Why and how I became a minimalist

As a long-time sufferer of anxiety, I had always liked things being in their place. I knew instinctively that clutter was affecting my mood and my relationships. I hated the amount of time it took to tidy up, all the time.

I became overwhelmed by managing a home and working full time. Then when I fell pregnant, I realised it wasn’t sustainable nor practical to have a house full of stuff. I started selling and donating everything I didn’t use. I read The Minimalists website voraciously. I discovered I loved white space, clear counters and knowing what I had, were things I used.

Enter children. It’s not as easy to be a minimalist and to stick to your beliefs and practices with small children. It’s not impossible, but it’s more difficult.

Toys, baby gear, washing, nappies and food – it all has the capacity to take over. It’s key to implement routines to reduce the stress that builds from piles of washing or toys all over your home.

There is absolutely no doubt that less stuff equals less tidying up. But with kids, it is unlikely to be no stuff equals zero tidying up – there is going to be a reckoning. I have had to raise my clutter acceptance level and learn to cope with piles of washing and toys, otherwise, I would be even more exhausted (is that possible?) from caring for my children AND constantly tidying. As I write this now at my desk, there is no clear desk space around my laptop. I have piles of paperwork to file, crayons, glue and a few magazines. But I know it’s only temporary.

Cutting yourself some slack on your journey through life is a true skill that comes with time. Some people are instinctively more kind to themselves, and others need to learn self-compassion. I’m unfortunately in the latter group! But, it’s a constant practice just like minimalism.

Once I got past the ‘stuff’ phase, I was able to incorporate minimalist thinking into all areas of my life.

I gave myself permission to give up the corporate life which I never enjoyed.

I gave myself permission to dress in comfortable clothes I liked, and eschew ‘fashion’.

I gave myself permission to stop colouring my hair and trim it myself.

I gave myself permission to read instead of cleaning.

If you think these things are silly – you’re lucky. Perhaps you were raised in a household that valued rest, or you’ve just always felt certain your needs were valid. Not everyone has that experience – and minimalism can be a way to build these coping skills.

Now five years since I discovered minimalism, I’m proud to say it still excites me to think and write about. I enjoy the ongoing process of examining my life and finding ways to improve it. I’m enjoying the benefits of spending less, having greater financial security is so helpful with small kids. Having this security has led me to be able to not work and thus pursue hobbies while raising my children.

Minimalism looks different for everyone but I believe each of us can benefit from adopting the mindset and finding ways to improve and simplify your own life.

Life at home in the 21st century

This fantastic book explains in detail the way families live in the early 2000s. The study was conducted by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) at UCLA from 2001 – 2010. It is the result of an interdisciplinary and collaborative research project that shows the impacts of the material worlds of 32 American families.

There were 21 families with a mother, a father and two children, two families with two fathers and two children, and nine families with one mother, one father and three children.

  • The median age was 42 for fathers and 41 for mothers.
  • The children were on average eight to 10 years of age.
  • 23 of the families had a household income of $50,000 – $149,999 American dollars.

Important note:

The findings were taken 2001 to 2005 which predates smartphones.

Material worlds of American families

The largely photographic text highlights the hyper-consumerism rampant in families of this demographic. Some of the notable findings were that families spent infrequent time together or in the backyard and that homes were child-centred spaces with toys throughout the house.

The text is broken into themes:

  • Material saturation
  • Food
  • Vanishing leisure
  • Kitchens command
  • Bathroom bottlenecks
  • Master suite sanctuaries
  • Plugged in
  • Personalisation of home with family photos, names of kids rooms

Material saturation

  • Pervasive consumption in all socioeconomic brackets due to the price of goods being lower than ever before.
  • Universally, families find the clutter of material goods cause high levels of mess and stress
  • The study found that most families were unable to park their car/s in the garage due to clutter
  • The fridge in most homes was representative of the clutter in the house, the more stuff on the fridge, the more items in the home altogether

Food

The study found that families’ food consumption centred on convenience, stockpiling, and eating separately.

Vanishing leisure

The study highlights the prevalence of indoor TV gaming. It is important to note the study predates smartphones and social media, which would significantly change this data. However, I would guess outdoor leisure would not change substantially.

Although outdoor leisure is desired, and many backyards feature play equipment and entertainment zones, families generally do not use it. The study showed the children use the backyard for less than 40 minutes per week.

Kitchens as command centre

Unsurprisingly, the kitchen has become a command centre, where families cook, eat, do homework and catch up. As a result, clutter piles up in this room, as the most used room, and it can cause substantial stress. Modern kitchen designs reflect this trend with mini offices and computer areas making their way into the kitchen.

The master suite

In all of the photos, the master bedroom has very little clutter is strikes the researchers as the only sanctuary in the home.

Technology

The average home has three televisions with one family having seven! Most families spend more time with game consoles than on computers.

Personalisation of home

The authors note that “houses of the American middle class are larger and contain substantially more material goods than those of other societies” (p. 135). Those items are designed to personalise the home and create a personal identity to differentiate one family from another. Items of sentimental value and relating to family heritage are also on display.

Of interest, almost all families had name displays for children’s rooms.

Family photos are displayed throughout the home, a trend seen more in American homes (and Australian homes I believe) than other areas of the world.

Overall, the text conveys the largely material world families live in, and the impact on mental health, family quality time and the financial status of the family.

Are you living an intentional life?

One of the hardest things as a parent is knowing that you set the first example of how to live to your children. I’m not sure how other parents think, or what they think about, but I am often reflecting on the ways our lives set us up to be parents. Whether you were part of a close knit family, grew up in an urban environment, attended a mainstream school; all of these factors influence how you parent.

Photo by stephanie krist on Unsplash

For me, one of the most important values I am passionate about passing onto my kids is compassion. I have had a lot of challenges in my life and it is difficult to write about or share openly as it can be confronting. I’ve found that we as humans are deeply affected by poor relationships and/or difficult relationships in their lives. It’s challenging as a teenager or young adult to understand what is happening around us, and how these relationships might influence our lives and our own choices.

But knowing who we are and understanding how our environment, family, schooling and relationships affect us is critical to happiness and to make the smart choices. Sometimes our lives may lead us in the wrong direction because we are not aware of how much we are guided by others. In many ways, other people such as family, friends or colleagues may be trying to exert influence in a positive way, genuinely believing their attitudes and values are the right ones. However, sometimes when we have not had the opportunity to gaze inwardly and reflect on who we are, we may be influenced by others, and find ourselves living a life that we had not planned.

A few years ago, this is where I found myself. Consumed by work and career, and believing a corporate career was the only answer. I believed money and investing in property to become wealthy were imperative. I believed I SHOULD do certain things in life because not only was I expected to but that it would mean I would be accepted and valued.

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

However, minimalism found me in my pit of anxiety, in a place where I was consumed by stress and debt and felt that there must be another choice. What I realised was we have a much wider range of choices than we are led to believe. When you are brought up in a family of entrepreneurs and workaholics, you believe that this is the only path. To move away from that lifestyle and be content with less, to embrace being unbusy, and to prioritise your own needs, and to put in place boundaries for the first time; it can be overwhelming as well as liberating.

This is what minimalism has done for me. It has opened my eyes to the choices that are available to me. It is liberating and freeing to imagine what I desire for my life, rather than seeing my life as a mapped out plan on a highway in one direction. I don’t judge others for their choices; some people thrive in competitive careers and love to have expensive clothing and luxury items. My only question is about intentionality. Are you living intentionally? What can you ask yourself about your choices in order to make sure you are on YOUR path?