how i became a minimalist

Minimalism is an alluring concept. It sounds exciting radical to turn away from a life of mindless consumption, towards one of serenity and meaning.

It can also be quite overwhelming to take the plunge and become a minimalist. The internet overflows with 'lifestyle porn' blogs, promoting a fabricated, idealistic way of living a so-called simple life, which isn't relevant to more than a handful of wealthy people in glamorous cities.

So here is how I became a minimalist.

My story is not like the dramatic ones heard everywhere. I didn't quit a six figure job. I didn't move from a fancy condo into a caravan or to a mountainside village with no electricity (although my family actually did that when I was three weeks old.) I didn't throw everything except for a single rucksack. I'm not zero waste or location independent or, sadly, a full-time blogger.

Likewise, I did not start off with hundreds of thousands of items, massive amounts of (or any) debt, or a soul-crushing corporate job. I wasn't raised to pointlessly consume - throughout my childhood, my family moved between countries quite a bit so I owned little.  That's something I will always be grateful for; it was the best way to grow up.

Then something went wrong when I first started to have my own money as a teenager, that all changed. I had a well-paid job with few hours, the wages from which were solely disposable income. Every penny went on mindless shopping, out of boredom, unhappiness, uncertainty and habit. I became a total hoarder.

Not quite the TV show level, though still pretty bad.  There were two main reasons for this which are universal to most people: I brought too much and threw little. Everything was retained just in case. There was always more to buy.

I hated it without even realising.

My bedroom was a stressful environment, not a calm one as it should be. Spending time in it felt uncomfortable, so I spent as much time as possible elsewhere. Sometimes I even slept in a different room in my house to avoid the mess.

Then, in March of this year, I discovered the concept of minimalism. The epiphany that my stuff was making me miserable came whilst on holiday with my brother. We stayed in a small, bare apartment in Tel Aviv and I had with me one suitcase. Whilst I packed more for that four-day trip than I did for a five-week one this summer, it was a radical change from my normal life.

It hit me at 5 am one morning that I couldn’t even remember what the other 99% of my belongings were and I didn’t miss them. More than that, the prospect of returning to them was repulsive. I contemplated hiring a dumpster and tossing everything into it. It was an intriguing fantasy.

Instead, I sat on the balcony as the sun rose and compiled a list of everything I wanted to keep. This is the opposite of the usual decluttering process which tends to revolve around deciding what to discard, not what to retain. But it worked, and that one list completed changed everything. I wrote down what I knew was needed or loved.

Sentimentality, cost, and provenance were ignored, as were social norms. Deciding what to throw would have been impossible, yet I knew what I wanted to keep. Everyone knows what they use on a daily basis or what they would save in the classic burning house scenario. Those were the things I listed.

Upon returning home, the jettisoning process began. It was lengthy, emotional and often frustrating. The more I threw, the more there seemed to be. For weeks I donated or threw bags and bags each day. Even so, it took a while before it made a difference. Each new category of belongings brought fresh, confusing challenges. Each area of my room revealed stacks of hoarded items of unknown origin.

After a couple of months, I found myself with less than a quarter of the possessions I started with. Only the listed items remained. As my stuff shrunk, everything else expanded.  I felt happier and good things started to happen for the first time in years. 

Becoming a minimalist was one of the best decisions I have made - it changed everything. Now I own solely the bare essentials. I still review what I own on a weekly basis and always discover something I don't actually need. 

Maybe it's not a dramatic story. Yet the most significant choices we make are often made for subtle, unexciting reasons.