Somewhere between the fall and spring I lost my center. Between the national election (and the divides it created in my organizations and families), the anniversary of our unexpected birth experience, and the allure of more (always more!) to be busy with, I lost sight of my goals and priorities. I lost myself. Fortunately, I won’t be that hard to find.
Minimalism is the answer when we feel this way. When we’re unsure of ourselves or our futures. When we find ourselves asking,
- “Who am I?”
- “What am I doing?”
- Where am I going?”
- “What do I want?”
Minimalism helps us answer these questions and silence the wondering. Here’s how:
- Minimalism helps us remember what’s important. Rather than an absence or an abstinence, minimalism is simply the thoughtful cultivation of a life worth living. It helps us identify our core values, priorities, and beliefs. When we do that, we see more clearly what gives our lives real meaning.
- Minimalism removes the unnecessary. When we commit to minimalism, we make room for the things that matter most, and we clear out the rest. By doing so, we start to realize how many of the things that tie us down or cause us anxiety have little to no bearing on our priorities. And if we don’t really need them, we can look at removing.
- Minimalism creates headspace and heartspace. We create space by eliminating the unnecessary. Once we eliminate noise and distractions and give ourselves room to think, we’re able to hear our own voices more clearly.
- Minimalism allows us to honor our values. If we remove the things that don’t honor our values, all that’s left are the things that do. If we’re diligent in this (in keeping our spaces free and clear), we can’t help but live authentically.
- Minimalism teaches us to let go of things. If we practice minimalism, we’re likely to purge things: physical items, calendar appointments, commitments, thoughts, and worries. Over time, we learn to let go. And each time we do it, the act of losing becomes a little less painful. We learn to hold tightly to what matters, but to loosen our grip on everything else. We see that all things serve a purpose in our lives and that it’s okay to say goodbye once that purpose is achieved. We learn to let go: either to enjoy it, or to let it hurt just a little bit less.
I don’t mean to make light of serious questions; finding and honoring ourselves takes work, and a lot of it. But we can make that work a little easier if we practice minimalism and choose the pursuit of a meaningful life.
My little brother got married this past weekend, and I spent a good long time trying to think of some good advice to give him. Having been married for five years myself, I knew he’d be looking to me as something of an expert, but to be honest, most days I feel like I still have a lot to learn. Add to that the fact that I’m a writer by trade and an actor at heart, and I was looking at a lot of pressure to get this advice and delivery bit right.
My now sister-in-law(!) asked me to write my brother a letter to be read the morning of the ceremony, a letter speaking to our life together and my wishes for the next phase of his. I spent weeks wracking my brain for good advice and putting it off. As I was driving to the hotel the morning before, I knew I finally had to come up with something. And quickly.
So I stopped overthinking. I looked out the window at the sublime beauty of central Minnesota— the gilded horizon, the bluest of blue skies dotted with billowy white clouds—and I took a deep breath. I looked down at my son sleeping in his car seat next to me—a tangible reminder of pure and unconditional love—and I took a deep breath. I looked up at my loving husband, the only person with whom I have ever imagined sharing this life—patience, understanding, and good humor personified—and I took a deep breath. And just like that, I knew what to say.
Here is my best advice for a beautiful life, married or otherwise: breathe.
Breathe to slow down the days you want to remember. Breathe in moments when you need to hold your tongue. Breathe to center yourself or to remind yourself of little blessings. Whenever you need it: breathe.
Sometimes life can be messy and complicated. Sometimes it requires careful planning, clever problem-solving, or something in between. Often it’s simple, and all it takes is a clear mind and a deep breath. So breathe.
I am sick and tired—literally—from too much stuff. Seriously. Between a busy stretch at work, the beginning of the school year, and our little one starting daycare, we’ve just had too much to do, and we tried really hard to get it all done. Then we all ended up sick.
Which got us behind. So we worked harder, which wore us out. Which got us further behind. And the cycle continued. For two months!
We’re just coming out of it now, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s clear some things need to change.
We’ve been minimalists for a while now, but I believe there’s always room for improvement. After spending four years focused primarily on simplifying our things, we’re ready to start simplifying other areas of our lives, so here’s what we’re working on these days:
There will, if the universe is willing, be more regular content coming your way shortly. Stay tuned, and thank you for your patience!
In the meantime, how do you reset when your stuff and schedules get the best of you?
After four years on my minimalist journey, here’s what I’ve learned:
- I’m pretty good at purging.
- I’m also pretty good at bringing in new things to fill the empty space.
