Whether it is by necessity or by choice it's clear that 'minimalism' is a growing trend. New blogs are popping up everyday, books are being written at a furious pace and even Netflix has released a documentary on it. Minimalism is the idea that by living with fewer possessions can 'assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we've built our lives around'. Before you dismiss it as some left-wing cult, bear with me.
Today I would consider myself very much a minimalist. I certainly haven't always been this way. In fact, quite the opposite. Up until 18 months ago I was a serial consumer. Rows and rows of L K Bennet and Russell and Bromley shoes lined up alongside the pairs and pairs of lumo Nike trainers. My wardrobe was so full I couldn't cram all the Whistles tops and Zara jeans in it, half of which were never worn. I remember going shopping for a coat one day and coming back with 3, all of which were designer. I look back now and just think what total and utter excess. What was I doing?! And it wasn't just limited to my clothes. Crockery, linen, cookware - who needs 10 pans when they live alone in a one bed London flat?!? Looking back I think that I'd bought into the idea that buying more stuff would not only make me more happy, it would also be a statement to others of how successful I was. I was clearly too worried about what the world thought of me.
Last year I realised that life is too short not to be doing something that you're passionate about and so with that I left a flourishing career in venture capital to move out to Uganda, East Africa. Rather than packing up my belongings and spending a fortune on storage I decided to sell everything instead. Well almost everything. I still have a suitcase of clothes, a couple of boxes and some furniture but 95% of my belongings went. Most people thought that I was going through a mid life crisis but it turned out to be one of the best things that I've ever done. Having seen the impact that it has had on me more widely, which was totally unexpected, I couldn't recommend adopting more of a minimalist lifestyle enough. Here's what I've learnt:
1. The more you have the more you want
It's a self perpetuating cycle. Enough is never enough. You'll always want more. Conversely the less you have the less you want.
2. Having fewer possessions means fewer choices. Less choice is a good thing
Today we have more choice than ever - food, clothes, TV. After living in Uganda I'm of the strong opinion that choice is not necessarily a good thing. Having 3 tops to choose from rather than 30 in the morning makes life a hell of a lot easier, a lot more simple and most importantly makes room in your head for the important stuff. I like having a simple life.
3. You value what you do have more
Having less possessions means that what you do have, you value more. If something was broken before I'd just throw it away and get a new one. Things have become so cheap now, it is the norm to just throw stuff away and replace it with a new one without consciously considering the impact. Now I'll always try and repair things first (I'm aware that I sound like a 90 year old World War II veteran)
4. You forget what you get rid of
One of the reasons I never used to throw things away is that I thought 'Oh one day I'll need that'. In reality you forget what you get rid of anyway. You learn to focus on what you do have, not what you don't.
5. It's cleansing
I expected to regret some of the things that I'd sold but in fact quite the opposite happened. It felt like total weight was lifted from my shoulders - far more cleansing than a full body massage and hot yoga session.
6. You focus more on experiences not things
I expected that I'd envy other people when they bought new items. Again the opposite has happened and I think 'thank god I don't have all that stuff'. As a result I focus far more on experiences now than things and, although I may see an item, appreciate it and think 'I like that', I have absolutely no desire to buy it.
Somedays I look around and think our levels of consumption must have peaked - from the food we eat, to the clothes we buy, to the cars we drive. Record levels of obesity, retail sales up year on year and sea levels rising at unprecedented levels. Surely consumption levels can't get any worse, yet statistics and hype around sales would suggest otherwise. On other days however I do feel that there's a shift happening, away from the consumption of things and towards the investment of experiences with experiences being seen as the new wealth. Arguably this is a very sheltered, middle class view but let's hope that the latter is true. After all, less really is more.
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