Having adopted a minimalist lifestyle for more than eighteen months now, meaningful shifts in my life have become easier to identify. Minimalism is analogous to a diet at first. Positive changes are noticed almost immediately but unlike many popular diets, minimalism is a tool that offers long-term sustainable health benefits. Following the initial six-month period of being a minimalist, new ideas and routines cemented themselves into daily habits. When such patterns are regularly repeated, day after day, week after week, it is a rewarding process identifying and comparing new routines with old ones.
How I live my life now is remarkably different from my pre-minimalism days in regard to my approach to all aspects of my life. My intentions are far different from what they used to be, I now know my true passions and values and I’m more deliberate with the things that I do.
Yet there are three key pillars of my life which are all probably interlinked or related where minimalism has really made a significant difference.
Before minimalism I had little routine regarding food, shopping and my diet. Shopping was sometimes sporadic, sometimes frequent, sometimes mid-week or sometimes I’d shop at the weekend. Occasionally I’d plan a couple of meals ahead of time or buy lunches for when I knew I would need them, other times I would not plan at all and buy more food than I needed. The one certitude was that at the end of each week I would always have food waste.
Besides food waste, I also felt that when it came to shopping, a high degree of mental energy and an unnecessary level of physical effort was required. Creating shopping lists, deciding what lunch we’d eat for any given day or going to the supermarket without a list and buying what I felt we’d eat that upcoming week, all seemed as though it exerted more mental energy than required. Sometimes it felt draining.
Not only did I feel the effort of getting food into our home was tiring, cooking meals also felt strenuous. Without having an initial meal plan often meant that I’d open our cupboards and simply mix and match whatever was in there to cook a meal that evening. Since this meal would not mirror my original intention (the one I had whilst at the supermarket), this was one of the biggest contributors to our food waste.
Equipped with the minimalist toolbelt, I identified exactly what I wanted from my diet and from my shopping experience. I asked myself how much time and energy food and shopping were consuming and how much time and energy I was willing to afford them.
I also identified new values.
Eating a plethora of locally sourced fruit and vegetables whilst getting to know local, smaller business and their families have become important pillars in my life. Therefore, this became my number one intention.
I also considered how much time I wanted to spend preparing and cooking food, how frequently I wanted to visit larger supermarket chains and how much time I wanted to spend queuing whilst I was there. I recognised that this was not an enjoyable experience nor was it one that I wanted to afford a significant portion of my time or energy toward so I ensured that this would be reduced. To help accomplish this I purchased a meal planner app that automatically creates shopping lists based on the weekly planned meals. I also ensured that my range of meals, which includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, smoothies and pre-workout snacks consisted of a maximum number of 28, and I created recipes that were predominately fruit, vegetable or legume based allowing me to purchase the majority of our ingredients from our local fruit and veg store.
The results from this change are striking. I now have new relationships and new connections with those that work at our local stores, so these visits are enjoyable, interesting and I’m happy spending my time there.
My time and effort planning meals is significantly reduced as I now plan and prepare the majority of my weekly meals the weekend ahead of time. The intuitive interface and functionality of the meal app means generating meal plans and shopping lists is extremely easy and requires less than 5 minutes of time. I spend less time and energy visiting and queuing at the larger, busier supermarket chains as the majority of our ingredients have been purchased previously from our local fruit and veg store.
More importantly we now produce almost zero food waste. On occasion, if we fail to take fruit to work or we failed to remember an existing lunch date, we may end the week with one or two items left over, however this is rarely the case and these items can often be frozen or blitzed into a smoothie. As one of my intentions on my minimalism journey was to reduce food waste, this is a rewarding outcome.
Before my minimalism days, I would freely spend money without consideration. Purchases of material goods included jeans, trainers, Amazon gadgets and more coffee than my body actually needed. As a result of the poor aforementioned meal planning, I would also spend daily on lunches and snacks which, combined with my material purchasing habits, reduced my focus and my importance for building savings.
Additionally, I had little discipline when it came to savings. I was not afraid of spending savings I had accumulated to date and I disregarded future scenarios which may require me to call on these reserves.
Minimalism opened the door to excellent tools such as the Simple Year module, produced by Courtney Carver, and this allowed me to identify, almost to the pound, how recklessly I spent my money. It enabled me to completely re-imagine my finances, group related expenditure together and for the first time in my life, define a budget. The tool is designed to help simplify your life by focusing on a different topic each month, analysing all aspects of daily life. The Simple Year module included a month focused solely on money and it was this module which transformed my approach to spending and refocused my financial priorities.
As a result, I now have three money pots within my Monzo account; Meaningful Savings, Short-Term Savings and Spending Money.
- Meaningful Savings is my future security pot and the largest of my monthly contributions. Whether this be for large emergency spends or to support my retirement, this is a pot where I simply do not allow myself to access it, unless absolutely necessary.
- Short-Term Savings are for planned upcoming activities, holidays or weekend breaks. This includes events such as gigs, cinema, food and drink festivals or birthday gifts/experiences.
