This is a guest post by Jaclyn McCosker, a freelance writer from regional Queensland, Australia. Vegan, minimalist and an aspiring zero-waster, Jaclyn’s background in international development has ultimately led to an interest in the way our consumer behaviour impacts the world around us. You can read more at jaclynmccosker.com.
From a time before we’re even born, possessions begin to shape who we are. The very act of our conception is celebrated with gifts that begin to pre-determine our identity. These gifts when chosen by colour and design begin to decide things such as our gender identity (whether we are a pink or blue baby), our music taste, our sports teams, our political affiliations and so much more. The clothes and toys of our childhood go on to shape much of our tastes later in life, as well as our relationships with possessions and money.
For most, this reliance on physical goods to craft a sense of identity never goes away. From birth to death, what we accumulate and how much we accumulate is used as a measure of both our personality and of our success in life. The ability to buy what we want when we want is considered a yardstick of success by which we ought to measure up. And this is precisely the kind of existence minimalists typically wish to step away from. To step away from using possessions to craft an identity and to move towards knowing and loving ourselves without the clutter. To learn to be happy with less. After all, if you lost everything you owned tomorrow, would you cease to be yourself?
Minimalism tends to come with simple mindset switches that allow aspiring minimalists to remove the emotional attachment to physical possessions. It involves a deeper understanding of what you want and need, rather than what marketing tells you that you should want or need. If you never saw another advertisement again, what would you still buy? What do you enjoy? What makes you happy? What do you think you genuinely need in life?
Recognise impulsive buying
The first step is to recognise the purchases you’re making on impulse versus the purchases of things you need. A little mindfulness and self-awareness go a long way. Pause to think every time you pull out your money. What are you buying right now? Are you buying something you want and will cherish, or are you just buying something because well, it was there!?
Know you are more than your impulse desires. Spending that money might be fun right now, but that does not make it the most fun option for you. We are more than the fleeting spike of dopamine we get from a new purchase. Real satisfaction comes from a long-term commitment to our values and the things that bring us deep joy. Saving money on that souvenir today can add up to a real investment into something valuable later down the track. Your values and your commitment to happiness are stronger than the impulse to make cheap and easy purchases.
What do you already own?
What in your life brings you genuine happiness, and what just sucks your mental energy by sitting in the corner while you fail to use it? Taking stock of what’s already in our lives can be a great way to consider what already makes us happy. We should question which things we get enjoyment from, and which things just bog us down and make us feel guilty for not having enough spare time to enjoy them. Have you ever written a list of the things you own? You’d be shocked by how long it is. It’s never too late to take stock of what is already in your life and how it impacts on your happiness.
My favourite minimalist mindset trick is to ask yourself this: What would be the worst-case scenario if you did not own a certain item? If the worst-case scenario does not seem serious, it’s unlikely you need it. The worst-case scenario of living without a toothbrush can be pretty serious, for example. But the worst-case scenario of not owning a third pink tank top? Let’s pop that baby in the donation pile.
What is important to you?
What is it that you value? Like, really value? Is it family, your well-being, or owning the full box set of How I Met Your Mother? If you could choose, would you choose the short-term high of a shopping spree, or would you want more time, money and energy to devote to friends, family, your health or your career? There are so many parts of our life that bring us happiness that doesn’t come in a MYER bag.
An effective minimalist life hack is to sit down and write a list of things that you value and things that you enjoy doing. What hobbies do you practice rain, hail or shine? Which parts of your life do you enjoy spending the most time in. For example, could it be spending more time with your partner or planning annual vacations? Write a list. Read it over. Read it twice. Now cross-compare it to that list of things that you own. Take note of where your stuff doesn’t match your values. Where are you investing time, money and energy into things that aren’t contributing to the lifestyle you want to be living?
By choosing not to define our identity through physical possessions, we can reduce the energy we give to that which does not enrich our lives and make more space for true happiness. That’s the power of minimalism: Prioritising what makes you happy. No matter how little or how much we own, all that matters is that it aligns with the life we want. The goals you work to over a lifetime say a lot more about you than what you fill your home with today. If you were to lose everything you owned you would still be you when you wake up tomorrow, and your values would still be your own. Get to know what those are, and you can begin to build a life that brings you happiness, always.