Enriching Your Life Through Essentialism
“The heart of essentialism isn’t about asking how little we can live with, but determining what we simply can’t live without.” – Margaret Everton, Kinfolk Magazine
When you hear the word ‘downsizing’ or ‘minimizing’ what image comes to mind? Mentally summarize that in one quick sentence.
For me, the immediate image consists of my sad face as I hold up my favorite things in my hands, trying to transform them from a ‘want to have’ into a ‘need to have’ somehow based on possible functionality fifteen years into the future. Was your image similar?
Let’s do this exercise one more time but for a different word: Quality.
What did you see?
I usually conflate this word with ‘indulgence’ or ‘hedonism’, picturing myself languishing on a beach chair with a Cosmopolitan wasting time and spending extravagant amounts of money while enjoying myself to the fullest extent.
My emotional reaction to each visual interested me. I cringed but leaned toward the ‘minimizing’ image as if it were more pure, more necessary and more righteous. And I walked away from the ‘quality’ image that clearly was so much more desirable but oh-so-lazy, selfish and evil.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Well, a better question is:
Is It Possible To Minimize Life
AND Bring Quality into it?
And the answer is yes. Absolutely. And it starts with semantics.
When people think of narrowing down possessions, we tend to think about simply cutting things down by numbers and usefulness. Yet we are likely to keep more than what we actually need by using these criteria because anyone can almost always think of a ‘use’ for most items that exist in the world, especially if you’re willing to do mental gymnastics in the process. However, trying to search for small granules of value in an excuse to keep an item only exacerbates a quantity over quality issue. When it comes to quality control, we habitually lack strict parameters for fear of missing out. And sometimes we think of ‘simplifying life’ as having less adventure or minimizing emotional needs.
Essentialism means not counting the amount of items that you have in your life, but counting the worth. It means having only two choices: Hell Yes or no with nothing in between as an option. A ‘maybe’ is actually a no. A ‘yes’ or an ‘I would like that’ is actually a no. It must be a Hell Yes, otherwise don’t bother.
The Significance of Essentialism
Essentialism is important to consider because your choices will be easier to make as time goes on and you will feel disappointment less. It’s the seeming eccentricity of someone biking across the country with only their dog, a bottle of water and a single change of underwear. The more intention you strive for, the less scarce you feel because being able to minimize your items gives you the opportunity to zoom in on what matters most. And if you notice, hoarders tend to embody a scarcity mentality which fuels their trouble giving things up. Essentialism, rather than minimalism, will actually put you in an abundance mentality but ONLY if those items bring an immense amount of value to your life.
Getting into an Essentialist mentality takes time and discipline. It’s easy to say a simple ‘yes’ to something and your life will have many things that are good, but they won’t be the best. If you’re not sure if something could possibly be a Hell Yes, then wait. Go back for the item or experience later. And if you have to decide quickly or you miss out, then miss out. Choosing this brings the highest possible return for enjoyment in your life choices. Do this with your friends. Do this with your clothing. Do this with your food and your book purchases. Do this with your travel destinations. Do this with damn near everything in your life and the satisfaction will skyrocket.
There are three major reframes needed to effectively adopt this philosophy: Self Worth, Abundance, and Appreciation.
You must believe that you deserve the nice things in life. You deserve to experience those magical moments and indulgence. Don’t just get what’s cheapest just because it’s affordable. Luxury doesn’t have to equal expensive and cheap doesn’t have to mean shitty. Get your fancy designer jacket from the thrift store. If you value looking nice, then do that. If your thrift store nearby doesn’t have good quality clothing, don’t settle! There are thrift shops online. If the meal you would prefer costs $5 more, allow yourself that one nice meal and two low cost ones per day rather than three low-grade meals 24/7. You deserve to eat steak just like anyone else, even if it means doing it less often. You deserve to travel or take that dance class. Self-care is essential to your well-being. Addressing your mental health needs acknowledges your right to love and care for yourself deeply and you have the permission because you exist. At least do it. Have it. You deserve it. And the moment you believe this, more opportunities will open up for higher and higher enrichment within your means as time goes on.
If you feel scarce on money or resources, you probably huffed at my suggestions in ‘Self Worth’. You may not feel like you have a choice but to buy the cheapest of the cheap and accept nothing but donated crumbs, but when you see the planet as abundant and having infinite possibilities for resources, then you realize that there are infinite possibilities for gaining resources. It doesn’t always have to be through money. It could be through exchanging valuables or services, bartering, social networking, time, status, etc. Don’t limit yourself to thinking there’s only one way to enhance your life. There are a multitude of ways to do so. Go seek out those opportunities and be open to them when they come along.
