“Since my house burnt down, I now own a better view of the rising moon.”
I’ve been on a quest to make my world small. It all started when I went big.
I had a tiny house before they were vogue because it was all I could afford. I lived within my means and my means were often slim. I didn’t label myself a minimalist back then. I favored clean lines aesthetically and by virtue of necessity.
When I got married, I moved into three-story Victorian that could’ve eaten my little house for breakfast. At first it was exhilarating to have so much light and space. Cathedral ceilings! Where have you been all my life?
It didn’t take long for the stuff to come pouring in, filling empty spaces with the domestic label “home.” Along with it, came a sense that I had finally made it. While there is nothing wrong with having house pride, without realizing it, I started allowing it to define me. By turning away from my humble beginnings, I lost touch with an important part of myself.
Our worth is not determined by our belongings, no matter how much Wall Street would like us to belief otherwise. Remembering this, I set out on a quest to make my world small again.
Detaching from stuff requires psychological fortitude. It takes courage to trust that you have enough—that you are enough. But once you feel and accept that, your life will never be the same. Integrity becomes a North Star that shines a guiding light into all aspects of life.
It’s what I like most about the minimalist lifestyle. It’s deceptively simple, yet profoundly impactful. A friend asks if you’ve read that ‘Tidying Up’ book. “You haven’t? Well, here, borrow mine.”
You read it and a light goes off. This is the decisive moment. Some will feel overwhelmed and toss it aside with a wishful sigh. Others react with the zealous of a recent convert, shoving stuff into bags while happily chanting “Do I love it? Is it useful?”
For those who fall into the latter camp, the life-changing art of minimalism is a breath of fresh air after years of tumbling around in the consumer cycle. Embracing it is to give permission to slow down and remember why we are here. And the answer will be different for everyone. That’s the beauty of it. One size does not fit all.
That’s because minimalism is a mindset. It’s about living intentionally. Master therapist Irvin Yalom said that the work of psychotherapy is to remove the obstacles blocking the patient’s path. Minimalism is like that. We remove the extras to make room for what nourishes us.
This lifestyle is not new, nor is it a cult, trend or form of fanaticism. It’s a way of being in the world and its current popularity is simply a sign of the times. We now know that the one who dies with the most toys doesn’t win.
Fact is, the true riches of life cannot be bought. They’re created through experiences and connections with others. Period.
Think about it this way. If you were to disappear off the planet, what would your surroundings say about you? What would your kitchen, closet and computer reveal? Are you living in alignment with your best self? Or have you fallen prey to being who you think you should be?
Minimalism is about clarity. When we turn down the noise on the shoulda-woulda-coulda, the musicality of life comes forth. Conversely, when we feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to appreciate what’s in front of us.
Without a doubt technology has made our life better. We can travel the world from our home and access information at click of a button. On the other hand, a compelling argument can be made that technology has made life more complex and chaotic.
Thankfully, I’m not here to decide. My job is simply to share a few helpful ways to live small in a big world. The following are a few ways I’ve learned do to this:
1. Know there is enough.
Scarcity and comparison are the killjoys of life. They spawn anxiety, doubt and jealousy. More often than not, the thought of “not enough” occurs below the radar—before we have a chance to question it. The first step is noticing your relationship to scarcity. We all feel it. Only by acknowledging it can we make room for compassion, both for self as well as others.
2. Practice gratitude.
My favorite way to cultivate gratitude is to appreciate what I already have. When I do, I am humbly reminded that the real joys in life come from collecting experiences—not things. This has the added benefit of keeping impulse buys in check. When you like what you’ve got you don’t need more. Perhaps the best part about the practice of gratitude is how quickly it moves beyond material things into the soul of our being, filling our hearts with a sense of contentment.
3. Get outside.
There isn’t a better or more cost-effective way to recalibrate than communing with nature. It puts our problems into perspective while nourishing mind, body and spirit. And it needn’t be complicated. A walk around the block will do nicely. The point of getting out is to remind ourselves that we are part of something larger. We humans are unique in that we perpetually try to overcome that which we are inextricably tied to: nature.
4. Be culturally aware.
Not everyone has it as well as us and not all Westerners have it equally well. Remaining conscious of the inordinate freedoms and luxuries we have helps us to appreciate what we already own instead of longing for more. This isn’t meant to induce guilt. The intent is to keep desire in perspective. More often than not, the grass of our neighbor is not any greener.