“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.” —Wayne Dyer
Eight years ago, on May 26, 2008, my life changed forever.
After spending most of my Memorial Day Weekend cleaning the garage, I struck up a conversation with my neighbor. As I recall, we were lamenting the fact that our day had been wasted taking care of things we owned.
It wasn’t a long conversation, but it was long enough for her to introduce me to the idea of minimalism—that there is more joy to be found owning less than we can ever discover pursuing more.
I actually needed very little convincing. My 5-year old son playing alone in the backyard was all the proof I needed that I owned too much stuff—and it was getting in the way of the life I wanted to live.
Over the course of the next 9 months, my wife and I went through every room in our home getting rid of anything and everything we didn’t need. In total, roughly 2/3 of our possessions were recycled, donated, or thrown away.
To journal the progress, I started a blog, Becoming Minimalist. Now, eight years into its existence, it has reached millions of people around the world with the life-giving message of owning less.
Little did I know, at the time, how much my life would change. But as I look back at the last eight years, I can see how becoming a minimalist has caused my perspective on life to change in very significant ways.
Here are eight that come to mind:
Money. Like most people, growing up, I wanted to be rich. I used to think about it, dream about it, and pursue it. But now, after finding contentment with less, I no longer have a desire for riches. Henry David Thoreau said it like this “I make myself rich by making my wants few.” Now, not only do I no longer desire to be wealthy, I plainly see the temptation and the trap that often ensnares those who do.
Work. Some people view work as a means to get rich—and that’s too bad. Others, on the other hand, can’t wait to escape work, even embracing minimalism as a means to that end. But I see it differently. Minimalism has allowed me to see work as a means to personal fulfillment—not because of the paycheck that it produces, but in the good I can bring to society through it.
Generosity. I now understand that the most fulfilling thing we can ever do with our money is give it away. Most of us desire to be generous people. Buying less makes that possible.
Culture. Minimalism has allowed me to see the world around me in a new way. Very early in my minimalist journey, while doing research for this blog, I stumbled upon The Story of Stuff on YouTube. It changed my perspective on society almost immediately. I began to see how overconsumption is encouraged in every aspect of our economy—from fashion and furnishings to food and housing. And once you see it, you can never unsee it.
Spirituality. There is little doubt that almost every respected religious leader that has stood the test of time has espoused the value and importance of simplicity. For most of my life, I considered this a call to sacrifice—that I should give up “the good life” so others might benefit. However, since discovering and experiencing the benefits of minimalism, I have begun to recognize these teachings are not burdensome at all. They are invitations to a better way of life unburdened with needless weight.
Happiness. I’ve studied quite a bit about happiness over the past eight years. But if I could sum up everything I’ve learned into one sentence, it would be this, “Happiness is not something to be chased or discovered through external circumstances, happiness is a decision we make every single day.” And that makes experiencing it so much easier.
Relationships. I’ve always understood the importance of strong relationships—minimalism has not changed that. But minimalism has caused me to recognize how often we sacrifice those relationships for less important pursuits. And recognizing how those pursuits often distract from the more important ones is the very foundation of minimalism.
Success and Competition. For most of my life, I viewed the opportunity for success as finite—that every time somebody else reached a height of success, it was one less opportunity for me. This often resulted in jealousy and envy. Today, I see it differently. There are countless opportunities to succeed in living meaningful lives. And often times, the quickest way for each of us to succeed in life is to help someone else succeed in theirs.
It’s been a pretty crazy eight years. Looking back on that Saturday morning, I never would have imagined that it would eventually lead to writing books, founding nonprofits, and being on television and in newspapers.
But then again, I had no idea how minimalism would change everything about me—in both my practice and my perspective.