Quality doesn’t have to have a price tag either if you don’t want it to. Sometimes, you can just appreciate that a thing exists. Window shoppers are perfect examples of how this works out because they spend the day strolling through the mall, having a nice conversation with their companion or possibly being ‘in flow’ if alone and experiencing the items in the store without feeling the need to buy them. And the best thing is that concept translates to all areas of life. Take the time to acknowledge the significant relationships you have and appreciate that your loved ones exist. Relish in the fact that the location of your dream vacation is real so that you’re allowed to experience the thought of going there someday. Feel joy that seeking out possibilities can act as a form of catharsis or a motivator for taking action toward that existing experience or person.
I’ll give you an example from my personal life. When I started traveling, it felt tedious and unenjoyable because I always brought so much stuff with me. I packed heavily because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, so I lugged around a ton of stuff for every single trip. The funny thing is, my suitcase got stolen during a bus transfer in New York and all of that junk was arbitrarily thrown out for me. So what did I do? I bought more junk and gave myself the same problem! Soon after, I looked at all the stuff I spent money on and thought to myself “Why am I doing this? I’m choosing to buy absolute crap. I can choose differently.” So I started to.
Reading the “Essentials Issue” of Kinfolk magazine and a working as an au pair for a year in fashionable Paris helped guide me on the journey for life betterment. When I left Paris, I donated all of my clothes to a clothing drop and only kept the essentials. And by essentials, I mean my clothes that were as close to a Hell Yes as possible. After four years of living abroad, I boarded the plane to a completely new location in the USA with one piece of luggage and a backpack. Some purchases within my bags were more costly than what I would usually buy but because I chose things closer to perfection, I felt no desire to get anything else. I still have these items today and can’t imagine ever throwing them away.
These days, I’m applying those learned lessons to my social realm. I aim to have satisfying conversations with quality people who love me and encourage me to love them back.
Take One Action to Increase
Your Life Value by 5%
– Go to the mall or a shopping plaza and buy one, single item that you not only need but would love to have. Choose the color, texture, flavor, or scent that you would most enjoy. Relish in the item that has the most pleasing packaging.
– Go to your favorite store to appreciate the pieces there and buy nothing. Just thank the items for existing.
– Go to the library and read an uplifting story whether fictional or historical about someone you can relate to and be inspired by.
– Enroll in a class or workshop for something you’ve always wanted to learn but never thought you “should” take. It could be a dance class, a business seminar, an online course or anything you’re intensely interested in.
– Travel to a place you’ve always wanted to see. Obviously do so within your budget. Whether it’s a particular state, to a certain country, a day in the city, etc. Even moving for a few years overseas to immerse yourself in a new culture.
– Add more intention to a relationship you currently have or will have. Make sure to ask their love language for the most impact and do something for that person representing how much value they give to your life. It could be your child, your significant other, a family member or a friend. Then ask for affection in your particular love language back. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to receive the gift of tenderness from those you cherish.
– You can purchase gifts for yourself like you do for loved ones. Show yourself positive intention.
– Add valuable movement to your life. Exercise, dance, have a wheelchair race, do yoga, go to that physical therapy you’ve been avoiding, or take a walk with your family.
– Do one extra action for your health care, whether you’re able-bodied or differently abled, with or without a mental illness. Optimize your health any way you can by destigmatizing therapy and going for it if you can. Get the medication you need. Start taking high potency vitamins to ensure you’re getting all of your nutrients everyday. Drink enough water.
And a special gift to anyone in a marginalized group who is finding it hard to feel motivated to search for opportunity, I want to tack on this meme to ensure you get the quality you need in your life. Click it.
Quality doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. Take on the philosophy of essentialism and you’ll be living with less quantity and appreciating life more.
If you want to learn more about essentialism, I highly recommend reading volume 16: The Essentials Issue of Kinfolk Magazine.
Want to learn more?
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Hi Chelsea, I totally second this essay. Get rid of useless stuff, focus on the things that bring a smile to your face. I cleaned out quite a lot recently and feel much calmer now.
Thanks for writing here. 🙂
Thank you for the comment, Carol. It’s amazing how one small change can impact your life. =)