How minimalism has helped me get happier.

Life these days is complicated. Overly complicated. Between jam-packed schedules, jam-packed houses and jam-packed minds, we’re cluttered up everywhere we look; victims of overabundance and under-awareness. In a nutshell, there’s too much crap weighing us down. We’re like the junk lady in Labyrinth — carrying so much s*** around that we’re developing a perpetual hunchback.

Personally, I’ve found simplicity to be a seriously underrated tool for mental health. Ditch the junk and what’s important starts to shine through like so many diamonds. As I’ve walked the road of recovery (from depression and a myriad of other ills), I felt an instinctive desire to de-clutter everything about my life, paring down both my possessions and my pursuits. Those instincts were good ones — it’s helped.

Then, I discovered¬†The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, two dudes who cast off the corporate shackles to live simpler lives and find greater fulfillment. I could relate. They and many others are part of a growing movement towards a minimalist lifestyle, from tiny houses to pared down possessions to reduced reliance on technology. Minimalism comes in many guises, each one unique to its participant. I’ve found pursuing such aims has done gangbusters for me, too.

Here are five of the fantastic ways minimalism has crashed into my life like so much orderly awesomeness:
I’ve de-cluttered my time.
In our culture, we pride ourselves on being busy. We’ve convinced ourselves that busy = important. But scheduling myself to death led to major stress and a serious lack of enthusiasm for all of my many tasks. I was burned out and bummed out. Now, I devote time to activities that bring joy and fulfillment into my life, whether they’re work-related or just plain leisure. And I make sure to leave plenty of time leftover to just be me. We’re not into DOING — not nearly enough into just BEING, IMO.
I’ve kicked media consumption to the curb.
In addition to wasting oodles of hours I’ll never get back (depressing much?), watching TV and aimlessly surfing the internet led to serious brain drain. The mass media is full of negative messaging, ugliness and consumerism to the extreme. Basically, it’s all a load of bullshit. This goes for social networking, too. These days, I’ve become much more deliberate about what media I choose to absorb and where I put my attention. Let’s face it, what we focus on determines how our lives unfold, so it’s worth being purposeful about it. We soak that stuff up like a sponge, whether we realize it or not. Now I have a whole host of new mental space.
I’ve ditched the crap.
It goes without saying that a cluttered living space contributes to a cluttered mind. Feng shui 101. And it’s all too easy to keep acquiring unnecessary crap until your home is busting at the seams. Mine was. So I started giving away anything that wasn’t bringing value into my life — which was a lot of anythings. Then, I stepped it up a notch and played¬†The Minimalism game¬†— a month-long effort where you ditch one thing the first day, two the second day and so on. In the end, you lose nearly 500 items. There’s something remarkably freeing about the process. Also, this is an ongoing effort. My new rule of thumb: for every new thing I bring home, I get rid of two old things. Because your stuff starts to own you.
I’ve gotten mindful.
Having an overly busy schedule and too much on my plate generally meant I was rushing from one moment to the next, always stressing about the future or dwelling on the past. What a miserable way of being, and yet it’s the status quo. WTF are we all doing? Being mindful of each moment creates space in which to breathe and become cognizant of the gift of now. This moment is all we have, so might as well make ourselves at home. There’s loads of research pointing to the benefits of mindfulness, so we should listen already.
I’ve cast off outmoded relationships.
Not all relationships are meant to last forever. As painful as it is to face that human reality, I’ve found that relationships that have outlived their expiration date tend to drain me, bringing more complexity and strife into my life. We can’t change who we are, and it’s so damn important to surround ourselves with people who lift us up and help us grow. By leaving behind relationships that aren’t contributing to my evolution, I’ve been able to move forward in a positive way and put my focus where it belongs. It’s not always easy, but letting go of what doesn’t serve me is a skill I work to master every day. Every day, dammit!
In the end, minimalism is mainly about letting go and learning to be happier with less. And despite what our culture leads us to believe about acquiring stuff, having less has given me more — more purpose, more peace, more joy. Seriously folks. Putting that Disney dinnerware collection in the donation bin might be the start of something wonderful.

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