A Minimalist’s Guide to the Good and the Extraordinary

white table and chair minimalist setup

Once you are able to identify what really matters to you, you will realize what you need to do to make space for them, in the process of making your life good – extraordinary even. – Regina Wong

I first stumbled upon the word “minimalist” while searching for book cover design ideas for The Path to Awesomeness and I keyed in “simple” as a keyword. Then, voila! The web page was filled with “minimalist design,” as they call it, and it was love at first sight. I loved it so much that I went on studying basic Photoshop skills so I can do it myself.

I ended up designing my own book cover (*wink*) and did some minimalistic posters too.

When I looked it up in the dictionary, minimalism is, in fact, “an art movement in sculpture and painting that began in the 1950s and emphasized extreme simplification of form and color.”

Later on, I was amazed to learn that minimalism moved beyond just artwork. It was becoming a lifestyle trend that many people, especially in the western world, are now adopting.

Regina Wong was one of those who fell in love with the minimalist lifestyle. And in this book, she explains her “why” and the “how’s” to make space for minimalism in our lives.

Time to clean up our closet!

The Heart of Minimalism

At its core, minimalism is an ethos, with a focus on joy and purpose. It is a tool that helps us to gain freedom – freedom from being overwhelmed, from nonessential stuff, from consumer culture, from mental clutter, from emotional blockages and negative relationships, from debt and joyless pursuits. It facilitates tangible freedom and the living of an extraordinary life.

“Lagom.” It’s a Swedish word that can best describe what minimalism is about. It means “enough, sufficient, adequate, just right.” It’s also translated as “in moderation,” “in balance,” “perfect-simple,” and “suitable.”

It’s not a one-size-fits-all standard of living. For Regina, it’s mainly three things:

  • Keeping only what adds happiness, value, purpose, and freedom to our lives and discarding the rest that is non-essential. This includes both physical (clothes, household items, paperwork, etc.) and non-physical stuff (unproductive habits, disempowering beliefs, etc.)
  • Focusing on what we cannot we live without, instead of how little we can live with. Minimalism should be a joy, not a deprivation.
  • Being more conscious and mindful of how we live our lives so we can live with more intention and purpose.

Essential-list

To live optimally, we must ask what it is that we want to be and to achieve in our life. Anything that doesn’t contribute toward that goal is non-essential. Basically, we are subtracting anything that does not add value or serve a purpose. Through living with less, we sharpen our focus on what’s essential, lighten our load, and enjoy the freedom to truly be.

Here’s what I thought: minimalism = “essentialism”

Got this from Essentialism by Greg McKeown:

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To live a minimalist life, first we ask ourselves THIS essential question:
“What do I want to be and what do I really want?”

THIS, for me, is being a writer. I want to create and build a life around that. I want to write books and blog that can impact people, at the same time, make a living from it. It’s my ikigai.

Your turn.

Got yours? List anything that supports and contributes to having that life inside your circle. That’s your essential list. Focus on THIS. Everything else is clutter.

Too Much, Too Little

Another key driver for excessive consumption and ownership at an individual level is that we are led to believe that the things we own define who we are and how much we are worth. Our identity, status, and degree of success are commonly tied to the size of our houses, the make of the car we drive, the number of branded suits we own, etc. We are therefore programmed to signal our identity and value through the stuff we own.

Living in a material world, it’s the ego in us that makes us believe what we have defines who we are. The more we have, the more we are, the better and the happier we will be – or so we thought.

Regina says that believing what we have and having more has generally made us unhappier. We aspire to live fully, but instead we end up having full of stuff. We have too much, yet too little of ourselves.

Remember, who we really are – our Essential Self – is in this world, but not of it.

There’s nothing wrong with owning material things, so long as we don’t identify ourselves with them that they end up owning us.

The Art of Decluttering

Minimalism through the getting rid of the non-essentials, be it mental, emotional, or physical, is certainly pertinent and beneficial for the flow of abundant energy, which will lead to new possibilities and unlimited potential.

The premise that Regina suggests for decluttering is based on the Chinese philosophy for circulating life energy known as chi. There’s also the art of feng shui, which literally means “wind and water,” to ensure that the physical placement of objects does not block the flow of the two elements.

She then talks about decluttering the physical stuff first for two reasons: (1) it’s the most obvious, providing a visible and tangible difference when removed or rearranged, and (2) there’s also a tangible sense of freedom, lightness, and relief creating the space for the new life we wish to have.

In the book, she discusses in details how to declutter physical stuff such as clothes, books, music and entertainment items, kitchenware, toiletries, paperwork, photos, sentimental items, and the virtual stuff like e-mail, social media, computer files and phone apps, and digital books/music/videos.

The important thing she wants us to remember when decluttering is to ask these questions:
– Does this add any value or joy to my life?
– Does it serve a purpose?

If “yes,” keep. If “no,” discard.

JoMo

It is only when we permit ourselves to stop trying to do it all and stop saying yes to everyone that we are able to make our highest contribution toward the people and things that really matter.

If there’s a fear of missing out or FoMo, there’s also “JoMo” – the joy of missing out. I love that idea!

