Minimalist: Gain Clarity, Be Productive and Achieve More

In Life & Travel by Jackie Cruz

Can we really separate ourselves from a materialistic world? Why did Gandhi have so few possessions? Why do we judge based on external appearance? What type of message do we want our lives to tell?

“My life is my message.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

I share this quote during a time of resolutions after the new year and before spring cleaning. Each year, we promise ourselves and loved ones to clean, organize and declutter our lives and living spaces. Have you finished your goal? Did you give an honest effort?

Even I can admit it is a stretch to only have a few items as Gandhi, but the same principle applies. The more we have, the less we know exactly what, where and why we have things.

I am here to share a new method of giving more value to yourself and your belongings while organizing and cleaning your daily environment. It is not just me who is diving into this lifestyle of minimalism. It is certainly not a trend and is here to stay. More and more people are discovering the freedom and clarity this cleansing process brings. I have a lot yet to discover (and throw away) myself, but here’s what I learned so far.

Let me start off by sharing what minimalism is not. It is not sacrificing needs, going without, living in a cardboard box, having 1 shirt or not caring about your appearance.

Merriam-Webster defines minimalism as “a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” It brings peace by decluttering spaces and joy by having more valuable items. Yet another website, NoSidebar, elegantly defines reverting to a minimalistic lifestyle as breathing, refocusing to have more money, more time and more energy.

Side note: The definition and grammatical use of minimalistic have been debated. However, since Google, Collins and Dictionary.com all use minimalistic as an adjective now (even though many do not accept it), I will use it as well.

The simplicity in minimalism allows you to organize possessions, revamp closets and storage areas, discard unused or unneeded items and place real value on items.

Even though I was already hooked, I wanted to know more about minimalistic lifestyles. I found benefits of this freeing lifestyle on Joshua Becker’s website. I really agreed with him when he says, “when you remove clutter, it gives you a chance to do less and better work.” He goes on to explain, “shedding possessions like this often works in layers. And much of the time, each new layer we peel grants us flexibility and freedom…adventure, growth, and happiness are available to us. But most of us bury it by complicating our health, giving into distractions, filling our life with stuff we don’t value, failing to ruthlessly prioritize where we spend our time.”

A major hinderance of having a minimalistic lifestyle is having too many, being distracted by or depending on things. One simple, genius method I found useful to start transforming my life is described by Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her words were calming. Her methods intriguing. Growing up, I always wanted to be a Japanese samurai warrior, so I bought the book. (P.S. I am still waiting to buy an antique samurai sword for my house).

Diving right in, I found myself wanting to cancel all of my appointments and clean my apartment for 1 week straight. Her methods are a catalyst for anyone downsizing and cleansing their life. While brainstorming an action plan, I knew my weaknesses were clothes, papers and miscellaneous crap around the house. It just all made sense – have your life and home organized and all in front of you, so you can see what’s missing and what is incomplete – literally and figuratively.

I started with the closet. I figured I would start here because my boyfriend is somewhat of a neat freak and keeping his clothes (and everything else) organized means a lot to him. He reminds me so much of the Ikea commercial below. Unfortunately, I was so excited, I forgot to take a picture before I organized!

Perhaps my lack of fashion stems from spending my whole life on a soccer field or wearing uniforms in high school (which I loved). I wish I could be like my aunt Julia, who works her butt off and always manages to pull beautiful outfits together so quickly! She worked as a buyer for I. Magnin (a high end department store) in the 80s and has great fashion sense.

Like The Cheesecake Factory menu (even though I would run 5 miles for one of their Oreo cheesecakes or avocado rolls), my closet had too many things. It was a mix between a minimalistic wardrobe and trendy crap. I always wondered when getting dressed: Am I on trend? Do I have the right shade? Are my jeans just boyfriend baggy enough? I spent just as much time on my outfit as my hair. And when you have long, curly hair, that means a lot! More often than not, I became frustrated and threw on Nike leggings and a long sleeve training top. It was more comfortable after leg day anyway.

“Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”Henry David Thoreau

Adapting a minimalist’s closet was an easy and obvious choice for me not only because of the above reasons, but also because I learned highly successful people (unless you can be like my aunt) have a pattern of wearing the same clothes. Why? As Dan Schawbel explains in a Forbes article, “It’s not about what you wear, but what you accomplish.” Simply put – few clothes, fewer choices, more time for productivity. By having only a few clothing choices, highly productive people spend more time achieving goals and completing tasks.

It totally made sense. The less options I have in my closet, the less time it takes to get dressed and the more time I have to do productive tasks. So, minimalist outfit for 2016: Converse All-Star wedges, G-Star Skinny jeans and a j.crew Vintage tee in long and short sleeve. (Perhaps the Converse Wedges will change to Michael Kors pumps when I start working).

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

I tediously folded my underwear, sports bras and boxers. I did not think delicate undergarments would vertically stay, but they did! I finally see everything I have! Nothing is piled up and nothing is crowded. I kept deciding, purging and decluttering. It was a freeing feeling! It was true – throwing away the old, useless or duplicate items made room, clarity and value for other items.

I moved onto the rest of the bedroom, including my desk. I proceeded to take everything out and off my desk, and then imagine how my dream workspace would look like. I wanted to keep my desk neat and free of clutter, and not have that dreaded “maybe or for later” pile. Most of all, I wanted to promote clear thinking and not have distractions. I kept neutral colors (except my Kicks & Chronicles mood board) to keep thinking unbiased and unemotional.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris

Onto the world that is often overlooked, yet ubiquitous in our lives – the net and digital spaces. The digital world has crowded our lives and overloaded our time, as well as our minds. We have social consequences if our profiles are not up-to-date or we may feel a need to check for the latest posts.

The minimalist and Marie Kondo methods are also very relevant and apply to your computer. I was so skeptical about this and unwilling to take the time to delete 1500 emails of collected nothingness, but afterward I felt empowered. The more J.Crew and Nike newsletters you receive, the more inclined you are to make purchases. Just like those Food Network newsletters – we all know you will scour Pinterest later anyway, so why crowd your inbox?

I changed my email methods a few years ago after starting my MBA program at ASU. Now, I use my inbox as a to-do list and keep emails at most 3 days in my folder. My nightly goal is to have no vertical scroll bar. Keeping your inbox organized into important folders and clear at the end of the day allows a few things to happen:
⋅ Have a clear mind at the end of the day
⋅ Feelings of accomplishment
⋅ New tasks and goals arrive each day
⋅ Subconsciously, you will have daily goals by using the inbox as a to-do list

“One of the advantages of being born in an affluent society is that if one has any intelligence at all, one will realize that having more and more won’t solve the problem, and happiness does not lie in possessions, or even relationships: The answer lies within ourselves. If we can’t find peace and happiness there, it’s not going to come from the outside.” Tenzin Palmo

Should we hold onto possessions and be dependent on how they make us feel? Or, should we create the atmosphere that we want and that promotes productivity? I choose the latter. I realized the “important” or sentimental stuff was not important at all. It was just clogging my brain and, literally, my apartment. Adapting a minimalist lifestyle suits me and adds clarity in my life.

We only live a short time on this Earth. Nobody will care or remember if you had the newest Bose headphones to come out or the trendiest Moschino bag from Paris Fashion Week. Enlightenment, self-progress and achievement are what is to be remembered. These truths that brings us to realize another dimension of happiness, peace and clarity.

I challenge you all to think of life as a 2-week trip to your favorite place in the world. Bring only 1 of everything. Value your personal treasures. Pack lightly. Save up for adventures of food, culture, music, art or entertainment. Savor the treasure you find along the way.

Are you up for downsizing your life, work and living spaces in exchange for richer experiences?

*Picture from DNA India