My new year’s resolution comes in the wake of a year of extreme excess. I’ll admit that I did my fair share of spontaneous buying, attempting to purchase or otherwise get my hands on virtually any gadget, gizmo, or whatzit that caught my eye. This meant less money in savings, and paved a longer road toward our ultimate goal of owning a house.
My wife and I are hardly minimalists. We spend a great deal of our lives surrounded by the noises of television, radio, YouTube, Angry Birds, and everything else that we have become accustomed to surrounding ourselves with. Our daily routine is one giant series of noises and distractions from the moment we wake until we finally hit the pillow at night.
To put it simply, we live in a controlled chaos. We’re not alone as more and more Americans are falling into that same technological trap. Our smartphones, tablets, and desktop and laptop computers are all portals to a greater and seemingly endless stream of distractions within.
How many apps do you need on your phone? How much software do you really need to enjoy your desktop computing experience? How much stuff is sitting in your closet right now gathering dust only weeks after being bought because you simply couldn’t see yourself living without them? I know I have more than a few printers, scanners, and otherwise that I only used once or twice before vanishing them to the office closet.
What Are the Benefits of Minimalism?
Simply put, minimalist living means cutting down on the things you can do without and concentrating on what you really need. A life of excess and abundance may sound appealing on the surface, but it can ultimately decrease your ability to enjoy the things you do have.
I decided to ask two of my friends — who had taken on a minimalist lifestyle at one point or another — how they felt about the overall concept. One of them, Eric, had actually practiced minimalism actively for a year. He described his experience. “You find a new appreciation for the things you have,” he said, “minimalism has a great reward in making your life seem richer. You live in the moment, not distracted by the nonsense you fill your life with. Having something new for lunch became a treat, I remember enjoying the fruits of my workouts more, and I felt great. The sun was brighter, the air sweeter. It was fantastic!”
Daniel, another member of our weekly gaming group, described his experience with minimalism. “You remove yourself from all the little distractions in life. You start to focus on what really matters to you. Instead of focusing on 100 different things, you focus on 10. You become really picky as to what those 10 things are. You enjoy everything more.”
Downsizing what you have has a number of excellent benefits. You can sell almost anything and make back some of the money you initially invested. You gain extra space in your home. Another advantage often overlooked is that these products are taken out of your mind. They no longer pose a distraction or a waste of time. You’re no longer tempted to take your mind off something more important to spend time on excess.
Getting started is probably the hardest part. In my case, I’m married, so the amount of steps I can take are naturally limited by the needs of my spouse. This creates a virtual wall that separates what’s yours to remove, and what shared resources to which you both stake a claim.
Ideally, you’ll want to evaluate your time. How much time do you spend watching television? How much time do you spend sitting in front of your computer? If you could eliminate steps or excesses from that schedule, what could you get rid of?
In my case, I’ve decided that the amount of television I watch should be limited to only two or three shows. That’s two to three hours per week spent watching those shows, giving me a 90% reduction in the amount of time I actually spend watching television or video podcasts. This extra time can be better allocated to other things, or concentrating more on the few things I decide are worth making a larger part of my life.
Computer time is required in my line of work. It’s important that I spend some amount of time checking tech blogs, reading the news, and getting caught up with the various Web-based services that I’m tasked with writing about during my day-to-day work. For that reason, limiting or otherwise reducing my on-screen time becomes a challenge. This article wouldn’t be written if it weren’t for some time being spent on screen.
I did, however, discover multiple subscriptions and other tasks that served as little more than distractions. Netflix is great, but at the end of the day, how many episodes of Star Trek do I really need to have playing throughout the day?
Another area to consider is your hardware. How many gadgets do you surround yourself with at home? Do you have a smartphone, desktop, laptop, tablet, iPod, camcorder, and more filling up your desk space? How many hours per week do you actually spend on each of these? Can you get your work done and entertain yourself without some of them? In my case, the iPod nano is great, but I can just as easily use the iPhone for listening to music during walks. Selling the iPod would do very little to decrease my actual content consumption, though it would serve the purpose of downsizing my overall footprint while adding some funds to my pocketbook.
This transition is about separating needs and wants. Nobody really needs an iPhone. A solution as simple as a pre-paid phone that does little more than makes and receives calls will do the job. Do I really need to receive email at the grocery store?
While I’m certainly not going to the extreme of taking on minimalism as my core philosophy, I believe making a strong divide between needs and wants can do a lot of good at this point in my own life. I’ve learned over the years that if you want to get something large, satisfying smaller wants along the way only works to delay the gratification of achieving your goal. Every game you buy, gadget you pick up, and luxury you partake in can set you back from your long-term goal. If you saved $10,000 in a year by cutting back on excess expenditures, you’ll be halfway towards the down payment that could put you in a nicer house, better car, or another year of higher education.
These are my reasons for taking on minimalism as my new year’s resolution. What is your resolution for 2012?