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Now that I had defined Minimalism I was ready to critically look at my current situation and see what I could come up with. To do this I had to almost picture my life as if I were outside looking in. I needed to be composed and impassive as many of the things I would identify were aspects of my own self and thus accompanied by a certain amount of emotion or attachment. So I began to make a few lists. I had already established that my focus was to be my family, my relationship with my wife and then my personal spirituality. So I asked myself a series of questions in order to identify the very first things that I might need to change. After considerable hacking and slashing I managed to whittle my list down to ten significant points. These 10 points, I believe, are universal and should be on the list of anyone considering Minimalism as a life style choice . I was off to a good start but still needed more direction, to that end I also established some goals to keep me focused.
- To nurture my family life, my relationship with my wife and to explore my spirituality.
- To free myself from stress and worthless pursuits and refocus this time towards achieving my first and highest priority above.
- To free myself from ALL indoctrination, pre-conceptions, judgemental attitudes and peer pressure.
- To free myself from consumerism, unnecessary possessions, unproductive endeavours and any other material possessions that take focus from my goals.
- To establish a set of life rules which will simplify all future decision making.
- To prioritise my personal aspirations and evaluate their worth, cutting them from many to few and not moving on to the next until the current endeavour has been realised.
- To not only change the way I think, but also how I act and interact. To remove the negative from my thought processes. Minimalism is for optimists not pessimists.
- Minimalism promotes giving above receiving. Give of myself whenever I can in order to fulfil my primary goals.
- Personal and collective debt. This was the first thing that came to mind. Debt can totally control your life, you become a prisoner to it and it's shackles can be very hard to break. There are many ways to reduce debt and in future posts we will discuss my methods, tested and proven. This was definitely the most significant issue for our family and I would imagine will be high on the list of most people, single or coupled. The reason most people begin to look towards minimalism as a life style change is because they have already lived a life of excess and as a result have reached the "enough is enough" point....
- Personal and collective property is nice to own and provides some superficial gratification but most of us are unaware of how distracting it can be. Owning more and more usually creates a plethora of complications and expenses, it robs your focus and depletes your physical and emotional energy reserves. Have you ever owned 13 cars, I have, that is a lot of washing and maintaining.... Reduce, refocus, re-evaluate.... Then re-establish a life based on treasures that will not perish. On that which you focus so there shall be found your heart. Something to remember however, never assume your partner has the same views as you, minimalism has an impact on all members of a household and decisions should always reflect every ones view. I have a friend whose partner is a real fundamental minimalist, while my friend seldom complains he mostly learns about his wife's decisions via her blog. He does embrace minimalism but not to the point of his wife. This is about everyone not just yourself. compromise may need to be made.
- Your thoughts and words. Pessimism, hate, anger, jealousy, unforgiveness, gossip, and resentment are all negative processes and antagonistic to a Minimalistic lifestyle. Negative thoughts lead to negative outcomes. Try and see the positive in every situation, even when it seems impossible. With practise you can train your mind to be less reactionary, more open and positive, and less self indulgent. You may have noticed I like to use quotes, here are two that have a simple but significant message, "So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger" - The Bible, "if your foot slips you can regain your balance but if your tongue slips you can not take back your words" - Unknown. Some of the deepest hurts I have personally experienced have been from words said in anger. Apply the same techniques of minimalism to your mind as you do to your physical environment. Rubbish of the mind is the most damaging clutter you can own. Simply daily affirmations, while not the only technique, really work well for me. Remind yourself constantly of the things you need to change about yourself. Be aware of situations where the dark side of the force can take control. Use the force Luke :-)
- The things we do.... Or to put it better, the things that rob our time. With my main goal always in mind I had to have a very close look at everything that took time from that aspiration. Hobbies, sports, INTERNET, television, recreational activities, and the list goes on. I found some of my personal little favourites could also be combined into a family outing and Wham Bam it stayed on my list. There were however many things that I did need to cut. I was on two different committees, was trying to learn to play two different instruments, and was even having a crack at learning to paint with an airbrush. These were just some of my time commitments, yours may be quite different, please always remember to consider those closest to you when deciding to follow any personal endeavours. keep them to a minimum and don't try to spread yourself too thin.
