Five years ago, I discovered minimalism when my husband and I were struggling with infertility and starting our treatment journey. I knew that in order to prepare for a baby, I needed to make space: physical space in our home, white space on my calendar, and emotional space in my overwhelmed mind and spirit.
The journey brought me to where I am today, a mother of two rambunctious boys who strives to live a life free of excess and full of purpose. For me, simplifying my life was desperately needed, but it was voluntary. It was my choice. A choice I continue to make every day as I decide where to hold on and where to let go.
We are now in a situation where “involuntary simplicity” is taking hold. People are faced with fewer choices: what to buy (at least when it comes to food and other essentials), where to go, and how to spend their time. Calendars that are normally crammed with activities are suddenly as empty as the supermarket shelves.
While I do not want to downplay the economic impact of closed businesses and canceled events and services, let alone the impact on vulnerable populations who may find themselves isolated, I believe there are some important mindset shifts that can help us embrace “involuntary simplicity” as much as possible during this tumultuous time.
1. Resources may be limited, but your resourcefulness is not.
I am reminded of Tony Robbins quote: “It’s not about your resources, it’s about your resourcefulness.” I admit it has been difficult to maintain my abundance mindset when I see empty store shelves. Instead of allowing fear to set in, think about how you can be resourceful and creative with your meal planning. Before going to the store (or even buying something online), shop your pantry first and see the abundance that’s already there!
Are you a parent wondering how best to spend this extra time with your kids? As our schools, parks, and libraries have closed, I totally get it! Several companies are offering free educational resources that you can take advantage of (I’m using OtherGoose for my kids but there are other options for older kids as well). If you and your kids are usually rushing from one activity to the next, find a way to structure your day while including some downtime. Kids need downtime to support their developing brains, so it may be a ritual that you continue in the future!
If we look at limitations as possibilities to be resourceful, the problem-solving, creative part of our brain shifts into gear (frontal cortex) rather than the limbic brain responsible for emotional responses such as fear and anxiety.
2. Dust off that gratitude journal! You need it now more than ever.
Gratitude is an antidote to fear. I can choose to start my day checking the news, or I can choose gratitude first and stay informed in the way that is healthiest for me and my family. This is where present moment gratitude is so crucial.
At the beginning or end of the day, it may be difficult to remember the mundane things that you are grateful for when your normal routine has been disrupted. I can, however, be grateful in the moment for an impromptu dance party with my kids or talking to my 100-year old grandmother who has been quarantined in her nursing homeroom. When our lives are simpler, it is easier to see and be grateful for these everyday moments.
3. Live according to your long-term values, even when you crave short-term comfort.
When our routines are disrupted, it’s easy to slip into unhealthy habits that comfort us. Enjoy going to the gym? You may be unsure how a home workout routine will work for you so you skip it altogether. Used to eating fresh fruits and vegetables? With fresh produce in limited supply, you may be eating processed foods you’d normally avoid to alleviate your stress. Are you interested in pursuing a passion but escape with Netflix instead?
Uncertainty causes anxiety which causes us to act in ways that are counter to our stated values. It is tempting to turn inward and escape for short-term comfort, but intentional living means living in accordance with your values, even when no one else can see what you’re doing. Reach out to a friend to become a virtual accountability buddy so you can continue to engage in the activities and relationships (albeit in a new way) that bring you long-term fulfillment.
By shifting our mindset about how we think about this time of “involuntary simplicity,” we can rediscover our resourcefulness, focus on gratitude, and continue to live a life aligned with our values and purpose.
About the Author: Emily McDermott is a wife, mother, and simplicity seeker, chronicling her journey at Simple by Emmy. She loves to dance, write poetry, and spend time with her husband and two young sons.