Going Minimalist – How I Found Peace By Owning Less

I saw an Instagram story of a social media influencer about how the documentary “Minimalism” changed her life. I had an idea of what minimalism is, but I wasn’t sold on the idea of adopting the lifestyle. It’s not because I have an emotional attachment to my stuff, it’s just I had an impression that minimalists are a bit extreme. I heard some of them live with fewer than 50 clothes and I’m like how is that even possible? Even so, my don’t-knock-it-till-you-try-it attitude overruled my skepticism. I wanted to truly understand what this is all about and if in the end, I decided that it’s not for me then so be it, it’s not like I would lose money over this. So one day, I found and watched the documentary on Netflix and schooled myself on minimalism for 1 hour and 18 minutes. I was never the same again; I think I found the answer to my discontent.

The documentary that inspired it all

Minimalism is a documentary created by Joshua Fields and Ryan Nicodemus, two highly successful young professionals who were, just like everybody else, used to buy into the thinking that the more money they get, the happier they would be. The film is about self-discovery, their journey into living with fewer possessions but not necessarily living a less-fulfilled life, and educating people on what minimalism is all about.

So what exactly is minimalism? One of the film creators, Joshua has a better definition.

“Minimalism is a tool we use to get rid of the excess stuff in our lives to make room for the essentials. Minimalism allows us to focus on what’s important in life—health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution—so we can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

– Joshua Fields

In simpler words, if you don’t need it, get rid of it.

The “why” or the reason I wanted to become a minimalist

In the film, Ryan shared that he had everything he had ever wanted and yet he felt miserable. There was a gaping void in his life and tried to fill that up with consumer purchases. Unlike Ryan, I don’t have everything that I have ever wanted, and yet somehow, his monologue resonated with me.

A few years ago, I met new friends who can afford to buy the nicest things. There is one who is so rich, I stood in awe of the privileged life in which she is living. She flies first class, lives in a multi-million peso condominium in BGC, owns several Chanel and Hermes bags, which I’m guessing, I could only afford if I stopped eating. When I was a kid, I fantasized a lot about being rich. Then suddenly, I have a rich person for a close friend, it was like a dream come true. I learned that when you start hanging around with these people, their lifestyle will rub off on your one way or another.    

I am not what you would call an ambitious type, hence my not so stellar performance with work. But when I learned more about this friend of mine and how she worked hard to be where she is now, it got me thinking that maybe I can do it too. I wanted to be just like her, the one who can shop without checking the price tag.

Little by little, I began to acquire a few things. I always updated my wardrobe, bought signature perfumes, and got myself three designer bags, albeit second hand. I’m a woman from humble beginnings and I used to be penniless all the time. Now all of a sudden, I own bags that are more expensive than my monthly due for my apartment. Boy did I feel so invincible, and my brain interpreted this as a sign of success. I remember a friend being highly impressed when he saw me carrying the Bottega Veneta bag, which he mistook for Prada. I was so proud that I immediately corrected him, “This is more expensive than Prada,” I said. Now that I recall the incident, I cringe and want to hit myself in the head. Since when did I become this pompous? This is not me, I love fashion, yes, but I was never brand conscious. What the hell is wrong with me?

I was happy, but just as with everything else in life, it was rather fleeting. Maslow’s theory kicks in, the wanting never goes away, it only gets replaced once the need has been met. Now I look at this stuff and I don’t get the same euphoria that I felt the first time I got my hands on them. This forces me to reassess my priorities in life.   

In hindsight, my friend’s influence is not entirely bad, I mean, she inspired me to achieve greater things, work harder, and become a better version of myself. There is nothing wrong with that and there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to have the best things in life. After all, we all deserve to be happy and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But that is the thing exactly, I was in bliss, yes, but the moment I got what I wanted, I wasn’t happy anymore. Does it mean I should buy more to chase that feeling? Surely, there is gotta be a better way than this.

This is my first “why”; the things that I acquired that I thought would make me happy didn’t really give me the satisfaction that I was expecting. I find myself always going back to where I started; waiting to have something to get excited again. If I don’t find the ultimate satisfaction from material possessions, then what will?

My second “why” is to clear my head because prior to all this, my mind, much like my home was in a disarray. In the last moments just before I drift off to sleep, my head is filled with pessimistic and dismal thoughts. I fear death, I fear for my future, I fear that I would grow old alone. Moreover, I was unapologetically lazy, not expending the slightest of energy to put away my effects where they belong.

My absolute dependency on the Internet doesn’t help the case. Every waking hour was spent on Facebook or Instagram, watching small clips, reading hate and troll-riddled comment threads, and waiting for virtual validation on my latest posts. I simply felt miserable, that I have made myself this vulnerable; dependent on people on the other side of the digital screen. I used to be the person who gave little to zero f*cks about what other people think, yet now I have reduced my self-worth into this persona that I made to cater to the superficial world of social media. I knew I gotta do something.

