Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Minimalism in the Age of Excess

by Aqeelah Hassen


Minimalism is based on simplicity and preferring a minimal amount of physical objects in your surroundings. There is immeasurable value and comfort to be found in this concept and lifestyle. Before you dismiss this article as a hippie rant telling you to quit your job, sell your things and drive around the country in a caravan, let me be clear: I like material things just as much as the next person and have quite a few material aspirations, but there is definitely a place and need for minimalism in today’s extreme consumer culture.   

In our modern world of excess, everywhere you turn someone is trying to sell you something. There are billboards in the streets, advertisements on the internet, on television, on the radio and even on your cell phone.  All of these are constantly trying to sell you something that promises to make you cooler, prettier, save you time or bring you joy. It is easy to buy into this consumer culture, to start accumulating things and to find yourself constantly saving up for the next trend, newer model or latest gadget. Some people are happy with living a more materialistic life - and to each their own - but if you are feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff in your life and the endless cycle of consuming, minimalism could give you some relief.

Minimalism is about getting rid of the excess, and allowing yourself to focus on what is most important and meaningful to you. It can help you navigate the endless barrage of material possessions, aspirations and pressures; having too much to do, too many bills to pay, too many distractions, too many obligations and not enough time.


Becoming minimalist doesn’t mean never buying anything, but it requires you to step away from the cycle of consuming unnecessarily.  So if you want an iPhone, sure, go and get it, but do you need to buy every upgrade when the first one you’ve bought is still working and serving its purpose? If you want to embrace minimalism and clear the clutter and excess from your life, the answer is no.


There are no hard and fast rules on how to lead a minimalist life, and there are various degrees of minimalism.You could choose to live like a monk and throw away your possessions, paint your walls white and wear monotone outfits for the rest of your life, but you don’t have to. What you do need to do is re-evaluate every aspect of your life and make conscious changes to simplify each of those aspects, because minimalism is not restricted to only your material things but should inform every sphere of your life. Simplifying your personal and professional life will free up time and energy to spend on things you enjoy and find fulfilling.

Because there are no set rules to follow, you are entirely at liberty to adopt minimalism in a way that best suits you. These are three simple steps that can help you transition should you decide to take the plunge into minimalism.

Clear out.
Clearing out is a tangible manifestation of your new minimalist mindset; it is literally clearing out the excess in your life. Holding on to things because they were gifts or ‘just in case’ you need them will start to weigh you down and take up unnecessary space. If you haven’t used it in the past two years or don’t really like or need it, it’s time to say goodbye to it. Keep only the things you really like or which are meaningful or useful. If you aren’t desperate to keep an item, you can live without it and it should go.

Clearing out is not limited to material possessions. Clear out as much as you can of what makes you unhappy or what you feel is unnecessary. This includes relationships, activities and commitments. Realistically there are obviously certain obligations you cannot simply clear out, but minimalism is about getting rid of as much of the excess as you can in order to free up time, space and money for more meaningful things.

Through the clearing out process you will realise that you don’t need half as much as you thought you did and that you don’t miss half of the things you struggled to get rid of. You will also get a better understanding of what you really like and what is important to you by considering the things you kept through the clear-out, so you won’t feel the need to keep up with every new trend.

Don’t purge.
Don’t throw everything you own away in a moment of minimalist clarity and then go on a huge shopping spree the next week when you realise that you still need a few changes of clothing to wear to work and cutlery to eat with. You also don’t have to get rid of everything that doesn’t serve a functional purpose; you can keep family heirlooms or things that have sentimental value. Minimalism doesn’t have to mean living with only the bare essentials, but it is about finding an ‘enough is enough’ point and not consuming endlessly. It is also about holding on to fewer material things in the hopes of leading a more fulfilling life.

Find something more meaningful to focus on.
Find something meaningful that you enjoy like travelling, creating or spending time with family and friends, and spend more time doing it. Focus on and prioritise the activities that make you happy instead of the unnecessary material things you would have spent time and money on. Downsizing your material aspirations will enable you to focus on more meaningful and enjoyable things, and this in turn will motivate you to maintain your minimalist lifestyle. 

A minimalist lifestyle comes with many benefits; it is easier to maintain and organize and it has less stress, debt and pretence which allows for more time, space and money for meaningful things. People turn to minimalism for various reasons; personal, financial and spiritual reasons are among the most common.  Whatever your reasons are for adopting a minimalist lifestyle, remember that there are no set rules, so you can choose how you implement it. However you choose to go about it, stay focused on simplifying your life and on learning to live and be content with fewer material things. You should also keep the main goal in mind which is to eliminate the non-essential in order to focus on what’s truly important, what gives your life meaning and what makes you happy.