After literally years of pursuing “minimalism” (I started in 2011), I think I’ve finally figured out what it truly means.
The typical minimalism newbie tends to fall into the trap of nothingness. It’s no surprise either; the most popular examples of minimalism certainly emphasize the power of less. Specifially, less physical stuff. That’s how we got the Tiny House Movement, the digital nomads, the 4-Hour Work Week, the Capsule Wardrobe. There are people who believe that the epitome of minimalism is simply owning less stuff.
But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Any dedicated yogi will tell you that the actual poses are but a small part of the practice of yoga (exactly 1/8th, actually). In that same vein, getting rid of clutter and owning less stuff is just one aspect of minimalism. Not only do I seek to be minimalist in my worldly possessions, I realized that I need to also minimize my emotional baggage.
This comes off the heels of a big life decision to quit a potential side hustle that I wasn’t enjoying. Although it may not seem drastic, to me it was a huge deal. My entire life I had touted the wonders of mind-body connection; I had planned to integrate yoga therapy into my future career; I had forced myself to practice for years because I felt like I “should” do and like yoga.
But guess what? That was a form of emotional baggage that was holding me down. Instead of being free to pursue my passions, my interests, and my true calling, I felt compelled to live out someone else’s expectations of me. This is not new. In fact, it has happened many times in my life – it is the reason I was once a management consultant, the reason I stayed in a damaging psuedo-relationship for 2 years, and the reason I was scared to pursue psychology as an undergraduate major.
Five years after my “minimalist” journey started, I think I’m finally starting to understand what minimalism (sans quotes) truly means:
- It means understanding that closing some doors will open others.
- It means understanding that emotional baggage is just as important as physical baggage. Both take up time and energy better devoted to more important things.
- It means narrowing down your focal points and goals to a few, impactful things instead of trying to scoop up every figurative trophy that comes your way.
That last point is what took me so long to realize. I’ve eventually ended up quite successful on the physical aspect of minimalism; all of my belongings will easily fit into a standard-size sedan. However, I kept clinging to dreams that were not my own. I had a goals list that was literally pages long: detailing the 50 certificates I would earn to tack onto my resume, the 10 fitness retreats I would eventually attend, the 4 masters degrees I hoped to someday afford, the 20 huge side projects I would someday finish.
Why did I need so much in my life? I think I was subconsciously trying to reconcile my deepest worries, anxieties, and regrets.
- I felt regret for not doing better in my undergraduate studies, so I wanted to scoop up advanced degrees to prove I was a good student.
- I am worried that others will think I’m incompetent at my career, or a fraud, so I sought out certificates that might reassure future clients.
- I fear that I am missing out, so I sign up for as many events as possible in an attempt to be social.
- I am anxious that I will not make any lasting impact on the world, so I haphazardly start a medley of projects in the hopes that one of them will be successful.
But you know what? Neither physical items nor a plethora of experiences will ever remedy these emotional issues. For me, minimalism isn’t simply getting rid of things for the sake of getting rid of things – it means tackling these inner demons, understanding why I cling so desperately to physical and idealistic stuff, and finding more positive ways to achieve happiness.
In more concrete terms, here is how I have recently chosen to implement minimalism in my daily and long-term decision-making:
- I’ve narrowed down my focal points in life to two items:
- Building my future career as a therapist
- Continuing to train and practice dance (my biggest passion)
- Everything that I do, purchase, or expend energy/time on must take me closer to these two goals.
- If it doesn’t, then remove it! Quit the commitment, donate the item, return the purchase; whatever needs to be done to get the clutter out!
That’s all. What a simple, effective way to tackle life!