Minimalism and its Lessons

The Lessons of Minimalism

I have been thinking a lot about minimalism these days, and was recently reminded of this quote from mindfulness meditation proponent Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are:

“Voluntary simplicity means seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.”

These many-layered words about simplifying our lives have had different meanings for me at various times since I first read Kabat-Zinn’s book in the late 1990s. At this point in my life, minimalism has become a goal that seems within reach. My husband and business partner Rolf and I spent last summer radically downsizing our personal living and working spaces. Divesting ourselves of four decades of accumulated family and business stuff (I donated close to a thousand books) was a major undertaking. We had to continually remind ourselves to take it easy both physically and emotionally, and not to give in to the impulse to simply throw things away so we could get on with our move.

Staying committed to simplicity, while slowing down and remaining mindful, can be challenging at any time, but especially when undertaking such a major task. But now that the work of finding new homes for a large portion of our belongings is finished, the resulting lifestyle of minimalism has helped me to feel free in a way I haven’t felt in many years.

Choosing a lifestyle of minimalism focuses our minds and hearts on the life around us and the people in it, rather than on things.

Obviously, voluntary simplicity isn’t the same as enforced simplicity; we are blessed with having enough of everything we need, and probably still have more of it than we need, even after all the purging of the past few months. But freeing ourselves of most of the excess stuff has provided us with freedom from other things, such as overwhelm, fear of losing it all, the time spent looking after the stuff and its space, and more.

Working through the chaos and making those decisions about each and every thing in our lives made us pay attention to what we value…and prompted us to move away from what we don’t. And not having all that stuff and the space it took up has given us more time to focus both on our purposeful work and on having fun, two things that have been in short supply in recent years.

We are not the only ones thinking this way. These days, many of us seem interested in clearing away the clutter – both physical and otherwise – so we can concentrate on other things. For some, that’s family and friends; for others, it’s solving a few of the world’s pressing problems; and for others, minimalism relates to a need to concentrate on finding some inner peace in the midst of life’s chaos.

Whatever your purpose, I highly recommend moving beyond an obsession with having too much, doing too much, and being too busy…or even with collecting materials things if that’s an issue for you. It’s a path to a healthier, more enjoyable, more sustainable life.

Note: as our downsizing process developed, a number of people asked me for advice for their own, similar journey. I wrote about it in this article in Natural Life Magazine.