“When things aren’t adding up in life, start subtracting.” —Anon
Minimalism is based on a very important premise: Our lives and our resources are limited—so how we spend them matters.
If we had unlimited time, money, and energy, minimalism would be less necessary because we could do everything.
But we do not have unlimited time, money, and energy. When we spend those resources on things that don’t matter (excess physical possessions for example), they are wasted and we can never get them back.
That monthly bill you’ve been paying on your storage unit? Money gone forever. That Saturday you spent organizing your garage (again)? Time gone forever. Those hours you spent shopping online for yet another pair of pants or shoes? Energy you can never regain.
Possessions are needed for life, of course. But excess possessions quickly become a distraction. We are promised by marketers that our next purchase will make us happier, but their promises rarely come true.
Rather than bringing happiness into life, possessions often distract us from it.
That is my story. I discovered minimalism on a Saturday morning while cleaning out my garage. My son was 6 and asking me to play catch with him (as any 5-year-old boy would do). But I couldn’t play catch… because I had to clean out the garage that was full of junk.
After hours of working on my garage, and during a brief complaint session with my neighbor, she responded by introducing me to minimalism—a lifestyle that her daughter was trying to live out.
I remember looking at the pile of possessions in my driveway—dusty old things I’d spent all day cleaning and organizing. While looking at the pile, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my son swinging alone on the swing set in the backyard. And suddenly I realized, my possessions were not making me happy. But even worse, they were distracting me from the very thing that did bring me happiness.
I had wasted my time and my energy on things that didn’t matter. As a result, I missed spending time and energy on the things that do.
We live in a world where the default thinking is, “If my life isn’t adding up, I just need to find what’s missing and add it.”
So we continue shopping and buying things: more decorations, different furniture, trendier fashion, bigger televisions, a remodeled kitchen, or novelties that promise to bring convenience into our life. All the while thinking, this next purchase will satisfy my discontent.
If we’re not adding possessions to our home, we’re scheming to add wealth to our pocketbook. We add more hours at work, chase a different position, start a side hustle, or read books about getting rich quick. We think, all too often, more money will make us happier. But it rarely does.
If we’re not adding possessions or money to our life, maybe it’s commitments. We enroll our kids in activity after activity hoping their success will shine a brighter light on us. Or we become people-pleasers agreeing to do everything asked of us at the school, in our community, or in our religious circles. We think more activity and accolades will make us happy and more fulfilled, but usually we just end up burnt out.
I hate to continue, but I probably should. Another thing we often add to our lives believing it will bring happiness are vices of every kind. Alcohol, sex, substances, television, sugar, social media, just to name a few. These vices that we believe will calm our stress or improve our day (and may perhaps do that in moderation) soon become controlling forces in our lives that rob us of money, time, energy, and self-control.
Indeed, our culture’s approach to making the most of our lives is to constantly add more and more to it.
Into that world, minimalism speaks. And it reminds us:
Maybe you don’t need more things in your life, maybe you need different things in your life.
Maybe the key to more fulfillment, meaning, and happiness is not found at a department store. Maybe it’s found at your local donation center as you remove the burden of unneeded possessions from your home and free yourself to focus on things that matter.
Maybe the key is not adding more commitments to your schedule, maybe the missing step is cutting back and finding more quiet evenings around the dinner table together as a family.
Maybe the key is not in adding more and more money to your bank account, maybe the key is simplifying your lifestyle so you can live on less.
Just to clear up any confusion, I’m not implying that there are never important seasons in life to be adding opportunities (or even possessions). What I’m saying is that if you’ve been adding and adding to your life thinking you’re going to find greater happiness, maybe there is a different approach that you haven’t considered.
Maybe you don’t need more things in your life. Maybe you need different things.