Using Minimalism to Maximize

When I first started learning about minimalism, I had a very narrow view of what the word meant and how it applied to my life. I associated minimalism with people sitting on floors in white walled, empty apartments or nomadic backpackers carrying all the possessions they owned – 20 items or less.

I associated it with intentional austerity – a way to reign in and suffocate desires fueled by consumerism. I was right about one thing. Minimalism is about intentionality. But it isn’t about intentionally denying yourself.

To me, minimalism means intentionally clearing out the distractions in your life so that you have room to maximize what you value. In my case, that meant starting with maximizing peace.

2019 was a year of loss for me. I lost a pregnancy which devastated me in a way that surprised me and ultimately contributed to a gnawing feeling of depression in my life. I moved and lost my sense of community – my friends, my church, my routine, my neighborhood, my home. Months later I lost a 20+ year friendship. These different upheavals sent me into what I can only describe as a mid-life crisis.

I used to think that a mid-life crisis meant trying to be young again – buy a fast car, get plastic surgery, marry someone new and exciting. Experiencing it felt more like me questioning my priorities. What did I value? Where was I headed? Was I happy with the direction of my life? While wrestling with these questions, my family moved again in December of 2019 and settled into our new and more permanent home. Then 2020 happened.

The world felt even more volatile and uncertain. The pandemic and racial reckoning in our country fueled my anxiety. I looked for a way to wrestle back control in my life and took my first step towards minimalism by deleting all of my social media accounts except for my LinkedIn profile.

I realized how much all the incessant information, ads and opinions were fueling my anxiety, depression and general anger with the state of the world. I recognized how this thing that I once associated with entertainment and community was now making my life harder so I cut it out and it was freeing.

This is what minimalism is about. It isn’t challenging yourself to be a martyr or to go without. It is asking if what is in your life actually adds value and if it doesn’t – intentionally ridding yourself of it.

I didn’t recognize deleting my accounts as a step towards minimalism until I started clearing out my physical possessions. Quarantine meant my family was doing more from home than ever. I got inspired, by bloggers and vloggers espousing different forms of family minimalism, to clean out my space to maximize it for our family. It was eye opening.

I have always loved to have an organized and uncluttered home and consider myself a tidy person. Our family of five people, two dogs and one fish, lives in a 1,200 square foot home. I have donated three truck beds full of items and am still going. I still can’t believe how much stuff I owned.

At first I was both empowered and embarrassed by how much I was getting rid of. The embarrassment came from the piles of donations that seemed to accumulate from nowhere. Where did all of this come from? How could I be this wasteful? But this was a good experience for me. Confronting the waste made me question my relationship with stuff and how I wanted to change things moving forward.

Minimalism was freeing. The sheer feeling of my house breathing was freeing. Not having to organize it, track it and clean it was freeing – a feeling I valued and wanted to hold onto.

Letting go of what I don’t want in my life and confronting what I need to change in order to maximize what I do value is my understanding of minimalism. Because of that, I think minimalism will look different for every person and every family. You get to define it. You get to create it.

Minimalism isn’t a numbers game where you can only own 20 things or a state of deprivation where you see how much you can get rid of. It is getting rid of physical and emotional clutter so you can move on to something better. Minimalism is the tool not the destination. I am excited to see where this journey takes me. I hope you will find it to be of value too!