When one uses the word ‘minimalist’, it generally causes others to imagine that you are living in an empty apartment with no furniture, you wear the same clothes every day, and limit your material possessions to one-hundred items. The connotations associated with the word minimalist are one of the reasons why people remain sceptical about adopting such a lifestyle. In this brief article, I would like to highlight some things that everyone can learn from minimalism, and while doing so, improve the health of the planet, save money, and become more productive. This is a two-part article, and both this week and the next, I will be giving one lesson on what everyone can learn from minimalism.
Lesson #1 — Stop buying ‘stuff’ for the sake of it.
In my view, minimalism is not about owning a set number of items. Rather, it is about mindfulness, and only owning things that you truly value. While it is true that almost all items serve a purpose, one must consider at what point those items become counter-productive (the economists reading this will recognise this as being the law of diminishing returns). For example, whilst owning one pair of shoes is essential, owning thirty pairs of shoes is not. Consider what adds value to you, and discard the things that do not. If you were to look around your apartment now, looking through all your drawers, your bookshelves, your wardrobe, how many things would you see that you haven’t used within the past year? We hold on to our things for years in fear that we ‘might’ one day need them, though if these items disappeared, likely, you wouldn’t even know that they had disappeared. We hold onto so many pointless items: gifts that serve little purpose, textbooks that we may ‘one-day’ study, clothes that we got on ‘sale’ that we’ve worn once, thousands of papers and bills that we no longer need. By placing so much value on these items we feel that we never have enough. These items cause us stress. These items waste our time. When you get home, take at least 5 minutes to assess what items are fundamental in your life, and donate any items that no-longer serve sufficient purpose to justify the space that they occupy.
In today’s consumerist society, where fast-fashion, fast-food, and quick consumption is king, it is easy to be persuaded by the hordes of advertising thrown at us by these large corporations. This Black Friday, resist the sales, which are pushing you to buy pointless things that you would never otherwise have bought by persuading you that you somehow ‘need’ them. If you need them, you would already own them. It is better to spend 3 times as much on items whose quality is 3 times better. Better for you, and better for the planet. This is not an essay on economics, but the incredible thing about our current economic system is that if enough people make this small change, companies will have to adapt to the market (at risk of going bankrupt), leading to a more sustainable economy.
My last point on this topic is that it is better not to buy something, and spend that money on experiences instead. The problem with things is that, while we may be happy with them for a limited period after purchasing them, that initial buzz we feel wears off fast. Think how excited you were when you first got your mobile phone or that item of clothing that you thought looked amazing when you tried it on. How do you feel about it today? It likely feels pretty normal. Another issue with things is that we always feel inadequate when comparing them. Even if you get the latest iPhone, a new one will come out just a few months later, and by definition, the one you own will no longer be the latest. Clothes will go out of fashion. Electronics become obsolete sooner than you think. You’ll lose some items — they could get stolen. Besides, even if you’ve saved for years to buy that car, watch, or wedding, there will always be someone that’s done it better. We should stop attempting to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ since it serves very little purpose. Experiences, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. The more time elapses since they occurred, the more you treasure them. Think back to your family holidays from when you were a child. Think back to your time at school or university and how the knowledge that you acquired shaped your perception of the world. Experiences and knowledge (what Sociologists or economists might call your human capital) are things that no-one can take away from you. They stay will you forever, unlike the temporary nature of things. So next time you’re about to make that impulse purchase then consider, do I really need this? Is it the best use of my money? The answer will probably be no.
Read part two of the story here: https://link.medium.com/9UNNJSwHz2