Minimalism is not perfectionism. This may be obvious for some; but for me, it is a constant theme I need to revisit.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in doing things the “right” way. So when I started to experience the joy and ease that comes from living a simpler life, I wanted to do it too perfectly. I told myself that if I just let go of one more thing, I would then be a full-fledged and true minimalist.
This led to some unhealthy and self-deprecating habits that completely defeat minimalism’s purpose: to live a joyful life. I’ve had to learn over and over again that I won’t have what I perceive as a perfect wardrobe, body, job, or relationship until I learn to accept.
Accepting life as a sum total of parts in constant, unpredictable motion is my antidote to obsessing over how to perfectly spend my free time, money, or decision-making power. I’ve learned from this acceptance that a life filled with flawlessness is unattainable. And minimalism, in its positive, life-giving, and life-changing way, supports loving these flaws.
It’s taught me that the things that make my perfectionist craze flare-up, be it physical or emotional, are just stuff renting space in the room that is my life. It is OK if I experience obstacles in my pursuit of simplicity. They don’t negate the only constant in my life—me.
As I work to incorporate this idea in my life, these are some of the things I am learning to accept:
1. Purchases: I often beat myself up for making hasty purchases that are convenient, fast options, like a quick meal or a last-minute outfit for an event. I’d like all of my purchases to be planned and intentional, but I know I am making a difference if most, though not all, of my purchases are thoughtfully made.
2. Diet: I sometimes stress out when I eat processed foods that don’t fit into my ideal diet. I generally try to follow Michael Pollan’s approach of eating (real) food, mostly plants, and not too much. But sometimes this isn’t possible or I’m in a mood to indulge. I don’t need to worry about this if most of the time I am eating wholesome, local ingredients.
3. Procrastination: Like many people, I struggle with procrastinating on certain tasks. But I can use this procrastination as productive time by doing things that will energize me, like doodling, reading, or talking to friends, so I can come back to the task refreshed.
4. Growth: I know the benefits of challenging myself and working toward goals. But often, I feel stagnant and caught up in daily routines that are comfortable to me. I’ve found joy in pushing myself to try something unexpected and uncomfortable, but this doesn’t have to happen every day or in every aspect of my life at once.
5. Social Interaction: As a natural introvert, I prefer to keep my schedule open for time to relax, go for walks, and think. I cherish my alone time, but I’ve learned to accept busy periods of social interaction. I enjoy talking with people who are curious about the world, social change, and what it means to be human. These experiences can be restorative in a different way, as long as I schedule a time to be by myself after these social events.
6. Sustainability: Reducing the amount of plastic and waste in my life is extremely important to me, but I sometimes feel guilty that I haven’t totally stopped purchasing and using plastic. Rather than beat myself up, I remind myself of the small, but impactful, changes I’ve made and shared with others, like composting my food scraps, making my own natural products, drinking from a reusable water bottle, and using glass instead of plastic to store food.
When I adopt this attitude of acceptance, I become a simple observer of the imperfect flux. I’m able to recognize that my life is truly abundant. It’s one that I am extremely grateful for and that I feel privileged to think about and examine.
Letting go of being a perfect minimalist has taught me that there is beauty in life’s imperfections. These so-called mess-ups are the poetry of life, the grey in-between where we stay up late, eat too much dessert, use paper plates, and put off the to-do list—but we are better for it. When we patiently accept life as it is, we meet ourselves exactly where we are in the present moment, inviting in a joy that we could never perfectly plan or prepare.
Minimalism isn’t perfectionism. But I’m learning it can be poetic license to be with the flaws of now, knowing that they will slip away and change. And that’s perfect enough.