Notes on Minimalism: A documentary about the important things

Notes on Minimalism: A documentary about the important things

Have you watched the Minimalist’s film yet?

Called Minimalism: A documentary about the important things, the film is available through Netflix from 15 December, but can already be purchased via other channels such as iTunes. This release is a timely reminder of why our consumer-orientated culture doesn’t ultimately bring ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ to those who embrace a ‘spend now, pay later’ ethos. Indeed, we hear from contributors such as Dan Harris that we’re spending money faster than we’re earning it, but are wired to become dissatisfied. No wonder there’s a growing interest in a life unencumbered by the trappings of contemporary living.

In the film, it’s interesting to hear Joshua Fields Millburn explain, “Every possession serves a purpose or brings me joy.” This is reminiscent of 19th Century architect, writer, artist and designer, William Morris, who said:

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

The documentary describes how, in the mid-1990’s, the US went on a ‘buying spree’ when products such as fashion, electronics, and household goods flooded the market. Owning material goods positioned people in status terms. That’s certainly true. I remember when extended family members showed off their snazzy mobile phones in the latter part of that decade when neither my husband nor I had even contemplated buying one. We felt like second-class citizens, well before FOMO had even been thought of 0f.

In Australia, the country with the largest average home size in the world, the average size of a home has grown from 162.2m2 in 1984 to 241.1m2 in 2012/13 (source: ABS via Amelia Lee, http://undercoverarchitect.com). Yet, we learn in the film that (on average) most people use only 40% of the space in their home.

So, what have we done with the space?

You got it!

We filled it with stuff we don’t need, bought with money we can little afford, to impress people we don’t even like. If I recall correctly, that’s a phrase used by minimalism advocates such as Joshua Becker. Doesn’t that ring true?

The documentary implores us to ask ourselves how much we really need, when we know that happiness only increases up to a certain point as our standard of living improves. After that, it’s up to us. Ask yourself what what really matters. I’ll bet it won’t be having yet another sweater in the closet, a ‘better’ smart phone or some new ‘designer’ shoes. In any case, the film challenges us with the following question:

“What do you sacrifice by being constantly busy, constantly working?”

Surely, you have to work as hard as you do, for the hours you do, just to pay for the stuff you choose to buy.

The conclusion of the film brings a ray of hope. It suggests revising the American dream, turning towards:

– Community
– Equality
– Responsibility towards the planet

That has to be a better way to live.

Listen to your gut instinct: it will serve you well

Listen to your gut instinct: it will serve you well

How many of us feel our gut instinct or hear what our heart is telling us, but fail to act upon it? In today’s blog post, I’m going to encourage you to listen to your gut, to your heart or to your inner voice (or all three).

Often, the answer to a question lies within ourselves.

A conversation this lunch time reminded me how grateful I should be for a decision I made in the early part of 2015. That decision led me to my current job, where I have been for the last 17 months. Whilst my current role perhaps doesn’t play to all of my strengths, I know that I made the right choice and there will be longer-term career opportunities for me in the organisation where I work.

A short while ago, I wrote about why quitting may not be such a bad thing after all. You can read that post here.

Indeed, making the decision to change is often the hardest thing of all, but once your mind is made up, you can move forward with all the steely resolve you’ll need. Your decision might stem from the desire to move away from pain or towards pleasure. Either way, once you’ve decided, you’ll be much more motivated to make that change.

How many times have you heard people say, “My heart’s just not in it, anymore.” That’s their inner voice, giving them a little prod, telling them to be proactive and to take action. Listening to one’s own heart is a very good way to gauge what decision you need to make.

There have been times in my life when I have been about to make a bad decision. Making that really bad decision would have had longer-term ramifications that would no doubt have impacted my long-term future. In my first year at university, after having worked before returning to full-time study, I thought about leaving to take up another job.”Wrong call!” pronounced my body, as my gut instinct delivered its message in the form of a migraine.

Did I listen? Yes, thank goodness, I did.