Regina emphasizes that we should know what our priorities are. And honoring them means we must learn to say NO. No to more consumption, NO to more irrelevant work, NO to more activities, NO to more commitments because there’s only limited hours per day and we must dedicate them to those things that bring us joy and fulfillment.

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Stress Busters

Living well with less not only means living with fewer possessions that add value to our lives; it also means living with less strain on our mental and emotional well-being.

Here are Regina’s tips for reducing stress in our lives:

  • Identify the sources of stress. If it can be avoided or eliminated, think of ways to do so. If not, consider reframing your perspective.
  • Simplify. Try to keep things simple as much as possible.
  • Clear some space. Do not overwhelm yourself by having excess stuff, untidiness, and being overworked or too busy.
  • Time for yourself. Block out time for yourself to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.
  • Set your own expectations. Don’t set them too high that not meeting them will stress you out and make you feel like a failure. Stay within your stretch zone so you won’t snap.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Stop multitasking.
  • Avoid stressful situations and people. Or if unavoidable, just don’t react and remember the 2nd of The Four Agreements, don’t take anything personally.
  • Be Mindful. Stay present in the moment. Experience it as it is. Don’t argue with what’s already happening.
  • Slow down. Stress comes from wanting to keep up with the fast-paced world. Slow down. Have your own pace. It helps you do everything better. You live better.
  • Learn to let go. Manage what you can only control. Let go of those you can’t.
  • Be an early bird. So you wouldn’t try to make up for being late by doing more and doing it quickly.

Worry Less

Our default mode of dealing with both the unknown and unwanted is to worry. It is a natural tendency for us to focus on unwanted and negative outcomes. However, worrying does not add value nor provide any solution to our situation. It merely magnifies both the negativity and seriousness of the whole thing and its perceived outcome.

Along with reducing stress, Regina also offers suggestions for worrying less:

  • Acknowledge and face the fear. Worry is born out of fear. The first step in eliminating fear is to acknowledge its presence. Face the fear and you might find out that there’s really nothing to be afraid of.
  • Have some faith. Believe that everything will work out in the end. Doubt less. Trust more.
  • It is going to be okay. Remember the things you were worried about in the past? In most cases, they turned out just fine. Remind yourself again that you’re going to be okay.

What Really Matters

Life is not a competition, it is a journey. Don’t focus on where you rank in comparison to others; keep your eyes on your own path. We are all on a quest to be someone, learn something, and create something. Since it is a personal quest, where other people are going should have little bearing on us. We just need to worry about what we want to be, what we want to have, and where we want to go. That is all that matters.

When we see life as a competition, we’ll always be comparing ourselves to others. When we compare, we’ll always find someone who’s ahead or behind us. We’ll be wasting both time and energy by checking up on what and how others are doing.

Whereas when we see life as a journey, a personal quest, we’ll remain focused on our own path.

Think of it this way: Earth is one big school. We are all its students but we are taking up different courses, learning different lessons. There’s really no basis for comparison.

Regina tells us that we have our own unique thing and we should focus on harnessing that.

If there’s something only you can do, there’s nobody and nothing to compare it with. And knowing only you have it, you’ll realize instead that there’s everybody to share it with.

Minimalist Budgeting

Minimalist budgeting is like regular budgeting, but with an added emphasis on what is truly important to you. The primary purpose of your life is to be happy. But if you are maximizing your money to the point where you are less happy, your budget is no longer serving its purpose.

In other words, the key to successful minimalist budgeting is to maximize our happiness, minimizing the amount of resources that we need to allocate in terms of money, time, effort, and energy to achieve this goal.

A regular budget has only one component: money.

A minimalist budget, on the other hand, has three: money, time, and value.

Regina emphasizes time as the non-negotiable component because once it’s spent, it’s gone. What money really pays for more than the work or effort invested is the time spent. So we learn the value of something by the amount of time we spent on it.

It would be safe to assume then that time has greater value than money. We’ve got to reconsider that in our priorities.

In the book, Regina gives us practical guidelines and examples on how we can come up with a minimalist budget that works for us so we can allocate more time to the things that matter most.

The Minimalist Equation

Happiness, as I have experienced personally, is achieved through living a meaningful life. A life that is focused on what is really important and what brings us joy; a life that is filled with freedom and inspiration, in which I can grow as an individual and contribute to other people in meaningful ways.

What’s the minimalist equation?

Happiness + Constant Improvement + Contribution = Success

Regina tells us that happiness doesn’t come from stuff, but from growth and contribution. For without them, our lives remain small and we don’t fully live.

When we confine ourselves within the accepted norms of society, framed by unending accumulation just to meet the perceived standards of success, then we leave no space for our growth to emerge – the true essence of success.

We grow not by taking, but by giving of ourselves, fully.

May your life be full of awesomeness!

Make Space: A Minimalist’s Guide to the Good and the Extraordinary


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

REGINA WONG is passionate about minimalism and simple living. She runs her own inspired ventures, including Live Well With Less (LiveWellWithLess.com), which focuses on helping others live happier and fuller lives through minimalism and simplicity. She has also been featured in various publications on the topics of minimalism and simplicity. In addition, Regina also heads up The Minimalists Meet Up Group in London, which provides friendship and support to both aspiring and experienced minimalists through various events.

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