Minimalist Living / by Jennifer Chan

Minimalism comes in all shapes and sizes. For Colin Wright, that involved selling most of his belongings and travelling around the world. For Courtney Carver, it was embracing a minimalist lifestyle to improve her health (she was diagnosed with MS in 2006). For me, my focus is not so much on eliminating physical clutter - although that’s certainly something I’ve done - but also incorporating a form of mental minimalism into my life. A lifestyle that takes into account all the distractions, interruptions, and needlessly complex processes that I encounter over the course of my day. It’s about simple, deliberate living. Here’s 5 areas in my life that I’ve witnessed the most improvement.

(1) Work. I used to suffer from serious burnout. I was anxious. I was unorganized. I brought files home with me. I thought about work in the shower. I lamented about the stress of my job to others. It was tiring for my loved ones and it was tiring for me. But, once I turned my mind to living a more deliberate life, I realized that my productivity was being hindered by small distractions such as social media notifications, chatter from co-workers, and even taking calls or responding to e-mails about other work projects. Minimalism has helped me build a framework around how to do my work, regardless if I’m in the office or at home. Some characteristics include: time-blocking, placing my phone on ‘Airplane Mode,’ and focusing on doing less tasks but ensuring that the outcome is of the highest quality.

(2) Rest. I think Seneca said it best when he wrote:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

I’m a lawyer that practices in the largest city in Canada. Take one look around the streets of downtown Toronto - if busyness is a sign of success, money appears to be the prize. Minimalism taught me that this couldn’t be furthest from the truth, and that perhaps we should reject that prize altogether.

I now believe that deliberate, meaningful rest fosters productivity and visa-versa. Learning to slow down, take a deep breathe, and embrace the beauty within the present is imperative to a happy and healthy life. I now make time for “slow” activities: taking my dog for a long walk, burying my head in a good book for hours on end, and drinking a cup of coffee while watching the sunrise. I’m learning to look up and not down. I am more intentional with the free time that I have in my day, and I make sure that those moments don’t go to waste.

(3) Health. Eating healthily has been an unintended, yet welcomed, effect. In an attempt to reduce decision fatigue, I’ve been batch cooking my lunches on the weekends for the workweek ahead. This not only helps reduce impulsive spending, but also has helped me eat cleaner and simpler meals. Another wonderful by-product that it becomes one less decision I have to make each day. Of course, setting aside the time to do meal prep is not always easy, but it’s always well worth it.

(4) Finances. We tend to think that maintaining our personal finances is a complex and burdensome task. It’s really not if you declutter correctly. In order to maintain a healthy relationship with my money, I’ve created simple ‘rules’ to follow: adhere to a budget, use only debit and/or cash for daily purchases, automate savings, set aside time once each month to review my finances, etc. What once was the primary source of my anxiety, I barely give a second thought. Creating simple financial systems that run in the background help me concentrate more on the more pressing issues in my life.

(5) Home life. My relationship with my partner and our furry pets are unequivocally one of the most important facets in my life. Because of the nature of my partner’s job, we don’t see each other as often as we’d like. When we do have an evening where we’re both home, we’re prone to watching TV or looking at our phones while we’re eating dinner or relaxing afterwards. Being more mindful about these distractions, through our introduction to minimalism, has enabled us to be more present with each other (and our fur children). We understand the value in making time for activities that don’t involve technology (i.e. board games, cooking classes, spending time in parks) and having our attention directed solely at one another. It’s not only strengthened our relationship but also strengthened our teamwork when it comes to the chores associated with running a household and raising a disabled dog and rabbit.

Although minimalism is an extremely broad concept, you must develop highly specific ‘rules’ in order for it to add value to your life. These ‘rules’ are something that you will have to ascertain for yourself - what works and doesn’t work for you. For me, being more mindful about my social media consumption, forcing myself to spend more time outdoors, and creating better systems for my finances, can all be attributed to my penchant for minimalist living. It’s living with less, understanding why living with less is important, and filling the space with meaningful work.