Until recently I’ve approached minimalism with a feast-or-famine mentality: I’ve done really well at resisting “stuff” for a while, but then I’ve felt the need to reward myself for resisting said stuff, so I’ve treated myself to more stuff. And then I’ve felt guilty for bringing in more things, so I’ve purged, and replaced, and purged, and replaced. It’s an expensive, exhausting, and unnecessary cycle. But it’s just felt like the thing to do.
It wasn’t until I came to terms with wanting more out of life that I understood and really, truly, started to want less. My son’s arrival has made me want more of everything that makes life worth living:
And in order to make room for these things that matter so much to me, I have to learn to (and want to) let go of the things that don’t:
I’ve got a long way to go in the next four years. I’ve got a mind, home, and schedule to clear. I’ve got more concrete priorities to set. But the good news is I can let go. Now I just need to learn to keep that space free.
What have you learned on your minimalist journeys?
I’m always looking for ways to spend more time with my son. As a full-time working parent, I always feel like there just isn’t enough of it. So I volunteer to be the sole weekend naptime rocker, or I offer to be the late-night diaper changer. Now I’ve found an even simpler way to squeeze in a few extra seconds every day.
Whenever I’m doing something with my son, whether it’s reading, rocking, or playing, and I feel the urge to move on to the next activity (or, let’s be honest, to check my phone), I give us both an extra minute: no matter what, I stop what I’m doing, take a long look at my beautiful boy, and count to 60. If my mind wanders, I gently ask it to return. If he squirms or fusses, I respond with love. Otherwise, we’re there for the next 60 seconds. Barring an emergency, there are no exceptions.
A minute may not feel like much, and it’s not, which is the best part of this strategy: it’s pretty easy to give up one minute. There are few, if any, things in life that can’t wait that long. And sometimes that minute extends to 2 or 3, but what really gets me is imagining what those minutes will amount to—if I added my minute at playtime, then 2 from his bath, and 3 during bedtime, how much extra time would that be?
- In a week?
- In a month?
- In 1 year?
- In 18?
How about you: how do you find time for a few extra minutes with your loved ones?
I’d been feeling a lot of guilt lately: about the way I look, the way I eat, the way I get distracted by work at home and home at work. I’d also been feeling guilty about the state of my house.
We had such grand plans when we moved in just over a year ago, but then life happened: I got pregnant, we had a baby, and we put every penny that could have gone toward renovating into savings for said baby.
Needless to say, we haven’t done much to the house yet.
And I know we’ll be here forever. And I know it takes time for houses to evolve into homes; that there’s no rush. But then I look at the homes of DIY and lifestyle bloggers through the much-edited lens of social media, and I am ashamed by my negligence.
In January I signed up for a weekly photo class, and I finally got around to my first assignment this summer. As I went around from room to room looking for nice compositions, I was struck by all of the beauty around me, all of the lovely details in my home, in its quirks, and in its piles.
In my little, average house I have so much to appreciate, so much for which to be thankful.
There is beauty all around me already. As much as I’d maybe like to, I don’t need to “shop [y]our house.” Mine might not be much, but it’s more than enough for me.
How do you remind yourselves to be thankful for what you have?
Yesterday I came across “The Power of One Focused Hour a Day,” and the timing couldn’t have been better. I was just getting the courage and momentum to start this blog, but was feeling like there was no way I could fit it into my day, what with a full-time job and a new(ish) baby at home. (He’s five months old. How much longer do I get to call him “a new baby”? Do I still get to use that excuse?) Enter Srinivas Rao’s idea of one focused hour a day, which “can produce amazing results.” According to Rao,
With one focused hour a day you can write a book within a year, write 1000 words a day or finish a 45,000-word manuscript in 6 months.
With one focused hour a day you can easily develop a daily writing habit, and even write something daily as Seth Godin does.
With one focused hour a day you can make time to read the books you’ve been wanting to read.
With one focused hour you can find flow and build momentum for your creative endeavor
With one focused hour a day you can learn a new language
Now, I may not have a lot of free time, but I have more than I think, and I definitely have one hour each day. So I tried it.
I woke up at 5 a.m., started the coffee, and wrote. I sat down in quiet darkness with nothing to distract me but the sound of crickets outside my window. No baby. No phone. And I wrote. I watched the sun come up, and I wrote some more. It was beautiful.
In the past I’ve been pretty good at coming up with ways to get out of things that scare me, things that ask me to be vulnerable, uncomfortable, or especially diligent. Those excuses usually take the form of “I just don’t have the time.” Maybe now that I’ve tried the focused hour, they’ll be fewer and far between.
If you had one unfocused hour every day, what would you accomplish?