I’ve got this theory I think many of us can relate to.
Goes like this.
We start out in the world at ease with who we are, confident in our God-given abilities, and free to be ourselves.
But as we journey through life, something happens. We’re fed messages (directly and indirectly) from the media, our peers, our family members, and our environment that all tell us one thing—how we are is different than how we “should” be.
At age 15, we open a beauty magazine and suddenly realize our hairstyle should be different if we want to fit in.
At age 22, we see the latest fashion trends and feel we should dress that way too if we want to be successful.
At age 37, we see our friends living in large homes filled with stuff and decide we should also live that lifestyle if we want to be happy.
And somewhere along the way, as we listen to external messages instead of inner wisdom, we lose sight of something pretty important—our authentic self.
When our life is guided by a collection of “shoulds,” one day we stop, look around and realize that although our lives might look pretty dang good on the outside, at our core something doesn’t feel quite right.
Questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I stand for?” have ambiguous answers, lost somewhere among the earfuls of “shoulds” and our respondent striving.
The field of psychology has studied this self-perceived disconnect between the life we live and who we “truly are.”
One study found people who scored higher on a measure of authentic living reported greater happiness, more positive emotions, and higher self-esteem than people who reported being less authentic.
Functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman describes living in line with your authentic self as important to our health as movement, diet, and supplements.
So how do we realign our lives with who we truly are?
In my experience, minimalism can help.
As I journeyed into minimalism, life became less noise-filled and less overwhelming. I suddenly had more space to listen to the promptings of that small voice inside and began taking steps to align my decisions and lifestyle with what felt authentic. Living in alignment has brought more joy and peace into my life, and I believe it can for you too.
Here are 5 ways minimalism helps you reconnect with your authentic self.
1. You rediscover your values
Minimalists identify their values and then build their lives around them. A life based on what you most value is a life in alignment with your truest self.
The best tool I’ve seen for realigning your life with your values is in Erica Layne’s book The Minimalist Way: Minimalism Strategies to Declutter Your Life and Make Room for Joy . Layne begins by defining values as “your personal judgment of what’s important in life.” She then guides readers to identify their Top 3 Guiding Values and identify specific values under various life domains (Family, Home, Career, Community & Relationships, and Health & Spirituality). Layne then offers practical exercises to make your values so deeply a part of you that you can’t help but build a life on them.
“With our values in mind, we remember to do life with purpose, not by default,” Layne writes. “We give our best energy to the things that matter most.”
2. You feel lighter
Minimalist living strips away the excess so that only the beautiful and necessary remain. As you let go of unwanted possessions, unloved commitments, and unserving thought patterns, your life becomes lighter. As you uncover the you beneath all of your stuff, you begin to feel freer, unburdened, and like your truest self again.
Minimalists know, as Layne points out in her book, “Every item you part with takes you closer to the lighter, freer, purer version of yourself.”
3. You quit comparing
Minimalism frees you from the need to “keep up with the Joneses.” When you’re focused on what matters most, you no longer find yourself interested in your neighbors’ latest advancements.
“The more we look, the more we want our lives—our homes, our cars, our clothes, our families, our vacations, and our social status—to mirror what we see, even if we know that the standard is unrealistic,” Layne writes. “…The comparisons we draw inside our heads drive our desire to spend, acquire, and accumulate.”
When you know life isn’t about accumulating stuff, you’re not interested in whether someone has nicer possessions than you. This frees up your mental reserves to focus on your own values and become the best version of your true self.
4. You have time and space to check in daily
Living minimally means less time spent cleaning, organizing, picking up, and maintaining stuff. This means you have more time for reflection. You can take time to sit in silence and ask questions like “Are the decisions I made today in line with my values?” and “Do my goals align with my authentic self?”
Minimalism also gives you space to build more pauses into your life, allowing you to stay grounded and present throughout your day. You can use these to check in with yourself and make sure you’re focusing on what matters.
5. You stop the “shoulds”
Minimalism, Layne writes, allows you to “push past the ‘shoulds’ to see who you really are.”
Minimalists don’t strive to maintain an image that matches the social norm, which leaves them less affected by external pressures. The messages that come from the media, your social network, and your environment that you “should” be different or own different things to fit in simply … stop. The only “shoulds” you may entertain are those that compare yourself to who you were yesterday as you work on bettering yourself and growing in authenticity.
Author Brené Brown said, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
Truth is, the world needs you just as you are, not as you think you should be.
Minimalism gives you space, time, and energy to focus on what matters, and one of the things that matter most is you. Working to live life authentically brings more joy and meaning to your life and to the lives of everyone around you.
It’s never too late to begin living more fully and intentionally as who you were truly made to be.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog www.richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband, two lively young daughters, and 6-month-old son.