When people look toward minimalism as a lifestyle, they often see only the act of decluttering. But ultimately, minimalism involves the benefits we experience once we’re on the other side of decluttering. By letting go of everything in the way, I’ve been able to immerse myself in what’s important to me, and the benefits are remarkable.
Health. I used to weigh 80 pounds more than I weigh today. Not only was I fat, but I felt tired, stressed, gross. Minimalism helped me untether from that life—a life focused on material “success.” Once I regained control, I made time to concentrate on my health. This increased focus allowed me to improve my diet, exercise, and sleep, which minimized my stress and increased my happiness. By spending more time on my health, I created more time for everything else. What a beautiful paradox.
Relationships. Once I stopped trying to impress others with my consumerist trophies, I was able to reprioritize my relationships by putting primary relationships first, secondary relationships second, and peripheral relationships last. This sounds tautological, but for more than a decade I apportioned too much time to coworkers and networking buddies, and I forsook the people I cared about most.
Finances. This was the initial benefit that led me to minimalism: financial freedom. Sure, I made great money in the corporate world—but I spent even better money. By age 28 I was earning six figures, but I had more than six figures in debt because our culture places an extraordinary emphasis on material wealth as a sign of true wealth. Minimalism taught me that one’s true worth is not determined by his or her net worth.
Creativity. For years I put off my passion: writing. I “aspired” to be a writer someday, but I didn’t actually put in the work. Purging the ephemera consuming my time helped me realize “aspire” is merely a synonym for “procrastinate.” With the stuff out of the way, I was able to start crafting my personal masterpiece.
Contribution. No longer am I obsessed with only myself. By jettisoning my old identity, I formed a new identity, a large part of which revolves around contribution to others. Contributing beyond ourselves brings with it a sense of fulfillment that we can’t get from buying things. Giving is living: if we want to feel truly alive, we must give.
You see, removing the clutter is not the end result of minimalism—it is merely the first step. Understanding why you’re taking that first step gives you the leverage you need to keep going. When in doubt, ask yourself: How might my life be better with less? Those answers are far more powerful than decluttering alone.
This essay was originally published in Minimalism Life.