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The Evolution of Less

When people call me a “minimalist”, I think it has more to do with what they think I am, than what I’m really seeking. Granted, I don’t mind being called a minimalist, even if it’s in one of those sentences like “Don’t give anything to Kevin for Christmas, he’ll minimalize it!”.

In fact, I kind of wear it now as a badge of honour as opposed to fearing it like a criticism of my character. To be honest, at the beginning of our journey, I really took offence to these types of comments way, way too often.

Eventually, a change in how I perceived others’ comments and jokes and criticisms led me recently to start understanding the journey of minimalism.

In July 2020, our family played the 30-day Minimalism game, made famous by The Minimalists, Josh and Ryan. If you aren’t familiar – it’s a challenge where on day one, each person gets rid of one item. Something hiding somewhere, something of excess, something never used, something that doesn’t fit anymore, etc. On day two, each person gets rid of two of said items. Day three, three items. And so on until day thirty; thirty items each.

As you can expect, the first week is pretty easy for most. Then it gets tougher from there, until that last several days that will truly test your understanding of need versus want.

Our family of four (myself, my wife, and our boys aged 11 and 8) went all-in and the grand total after 30 days – a whopping 1,860 items – were gone. Given away, donated, sold, or if unwanted, trashed.

When we finished, it felt great. It really gave us a sense of accomplishment. A sense that we were on the right path, and that we felt freedom from the shackles of “stuff”.

Of course, when we let go of so many items, there were some that hurt. Some that we cringed about because they either represented sunk money, or some age-old sentimental value.

Of course, this process taught us something, and since then we’ve done very well at purchasing only those things that were either necessary, or would in the long run truly enhance our lives. Ironically, those “meaningful” purchases seem so few and far between these days, amidst a new appreciation for what we’ve already let go. In other words, we’ve become much better at analyzing potential purchases, recognizing the allure of advertising, and seeing through them to find out if they really would add any real value to our lives. We have found that very, very few actually do.

This was the biggest shift in our thought process – and for the most part it has really allowed us not to “slip back” into purchasing as a means of finding happiness or meaning.

But today, quite randomly, I realized that something else has changed too.

This morning, I was doing my typical Saturday morning tidy-up. I actually like it – it recreates a calm and peaceful space in a house of four, with two of those four being active 11 and 8 year-old boys who are still learning what I only learned just recently about “stuff".

As I looked around at the various spaces in the home – I purposefully took note of anything we had “added” to our lives since the big minimalizing of 2020. And I was pleased to find, well, not much at all. Almost nothing “new” in fact. But I also realized that something else had shifted.

The shift was in how I had perceived our minimal space.

After the 2020 purge, our home felt very different. “Good different” of course, but kind of like the moment after you take your Christmas tree and decorations down and you see all this empty space.

But today, despite not having really added anything new in terms of consumer purchases, I again felt that we had simply too much. You might not think so if you were allowed in our home, but still.

I knew that I could walk around with a dozen bins (stealthily while my family wasn’t watching) and secretly fill them with stuff none of them would ever know was gone. Sure, they might notice that sudden feeling of “less” or “blank space”; but my guess is that they’d not be able to name more than a couple items they thought might be hidden in those secret bins, if any at all.

So what I realized today was that my perspective on stuff has changed, yet again. That my “new normal” (to steal a pandemic phrase) isn’t yet where I want it. There is still work to be done. The empty space I revelled in just 8 months ago no longer feels as minimal as I would like.

And so we begin again. Things that survived the purge of 2020 will be re-examined; things we deemed must-saves were in fact not and will ultimately meet a new owner, or their final destination. And when we’re done this round – I’m sure we will feel that sense of “less” again – and that will no doubt equal renewed peace, calm and meaning.

Then the question is, in a few months, will I look around the same way once again? Will I again say, this “new, new normal” is still not yet what we want?

I have heard from those who have travelled this same path that it is just that – a path. Not a finite destination. So perhaps this is the natural progression of this journey towards less. Until now, my brain has been wired to go either all-in or not at all; so perhaps this is one of those life changes that not only brings a calmer existence, but teaches me to enjoy the journey as much as looking to the finish line.

And since the process of evolving to a life of less – a life of minimalism – can be challenging at times, it is these lessons along the path that help us understand the goal. It helps us figure out just what exactly creates real meaning and value for us.

I can say with certainty that now, the lens with which I view “need” is indeed a lot smaller that it was 8 months ago. And every day that lens is shrinking; which in the end, is really the fundamental goal.

The lens with which we view importance and meaning must be brutally clear.

Now, where are those damn bins? Did I already get rid of those too?

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Mar 14, 2021

I love that. "teaches me to enjoy the journey as much as looking to the finish line." - there is so much joy in the journey that we so often miss as we sprint toward the finish line. Beautiful.


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