Living Unplugged is not a single thought or a single approach, it’s more of a statement of intent. It’s bound up in a number of common sense ideas around the way we interact with our technology, how we conduct our interpersonal relationships and the things we can do to reconnect with more meaningful and fulfilling experiences.
For us, bound up with Living Unplugged is the adherence to what I would describe as soft minimalism. Soft minimalism is not about trying to live in a white room with only 40 possessions – that would feel like a punishment. Soft minimalism is simply about being more intentional in the things we surround ourselves with. It should complement and enhance the life we want to lead.
Minimalism is not new, but it is getting a lot of attention at the moment – partly due to these guys I came across via a documentary on Netflix – The Minimalists.
This inspiring film detailed the journey that Joshua Fields-Milburn and his best friend, Ryan Nicodemus went on to become minimalists. Joshua especially was inspired to make some fairly radical changes to his life following the death of his mother and the breakdown of his marriage (all in the same month!). Often it takes a crisis to inspire us to change. I know that my father’s death prompted me to make some fairly life-changing decisions.
For Joshua and Ryan, minimalism has become a structure that helps them retain control of their lives whilst giving them the freedom to enjoy the things that are really important to them – family, community, work, leisure…
After watching the documentary and bingeing on their podcasts, I was compelled to take a hard look at the piles of stuff that I’ve been accumulating over the last 20 years.
Many of us in the west are brought up to see the accumulation of possessions as both desirable and necessary to participate in our society. We are effectively handed a template for living by our parents and peers.
Work hard, get a job. Buy a house. Fill the house. Get a better job. Buy a bigger house. Fill that house with more stuff…. And so on. Most of us don’t stop to think whether we need most of the things we fill our lives with. Many of us don’t even consider whether we need the size of house we have – I know I didn’t. We just buy the biggest/best property we can afford to raise a mortgage against. The same goes for cars, TVs, cookware, clothes, books, ornaments, bikes, holidays… the list is endless.
We earn more, so we spend more. In the UK, we have record levels of debt because we don’t even think about whether we can afford a certain item, we only look at whether we can afford the repayments.
If any of this sounds like your story, you are not alone. Although I’ve never considered myself to be a big spender, I would often be thinking of the next upgrade, the next gadget on Amazon. Why should I save for that new watch when I could have it now and pay it off using my credit card? We’ve all bought into the idea that if we want something we should have it.
But credit cards, loans, mortgages all add up. We are a generation of people on relatively good money, living from paycheque to paycheque. As Joshua said – “I earned good money but the problem was I spent even better money”.
So I looked at the boxes of stuff I’d been moving from house to house, loft to loft (attic to attic for our American friends) and realised that most of it was stuff I hadn’t looked at in years. I had clothes I never wore, but didn’t get rid of because there was nothing wrong with them. A pile of half used notebooks I’d not opened in years. On the back of bedroom door hung a climbing harness, a reminder of when I used to go climbing 10 years ago.
All this stuff, boxes under the bed, piles of books, drawers full of clothes, folders full of photos I never look at – I started to realise how oppressive all these things were. I would glance at the climbing harness as feel bad because I’d not been climbing in years or I would go to the loft for something and feel a pang of guilt that I’d never put the photos into albums. How can a packet of photos make me feel guilty? It’s nuts.
I started to apply a rule to all this stuff. Had I used it in the last 90 days? Was I likely to use it in the next 90 days? No? Get rid of it.
I filled five car loads with stuff. All the clothes I would take out of my drawer look at put back in. All those free t-shirts and ill fitting trousers. All the books I’ll never read again, the extra three kitchen scissors and the collection of Tupperware with no matching lids. The climbing harness, the shoes that always hurt my feet, my plastic bag collection, by tote bag collection, the photos (most of which I had digitally), my 18 year old university coursework. The list goes on.
Some of it went to charity, some of it went on to Ebay, some of it I burnt and the rest went to the recycling centre.
There are somethings that fall outside this rule. The ‘just for when’ items. Christmas decorations, camping equipment and the like. These are things I will probably only use a couple of times a year, but I know I’ll need them. This is as opposed to the ‘just in case’ items. Just In Case – three words that mean you’ll keep a box filled with dried up pens.
Our house it still fairly cluttered, but minimalism is an ongoing process. We now keep a box by the front door, and whenever I see something that has no purpose in our house or doesn’t provide us with value or joy I put it in the box. When the box is full, I take it to the local charity shop.
I can honestly report that the moment that box is removed from the house, I feel a weight lifted. It’s amazing how the simple act of reducing the amount of stuff in your life can make such a difference to your mental wellbeing.
More stuff out, less stuff in
For me the first step was to recognise that we don’t need to surround ourselves with stuff in order to feel safe or satisfied. This has really helped me when I find myself wandering through a shop or looking at amazon.
When purchasing stuff online has become so easy and so instant, we need to be mindful of the reasons for spending money. I try to apply the same rules to stuff I buy as I do to the stuff in my loft.
Did I need it yesterday?
Will I need it tomorrow?
Will it give me value?
It’s surprising how easy it becomes to not buy things.
Sales are not savings
I started writing this article because today is Amazon Prime day in the UK. I was struck by how easy it is to kid yourself that a TV that’s reduced by 50% to £200 suddenly feels like a bargain. However, if you don’t need a TV then it’s still £200. We fall into a trap of seeing the price reduction as a saving. It’s not. It’s a cost. And quite often it’s a cost for something we don’t need.
Prime Day is a brilliant bit of marketing, and if you’re already in need of a specific item then waiting for Prime Day makes sense. For most of us though, Prime Day becomes an excuse to browse through screens and screens of things we never thought we wanted until we saw that it’s been reduced by £150. I’m not going to go into the psychology of why we think that a price reduction is like money in our pocket – logically you know it isn’t. Just remember to ask yourself – ‘If it wasn’t on sale, would I still want it?’
Focusing on the important things
Soft minimalism isn’t about denial or sacrifice. It’s about being intentional in the things you buy and surround yourself with. By reducing the amount of stuff we have to clean, store and pay for we can focus on the bits of our lives that provide real joy and satisfaction.
When we invest objects with value beyond what we need them to do for us and when we start to love the feeling of ownership rather than enjoying the value they add to our lives; that’s when our priorities go out of whack.
As The Minimalists are fond of saying…
Love people, use things. Because the opposite never works.
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