and ramblings on everything in between
Activity on my blog soared during the month of September when I was doing the Minimalist Challenge. I chronicled my weekly journey to purge 465 unneeded things from my apartment, which you can read here, here, here, and here. I came in at 300 items, feeling a little sad I didn’t make the goal and a little surprised I came up with that much stuff considering the so-called simple life I’ve been carving out for myself over the past few years. (Since September, I keep finding myself randomly looking through doors or closets to see if there’s anything I missed. 465, I’ll pass you yet…)
Considering all the readers that month, I must have been right about people loving to see other people’s junk. Or, the more likely reason, a lot of people are eager to create more with their life by living with less. For this reason, I’d like to start bringing more minimalist content to the blog, and since I finally got my hands on a copy of the book why not start with that?
Everything that Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists was written by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, the two dudes who came up with the minimalist game that inspired my purge. They both found themselves in their 20s living expensive lives for which they felt no joy or happiness. After learning his mother was dying, Joshua started looking around him and realizing how off-track he felt. Everything around him added up to nothing that satisfied him.
Once he said a painful goodbye to his mother, he had to make a decision about what to do with her stuff. What he discovered through that process was how easy it is to hold on to something because it reminds us of someone or something that we don’t want to forget. It wasn’t until he accepted that, “Our memories are not in our things. Our memories are in us” that he realized he wasn’t going to keep his mother’s memory any more alive by shoving all of her stuff into his own apartment or a storage unit. While we might keep things around us to remind us of things we love, those things might be keeping us from doing things that truly honor the memory of others.
The American Dream can be a beautiful things if we stop to evaluate what it is we’re going after instead of blindly following what everyone else thinks it should mean. Joshua realized in his life and the lives of those around him that the American Dream seemed “to imply that we are fat and in debt, discontent and empty, every man an island, leaving a void we attempt to fill with more stuff.” It can be easy to turn to stuff and material possessions to make us happy, to make us feel good, to make us feel valued instead of taking a look inside of us to figure out what we’re trying to replace.
The soul-searching it takes to figure out what really motivates our decisions has a great chance of revealing something we don’t want to deal with. So a lot of us don’t deal with it. We continue with our “normal” lives, filling our homes and schedules with all the normal things everyone else is filling their lives with and saying that is good enough. Joshua was no longer happy with his status quo – being overworked, out of shape, and in debt – and looked at everything in his life and asked, “Does this thing add value to my life?” What a powerful question. Not, “Do I use this?” Or, “Do I like this?” But the deeper question of “How does this bring value to my life?”
To do this, Joshua had to figure out what exactly he valued, though. After spending his 20s climbing the corporate ladder and making lots and lots of money, he didn’t know who he was anymore. He didn’t know what he valued. In all the consuming and getting by, he lost sight of himself.
Of course owning things and enjoying all the things you own isn’t bad. That’s not the problem at all. It’s when the things you purchase keep you from being the person you want to be and living the life you truly want to live. It is when we place a higher value on the stuff than our passions, our relationships, and our happiness that we start to pull away from everything our life could mean.
Minimalism isn’t just getting rid of clutter and excess expenses and over-indulgences. All of those things can be components of it, but Joshua points out that amazing things might happen when it’s taken a step further to be applied to our relationships, our schedules, and our hobbies. Then we can turn the question on ourselves to ask, “Am I adding value?” At the essence of this lifestyle is a grand desire to live meaningful lives that are valuable, and it’s important to figure out how you want to add value to the world and what practical things you can do to achieve that goal.
Maybe if you’re feeling discontent it’s not your possessions that you need to take a look at, but how you spend your time, or how you spend your thoughts, or how you spend your relationships. It’s much easier to go through life with blinders up instead of determining how to be intentional in all these areas. It’s easy to go on auto-pilot, to coast, to go through the motions and just get by. But Joshua and Ryan’s challenge to everyone is to actual stop and think about if there life is the life it should be.
The book is worth reading for anyone curious about how minimalist principles can change every area of your life. I found it very interesting to see two guys go from large salaries, large homes, and large amounts of debt to owning no more than they actually need and paying off their debt. That’s an extremely impressive transformation and life switch. Their blog www.theminimalists.com is filled with a lot of great material and resources and it is worth looking over, as well. For a quick overview, you can check out www.theminimalists.com/start/.
It’ll encourage you to think about where you are and if where you are is where you really want to be. I’m doing pretty good with the possession side of things, but my take-away from this book is to start looking at my schedule and the hectic lifestyle that is so common. I want to be intentional about my time and not just my material possessions and money. Your desire might be completely different, but it starts by looking at everything in your life and figuring out if it means everything to you.