Minimalism and Me

Photo: Christmas At The Botanics, Dec 2019

For most of my life, ‘Minimalism’ has meant an architectural or design style, conjuring up ideas of spartan living spaces or white walls, but in 2018 I started to come across a movement and set of ideas that was more about a lifestyle.

I had a pretty simple, non-materialistic childhood in a small, rural seaside community with many handmade clothes, home-cooked food, and lots of DIY things in the house and garden. Our home was just the right size to house our family and it certainly wasn’t filled with lots of stuff.

Most of our holidays involved camping, or trips to visit family. With a TV that had only 3 or 4 channels (which closed down for the night – yes, really) and no restaurants nearby, life was home, studying, the beach, or roaming around all day making our own entertainment. There was so much play, imagination and creativity. There was always music, too.

When we moved countries in my early teens the industrial place we lived in was very different. Contrasts in wealth and status were more noticeable and consumerism was much more available. It wasn’t an easy adjustment for anyone and the pressures to achieve academically also grew and grew, although we tried to keep some sense of balance.

Fast forward to my university days and things were still quite simple, communal and analogue. Hand-written exams and assignments and the luxury of student grants meaning not everyone had to work for money. We were all frugal, though and I learned a lot about budgeting, difficult choices and making my allowance go a very long way.

My early working life in the 1990s was still mainly based on letters, phone calls, paperwork and face-to-face meetings. (It was also around this time at age 23 or so that I got my first credit card). Gradually email started to appear, but the pace of things was still very much dictated by the postal service.

I got my first mobile phone in 1996 and my first smartphone in 2009. It was a while before everyone started taking photos with them and another while before the invention of the front-facing camera, spawning the ‘selfie’. All this nostalgia is setting a scene for the onset of a fairly rapid pace of change that most of us were not naturally equipped to deal with.

When I first started earning money in my 20’s, I lived within my (fairly modest) means, but this all changed when I got that aforementioned credit card. I spent the next two decades buying a lifestyle that wasn’t excessive, but always cost a little bit more than I could afford. This was seen as perfectly normal, though and the rapid inflation of house prices in a fast-moving market meant acting fast and borrowing a lot in order to buy my first small home.

We all know what happened in 2008/2009, the effects of which we are all still living with. For a good while before this happened I had been struggling with the pressures of my full-time job and gradually climbing the seniority ladder – but this is what I thought I should be doing and I rarely questioned it. Big mortgage, car loans, gym membership, holidays etc etc etc meaning I had to keep earning in jobs that certainly benefited disadvantaged communities and people less fortunate than me, but I simply didn’t enjoy.

A lot has happened in the last 15 years, but I’ve learned my lessons the hard way, suffering burnout twice from work-related stress and some toxic workplaces. This brought with it bouts of depression and a descent into addiction in the form of a destructive and life-limiting eating disorder, which became my coping mechanism of choice.

Only by totally reframing the meaning of success and resisting outward displays of materialistic wealth and status have I been able to ruthlessly prioritise and start to achieve some real happiness – I am no longer striving for more to prove my worth or fill the voids in my life by buying things. My self-worth is nothing to do with my salary, the stuff I own or a number on a scale – but it is still going against the culture to think this way and it’s not always easy to be different.

When I was introduced by a friend to the documentary film on Netflix ‘Minimalism’ created by these guys: I had the proverbial lightbulb moment. This was exactly what I had been looking for and in the last two years I haven’t stopped exploring and learning about the concepts.

I think Joshua Becker sums it up very well:

We’ve been sold a lie – we can’t have it all and in simple terms, I explain it to other people as ‘extreme prioritisation’. That’s what Minimalism means to me and I hope to spread the message that life can be different if you consciously choose to make a change.

Thanks for reading.

S x

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