Matt D’Avella‘s last newsletter shared 10 lessons from 10 years as a minimalist. I learned about Matt from his work with The Minimalists’ film Minimalism. I’ve enjoyed his video work and like his newsletter. The one he sent today was a look back at 10 lessons from 10 years as a minimalist. That hits my sweet spot of lessons learned through introspection.
There were a couple that really resonated with me, as I turn 40 and haven’t had a crisis (yet) but have thought about how I got to where I am. And while I am no minimalist, I embrace its intentions.
The excitement fades but the value remains. When I first started practicing minimalism, I was truly giddy. I felt like I had a new lease on life. My perspective had completely shifted and I felt a rush of excitement as I purged my things. This faded as minimalism became my new normal. But that’s not a bad thing. Even though the initial honeymoon phase ended, the benefits of minimalism have remained.
I think about his entire idea in a few ways. First, the Shiny New Thing™ is always exciting and fresh but dulls in time. That’s true of any new endeavor or thing. Second, I try to think about this in terms of starting new things. Will I want to be doing this in a year? Is this a habit I want to continue with when it gets hard? What are the reasons behind my motivations?
If they aren’t for me or I don’t see a future with a product, project or habit, I don’t start it. I think about the impending divorce before I’ve even said I Do to the new.
We upgrade too often. Brands do a great job at convincing us we need to replace our phones, computers, and kitchen appliances every couple of years. But do we really need to make the upgrade? Will those extra pixels, different buttons, and a new sleek design really improve our lives? That’s up to you to decide. But you may find that the phone or laptop you have now meets your needs just fine. Maybe if you choose not to upgrade, you’d be able to pay down more of your debt, and you could save one less thing from ending up in a landfill.
I’m guilty of this in some areas. (We don’t talk about the number of computers in the house. They all serve as purpose.) The siren call of a new phone is one I am nearly immune from. I was waaaaay late to even having a cell phone. I held out through much of college (maybe all of it, I don’t remember). I enjoyed being able to leave my dorm room and be out in the world, unreachable and unfindable. Untethered to the desires of those outside my immediate vicinity.
Now, I upgrade when my old phone breaks every couple of years. Since switching to Android years ago, I’ve bought an evolving series of Pixel phones. When they launched their mid-tier line starting with the 3aXL my wife and I both jumped at it. Our combo 3a for her and XL model for me cost less than a single iPhone.
Even recently, when my phone took an accidental swim, I replaced it with a 4a. The non-5g model of course. Because why pay for something I don’t have access to, or even a need for in the next couple of years at least. I walked to our local Best Buy and for $350 walked out with a brand new phone unlocked and ready to activate with Google’s Fi service. Which costs my wife and I around $80/month for two phones. The benefit being we pay for what we use. It can fluctuate, but we’re not paying for potential.
In giving up the latest in gadgets and appliances and televisions we’ve been able to pay off huge amounts of debt and save for disasters (like when your washer overflows and floods your carpeted upstairs laundry room).
People overthink it. Should I keep the manual for my toaster? Should I get rid of my Harry Potter book-set? What should I do with that vase that my mom got me last Christmas? Listen, I get it. I overthink just about everything. But there comes a point when these questions become a stalling tactic. You’re afraid to let go because you don’t want to make the wrong decision. But ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? You recycle the toaster manual and need to look it up online. You give away the book-set and later decide to repurchase it on your Kindle. Your mom gets a little upset about the vase but understands that it didn’t match your design taste (good luck with that convo btw). Stop overthinking, and start taking action. You can apologize later.
I am so guilty of this. I keep everything. I have instructions manuals for everything. Even though I can readily find what I need online, and that’s where I do first. Ask me how many Ikea wrenches I have. (OK. Don’t. It’s an embarrassing number.) I keep so many things Just In Case™. Just in case of what I don’t know. But I feel prepared.
It (surprisingly) makes receiving gifts easier. Now that my friends and family know I practice minimalism, they really understand my values. I’m unlikely to receive random crap I don’t need (and that I’d eventually have to give away). Instead, the gifts I get these days are really thoughtful experiences, a nice bottle of whiskey or fresh-baked treats. It’s important to have these conversations before the holidays begin. If your family and friends care about you and want you to be happy, they’ll totally understand you don’t want random electronics from Sharper Image this year.
While no one in my house is a card carrying minimalist. It does make gifting easier. We’ve turned down things and instead asked for experiences from people who insist on getting us something. Pay for my nice meal out. Giving myself permission to get anything from the menu financially guilt-free is a fabulous present. We’ve gifted family money for their children’s 529 accounts instead of buying them more toys.
Detaching yourself from stuff makes you less of an ass. When I was in college, my brother gave me 4 really tall beer glasses… they didn’t last very long. One by one, each of them shattered, and I remember feeling pain and frustration each time I had to sweep up the broken pieces. This was likely in-part because I was struggling financially and they would have been difficult to replace. But I was also way more emotionally attached to stuff than I am now. Cars will get dinged up, my phone’s screen will crack, and coffee will spill on my clothes. But now that I’m less attached to stuff, it doesn’t affect me at all.
I don’t have any stories that come to mind of particular things getting ruined. But the overall lesson applies. When I haven’t spent Top Dollar on new things, I don’t feel as bad if they become dinged, dented or destroyed. When I dropped my phone in water, it was a $400 purchase a few years old. Replacing it with another $350 wasn’t the end of the world.
All of my cars have been used and I’ve driven them until they expire. My last car decided when it hit 100,000 miles, it was time to no longer have a transmission. So it was donated. I’m giving my current vehicle pep talks as it approaches the six-digit mile mark. But when it dies, I won’t lose sleep over it. It has dings and dents from mishaps in parking garages and being bumped into by persons unknown. But it’s not a big deal.
My clothes are bought to fit, with an eye for comfort. It’s not brand name, nor fancy. Shoes are an absolute joke. I buy shoes by walking into a store and looking at size 14, wiping tears of sadness from my eyes, then buying whatever basketball shoe they can muster.
I don’t place value in things. They’re all replaceable.
Minimalism is a practice. As your life changes, the stuff you own will need to change as well. And that’s because what we own today might not be useful or helpful one year from now. When you move into a new apartment, adopt a pet, give birth to your first child, you’ll need to buy new stuff (or get hand-me-downs from family). And when you find that stuff is no longer adding value, you can find a better home for it.
I’m actively in the midst of this lesson. Working from home and truly living in my house for the past year has taught me a lot about what I will use or not. What is valuable and what’s just taking up space? There are things that hold value in my head I think that someone might want. The reality is more stark. No one wants that old thing. I’ve got some things I need to find a way to donate. Or give away. Or generally get out of my house and into the hands of someone who will find value in it.