a personal essay
From the outset it's important to say that I'm not a minimal person by nature. I buy, hoard and get easily cluttered. However, I also run myself ragged, and more and more I have wanted to find ways to de-stress and focus on the things that matter the most.
So, a couple of months ago I started reading Becoming Minimalist - an insightful and easy-to-read blog on becoming minimal in mindset and behaviour, as well as possessions. In fact, I was most interested in minimal mindsets as a way to reduce my mental clutter and free up space for more socially-conscious and creative thinking. In reading this blog I realised quite quickly that a more mindful and minimal approach to my daily life would help me feel calmer, and tap new creative wells.
The aim was therefore to change my mindset and difficult behaviour, but I knew that my physical space was holding me back as well, so I started by changing that in order to let my mind find a bit of empty space to play in. There is no science to this, it just felt like the right order of events. I thought I would share some of the things I have found useful to do in order to motivate positive change across my daily life, and the improvements these changes have set in motion:
- Removing harmful influences to my calm - I have cut down on everything identifiable at present that doesn't nourish, or lead to a greater good. My twitter usage is down (in fact, I have deleted my oldest 'work' account) and I no longer listen to antagonistic radio shows more than a couple of times a week, or indulge in a guilt-fest over the 24 hour news feed. I know all the bad things happening, my focus now is doing what I can about it, rather than torturing myself with it.
- Recycled, Donated, Re-purposed - I have spent a lot of time removing and recycling all of my belongings. If it doesn't have a story, come from an ethical source, or doesn't have a purpose anymore then it's finding a new home, or being used up and not bought again. This has left me with an emptier house that is easier to clean and keep tidy, and elevates the fewer things I do have and love. I can see the precious things that remain with better clarity. In turn I have stopped spending on 'things' thinking quite carefully before adding items to my home or new clothes to my body. Do i need it? What difference will it make? How better could i use the money? Everything from the bottles in my shower, to the food in my cupboards has enabled me better clarity around what I have and what I need. It has revealed my life is rich without over-consumption.
- Mindful Driving - This is a huge thing for me. I get really angry and frustrated behind the wheel and it's not good for me, and not pleasant for others travelling with me. Now I listen to only classical music in the car and as soon as i feel myself getting frustrated I say to myself "these other drivers will still be driving like this if I get angry or not". I also remind myself constantly that they are not there to annoy me, they might be mums on their way to see a child at hospital, or friends off for a long overdue day-out after a difficult few months. I'm trying to be less selfish. It's my dear mum who helped me with this viewpoint and for the last week I have only felt a few instances of B.P rising as a result of how I perceive other drivers. I feel liberated already.
- Archiving and Deleting Old Media - Emails, texts, photos.....the more I let go of needless belongings and change my mindset to one of experience over possession, I realise that any form of clutter is debilitating. So now I clear everything off my phone regularly. Old messages go or get archived, old photos get backed up on my laptop and everything gets wiped. I used to hoard text messages in the miss-held belief that i would forget to talk to people and forget what they said, but I tend not to. The important things people say are firmly rooted in my memory, and I try and keep in touch with the right people with or without the reminder on the screen. I am re-engaging my brain with memory, rather than allowing my devices to do all the work. It all helps to make me feel there are no loose ends that I need to worry about, and thus I can engage better in the moment.
These developments are all part of a long journey that I have been walking over time. Walking forwards and backwards of course. I got rid of the TV a year and a half ago, meat left my diet again a while back for ethical reasons, and I have been re-balancing my work life in terms of the overtime I do, and the emails I check round the clock. I try and work off 2 major 'life' goals at a time instead of 50. But it can be a daily challenge, for example I still have 7 books on the go and an equal number of creative projects. I want to spend more time concentrating on each thing one at a time, the way I believe I used to pre-smart phone. I am still prone to distracting thoughts about 'am I living the right way?' and 'how can I do more?' but I am trying to let go of those anxieties through meaningful engagement with activities that count for something, rather than wasting my time on 100 things that don't.
Creating more physical space to see what is what, and working on my behavioral patterns, is giving me more mental space to do the things I really want to do without feeling weighed down by to-do lists and things which close in on me and make me feel heavy and tired. I have more time to read fewer books, more time to create art and write my long-conceived book without guilt, and at work I am letting go of the feeling that I will 'never be on top of it all'. I appreciate the things I have more, and live in the moment more convincingly.
There are lots of ways in which I want to improve things, but I'm happy that it's a journey and enjoy being on it. One thing I have always loved about camping and backpack travel is having everything you need in one bag. For me, this is the thrill of minimal living in mindset. Increasingly, I feel less shackled to my old thoughts, nostalgia and possessions and feel that as long as I have my core values, beliefs, friendships and belongings then I will be OK to adapt, change and keep moving.