Personal Development

The True Essence of Minimalism

The goal is to have less to do, not get more done.

“Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high-quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” 

Linda Breen Pierce

What was your favourite toy when you were a small kid? Mine was Lego blocks. I did some amazing stuff with them. Endless hours of enjoyment! I poured my heart out into creating the most fantastic Lego creations I could. 

I had them for years, up until I was 15 years old, I think. Although I had other toys such as Hot Wheels and Play-Doh, I will always choose Lego bricks first. 

Perhaps you spot a similar, if not an identical, trend in your own kids. For instance, a study conducted by British researchers revealed that the average 10-year-old owns a whopping 238 toys but only interacts with 12 on a daily basis. 

Even if you do not have a kid, perhaps you are bombarded with your own playthings. Obsolete electronics that rest inside the storeroom, small ornaments sitting inside your drawer, or old sweaters that you have not worn for years. How many toys do you interact with every day, and how many block your way and introduce chaos into your life?

What if I said to you these items are preventing you from achieving a more contented, purposeful life? What if you did not have to use your precious time and dollars to keep your old junks clean and operational? What if you had more time to enjoy the beauties of life, such as friendships, good health and relationships with the people you cherish most? 

As I started to ponder these questions, I observed others who view themselves as minimalists asking similar questions. It did not take long for me to start my own minimalist journey. That was five years ago. To this day, I never doubted my decision.

People are often bullied as soon as they begin their minimalist journey because they believe they have to give up their materialistic lifestyle and live the monk’s life. 

If you are one of those bullies, I cannot put the fault on you. Blaming you would not make me feel good. My six-year-old self would have been emotionally decimated to let go of all those Lego blocks.

The good news is that minimalism does not call for such sacrifices. The truth is that minimalism does not ask for anything from you. There are no laws, judgements, or conditions.

Do not view the word itself with a frightened heart. Instead, view it as focusing on all your favourite things on a daily basis. In theory, this may sound tempting. However, what does it look like in reality? 

1. Examining our wardrobe

If I were to accompany you to your walk-in closet, the first thing I would notice is the various categories of clothes you have, much like anyone else. 

Clothes that you would wear to the office.

Clothes that you would wear for a formal occasion.

Clothes that you would wear for a casual dinner with friends.

Clothes that you would wear when you are living the sweat life.

Clothes that you would wear when you are staying in to watch Squid Game on Netflix. 

Within each of those categories, which outfits do you usually don. Which outfits bring out your confidence and glamour simultaneously? Which outfits do you lean toward, and which outfits are kept stored in resealable vacuum bags?

What would your wardrobe look like if you donated all the clothes that you no longer need? How much closet space can you make once you have found your old clothes a new home? If you have no intention to wear them and insist on keeping them, nevertheless, place them in a storage box and stash them away until you need them again. 

Rewarding ourselves space and time opens our eyes to the fact that we never enjoyed, or used, any of those outfits in the first place. This provides us with the bravery to give away our clothes generously. If the idea of donating your unwanted clothes captures your attention, but you are uncertain as to where to begin, google “Project 333.” They have plenty of tips on how to get started and offer a range of support, should you need assistance.

2. Reevaluating our relationships

British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar discovered in the 1990s that an individual can only maintain an upper limit of 150 social relationships. This is also known as the Dunbar’s number

Three decades later, this number seems unrealistic. Think about it; many of us have hundreds of friends on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So, if you have less than 150 stable relationships, modern society would assume that you are unhappy, not sociable and live a boring life. 

The core lesson from Robin Dunbar’s studies is that quality triumphs quantity. In other words, it is not so much about the number of relationships you have, but the quality of those relationships. Out of hundreds of connections on LinkedIn, how many of them do you actually interact with frequently? How many people can you rely on when you are in a dire situation? How many of them are willing to actively listen to you as you rant on about how cruel your superior is at work? How many of them treat you as if you are their priority instead of an option?

When I examined my own circle of friends, I realised they were frequently governed by proximity rather than by common values or interests. For instance, I had strangers inviting me to connect with them on LinkedIn simply because we came from the same university. 

As an enthusiastic reader, one of the rules I live by in life is surrounding myself who are passionate about the books they have read. In this day and age, it is easy to get a group of like-minded individuals together. I joined a local book club when I was studying abroad. What started as bi-weekly conversations on WhatsApp Messenger gradually evolved into regular face-to-face social meetups. 

Through sharing our views on common grounds, we became close friends who have been a pillar of support for each other since we first met. Instead of hanging on to surface-level connections, I can now rely on these genuine relationships to help me become a better person tomorrow than who I was yesterday. 

What would your life look like if you surrounded yourself with individuals who have the same interests and think just like you? How much different would your life be if you spent your minutes and hours with people who enjoy doing what you love doing.

Explore different options that align with your mindset and interests. Regardless of your methods, do not leave anything out. It takes patience to develop meaningful and rewarding social relationships, but it is worth it because they can last for eternity. 

3. Examining how we see our time

One of the biggest revelations in my life came when I took a critical observation at how I was using the 24 hours givens to me each day. I spent all of my time reading emails to make me feel as though I was productive while giving up the opportunity to read, write and use my time in ways that make me feel more contented with my life. 

Many years ago, I thought productivity was determined by how many tasks you have completed in a day. Today, I abandoned that thinking because I realised that the most accurate measure of productivity lies in the quality of your work. What is the point of accomplishing dozens of tasks in a day when not a single one was meaningful nor fulfilling?

Does this ring a bell to you? Take a hard look at all the commitments and activities that are occupying our timetable. Can you delegate any of them to someone else? Can some of those activities be deleted for good?

Are there tasks you are completing simply because you believe you should do them? Ask yourself these questions to only allow essential items in your to-do list:

  • Does this task add value to my life?
  • What would happen if this task is left uncompleted?
  • Is this task in accordance with my life values and principles?

Giving our habits a time for them to shine enables us to uncover interesting insights. If a stranger questions my involvement in badminton and journaling, it was because I enjoyed them, and it is what I thought successful people did.

Instead of badminton, I now go for long runs. Instead of journaling, I express my opinions and views through writing. 

Everyone has their own definition of a meaningful life, and hence, it only makes sense that everyone has their own recipes on how to get there. So, think about what you need, what you are passionate about, and what habits will help you stay focused as you inch your way there.

By questioning ourselves periodically, we make way for better solutions that best match our own needs and desires. Begin by asking yourself those three questions and add others you see appropriate.


What are your top picks?

Visualise a life where you don your favourite top and bottom. 

A life where you are surrounded by people who love you for who you truly are and will not hesitate to convince you that you are always enough. 

A life where you have the time to do the activities that bring value and satisfaction into your life.

You already have your best outfits, friends and activities. Minimalism is not about removing everything and starting from scratch. Instead, it is about rediscovering our favourite things — some of which are not even “things” in the first place. 

Having favourites in our life can lead us to a more enriching and meaningful life. It may even encourage us to view life through more than one lens, just like how I would arrange my Lego blocks in more ways than one. 

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