The de-cluttering project begins

Still high on the new learnings that I got from the documentary, I went home and spent rigorous hours cleaning the under sink cabinet of my tiny apartment. That night alone, I took out 5 garbage plastics. In just a few days, I was able to either throw or give away stuff I no longer need, which include but not limited to, bags, clothes, travel souvenirs (e.g., fridge magnets, keychains), and accessories. Was it hard? I thought it would be, but I find myself flowing into the motion smoothly once I had put my mind to it.

Just to give you an idea, let me show you the chaos that is my apartment pre-minimalism period.

Before all this, I have already been living some sort of a minimalist life. I only have 4 appliances in my house, a floor fan, an a/c unit, a rice cooker, and an electric kettle. I don’t have furniture, not even a single chair, and I sleep on a mattress. The reason is that I had been delaying the purchase of things until I move into my own house by the end of this year. Right now, I am renting a studio room unit in Makati. I wanted to make the move as painless as possible.

What I lacked in furniture I more than made up for in smaller things. Now that I’d taken them out, I cannot justify why I had them in the first place. I can’t explain why I had 6 pillows or why I kept 3 stuffed toys and travel souvenirs when they were not even on display. I’m not sure why I stored my contracts with my previous companies. And why did I hold on to this dress that used to fit me at my lowest weight because I was at the peak of my depression? It’s not like I’m aiming to be Olive Oyl thin again. Most of all, why did I retain all of those books in my possession when I don’t even like reading the same book twice?

The more I looked at my stuff and assessed their usefulness or lack thereof, the easier for me to get into the rhythm. Most of these I thought I was saving for future use, until “that future” has come and still they remained unutilized.

A little family background

Minimalism is not in my blood, I was raised by a family of hoarders. When my father died, we had a hard time disposing of his items because he has accumulated a lot of stuff. My father was a man of varied interests, he was an electrical technician and a handyman, he knew how to play four musical instruments, he always took home newspapers from his place of work, and just like me, he kept many objects that he didn’t need thinking that one day, he would find a use for them; he never did. Therefore, our modest house was cramped with tools that he used for work and objects that catered to his hobbies.

My mother is a different story altogether. At least I can rationalize Papa’s stuff, but Mama, oh boy, she likes to display things. You give her a fancy thing, she would either keep it or use it as home decor. For example, when I was a kid, I wanted to have my own Barbie doll. One Christmas, my godfather gifted me with a doll clad in a pretty purple gown. It wasn’t Barbie, that b*tch is expensive, nevertheless, it’s the closest thing I could have to a barbie, I ain’t about to complain. Guess what happened to the doll. Well, it remained in its pristine condition because I never got to play with it. Mother dear probably thought it was too good for me that she decided to put it on display.

And there’s the case of the hand-me-down sweaters from a wealthy relative. Back then I only had 2 siblings, we were all girls. The wealthy relative took it into consideration and gave each one of us our own sweaters so you know, we didn’t have to Battle Royale for them. My sisters and I were looking forward to wearing those, they were so colorful and pretty, the kind that would make us look cool. Mama had other plans; the next time we saw these sweaters, we couldn’t fit in them anymore.

Thus, in the two decades of my life, I grew up to be a hoarder. I kept my test papers, my school cards, my textbooks, and letters from friends. I had books, lots of them and I also used to write in diaries. When I moved out of our house in Manila, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. I had so much stuff, it’s a wonder how I managed to fit everything in this little dorm room that I rented in Makati. Every time I moved from one place to another, it was always such a pain. And the worst part is, I had been needlessly hauling these things with me for years when I don’t really use them.

Search and destroy

We all have them, billing statements, medical certificates, receipts, business cards, work or school-related files, among others. I am not questioning the importance of these documents in our lives, but give it a couple of years and their relevance would significantly diminish. This is especially true now that many companies have made paperless transactions possible and preferable. 

I gathered all of my papers and did the painstaking task of reviewing them one by one. This is the part of the decluttering that took some time to finish. Just because they are not needed anymore, doesn’t mean I can just throw them away. These documents, oftentimes contain personal information (e.g., address, credentials) that must not be disclosed, hence they must be destroyed. The easiest way is to burn them, but it’s illegal so I had to destroy them manually. When I say manually, I mean cutting them with scissors because I don’t happen to have a paper shredder lying around you know. Then I transferred my important documents in clear books because they are harder to find if they are kept inside envelopes or folders.

The disposal goals

I have three clearance goals; dispose, sell, and give away. I was only able to sell a few things because I wanted to get rid of the unnecessary objects immediately. I think I cleared 25% of the clothes that I handed out to my sister and cousin. I operated with a question in mind, Am I going to use this in the near future? If the answer is yes, then I keep it, otherwise, they must go. If I threw away something that I would be needing someday, I can just buy it again. There is no reason for these items to stay with me if I cannot use them.

