Second Chance Minimalism: Relearning to Live with Less

This article originally appeared on No Sidebar.

I never imagined my journey with minimalism would lead me here:

To living off the bare essentials, to wrestling with a deep craving to share not only my material belongings, but the intricate moments that make up each of my days, to learning that saying no in the short-run can lead to a lot more saying yes in the long-run. I never imagined it, and yet, it’s been one of my greatest teachers and steadiest motivators over the past several years.

Long before I encountered the concept of minimalism, I’d been living a minimalist lifestyle. I had no idea that there was an entire movement devoted to the values I was already incorporating into my living space, spending habits, and leisure time. I’d never felt an inner urge to keep up with my more materially-inclined friends and found clear countertops and empty closet spaces oddly satisfying and deeply inspiring.

The idea that less is more was so fundamentally ingrained in my way of being, I was hard-pressed to imagine any alternative.

Living with less was always an intentional choice, albeit an easy one. I rarely struggled with overspending, cluttered cabinets, or simply having “too much”. On the contrary, I frequently donated unworn closet attire and easily parted with items that had already served their purpose. I seemed to have a natural immunity to the temptations and shallow promises of a consumer-driven society.

Until one day, my circumstances changed.

I was suddenly in over my head financially, as basic expenses quickly became nearly impossible to afford. Having a full fridge and a roof over my head no longer felt like givens but out-of-reach luxuries, as a steady income escaped the realms of something upon which I could rely.

For a time, the values I held so dear, openly embraced, and actively lived became frighteningly real. Instead of voluntarily committing to a year of no shopping, I was committing to feeling guilty about replacing worn-out essentials. Instead of investing in experiences, I was investing in my inner drive to keep going.

My newfound sense of lack and longing felt foreign, and certainly was not something I’d ever associated with the rewarding lifestyle I’d chosen.

Over the course of weeks and months though, I began to feel a shift occurring. Instead of feeling depleted by the challenges I was facing, I started feeling more connected to them and the ways they were working in my life. I gradually found myself feeling more appreciative of my minimalist lifestyle, and the personal strength it had fostered.

When I was faced with losing what little I had, I began to cherish it more: the few photos that adorned my walls reminding me of places I loved, the turquoise tea kettle I used daily that brought a sense of warmth to my kitchen, the dozen books that lined my windowsill, handpicked favorites I knew I’d never tire of reading.

Around the same time, I began a daily gratitude practice, regularly noting small graces that are all too easy to take for granted: the early morning sun peeking in through the blinds, home-cooked meals, thoughtful notes from friends, a favorite song playing on the radio. I reveled in the challenge of finding things to be grateful for each day; no matter how inconsequential they seemed, they were often what delivered a sense of hope and security.

The lifestyle I had chosen in a way began to choose me. It continually urged me to remember what I derived from it, and the meaning it gave to my most trying of times. It reminded me of those who were living with far less than I was, and inspired my desire to give back in more thoughtful ways. It amplified my deepest understanding that the things we think will make us happy rarely do, and that there is so much more contentment to be found in the people, places, and overwhelmingly simple moments that keep us going.

My journey has not been an easy one, yet I wouldn’t trade in the teachings it engendered along the way. Here are a few:

1. Maintain an abundance mindset

I’ll never forget when a friend said to me, “imagine if you could only live with what you have now for the rest of your life.” These few words immediately shifted my perspective, in terms of both what I owned and how I lived. Feeling a constant urge to upgrade our gadgets and acquire the latest models deprives us of the rich experience of being content with what we have and tuning into the present moments of our lives. By simply entertaining the idea that what you have is enough, you begin to quiet thoughts that lead to the pursuit of more.

2. Lean into your challenges

By averting our challenges, we often only create additional hardships. We cannot choose the struggles we’ll face, but we also don’t get to choose the good that will come out of them. I’ve found that it’s only by accepting the difficulties that arise in our lives, that we can fully open ourselves to the ways they’ll shape and guide us.

3. Be deliberate

Minimalism is not about mindlessly cleaning out your closets or depriving yourself of meaningful belongings, but about cultivating a lifestyle that is fully reflective of your values and innermost self. When your environment mirrors this, it becomes easier to tune in to the things that bring you a sense of peace and calm when the going gets tough.

4. Share your story

It’s not always easy to expose our vulnerabilities, but it’s almost always rewarding. We can fool ourselves into thinking we’re alone in our experiences by staying silent, but when we have the courage to share them, we quickly learn that we’re surrounded by others going through the same. Speaking our truths is greatly empowering, and can serve as a catalyst for others to voice their own.