In his 2013 book, Intuition, Elijah Chudnoff describes intuition as a form of “intellectual perception” that enable us to perceive “abstract reality” rather than concrete, tangible objects. It’s that intuition that serves us well when we need to:

  • leave a job that no longer serves us, in terms of career development or personal wellbeing
  • change careers altogether
  • step down from a personal commitment
  • end a relationship
  • say no to activities, invitations or unwanted obligations

So, take some time to listen to your inner voice over the holiday season. You don’t need to make a rash decision, but ask yourself some key questions:

Why do I feel this way?
What’s my gut instinct telling me to do?
How might it feel if I make this change?

Imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve made that choice. Will you feel a sense of relief or wish you had left things as they were?

Taking time out to reflect and review will enable you to make that choice, so listen to your gut instinct. It will serve you well.

When what you teach is really what you need to learn yourself

When what you teach is really what you need to learn yourself

What do we teach by our actions, by what we write or what we say? Are we somehow teaching ourselves, as well as others?

In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes, “They say that people teach what they need to learn.”

This really struck me. If Rubin’s observation is true, then what I have been sharing and writing about may well have been what I needed to learn during 2016. In today’s blog post, I consider what lessons have I learned this year. More specifically, I think about what lessons I needed to learn.

This has been a year of change. For many, it has been a year of turmoil. I don’t just mean Brexit and Trump (Brexit +++!!) but developments in our own lives.

Love and loss 

In July, I turned to writing to self-soothe, to reflect and to articulate my thinking about the way forward in my own life. Being able to share my minimalism journey was a way to do this.

The previous month, my grandma had died at the age of 97. Although it was her time to go, I realise now (looking back) that I had been saddened greatly by her passing. In her life, she had been stoical, practical and outwardly unsentimental. However, she felt things deeply; in her later years, she opened up to my uncle to share her perspective on all sorts of things. In particular, she missed my grandpa terribly; he had died 6 years earlier at the age of 92 (just days before their 70th wedding anniversary). Their resilience, strong work ethic and non-materialist approach to life was a fine example of a life lived well. We can all learn from that. When my mum asked if I would like to speak at her funeral, I didn’t hesitate. When it came to it, however, I knew I couldn’t deliver the speech myself (my dad stepped in). If you’re curious about what I wrote, I have shared it on my personal blog.

From sadness to serendipity

I also made some personal changes in my life, as I wrote about here. Taking a step back and saying ‘no’ allowed me to say ‘yes’ to new and interesting things.

For example, back in April, I happened to see that Courtney Carver was bringing her Tiny Wardrobe Tour to London. Only an hour away on the train from Coventry, I was able to head down to Euston after work. I found the event a great inspiration, enjoyed hearing from like-minded women and – even better – made a local friend whom I now meet up with regularly.

I also re-kindled my love of yoga, as I wrote about here. To my dismay, I am a lot less flexible than I was when I last did yoga regularly on my 30’s. Life lesson? If you know it does you good, keep on doing it. I also took up tap-dancing after a break of 30 years. Happily, I can still do it and now find myself tapping every Wednesday evening.

Physician, heal thyself!

In 2016, I also embraced the opportunity to take part in Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered course. My zest for non-fiction grew, as I read not only Becker’s latest book, but also other work from the likes of Tammy Strobel, James Wallman, Francine Jay and Marie Kondo. Each had a different take on minimalism, which I was able to assimilate, share and model for others. As an accomplished declutterer, my blog allowed me to share my knowledge. It also allowed me to break up with ‘stuff’ once and for all, as I neared the completion of a 2 year decluttering programme, culminating in the letting go of personal mementos that I’d hauled around for over 2 decades.

Financial independence

This year, I also needed to get my finances in shape. This is a work in progress, but I have now stopped using a credit card completely and am managing to save a little every month. This is in spite of rising living costs and a static income. If you’re interested in finding out how I did this, let me know and I’d be happy to write about it. My Life Energy Experiment in November allowed me to take a long, hard look about what I was buying and helped me evaluate if what I bought was really worth the ‘life energy’ expended to enable the purchase.

Even though 2016 has had its ups and downs, we have to see beyond the temporary hitches and glitches and remember that we’re in this for the long haul. The season of Advent reminds us that what goes around comes around. After darkness, there will always be light. If we can learn that together, then we’re doing OK.

What lesson did 2016 teach you? What did you need to learn?