While going through my stuff, I thought of the people who would appreciate some of the things that I have. For example, I have this former colleague who loves to collect fridge magnets and I happen to have a lot of them from my previous travels. Instead of throwing them away, I decided to just give them all to her.  

For the books, I posted on a Facebook group that I would be giving away my books for free, they only need to shoulder the shipping fee. The response was overwhelming that out of the 20 books, I was able to give away 12 of them. 

My apartment, after

I completed the general cleaning of my unit after 2 days. It was both tiring and therapeutic and I absolutely love how it looks now that I’ve gotten rid of the junk. 

My closet is now much more spacious, so is the under sink cabinet.

Quitting Facebook… sort of

I have extended my minimalism effort to my major source of stress, social media. I commenced by deactivating my account to the one I don’t frequently use, Pinterest. Pinterest is where many girls spend most of their time imagining their future weddings. Maybe I’d use it again once I start planning my actual wedding, but for now, it shall be closed.

Next, Twitter. I was actually a happy Twitter-user; I had fun sharing my random thoughts and I liked how Twitter peeps don’t really seem to care whether I had been oversharing the mundane details of my life. 

However, when I asked myself how important is it for me to tweet, the honest answer is “not really.” Thus, 7 years and 15.8k tweets later, I bade adieu to the bluebird.

The ultimate decision of them all is to quit my number 1 addiction, Facebook. I thought about this for quite some time given the fact that I am a blogger. Although I have a Facebook page, not all of my contacts follow it, thus, I get most of my page views from the link that I shared on my FB account. As a blogger, the numbers are important but at the end of the day, I had to ask myself what really matters; is it the blog stats or my peace of mind? Well, we all know the answer to that. 

But leaving Facebook was a lot harder than I thought. I didn’t realize just how dependent I have been on this social network until I decided to delete it. Apart from the fact that it is connected to my blog and Facebook page, it is also linked to the other apps that I use, such as Spotify, Instagram, Shopback, Goodreads, etc. Facebook saves you the trouble of logging in to these accounts just by linking your profile to these apps. I didn’t have much of an issue with some of the apps because I can always sign in to them with my email address, but this is not the case with Spotify. I got 2 weeks left before my Spotify premium expires for renewal. I also have hundreds of playlists in there that I built up in the last 2 years. Am I willing to give these all up and just create an account that is not connected with Facebook? The simple answer is yes.

Next point of consideration, my Facebook page. Now this one is easy. I signed up for a new Facebook account, added it as a friend, then set it up as the Admin of the page. I then changed the role page permission of my original account to Editor. The sole purpose of this new account is to manage my FB page, I have no intention to add people in it. With these steps, I was able to do something that I once thought I’d never be able to do, delete my old Facebook account.

For the next 14 days, it is important that I do not, in any way, open or use the old account again or else the deletion won’t take effect. This is one of the reasons I decided to just let go of my old Spotify account. 

Final thoughts

The effect is immediate. As soon as I got rid of the unnecessary, I was able to think more clearly. What you are reading now is one of the positive aftermaths. When before I found myself struggling to find the right words, now they flow freely, so much that my hands couldn’t keep up with my thoughts.  

Another good thing that came out of this is that I was able to make people happy. It’s the biggest surprise really, how the things I no longer need are being useful in the hands of others. 

Lastly, by lessening my social media accounts, I now have time to do what truly matters. I can write, study French, read, and watch other inspiring documentaries, and do everything else that helps me improve myself. And isn’t that the point of minimalism? To remove what doesn’t matter and live with the essentials?

Minimalism slows down life and frees us from this modern hysteria to live faster. It finds freedom to disengage. It seeks to keep only the essentials. It seeks to remove the frivolous and keep the significant. And in doing so, it values the intentional endeavors that add value to life.

Joshua Becker | becomingminimalist.com

What about you? have you ever thought about checking out the minimalism lifestyle? Or are you a minimalist? I am quite interested to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comment below.

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  1. Well done on the Minimalism Project. You have inspired me to re- think my usage of Facebook. I definitely need to improve my social media habits. I noticed that I tend to de-clutter when one phase of my life ends and I am about to begin another. This was true when we had to leave Dubai which was our home country for 12 years. We had to sort through all of our stuff that we have collected all those years. It was a process. We had to live with 1 luggage each for 2 years before we unpacked our boxes that were stored at my parent’s house. During this time, I realized we could live with just one luggage per person. With some flooding and termite attack later, our minimized stuff in boxes got downsized even further. I just realized, yes I am one of them who own less than 50 clothes now. Quality over quantity in mind. I continuously give away things when they are no longer of use to us and don’t spark joy.

    1. I don’t think I got less than 50 clothes although I didn’t really count haha… But yeah, I think you’ve been doing this longer than I did and it seems like you’re doing just fine. This gives me more confidence that I’m on the right track.

  2. I de-cluttered my life by subscribing to existentialism. Though during dark days I wonder whether my existentialist philosophy is just euphemism for high functioning depression. ?

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