How Buddhism is compatible with slow, minimalist living

A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a Twitter chat about minimalism, and the topic of Buddhism came up, and how it fits with a slower, more simple way of life. [if you’re interested in all things minimalism, this Twitter chat takes place every 2 weeks, follow #minschat, I’m @slow_blog]

Firstly – a bit of background on Buddhism. There are many strands of Buddhism, but they all have in common a desire to simplify life and let go of attachments (to people, ‘unskilful’ behaviours, and also views). Whilst it is not essential to Buddhism to subscribe to any sort of minimalist ethos (or vice versa!), they are definitely compatible. Minimalism can be defined as simply living with less – fewer financial expenses, less pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, and in valuing experiences over things. Mindfulness (which is a key part of Buddhist practice) just means bringing our full attention to whatever we are doing or feeling right now, in this very moment – tuning into our inner world of experience. Studies show that when we bring our full attention or mindfulness to our experiences, we remember them better in the long term. This does not mean that minimalists are hedonists or adrenaline junkies, but that they are capable of being satisfied and enjoying the simple things in life, just by noticing them – a drop of rain upon a leaf, the ducks in the local park, the clouds floating by in the sky.

Only having what we really need also fits with the Buddhist ethos of simplicity and contentment – we are not grasping or craving for more all the time (as our increasingly consumer-society would like us to). As we become more proficient at mindfulness, at noticing what is happening as it arises and passes away, we can recognise our desire to buy another book on Amazon, or to buy the latest fashion item (or whatever it happens to be). We can simply notice it arising and moving on. We don’t have to scratch that itch.

Anthony Ongaro talks about this on his blog “Break the Twitch“. In his TED Talk, he talks about the ‘twitch’ of online behaviour, how many apps are built along similar lines to gambling, giving us a dopamine-hit each time we click, and how through re-training our habits we can mould our behaviour so that it is more in line with our core values. In Buddhism, this would mean recognising that we are at the mercy of greed (or attachment, craving), hatred (or aversion or avoidance of pain or discomfort) and delusion (about the true nature of reality), that this is our ‘animal’ nature. But Buddhist practice gives us the tools to override this ‘twitch’ through firstly noticing what is happening, by bringing awareness to it.

Buddhist ethical principles also fit with many of the simpler lifestyle choices people are increasingly making, such as living zero waste or low waste, not buying fast fashion which exploits low-paid workers abroad. All Buddhists try to adhere to the principle of ‘doing no harm’, which can in its broad interpretation can mean treading lightly on the earth, and being an ethical consumer.

7 Things I learned doing the 30 Day Minimalist Game

For the last month, I’ve been on a mission: a mission to rid my home of clutter. Even though I had a MAJOR declutter a couple of years ago when we downsized, it was time for another go. When we moved house, I got rid of all of the clothes (both mine and the kids), books, paperwork I’d been hoarding for years. Because we were moving to a smaller place, I had to get rid of most of our furniture. It was a big project, but quite therapeutic. So this time around there wasn’t the volume of stuff to get rid of, but still it creeps back in (especially with small children outgrowing their clothes and toys so quickly).

I read about the 30 Day Minimalist Game on The Minimalists’ website. On day 1,you find one item to donate / sell / give away / get rid of. On day 2, two items, and so on for each day up to 30 items on the last day. This adds up to 465 items across the 30 days. Apparently the average home contains over 300,000 items, so 465 should be easy to find right? (if you like numbers, that’s getting rid of a paltry 0.15% of your total household items). Here’s what I learned across the 30 day challenge:

It was easier than I thought

I thought that after my big declutter a couple of years ago, I didn’t have so much stuff… Wrong! It was actually pretty easy to find that many things, particularly since my 5yr old son seems to have outgrown lots of toys and puzzles all of a sudden.

I actually did the challenge in a fortnight

I had planned surgery in mid – June, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to lift / bend very easily afterwards, so I made sure I completed the challenge before I went in. I did a few days with of decluttering in one day, and this really helped with momentum. If you’re doing this at a more leisurely pace, and the momentum is there, then keep it going by carrying on and then maybe having a day off.

