the guys from the documentary that I watched visit: http://www.theminimalists.com/