- Spending Money is the money I know I need to spend on recurring monthly items such as personal care products. My Spending Money pot has the smallest of my monthly contributions and it’s the pot that I use for activities such as meeting friends for coffee, going for meals with my wife or weekends spent visiting my family.
Akin to food wastage, my money “waste” is significantly reduced. I define money waste as the money I have spent which cannot be accounted for. The Simple Year module included a task whereby three months of all expenditure is highlighted to help identify purchases that cannot be recalled. Over a 3-month period, I spent in excess of £400 on unaccounted purchases. Not only was this scary, it was a realisation of the severity of my reckless spending.
As a result, I now have a defined monthly budget, an inaccessible meaningful savings account, and I spend my money much more deliberately on experiences or time with friends and family which is more valuable and memorable. Just like food, my money waste is minimal and is certainly accounted for.
Time & Energy
I believe this pillar is an intrinsic link to both my previous pillars; Food and Money. Time and energy are precious commodities and if spent negatively, they have the ability to increase stress and inflammation within our body. For example, waking daily via my mobile phone alarm and checking news, social media or work email, often lead to reading something which was more negative than positive. Before getting out of bed, I had therefore already experienced a small, sub-surface stressor that would sit with me throughout the day.
I used minimalism to identify where my time and energy was misused and to also identify triggers around my home which sparked small stressors to my emotional or physical state.
Regardless of task size, I wanted to reduce my time and energy spent on all activities that were not important, not enjoyable or did not add value to my life. I wanted my daily routine to be almost militant. So, I set out to remove all small stressors that I believe were truly unproductive and maybe even harmful.
For the purpose of this article, I’ve decided to limit the number of examples which I feel caused small, subconscious or emotional stressors to three. My reason for sharing these three examples in particular are that I feel many readers may be able to relate to these and that these examples are also those that I experienced on a daily or weekly basis.
- Cleaning always felt laborious and a task which required two sets of hands at least one day, every other week. Cleaning is not something I found enjoyable or a productive use of my time, yet for cleanliness and hygenic reasons it is required. However, the time and energy previously spent on cleaning felt imbalanced. It also caused emotional stress as I’d often think I could be using my time on something more productive.
- Kitchen utensils were always a challenge to find. One draw containing a large draw organiser enclosed all of our cooking utensils. In the moment of cooking a meal, I did not want to waste time and energy searching for the one utensil I required, I just wanted it to hand. Again, a small stressor yet a stressor nonetheless.
- My wardrobe was also a space that caused stressors. Winter and summer clothes mixed within each other’s space, ironed garments mixed with non-ironed garments and unworn clothes that were still hanging proudly got in the way of deciding what to wear on a daily basis. Another small stressor but one which occurred regularly throughout each week.
- Cleaning. My wife and I decided to minimise more than half of our ornamental possessions. This task freed up furniture space and also mental space which as a result, significantly reduced our cleaning time. The less we own, the less we have to clean and importantly the less time and energy cleaning requires.
- Kitchen utensils. My aforementioned food pillar which discussed my 28 maximum meals means I now require far less utensils. We parted ways with 80% of our cooking utensils meaning the task of locating a specific apparatus is easy, quick and requires little thought.
- My wardrobe. I assessed my clothes and donated items that I either no longer wore, haven’t worn or those I’m unlikely to wear in the future. I also introduced compartments that separate summer from winter clothing which helps me to avoid the effort of subconsciously ignoring items that are inappropriate to the season on a daily basis. I now have a single draw that is dedicated to non-ironed garments so these do not confuse from the clothes I can wear. Another small change but one that reduces daily irritations.
Not having to search for a utensil or not having to worry about ignoring clothes that are inappropriate to wear during a given season may seem trivial or insignificant, yet their impact cannot be overlooked. Small stressors like this may feel below the surface or immaterial yet a study conducted by Kate Leger — from the University of California, found that small stressors which linger or are repeated daily can have important implications for our long-term physical and mental health.
Often stress is attributed to large events in life such as work deadlines, quitting or starting a new job, marriage, divorce, death etc. however, small events that cause minor frustrations or change our emotional state are still regarded as stress so we cannot simply deem these negligible for not falling into one of life’s more recognised stress categories.
By minimising my material and physical items to own only the items that are essential, I feel lighter and free from daily irritations which I used to experience.
The biggest positive which I’ve noticed from adopting my minimalist lifestyle is the increased time and energy gained as a result of the reduction of my life’s waste. However, reducing my inefficient spent energy and the positive of creating more time in my life is only beneficial if I’m able to put this time and energy to good use. I therefore identified activities that I found enjoyable and educational that I could direct my newly found time and energy towards; two of these being learning French and growing my own fruit and vegetables.
Could I have made these positive changes without minimalism? Maybe, but most probably not. Minimalism is a life approach and a mentality that applies towards all aspects of life. Without minimalism I could not have identified the important pillars in my life and making drastic and positive changes would have been extremely difficult. Minimalism created the much-needed time in my life to carefully consider the constructive changes I wanted to make and provided me the tools and framework to make these changes carefully, deliberately and successfully.