In the past five months, I have thrown away hundreds of items in my apartment. It hasn't been easy to let go of some things, but it has always been worthwhile. Part of this process has been practical as my girlfriend is moving in with me in a 230 square foot apartment. Most of the process has been personally fulfilling as it has made me feel more free an unencumbered.
Minimalism is not a new concept. It has been made popular by bloggers like Leo Babauta at Zen Habits and it seems to be a trendy thing to do. Some people may do it out of a sense of uniqueness or superiority, but I have my own reasons. Namely, living with less actually helps me to live more richly.
The Art of Living with Essentials
The concept of essentialism is far more appealing to me than minimalism. Instead of getting rid of everything, I get rid of only the things that are non-essential. I strip to the core, find what is most essential and remove everything else. Here are a few benefits and examples of living a rich life within the framework of essentialism:
1. Your possessions own you - Recently I had a conversation with a friend who is making around $12,000 a month. It's a high salary for Texas, but he has so many possessions, most of the money ends up gone by the end of the month.
Many Americans exist with possessions like this. The home mortgage is so expensive that families aren't free to travel. Boats, cars, and a host of other features people rarely use all cost money and restrict freedom. According to some estimates, Americans spend $1.2 trillion on things that are non-essential.
2. We fill up a space no matter the size - According to the LA Times, the average home is filled with 300,000 items. Most people fill up the space that they are given no matter what the size is. If they have a two-car garage, most cannot even fit their cars because of all the other possessions.
This is one of the reasons the tiny house movement has become so strong. My girlfriend and I live in a tiny apartment and may one day purchase a small, efficient home. Even when we visited the coast in Australia we spent time renting a tiny home. It just makes more sense, but it also feels much better. The burden is lifted to be in a smaller space because we can't fill it with things we don't need even if we tried.
3. Mental toughness - In life you will face trials, discomfort, and pain. That is the human condition. How we react to such trials and discomfort is dependent on how much practice we have. The reason people become spoiled is because they have consistently never had to deal with hardship and discomfort.
Living with less is sometimes not as comfortable. You might feel cramped, unable to do the things you'd like, and there is no room for luxuries when basic necessities barely fit. But these are all things that inoculate you from mental strain in the future.
The ancient stoic philosopher, Seneca, used to dress in the cheapest clothing and eat nothing so as to practice poverty. It was a way for him to intentionally build his mental toughness despite having plenty.
At first it may seem difficult to be an essentialist, but it might be helpful to burn the boats and go all in. By becoming a radical essentialist you don't just have a change in your physical surroundings. Sure, you'll reduce your material possessions and free yourself from their burden, but you also have a psychological change. You will start to see the non-essentials in your life, such as people you'd rather not be involved with, poor habits you engage in, and others. You'll find this to be a movement that changes the way you live and the way that you think.