Since returning home after two years of travel, I’ve embraced a minimalist lifestyle. What does that look like, you wonder? I’ll get there… Living out of a backpack helped me understand that I don’t need a lot of stuff to live – in fact, most people in the developing world have less than I do. When I returned to Australia to unpack the boxes of stuff from my old life, I kept pulling things out and going “I don’t even know why I own this.”
I began to read online about the minimalism movement, which is essentially the opposite of consumerist culture. The basic belief is that you are worth more than your possessions. Minimalism values experiences over objects. Something about this rang true; I’d spent two years collecting experiences in my travels, to the shock of some, the admiration of others. Two blogs really helped me when I was going through a massive time of change – new job, new city, setting up from scratch again – Zen Habits and Becoming Minimalist. Gradually through reading these and other websites, it began to click in my head what I’d been thinking for a long time. And I wasn’t alone.
Embracing minimalism has had a huge impact on my life – from my state of mind to little things like cleaning my house. As a freelance writer and photographer, it’s had the biggest impact on my creative life. I’ve become a creative minimalist; while my writing and photographic style is not minimal (it’s loud and colourful and lively), the minimalist lifestyle enables me to focus on my creativity in a way that I couldn’t before.
Minimalism helped define my values
The thing about possessions is that they tend to fill up the empty spaces in your life (and fairly unsuccessfully, which is why we keep buying more stuff). By disconnecting my values with my possessions, I was able to give a lot more of them away. For me, the most difficult to give up were my books, and still are. But where once I was unable to ever give a single book away, I’ve now cleaned out my shelves of books I didn’t enjoy, or books I am never going to read. I still own a stack of books, but there’s now space on my shelves. Decluttering the house also reflects on the mind – I find it much easier to work in a place that is simple, open and clean because it reflects the blank slate at the start of every creative project.
Minimalism helped not only to declutter my stuff, but my time. One of my biggest goals in life was becoming a published author. I’ve wanted to be a writer since kindergarten, because I’ve always thought libraries were one of the most magical places in the world. One year on from making the decision to work part-time and work on my creative projects, I’m getting my first book published! When I have the choice to relax of an evening, I’ll often choose to turn on the digital radio and read a book for a couple of hours. Minimalism makes me conscious of my choices; where I choose to spend my time is where I put my value.
By defining your values, it’s easier to make decisions
When I know clearly what I want as a creative, it makes it easier to say yes or no to business projects and purchases. Will this help me achieve my goals as an artist? It’s as easy as yes or no. Saying yes to everything that comes up is impossible, so by knowing whether something will help you in your goals makes the decision easier. But this isn’t the same as your personal life – you shouldn’t apply “will this help me?” to dinner parties and friendships!
It also helps define longer term projects; I might have a great idea for a book, but I’m able to see more clearly the long term plan and where it fits in. My husband will often ask me when I’m brainstorming “Is this an idea or a project?” Ideas go on the back burner to percolate, projects are the ones I want to launch into in the near future. I’m a huge fan of letting ideas sit for a while; if they stick around, they’re probably good ideas.
The added benefit of minimalism is that money doesn’t drive my decision making process. While it’s great to get a paycheck, I also place equal (if not more) value on achieving my long-term goals as an artist.
Minimalism reduces distractions and encourages creativity
By changing the way I make decisions, I also chose where my time is spent. I am more aware of the amount of time I spend on my phone flicking through updates. I’ve installed an app called QualityTime to monitor how much my phone is getting used each day and try to keep it to 1 hour, unless I’m using it for work purposes.
Distraction is the enemy of creativity. I’ve been mulling over the ideas in this piece from Brain Pickings for a long time. I’ve always been someone who has enjoyed staring out the window, but the constant distractions and alerts from phones and devices means that people are never allowing themselves to be bored and let their mind wander, which for me is one of the essential elements of developing creativity. How many times on the way home from work have you seen people with their heads in their phone never looking up, blocked off from the world with headphones?
I use my transit time to write, read or just observe people. You’ll never be a great writer if you’re not a great observer. Think about this: what are you going to gain from reading one more list of the most amazing animated gifs of the top ten funniest things you’ll ever see! OMG!? But you could gain a great idea from simple observation.
Deciding to use my spare time to write rather than watch TV or play on my phone has also given me a great sense of mental calm. I am doing what I always wanted to do, which is the key to being truly satisfied.