What Four Years of Minimalism Has Taught Me

Minimalist room with white chair, coffee table and succulent plant

In April 2016 I decided to give minimalism a try. To this day, I still believe that it's the best decision I ever made.

Although I've identified as a minimalist for four years now, I think deep down I've always been one. I've never liked having a lot of stuff around and can easily become overwhelmed when things are cluttered.

So, while I think I've always leaned towards minimalism without even realising it, that spring of '16 was when I finally started labelling myself a minimalist. I went on a decluttering mission and gave away a good proportion of my possessions.

I know I can be a bit extreme by some people's standards (some say my house is far too bare), but I'm sure I'm not extreme enough by others. I own a car, sleep in a bed and use a smartphone. I still buy things if I think they'll add value to my life, but I'm also pretty ruthless about getting rid of things which no longer serve me.

[Related post: Five Things I Don't Own As a Minimalist]

I also live with a non-minimalist (my husband) who likes The Stuff. Luckily he's still pretty minimal and doesn't want a lot, but if he likes something he sees no harm in buying it. I understand this viewpoint, but personally I consider each purchase a lot more carefully: do we NEED this? Will it improve our lives or will it just take up space in our house or gather dust in a corner? 

Anyway, here are six lessons I've learned in my four years of being a minimalist. (I actually learned most of these at the beginning of my journey, which is what made me fall in love with minimalism in the first place).

What Four Years of Minimalism Has Taught Me

1. You don't need as much as you think you do
Most of us keep a lot of things in our homes just in case. We think we might need them one day. But chances are you'll never need that 'just in case' stuff. Let it go: it's very, very rare that you'll ever need something you gave away, and if you do, it's usually such an inexpensive and easily replaceable item that you can just repurchase it.

We think we need a lot of things to be happy. We really don't. 

[Related post: Five Mistakes Made By New Minimalists (and How to Avoid Them)]

2. Experiences are way more valuable than things
This is something you probably hear a lot, and maybe deep down you know it to be true, but not many people really appreciate this fact. Material items will not make you happy. Spend your time with the people you love and spend your money on breathtaking experiences instead of purchasing the latest gadget. At the end of your life you'll look back on all the great times with good people, not the things you owned or wore.

3. Be more present
This is something I'm still working on. Mindfulness doesn't come easily to me and I have a tendency to get stuck in my own head and catastrophise. Even the smallest situations can be a big deal for me. You may be wondering what this has to do with minimalism, but let me tell you, it's all linked. It's not just about the physical stuff - it's all about living more intentionally, being present and living in the moment. Minimalism is a way of life.

4. It's better to give than to receive
I used to hear this saying as a kid and think to myself, "What? No way. Getting presents is a lot better than giving them!" 

Now I LOVE buying gifts for other people but don't really enjoy receiving them, because I don't want surplus items in my house. Most of my friends and family know to buy me things that I'll either use up (such as toiletries) or eat (food is always welcome), or they'll just give me a gift card or money.  

[Related post: Six Perfect Minimalist Gift Ideas]

5. Live intentionally
Minimalism isn't about owning as few things as possible - it's about only owning things which add value to your life and letting go of the rest. Being intentional about what you purchase and bring into your home. Doing things that make you happy. Spending time with the people who are most important to you. Buying sustainable products. Caring about the planet we live on. Looking out for people and making their lives easier. Focusing on what's truly important. That's what minimalism's about. That's what life's about.

6. Be more environmentally friendly
As I started getting deeper into the minimalism community, something else began to happen. A lot of the minimalists I watched on YouTube were also into other environmental factors such as the zero waste movement or veganism. I was learning a lot about sustainability and the effect that capitalism and consumerism have on the environment and the planet as a whole.

I discovered that minimalism isn't just about ME or how much stuff I do or don't own. It's about realising how the decisions I make affect the world I live in. Am I contributing to good or bad?

[Related post: Ten Ways I'm Trying to Be More Environmentally Friendly]

Do you identify as a minimalist? If so, what are the most important lessons you've learned so far?

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