Minimalism a tool for finding happiness

Sign up to get emailed updates

The other day I got a ride to the airport as I returned from my six week trip to South Dakota and Wyoming. When my ride got there I walked out with my backpack and a single suitcase. Brenda (my ride) asked, “Is that all you got? You stayed here all that time with just this?”

When I started packing for this trip, I made an intentional choice to pack as lite as I could. I had many things to accomplish on this trip, such as, being a best man in my brother’s wedding, run two marathons and continue to work. That made staying lite difficult. When there is a choice to have too much versus too little, I often prefer to be over prepared. This means having a lot of stuff. However, I wasn’t one hundred percent clear on all the details, so I chose to be nimble.

I did end up buying a long sleeve running shirt to use for the marathons. I had to buy some pants and shoes for the wedding. I also bought some gloves and stocking hat, because it turned winter pretty quickly. In the end, everything fit back into the single suitcase and backpack.

This is not the first time that I’ve had to think about material possessions this past year. In May, I sold the townhouse that I had lived in for ten years. It was a small townhouse at 1,000 square feet, however it’s amazing how much stuff can be jammed into a small home over the span of a decade. The process of evaluating all these possessions and getting rid of some by either throwing it away or donating it opened my eyes. It allowed me to assess the importance I place on items that have no real value for my happiness.

The even more surprising experience happened when I started moving. After I had spent the time to downsize my possessions, I thought it would be a simple move. However after 24 hours of moving items from the house to my new apartment, I finally gave in and rented a U-Haul, which still ended up full!

The minimalist lifestyle is one that has become more common, especially among millennials. One of the things I appreciate about this philosophy is that it forces someone to contemplate how they value material items. Many people that I know, including myself, often find ourselves purchasing things with an expectation of increasing our happiness. We justify our buying because we believe the purchase will make us happier by entertaining us, distracting us, making us slimmer, healthier, more fit, allowing us to fit in, improve our status, make our children content, improve our sex appeal and all the other messages that the marketing leads us to believe.

The reality is that the happiness is short lived.

Minimalism, according The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, is: “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”

When I think about having freedom, I often think about happiness. I remember starting Financial Peace University (FPU) ten years ago, with the idea that if I could remove the financial struggles in my life, then I would be happy. When I obtained a debt free status, it did change how I lived. With no credit card payments, no car payments and no student loans I was able to think differently about many things. It wasn’t just about finances, it was about being free to make choices I could never have made before.

While being debt free as a result of working through the concepts in FPU is not the same thing as being a minimalist, I believe that they are strategically aligned. In many instances, I would purchase items that I couldn’t afford, simply because I had the expectation that the new purchase would make me happier in some way. When the purchase didn’t end up changing my life, I would not only not be happier, I would be left with the debt that it created.

It was often a major drain on my happiness. It was clearly a lifestyle that stole my freedom.

The Minimalists also define minimalism in this way, “minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

When you provide space in your life, whether that space is physical space or mental and emotional space, you have the ability to make better choices on what you invite into your life.

If you are thinking about how overwhelmed you are, as you try to keep up and maintain your current lifestyle, I encourage you to consider adopting a minimalist mindset for a single day. You don’t need to commit to the philosophy forever. Take a single day and be considerate about what and how you live as a consumer.

If you are interested in making a change in the way you value material goods, I encourage you to watch the Minimalists documentary on Netflix. I also encourage you to look into the guidance of Marie Kondo and her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. These individuals provide a new way to look at material possessions. A perspective that is new and challenging for me, along with many people I am around.

I have now been back in Lexington for forty-eight hours. When I walked into my apartment, one of the first things I asked myself was “Why do I have so much stuff?”. It’s been a good experience for me. I also know that for six weeks I relied on a car to do anything. This requirement is not something I enjoyed, which is why I’ve found happiness in my return to commuting on my bike.

Is a minimalist lifestyle a requirement for happiness? I do not think it is. I do think it is a tool that we can use. It is also a philosophy that allows us to evaluate our relationship with material goods and our consumer behavior. While we can buy many things in life, I’ve yet to see a way to purchase lifelong health and happiness.