In September, I left my home in Toronto, Canada with nothing but two small backpacks and the clothes on my back. No checked bags, that’s it. Now, I’ll be spending the next year travelling around the world with nothing more than a few basic elements of clothing, my laptop and my phone, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
I started noticing myself becoming much more aware of my consumption of everything (how much water, toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper I use, how much food I eat, how often I wash my clothes etc). This new awareness of excessive consumption gave me some new perspective on the privilege I had and how I was blindly dependent on the unnecessary.
The biggest revelation, however, was realizing how little I really needed to be happy.
Here are three questions I hope will help you deconstruct what is and isn’t necessary in your life, and how I think becoming mindful of it will play a large role in your future happiness.
1. Which of your physical possessions do you really need?
When you were a kid, it was simple: after you got in a fight with your parents, all you needed to do was pack a small bag with your Megazord and you were all set to leave forever.
As an adult, things aren’t so simple. We’ve all accumulated our share of stuff: mementos, electronics, your ripped soccer jersey you’ve had since the 7th grade.
This compounds with age. The more time and memories you’ve had on this planet, the more stuff you’ll find is you are attached to. (Mo mems, mo stems!)
I’ve always been a hoarder. With the “keep it just in case” genes passed down to me by my mom, I used to cling to everything I owned in the event I would need it someday. On top of that, when taking trips, I would always way overpack. (but… but what happens if I end up going to a formal conference during my Cancun beach vacation?). *Womp womp* WRONG MENTALITY!
Question yourself! Do I really need this? Will I use this every day? If the answer is no, you don’t want it. You may want that affordable pressure-cooker from Walmart now, but it’ll likely end up at the back of your closet within 2 weeks unlikely to ever be used again.
My first experience travelling light was a great first test for me to deal with this problem. Since I had no room in my bag for additional things, I needed to consider if the new purchase was necessary, and if so, what would I have to eliminate to make room for it.
If you had to cram your whole life into a backpack, what would you pack? What would you eliminate?
2. What makes you happy?
Okay… so what does this have to do with minimalism?
There’s a saying that goes: “Simple minds, simple pleasures” implying that people who enjoy simple things in life are inherently simple-minded.
This saying has always rubbed me the wrong way. Can appreciating blooming lilacs on a spring morning not bring happiness to my life? In my experience, it is the people who allow themselves to let these simple pleasures fill their lives with joy and gratitude who are often happier and more fulfilled.
If we dive a little deeper, ask yourself: “What makes me truly happy?” This is a bit of a deeper question. You’ll hear people say: A 6-figure income! A new condo! A sexy red Lamborghini! and everything else on the other side of the fence.
There will always be a bigger house (unless you’re Tony Stark). This means the outcome of your happiness is dependent on external forces and out of your control. This is the opposite of what you want.
To get to the centre of this happiness tootsie-pop, let’s pretend that the following is true: You have unlimited wealth and resources and physical possessions are not a factor. You own the fastest car, the best house, your own private jet, you name it.
Now ask yourself the following questions:
a) If I had every material possession I could ever want, what would make me happy?
b) If I could have any job in the world (or off this world, whatever floats your boat), what would it be?
c) What are some of the things I’ve always dreamt about doing? What’s holding me back from these?
For me, the core of what makes me truly happy is when I am able to add even a little sprinkle of extra joy to someone’s day. If I do something that sparks that little glimmer in someone’s eyes after I’ve inspired them to chase their dream, or be more confident in themselves, then bam: mission accomplished. As a result, my life’s pursuit is to find ways of doing that in different ways through my career and hobbies: teaching, mentorship, counselling, listening, being a friend etc.
What in your daily life gives you this kind of inspiration or joy?
3. What makes you unhappy?
One of the keys to creating an environment in which you are truly happy is to simply eliminate some of the things/people/environments in your life that specifically make you unhappy.
For me, a little example of this was mess. Stress made me messy, and messiness stressed me out. I wish I could go back and and slap my 20 year old self to make him realize what he could do about it.
I’ve always hated laundry — the time it takes, the time to fold it, the interruptions it causes. I hate having to decide what to wear (I only really like wearing those three shirts and that pair of jeans anyway). I missed the days where I had a school uniform and it was acceptable to wear the same thing everyday. So what did I do? Screw what people think! I got rid of everything else and started wearing only the things I liked!
Why do I love this?
1. I have single small load of laundry to do every week
2. It’s cheap, easy and quick
3. I don’t own enough things to be messy (stress = vamoose!)
4. Staying tidy helps my head stay focused and uncluttered
Now I only have a few versatile items of clothing that I actually enjoy wearing everyday. And for the most part, they’re almost all the identical. 4 v-neck tees, 4 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of underwear, a pair of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, a nice hoodie, a rain jacket and a few other small things here and there. That’s it. And even then, I’ve found that I have too much. I could (and will) get rid of some of it.
What makes you unhappy, and what are some ways you can eliminate those things from your life?
What should you take away from all this?
It’s important to keep in mind that this is my story. These are my specific experiences and everyone is different. By no means am I trying to convince you to adopt my exact lifestyle.
My aim here is to make you question what you do, what you own, and what you value. Are these things you have decided for yourself or are they social constructs you simply abide by? Are these necessities in your life, or unnecessary abundance?
As an experiment this week, I encourage you to take an introspective look at your life ask yourself these important questions.
How would you answer each of these questions for yourself? Leave your thoughts below!