Better Living

Common Problems in Life That Minimalism Can Solve

Often the best way to upgrade your life is to prune, whether that be habits or household items
BY Mollie Donghia TIMEAugust 31, 2022 PRINT

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.”—Edwin Way Teale

Sometimes, the answer to common problems is to begin a different routine, start a new process, or purchase something to make life easier. While this might be true in some situations, I’ve found even more success with the exact opposite approaches.

Mathematician Carl Jacobi made a huge contribution toward solving hard problems when he suggested the idea of “invert, always invert.”

When we have a problem, we typically approach it in a forward-thinking way. “How do I have a better marriage?” But when we focus only on moving forward, to the neglect of the root issues, we will likely not get the lasting results we want. If we invert the question, however, we may find a more direct and durable route to success.

For example, “How do I avoid having an unhealthy marriage?”

Inverting our approach to problems can guide us to remove what ails us. For instance, if we want to be healthier, we could add a new exercise routine or vitamin, but maybe we should start by ceasing an unhealthy habit of smoking or eating too many unhealthy foods. This applies in many areas. For example, instead of adding more obligations to my schedule or “things” to my home, I’ve found that having less actually contributes more.

Through our family’s journey toward minimalism, we’ve found the labors of life feel less significant as we take away the obstacles that lead to problems. This works better than adding more systems or items.

Minimalism isn’t merely a means to an end, but a way of living that allows for greater enjoyment of the journey, not just the destination. In this article, I’ll share six common problems that many of us face and how practicing minimalism can be the key to moving forward.

Too Much Stress

We live in a fast-paced society that prioritizes efficiency and productivity. According to The American Institute of Stress, more than 70 percent of people experience stress that contributes to poor physical and mental health, and 48 percent have trouble sleeping.

The solution: Take on fewer hours in the office, if possible. Follow fewer social media accounts, blogs, or news sites. Say yes to fewer but more meaningful commitments. Avoid impulse purchases. Focus on a handful of deep relationships, and commit to investing your time in quality interactions together.

Too Much Clutter

Clutter affects each of us differently, and how we feel about our homes can shape our mood and stress levels. When we walk inside the door and notice piles of clutter and unfinished projects, it’s no surprise that our cortisol levels rise.

Instead of living in a home filled with items that take away from the enjoyment of life, establish a few decluttering strategies to help push past this problem.

If you haven’t worn an article of clothing in a year, let it go. Find a realistic home for every item you own. Determine if you really need duplicates of the same item, or if one will serve the purpose. Ask yourself, “Does what I have bring me pleasure or just take up space?”

Not Enough Time

There have been many days where I wish I had just a few more hours to be productive. I try to fill my day full of events and work while still keeping up with the regular demands of motherhood. But when my mindset is geared this way, I often feel run-down and weary by the end of the day.

Instead of trying to take on a list of a dozen items, make a three-item to-do list of realistic, attainable tasks. Life isn’t just about checking everything off a list or seeing how fast we can get something done. Use your hours wisely, and set limits on activities that waste too much valuable time such as social media, your phone, or Netflix.

Let go of your desire to accomplish it all. Slow down. Learn how to push back against this fast-paced society so you can be part of a more meaningful life.

Financial Debt

With the ease of online shopping, many people overspend and are faced with financial debt that adds stress to their lives. Our society teaches us that when our clothes and things no longer bring us pleasure, we should buy something new to fulfill that desire.

Resist the urge to impulse buy by following the “48-hour rule” to delay making nonessential purchases in the heat of the moment. Make a meal plan before heading out to the grocery store, and purchase only items on your list. Have a budget for major spending categories so you can visually observe your spending habits and draw a hard line when you cross your allotted amount. Find some free activities or hobbies to do, and focus on investing in the relationships around you.

When you learn to live with less stuff, you’ll find greater financial freedom and realize that your things won’t ever become a lasting source of happiness.

Unclear Goals

When our goals in life are unclear or scattered without any real destination, we’re likely to become overwhelmed and feel stretched thin between the things we’d like to do, should do, or could do.

Instead of juggling too many goals with no path forward, consider these ways to make them clearer.

Create a list of priorities, narrow it down to the most important, and take on a realistic task list each day. With common daily decisions such as what to eat, what cleaning products to use, or what to wear, decide once and stick with it. Decision fatigue is real, so don’t mull the small stuff.

Likewise, when you start a task, commit to focusing solely on that alone, rather than getting distracted by everything else that vies for your attention, such as checking email, scrolling social media, or starting another task. Just do the one thing.

Limited Creativity

Our modern world thrives on a stable economic system. In order to live well, we earn income and purchase goods and services to have our needs and desires met.

But if we solve life’s problems only by spending money, we rob ourselves of a valuable gift.

The ability to create allows us to bring beauty and innovation into our lives. When we create things or find new ways to solve problems without spending money, we often gain more emotional satisfaction than if we simply head to the store or call the repair guy.

Make a home-cooked meal for your family. Take photos of the people you share life with. Write in a journal to convey your thoughts. Plant a small garden and watch it yield fruit. Go on an adventure without spending a dime. Sew a patch. Search YouTube for how to fix that squeak your dryer makes. Begin healthy habits that reduce stress. Make a home that’s warm and inviting to those who enter. Create deep relationships with those you love by giving quality time. Read to form a well-rounded view of the world.

The time you spend doing meaningful things that enrich your life is true wealth. Just as it’s impossible to out-exercise a bad diet, you can’t out-accomplish a bunch of wasted time. Often the key to a better life is simply getting rid of the items, habits, and ideas that weigh you down.

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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