4 Ways To Maintain Minimalism

“The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn’t simple.”  - Doris Janzen Longacre

As I stare at the two bulging white bags of clothing sitting in the entryway to my apartment, freshly gathered from my closet, I realize that simple living isn’t as simple as I first imagined. Since I began Living-Lite over a year and a half ago, the clothing, knick-knacks and furniture that had been purged in my initial clutter cleanse has slowly been replaced by newer (more expensive) items. While the quality has improved and I have maintained the habit of replacing, rather than adding new items, it seems excess has crept up on me once again.

Much of what I had read about minimalism and simple living addresses the initial step in clearing out one’s home and decluttering, with less emphasis placed on maintaining new habits. The tagline of minimalism “do more with less”, that is, free up space and time in one’s life by reducing the emphasis placed on busyness and consumption. However, these guidelines are loosely defined, and I have written in a similarly vague manner about finding meaning and doing more with less without really understanding the depth of the question: what is one to do with all this free time?

Avoiding The Horns

Most of us would be grateful for an extra hour or two each day or at the very least, an hour or two spent doing something we enjoy. For example, in my case living a more minimalistic lifestyle was to allow more time to write and focus on self-care. However, what I hadn’t considered was the two horned problem of boredom and motivation. Maintaining motivation can be difficult in the long run and boredom stifles us as soon glimmer of our new venture has worn dull. If we eliminate a habit without replacing it with a more enjoyable, useful one, we are likely to fall back into our old ways. In my case, once the motivation to write waned, I returned to my old habits of shopping as a way of relieving stress or forming a sense of identity.

Likewise, clearing out our closets, drawers and schedules can feel barren and empty rather than liberating if we do not use this time is a more meaningful way. Often, lifestyle is associated with image and image requires clothing, decor, etc. However, minimalism points us away from an image based sense of identity and towards a more inwardly rich lifestyle. Many minimalists are artists, writers, musicians and the like who seek to discard distractions to they may engross themselves in more meaningful ventures. To be a minimalist is to LIVE rather than APPEAR TO LIVE a life of substance.

Below are 4 Ways To Maintain Minimalism that have helped me stay on track and overcome the two horned beast that distracts us from living a simpler, more meaningful life.

  1. Let go of all or nothing thinking. Part of what makes minimalism difficult is knowing where to set boundaries. What “living with less” means to you may look quite different than your neighbor. While it is easy to get caught up in the more extreme aspects of minimalist culture, it’s important to remember why you are minimizing.

If your closet and schedule are once again overcrowded, don’t beat yourself up over it. We are conditioned to buy and accumulate for most of our life, changing our orientation can be difficult. This is normal. Minimalism is part of a learning process and as we continue on this path we learn more about what triggers us to accumulate and overschedule.

  1. Rewrite your priorities. The goals we began with will likely lose their luster after some time. Life changes and our goals should change with it. As yourself what got you involved in simple living? Are these reasons still important to you? What does a minimalist life look like? Be honest with yourself and don’t fret if you’re finding the process more difficult than you had anticipated. You are not alone.

  1. Simplify, simplify simplify. When all else fails, start anew. Sometimes the best way to revamp your motivation is to go back to the basics and once again declutter, organize and minimize. You may not realize how much stuff and obligation you have accumulated since you first minimized until you actually take a moment look through your closet and calendar.

When it comes to stuff, I’ve developed a system to make the parting process less burdensome: put clothes/jewelry/shoes/etc. you are looking to get rid of into storage and if, in 30 days, you have forgotten about it, donate it. Letting go of obligation can be a bit trickier, but the power of “no, thank you” goes a long way. So does putting a black X over the calendar!
  1. Challenge yourself. There are plenty of writers who have come up with excellent ideas to kickstart and maintain simple living by setting concrete goals for a certain period in order to challenge their own willpower. For example,  Project 333 developed by Courtney Carver challenges us to live with only 33 pieces of clothing for 3 months to help curb our consumptive impulses. The Minimalists, Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, developed the Packing Party, where you place all your items in boxes, taking them out only as needed to develop a baseline for your minimum.

These are more extreme cases of simple living, but they are helpful tools to help us start shaping the life of our dreams. To learn how I began Living-Lite, check out my process with minimalism here.

A Means To An End

Minimalism is a means to end, but is often be treated as an end in itself. The point of scaling back is to allow more space for the things we love without the distraction of excess. Often, we become hung up on the process and forget why we began this journey in the first place. Strive to be a minimalist second and an artist, parent, writer, sculptor, gardener, and so on, first.

As with our diet, the more we think of cutting back as a punishment, the less likely we are to succeed. By consuming only the essential, we provide our life with the nourishment to press on without the burdensome weight of excess. In the end, we are less likely to take life’s necessities for granted if we are aware of what excess truly means for us.