Interview: What Matters Most
I recently participated in a discussion on minimalism hosted by Jennifer from A Merry Mishap. I've included a transcript of my answers to her questions below, but I also suggest reading some of the other responses on her blog to see how the term minimalism can be interpreted in many different ways.
What does Minimalism mean to you?
Minimalism is an ubiquitous term so when I decided it was a principle I wanted to adopt, I went through the exercise of defining it for myself (vs. automatically adhering to the perceptions and definitions of others).
To me it means three things: awareness, clarity, and focus.
First, you need to have an awareness about yourself and how you perceive the world we live in (some may call this consciousness). From there comes clarity — about who you are, what you believe in, what you do and do not care about, etc. Clarity, then, allows you to have focus so you can prioritize and efficiently allocate your time, effort, and resources to what matters most.
Since the world turns and we all evolve, I regularly go through this exercise then apply it to every area of life, from work and finances to my style and relationships.
The result is that I've developed an incredible ability to simplify decision-making in most areas of life.
Is there a mental process you go through before buying or bringing something home?
Most of my purchases are made during set times a year (once at the beginning of each quarter) which helps check impulse shopping. I go through a thoughtful process of eliminating things I don't want or need, determining new things I want or need, and prioritizing based on what I have available to spend.
I don't own many things and rarely covet or yearn for things, so when I do I know it must be special. Therefore, if a few unexpected needs (or desires) come up I usually indulge them if they work within my budget and the confines of my space.
That said, I have a lot of respect for my few possessions and the one question I tend to ask before making a purchase is: will I cherish this for years to come?
It's clear that minimalism is a way of life for you, would you agree that it effects all of your choices or just some?
My ability to simplify decision-making, as mentioned, is the most important and consistent benefit of my way of life. Sometimes I may choose to overindulge or be excessive in different areas or at different times in life. However, it's the ease at which I'm able to make that choice that I care most about.
I love the quote by Oscar Wilde "everything in moderation — even moderation." In my quest for simplicity, I don't want to become too idealistic. So, yes, it's a way of thinking that's very apparent in almost every area of my life (but I have no qualms about contradicting it ever so often).
Does sustainability play a role in minimalism for you?
Increasingly so and I have to credit mypartner for his insistence on us being mindful of the impact we are having on the earth. Right now our focus is on leaving a minimal footprint by not being wasteful or using resources unnecessarily.
Though, my partner is more adamant about this than I am. For instance, he doesn't want to get a dryer so we are rack hanging our clothes — and it drives me crazy. I definitely see some cultural differences (he's German, I'm American) in how far we're willing to adjust our lifestyles for this cause.
On my radar is the ethical fashion trend as well as some of the advancements in materials and production techniques being used across the consumer goods industry in general. If I must buy something new, I'll attempt to at least consider brands that are serious about the environment.
Overall, I don't think I'm doing as much as I could but I'm trying!
What goals do you have for yourself in the new year to make sure you continue to adhere to your minimalist values?
I haven't set any new major goals or resolutions other than allocating time to walk through the awareness, clarity, and focus process — and making a few adjustments in each area of life as needed.
To add more color to this process it may be helpful to skim an essay I recently wrote called the Soul-Searching Strategy. Every year (plus during times of significant life changes) I think through these steps.
When you feel your life becomes too cluttered with unnecessary things, maybe not only objects but also commitments, what are some practical things or rituals you do to refocus on the essentials?
Oh I am ruthless about cutting things out of my life that don't need to be there — be it things, people, activities, or ideas. I tune into my gut because there's this nagging uneasy feeling that I get when something is out of balance. If I feel this for too long then I hone in on the culprit.
If it's an object I give it away without a second thought. However, some things (like people) can't just be cut at whim without causing damage. So I'm thoughtful about my approach (but once I make the decision it or they still have to go).
Are there some brands or favorite objects you own that have done the job of multiple things? Or an investment item that you know will endure trends and fads?
I see digital devices as being the objects that have had the most profound impact on our way of life and will continue to redefine how we live, work, and play. For all the pros and cons, there is no other category that has streamlined my day-to-day more.
I'm one of those who fully embrace where technology is taking us but I'm also mindful of the real setbacks (like right now I'm trying to stop using my devices in bed because it's causing pain in my wrists and iOS-induced arthritis would be a pity).
So I'm cautiously optimistic but, from Amazon Echos to Awair Air Monitors, will continue to be an early adopter of technologies that, net-net, improve quality of life.
Is there someone who embodies a great example of your ideal minimal lifestyle?
Nope! I don't really have an ideal vision of minimalist living so it's hard to flag a particular individual as being representative.
Moreover, as someone with an insatiable curiosity and who consumes a large amount of information from various sources each day, it's hard not to be open-minded and to allow multiple influences to shape my way of thinking.
So my lifestyle is more of a daily journey to some unknown destination, but I do have a little mantra that guides me:
I aspire to align all aspects of my life so they allow for the freedom and flexibility to pursue, without restriction, the simple pleasures that bring me joy, the creative service that gives me purpose, and the beauty that makes life worth living.