2 game-changing life lessons minimalism has taught me in the last 3 years

Hint — It wasn’t just doing laundry more often.

Photo by Ozzie Kirkby on Unsplash

It’s 2017 and I’m standing inside of a Russian detention cell at Pulkovo airport in Saint Petersburg. I overhear one border guard ask the other why I’ve been detained. The guard quickly remarks to the other “He’s got a ton of unmarked powders and drugs in his luggage.”

In actuality, those unmarked powders and pills were nutrition supplements that I had removed from their packaging and fit neatly into clear, plastic bags. Looking back, I see how unmarked drug-like paraphynalia in my luggage made me look like a trafficker. I don’t blame the guard.

I explained away the situation and was eventually released, but that day was a pivotal moment in my move towards a minimalist lifestyle. I thought to myself “I should re-evaluate what’s really essential for me to bring with me and what should be forgotten.”

Since that day 3 years ago, I’ve been traveling and living full-time out of a 70-liter backpack. Forcing myself to evaluate which items are essential and which can be forgotten has taught me two major life lessons.

Lesson 1: Owning less has incredible time-saving benefits

Before condensing my entire life down to 70 liters, I had multiples of everything — three watches, four pairs of pants, four sweaters, two hats, probably 20 pairs of underwear, and more pairs of socks than I can count; and that was just my clothing.

I lived with the belief that variety and options would create more interesting choices and combinations for what to wear and do, when in reality I found myself spending countless amounts of mental energy each day deciding what to wear and inevitably reverting to wearing my favorite item — every time.

I wasn’t the only one suffering and wasting time each day on mundane decisions. For his time as President, Barack Obama would wear either a blue or gray suit. In a Vanity Vair interview, Obama explained, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

Although I don’t sport a fancy suit every day like the leader of 50 states, I have pared my wardrobe down to just:

  • Two t-shirts for daily wear + two shirts for the gym
  • One long sleeve t-shirt, sweater, hat, watch, and pair of shoes
  • One pair of jeans
  • Six pairs of underwear and socks
  • One pair of road shoes (that double as gym shoes) and one pair of winter boots
  • One raincoat and one winter jacket
  • One summer hat and one winter toque (a toque is what Canadians call a winter hat — that’s for you Americans).

By eliminating redundant clothing and keeping only my absolute favorites, I not only get to wear what I look best in each day, but the time saved not thinking about what to put on each day has saved me tons of mental energy that gets focused into more important tasks, like my work.

Lesson 2: You save a bunch of money

Pairing down your clothing doesn’t just save you time and keep you looking fabulous, but it also has huge financial benefits.

When you limit yourself to owning just the best of something, you can count on spending much more time considering each purchase. I no longer just grab a new item of clothing off a sale rack because it’s a good deal. Each item I own has been carefully selected and each purchase forces me to consider the value of that item. If I don’t absolutely love it, I don’t buy it.

I now treat clothing purchases as an investment rather than a commodity purchase. Instead of buying a cheap watch, I spend a little extra and get something built to last. Although I spend a little more upfront, the extra quality ensures the watch lasts longer and I end up saving more money long-term by not needing to re-buy cheaper items as they wear out or break. And who doesn’t like saving a little extra moola?

Apply this to eating and reap the benefits

In the same way that you reduce your clothing to only the essentials, I also streamline my food choices and eat the exact same thing six days per week. Not worrying each day about what to cook saves me immense amounts of time and by eating the same thing each day, it allows me to buy more of the same thing and reap the financial benefits of buying in bulk.

I understand that eating the same thing every day isn’t for everyone — but it’s a neat fringe benefit I wanted to add in case you’re interested in trying it out.

But what if I like to collect things?

Contrary to popular belief, a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t mean that you can’t have multiples of an item or maintain collections of things you love.

Minimalists believe that each item you own should have real value, a purpose, and benefit you in some way; albeit emotionally or physically.

In this way, minimalism is not telling you to throw out all of your stuff, but rather it’s a request to authentically and sincerely examine each item that you own and ask yourself whether you really need it, whether it brings you joy, and whether it has value to you? If so, keep it.

If you have an antique miniature-car collection sitting on a shelf beside your desk and each time you look over at it you feel proud of the marvelous collection you’ve put together, then keep it! But if your collection is sat away in a bin out of sight and you never take it out, consider removing it from your life.

Just like many other unique ways that people chose to live their lives — minimalism isn’t for everyone, but I do believe the core principles of minimalism can benefit everyone — even marginally — if you’re willing to reevaluate the items you own.

If you’re interested in minimalism — then pairing down clothing is a great place to start. A rule of thumb is to get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the past three months nor plan to wear in the next three.

Tell me in the comments below about an item that you travel with that other people often think is necessary. As for me, I bring my food scale with me when I travel because I place immense value on properly prepping my meals each day :)

Hi! I’m Justin — I’m a user experience designer focused on creating frictionless user-centred design solutions with beautiful interfaces.

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