- AND again!! ... point number five on my list is the same as point number 4. I have repeated it twice not because I think it is more important, but rather because I think it is so easy to let this one slip. This time I want to be more specific and refer to All forms of electronic entertainment or communication, watch out people they can become a real trap. Personally I keep the time I spend on this blog down to no more than 15 minutes a day, if I can not finish in that time I do so the following day. Its easy to start off keeping these time robbers in good check but after a while they can sneak back into our routine and eventually become a main priority again. When you jump on Facebook, eBay, blogs, turn on the television or DVD all meaningful communications stop at that point, its called the idiot box for good reason. Have you ever tried to talk to someone engrossed in a television program or peering into the plastic screen of an iPod. Even more damaging can be the new and varied forms of social media. Every day there are more, more for you to subscribe to, more posts to make, emails to reply to, posts to comment on. All to a public you will never meet, to people you don't know, or even worse people pretending to be someone they are not. Constant communication in this form can be a huge distraction. While some self gratification can be had from having 1000 Facebook friends or a million readers of your blog, its fake, its superficial and its plain old SAD if it becomes your focus in life. Don't let the positive feelings of importance you get from being popular or having a trillion followers lead you into thinking that the hours of social media surfing you do are justified and therefore veto your goals. Real relationships are developed and nurtured at close quarters, keep your use of these forms of social interaction to a real minimum. I have seen so many relationships break up as a result of people being enticed into nothing more than a pipe dream over the Internet. Not to mention how TV, videos etc can have a real bearing on your value system. Just look at what was Kosher 20 years ago and what is today. Violence, sex, nudity, drugs, consumerism, and just about anything you can think of has now become acceptable. Why was it inappropriate 20 years ago?? Because we have had a significant moral shift and today more and more of this RUBBISH is considered OK.... Try and extrapolate this trend another 20 years into the future, I don't even want to think what will be considered morally appropriate when our children are in their 40's.
- Set realistic goals with your new life choices always in mind. Its great to have something to work towards, something of interest to you. whenever possible make your goals joint ones and the projects something all can work on. Do one thing at a time, you will do it better and have more fun doing it. Having too much on the go all at the one time can be very stressful. Research has actually proven that completing tasks individually results in a better outcome than multi-tasking several tasks. Recently we decided a good project would be to build 9 raised garden beds. We could work on it as a family and the resulting organic produce would save us money. Doing things like this will cement family bonds more than you realise. Everyone has an investment in time and thought when projects like this are are done as a family, its a common interest and time can be spent together doing it. Of the 9 garden beds myself, my wife and my daughter looked after three plots each. We had competitions to grow the best plants and the best tasting food. We each choose our own plants and at the end we would share and make home cooked organic meals. Come on, does it get better than that?? What did it cost?? Who cares, it was worth every cent!! We purchased what we needed like true minimalists but at the end of the day what ever it cost was money well spent and an investment in memories I will have for the rest of my life.
- Your definition is your road map for navigating life. Don't be too liberal or generic with your definition. It has been my experience that holding the reins too loose can be counter productive, holding them too tight can do the same too. Try not to "keep up with the Jones", minimalism is not a tourney, you structure your definition to suit your personal or collective aspirations, if it works for you then it's right for you. Having said that I would encourage you to remember that minimalism at it's core means removing something, the very word itself implies just that. Allow minimalism to "suit" you personally, but not to the point that you really are only reducing one thing to get more of something else (possessions). It is essentially about stripping away the unnecessary to allow focus on the necessary.
- Honesty.... minimalism is about total honesty, honesty with yourself, your family, your partner, and with anyone else in your circle of care. Always evaluate your reasons for doing something and cross check them against your decided credo, but be honest and even brutal if necessary. Sometimes we need to really hack and slash before we can get to a point where minimalism can become a reality. Other times only minor changes need to be made, however honesty of thought and a commitment to follow through are essential elements. Don't pretend to be a minimalist, "let your yes be yes and your no be no". You can fool just about everyone if you really want to, but you cant fool yourself and deep down minimalism will only work if we are honest and accountable. The following quote from the road to epic blog site (http://www.roadtoepic.com/our-definition-of-minimalism/) sums it up very aptly, "The many faces of minimalism means that, even though I may not see the value in it, if you honestly would lead a less fulfilled life without your extensive collection of My Little Pony memorabilia than so be it – you are free to continue your Brony ways." - note the word "honestly". This is where a good definition makes the hacking and slashing a little easier.
- Keep healthy, be active, eat natural foods, avoid chemical additives and get out doors as much as you can. Research has proven that what we eat can have a significant impact on our moods. Processed foods high in sugar can have all sorts of behavioural ramifications for children (and to a lesser degree adults). If your are healthy and feel good about yourself it is easier to keep a positive and focused mind. Minimalism is about removing mental clutter as well as physical, keeping a clear mind makes this process easier. Being healthy physically and mentally has a flow through to your stress levels. If you feel good you have less stress, less stress means more productive outcomes.....
- Your routine, your habits and a time for reflection. Some of us have habits and routines that are as old as we are. Have a good look at these aspects of your life. Bad habits are called just that for good reason and sometimes much freedom and inner peace can be afforded by changing them. Critically look at all these parts of your life and evaluate their worth against your new way of living. Sometimes a change in the way you do things can have a big impact on your free time and even your bank balance. Getting up a bit earlier in the morning and walking the dogs with a loved one can be a really good start to the day, it's different for everyone so put some thought into what will work for you. Finally, and this is an important one, make time to reflect upon all you are doing, all you have achieved, and the things that are not working. Communicate with each other and be prepared to listen, allow your definition to grow and mature with you.
Sorry about the length of this post, the hard stuff is nearly out of the way and we will soon look towards discussing some of the many ways to apply minimalism to your life. JM