So this weekend marks a special date for me. It is exactly 2 years to the day that I moved to Berlin. I’ve been reflecting on my time here, what I’ve learned, and the way it changed me as a person. One thing that I can absolutely say for sure is that I have realised the power of a minimalist life.
Moving is a difficult thing to do. When I first received word that we were moving to Berlin, my feeling of elation was quickly followed by a feeling of dread: how was I going to get rid of my stuff?
Living in Dublin for 10 years, I had gathered up my fair share of stuff. After working in HMV during college, I had built up an impressive collection of DVDs. After working in fashion retail also during college, I had a wardrobe bursting with things that I didn’t wear anymore. Moving abroad meant I spent the summer of 2015 sorting through what was going to a charity shop, what I was going to give to friends, what I was going to keep, sell, or throw out.
“The things you own end up owning you.”
– Chuck Palahniuk
I arrived a few weeks later in Berlin with 2 bags and feeling a thousand kilograms lighter. In the time since then I’ve bought a few new items of clothing, but only to replace something that had been worn out.
Getting rid of most of my stuff made me question why it is we need to own so much, where this pressure comes from, and what we can do about it to own fewer things and feel happier with our current belongings.
Our Current Society
Advertising has changed in ways that I feel we haven’t really noticed yet. Influencers, actresses and some musicians are advertising certain brands and products.
We also buy new things, when previously it was acceptable to borrow things. Borrow DVDs, games and CDs because the chances are, you’ll watch or play them once. If you need something for a fancy occasion and you only need to wear it once, like a bag or dress for a work party or wedding, maybe try to borrow that too.
After much thought, I feel like I’ve isolated a few of the main sources of this pressure:
- Youtubers who peddle Asos and Primark hauls in the hope that it will make you happy, like they appear to be.
- Retailers and their suppliers hope that you will buy things to fill the void in your life.
- Advertising, in the various forms whether it be your favourite actress on the red carpet, reality TV person, instagrammer, sports personality, a billboard, magazine or website.
- Certain ‘news’ and gossip publications bully
people women for wearing the same thing on more than one occasion, so we feel pressure to buy more clothes.
- Society that uses words like ‘stingy’ to describe people who are satisfied with their lot, and just don’t want to buy something even if it is half price.
As someone who works in tech, I feel extra pressure to have the most up to date mobile device, even though my current one works perfectly. It’s the single biggest reason for my moving to Android – no one notices when you’re not using the latest Sony Xperia.
But the truth is that the more we consume, the more it disappoints us that we don’t feel happy for owning those things.
“The More You Own, The More It Weighs You Down”
– Jaime Lannister
Not everyone gets the whole ‘minimal’ thing. You might have friends who will tell you that you’re being stingy. But owning more stuff isn’t the path to being happy – as much as advertisers would like you to believe it.
Here are my tips on how you can start moving towards having a minimalist life, carefully curating the items that surround you to streamline your home and make you feel happier and more content with your current situation.
1. Have Your Own Style
It’s better to have your own style than to follow trends. I’m quite lucky in that I work at a start-up, it’s usually casual attire for work. I’ve developed a bit of a preppy vibe with skinny jeans, flat shoes (or boots in winter) and either a blouse, t-shirt or sweater. Whenever I need to buy something, I’ll ask myself it will work with everything else I own, and only then do I get it.
2. Minimalist Wardrobe
Designers are all about streamlining their process, but have you thought of streamlining other routines in your life? I’ve lately been seeing which areas of my life could be made hassle-free by establishing patterns. My morning routine is no different.
Having a single small rail of clothes means I can see everything the minute I get out of bed, and it just takes a few minutes to get ready. When I compare this to when I had a big wardrobe in Dublin, it’s so much easier than rummaging to find something when I’m not fully awake.
3. Buy Quality
Rather than own 12 pairs of shoes, maybe have 2 really good quality pairs of shoes and look after them. In the long run your feet will thank you for it. It’s less wasteful, and will force you to consider whether or not you really need them. The trick is to buy smarter, not more.
It will also be possible – and worth it – to have them repaired if they need to be reheeled or mended after a few years.
4. Ask Yourself “Why?”
A game changer for me was when I started to question why exactly it was that I needed this particular thing. Instead of impulse buy some of the lovely autumnal home decorations, I have to think about where I am going to store this stuff for the other 3 seasons of the year.
Just because you *can* buy something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you *should*.
5. Be Selective About Collections
Everyone has their thing. For me, I love reading, so I have a growing collection of books that I love. For my partner, it’s music. He has a growing collection of records.
Ask yourself – what are your priorities? What are the areas of your life that you are happy to indulge yourself? If you like cooking and baking, don’t feel guilty about having shelves full of cooking and baking accessories. If you’re into films or games, it’s fine to have a library of DVDs and games out in full view. This is part of your personality, don’t hide it.
6. Be Glad Of What You Have
It’s not about saving money so much as it is about getting some control and perspective in your life. You will start to realise that your life is not so bad, that you have every reason to be content and happy with what you have.
7. Think of the Planet
If your own happiness is not a big enough reason to live with less, consider the environmental damage that consumerism is costing us. The human cost from unstable working conditions, low wages and pollution from chemicals and dyes means it’s in everyones best interest to start asking yourself why exactly you need to buy this thing.
8. Simplify The Social Media
As someone who tweets a lot, I’m not in any position to advise people to take it easy on social media. However, I’ve started to switch off my phone on Sunday. Now, I spend this day writing, reading, and spending times with the people who matter most. It has become a major source of distraction in my life. When I shut down my Facebook account years ago, my evenings opened up and I started getting more done. Who knows what a Sunday social media detox will do.