You don’t need to ask your family to help

Whilst I secretly hoped that my husband and teenage daughter would get involved, I didn’t ask them to do so. I just told them what I was doing, and after about a week they just started adding their stuff to my pile for that day – books, unwanted clothes and other stuff just appeared in my pile! My long – time hoarder parents have even started getting rid of a few things! Leading by example is definitely the way to go!

I made £100 selling unwanted stuff

I didn’t sell everything I got rid of, just a few select items. But those made me over £100 on ebay and Facebook selling groups. The rest I either donated to charity shops or just gave away. Every little helps!

I got rid of almost 500 items

On the 30 day challenge, the grand total comes in at 465 items. I found towards the end I was putting more things in than the recommended number for each day, just to get rid of stuff. I definitely had 40-50 extra items.

I’ll carry on decluttering

I found that once I got to the end of the 30 days, I could see the other items that needed to go. Whilst I don’t think I’ll do another 30 day challenge (yet!), I will keep on decluttering, albeit at a more leisurely pace.

I feel so much lighter

Getting rid of stuff is good for your soul! I definitely feel much lighter without so many things around. Knowing the area under my bed is tidy and only contains things I actually need and use helps me sleep better, for instance.

I can definitely recommend the 30 day minimalist game (“minsgame”) whether you’re a seasoned declutterer or are just getting started. The daily targets are very motivating.

On decluttering, and why the attic is the nemesis of the minimalist

I’m back on the decluttering train. My last Big Throw Away started about 4yrs ago, when we lived in London (in a much bigger house than our current one). I followed the KonMari system, starting with clothes, then moving on to books, papers and all the other general “stuff” in the house. I did’t log what I got rid of, but it must have been hundreds of items (if not more).

Up until that point, I had been a bit of a hoarder. I come from a family of hoarders – my dad collects EVERYTHING: antiquarian books, paperwork, clocks, glassware, antiques… you could say it’s in my genes… As an example, my parents once gave my their old filing cabinet, so I filled it with papers, old bills, payslips, receipts, documents, my daughter’s artwork. My hoarding expanded to fill the space available.

I had kept ALL of my daughter’s old clothes up to that point (and she was 9yrs old when I started decluttering), you know, just in case…Then I had my second child and when it was a boy I realised I probably was going to have to get rid of all of this stuff. In the attic there were enormous bin bags upon bin bags FULL of sleepsuits, toddler clothes, baby toys…I had to admit I had forgotten exactly what was in there (out of sight, out of mind). I always thought I’d either use it for some future child, or I’d get around to selling it.

Once I got started, there were clothes EVERYWHERE. I gave lots away to friends with daughters, the charity shops, and even managed to put a few special items on Ebay. I soon began to feel much lighter, that all of this stuff had been weighing us down.

I got rid of many of my own clothes, realising that I had a lot of stuff I was keeping in case I got invited to a ‘special occasion’ (I rarely did, and even then, you only need one outfit to wear, right?). It began to feel really therapeutic, this getting rid of Stuff. And so I went on, letting go of all of these items that were no longer needed.

And whilst we no longer have Stuff on such a grand scale, there is still work to be done. I’ve been reading and listening to lots of podcasts on minimalism, and whilst I am far from that ideal, I still feel weighed down by having clutter lying around. So I have decided to do The 30-Day Minimalist Game (“minsgame” to its friends) in June. If you’re not familiar with it, the idea goes like this: on day 1, you get rid of one item (give away, sell, take to the charity shop). On day 2, you do two items, and so on and so on until day 30 when you get rid of 30 items. This gives a grand total of 496 items in one month. Anything goes – papers, books, toys, DVDs, kitchenware, whatever you like.

We no longer have an attic, so I know there is not a whole Secret Room Full Of Stuff to be eliminated, but my 5yr old has outgrown lots of games and toys recently, and this seems like a good opportunity to have a clear out. I’ll be logging my progress on Instagram, and will post my progress and results here…Here goes!

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