You’ve tried to build margin into your life, but it keeps getting gobbled up by committee meetings or work obligations. You’ve already decluttered your home, but the clutter seems to be creeping back in and you don’t have time to go back through it again.
Between your job, the kids’ extracurricular activities, and everything else that goes with life, you feel like you’re not getting any closer to your minimalist goals. You’re frustrated and starting to feel like a minimalist imposter.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like a minimalist imposter too. I write and talk about living with less—less stuff, less mental clutter, less worry—when my life is currently filled to the brim with stuff, clutter, and worry.
I recently went from having one job to being in graduate school and working two jobs, which means that my life has picked up speed. What margin I had in my life has disappeared; now, I feel like I’m always short on time and surrounded by clutter.
It seems like a real minimalist would look at my situation and say, “Give something up! Just say no. Focus on getting rid of more of your stuff so that it doesn’t drive you nuts.”
Here’s the thing, though: There’s no one right way to be a minimalist. Yes, minimalism champions being more with less, but that doesn’t mean that you’re wrong for living the life you’re living.
Here are four tips I’ve reminded myself of lately, and I think they might help you too if you’re feeling like a minimalist imposter right now:
1. Live your life, but pay attention to where you can make some changes.
At this point, you might not feel like you can cut anything out of your life. So, don’t: Just ride the crazy waves of your life for a while. However, pay attention to the patterns and rhythms of your daily routines. Keep thinking about what takes priority during this season of your life and consider if there are ways you can make small changes that’ll improve your quality of life.
For example, I’ve always enjoyed cooking meals from scratch. However, with my current schedule, I’ve found that I’ll buy fresh ingredients for the week but when dinner comes around my husband and I will go out to eat because we think we don’t have enough time to make food from scratch.
As you can imagine, that’s been bad on our checkbooks and waistlines. Since recognizing that pattern, we’ve made a switch: Now, we purchase frozen foods—primarily the healthier kinds that have vegetables and meat—that save us time and money. It’s not the same as making meals from scratch, but it’s also not eating out for every meal.
I’ve recognized that, in this season of my life, I’m not going to be as ambitious of a cook as I’ve traditionally been, and that’s OK.
Consider ways that you can make some relatively painless changes to your life. Determine what should take priority right now, and try your best to not hold yourself to routines that just don’t work for you anymore.
2. Try to not get caught up in the busyness.
It’s one thing to be busy, and it’s another to focus on how busy you are.
If you fixate on your own busyness you’ll likely start comparing your life to someone else’s. Theodore Roosevelt said it well: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Our lives are not meant to be competitions on who is busiest or who has it together the best.
You’re stealing your own joy when you constantly talk or think about how busy you are. Plus, you have no idea what someone else’s life is actually like; on paper their life might seem so much more enjoyable or ideal, but in reality they’re struggling just as much as you are.
Instead of focusing on how busy you are, try to reflect on what is so good about your life right now. As Henri Matisse once said, “there are always flowers for those who want to see them.”
Stop fixating on busyness and appreciate some of the beautiful things that are happening right now. Like flowers, these beautiful things probably won’t last forever, so enjoy them while you can.
3. Be grateful for the choices you have.
Right now I want to be in graduate school, and I want to work my dream job. I made the choice to be where I am right now. I am grateful I can even make a choice to follow my dreams; that’s a privilege that many people don’t get. Yes, I feel a little sorry for myself sometimes, but I’m also trying my best to remind myself that this is what I want right now in my life. I’ve chosen to be here.
If you’ve chosen to be where you are now, acknowledge that and own it. You’re not a bad person for feeling bad for yourself every once-in-a-while, but remember to be grateful to have the opportunity to do what you’re doing right now. It’s a wonderful gift even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
4. Cut yourself some slack.
You have a lot of responsibilities and not a lot of margin in your life. You’re watching all those minimalist goals you set for yourself seemingly fall by the wayside. Your friends and family try to talk to you about their own minimalist goals, but you can barely get a sentence or two out in response because you’re feeling like a minimalist imposter.
Don’t feel like a minimalist imposter; instead, cut yourself some slack and practice self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion expert, provides a great framework for how to do this well: Be kind to yourself, consider that everyone has shortcomings, and be mindful of not being swept away by negative thoughts and feelings.
I’m trying to do the same. My life doesn’t look like a minimalist dream right now, but I know that doesn’t make me any less of a minimalist at heart.