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.

Slow and Simple Experiment: Doing Nothing

Over the past month, I’ve been making a concerted effort to Do Nothing for at least fifteen minutes each day. Ever since reading In Praise of Wasting Time, I have recognised the value of empty space in the day. Doing nothing allows a few moments to pause, to slow down and tune into our inner world a little more. It allows for creative insights to emerge, often solutions to problems we’ve been mulling over will present themselves after a few minutes of space and down time.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Most of us have it drummed into us that being “idle” is a bad thing, that we should be busy being productive, that good old Protestant work ethic. With doing nothing comes a certain amount of guilt about wasting time, the “shoulds” come thick and fast: I should be washing up, I should be preparing for that meeting, I should be getting on with my to-do list…

It is rather difficult to actually do nothing at all, we are always thinking, looking, hearing and so on. I have built Doing Nothing time into my day by linking it to something I do every morning – having my morning coffee. Whilst this may not strictly be doing nothing (I am drinking coffee, after all), this serves as a mental reminder for me – OK, here’s my coffee, it’s time to Do Nothing. I sit in the same chair each time, focusing on bodily sensations as they come and go, the smell and taste of my coffee, and noticing any thoughts as they arise (trying not to get caught up in the story behind those thoughts).

Sounds a bit like meditation, doesn’t it? And it is the same, although in a much less formal way. I am not closing my eyes or focusing on my breath, or trying to cultivate positive emotions as in meditation. I am simply sitting drinking coffee.

The challenge comes once you start to notice boredom or the urge to reach for your phone / book / something to look at. If you can step into the gap between feeling and acting, if you simply watch those urges, they dissipate, and you can sink into it, into the being-mode, rather than the doing-mode. And that spaciousness can spill over into other moments in the day.

At the end of one month, I am definitely going to try to carry on with this new habit. It has opened up a sense of much more space in my day, and even a few minutes of down time bolsters my energy levels and resources for the rest of the day.

Weekend Reads on Doing Nothing

Five reasons why we should all learn how to do nothing

How doing nothing helps you get more done

The case for doing nothing

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!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Reducing input – the secret to simplifying your life

If there is one tip or trick I could recommend for creating the illusion of more time and space in life, it’s this: reducing input. What do I mean by ‘input’? any data that is coming in through the senses, basically. In the current age of technology, fast food, advertising, soundbites and social media, our senses are being constantly bombarded with information, visual data and noise.

I’ve already posted about getting rid of my TV, but it’s more than this. There is a Buddhist term: “guarding the doors of the senses” – being really selective about what you are consuming through each of the senses. This doesn’t mean living in some sort of white box, with no stimulation or contact with the outside world! Rather, bringing more intentionality to what you are taking in.

As an example, having the radio burbling away in the background is something many people do, particularly at mealtimes. But are we really listening to the radio? Or is it on for some other reason – to fill the space, for company, that’s what we have always done… Are we looking for some distraction by always clicking ‘on’? Can we allow ourselves time to really sit and listen to a good radio programme, without feeling the need to ‘do’ something else simultaneously?

At mealtimes, can we just eat, focusing on the smells, colours, textures and flavours in our meal, rather than stuffing it down whilst watching the box or scrolling through social media?

Reducing input means bring intentionality to what we are doing, which really means bringing more awareness to our lives. Doing one thing at a time, but really concentrating on that thing, whatever it happens to be – mopping the floor, sending an email, walking to work (without headphones!). I definitely notice when I’m feeling stressed, it’s because I feel there are too many competing demands. If I reduce those demands down to one thing at once, the stress subsides and a sense of more space opens up. This is the ethos of the slow movement – bringing intentionality to our actions, preferring quality over speed.

If this is new to you, this may not happen overnight. But if you catch yourself turning the radio on or reaching for the smartphone, can you catch yourself and see if there is an opportunity to reduce the input of data to your senses, and reducing any feelings of overwhelm.

What exactly is slow and simple living?

We hear these terms “slow living” and “simple living”, but what exactly do they mean?

The idea of slow living began with food, and was sparked as a reaction against the fast food industry, preferring instead eating seasonally, organically produced traditional meals. This spread from a love for slow food (home-cooked from scratch, with love and attention) to all areas of life, and featured in Carl Honore’s book In Praise of Slow, the first place where the term “Slow Movement” was coined. This doesn’t mean we do everything at a snail’s pace, but rather we bring intentionality to our actions, preferring quality over speed. Carl is also passionate about the role of community in slow living, getting to know the person who works at the farmer’s market selling you your seasonal veg, knowing your neighbours, etc.

This has spread out to all areas of life, from parenting to fashion, from travel to how we manage our money. People are reacting against the fast pace of modern life, and choosing to slow down and value what they have, rather than mindlessly consuming. More and more people are choosing to live life at a different pace, enjoying the quality of their experiences, rather than passively going from one thing to the next on life’s treadmill, feeling that we have to keep up with the Joneses.

Slow fashion is a reaction against the ugly world of fast high-street fashion, which relies on sweatshops and unethical practices and a throw-away attitude to “out of fashion” clothing. Slow fashion might mean making your own clothes from scratch, or choosing to buy from an ethical producer, one who considers the environment in their manufacturing methods, giving a fair deal to the producers and buyers alike. It might mean having a capsule wardrobe, of your own style, rather than keeping up with seasonal fashion trends.

Related to slow living is simple living, which means choosing to live with less. This often takes the form of minimalism, not hoarding tons of unnecessary stuff, decluttering and only having what you really need. Minimalism does not necessarily mean you live in an empty home, but that you only have what you truly need and actually use. Marie Kondo (author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) says we should keep only what sparks joy, and has a systematic plan for decluttering every area of your home.

Again, this can extend to all areas of life, from technology (clearing your inbox each day, going TV-free), your work-life balance and how much time you choose to spend at work, downsizing your home and becoming more environmentally aware. The whole zero-waste movement is a massive step towards simple living in terms of leaving a lighter footprint upon the earth through reducing food waste and plastic packaging, or choosing to make your own beauty or kitchen cleaning products.

The main thing to take away is that there is no “one size fits all” way of slowing down and simplifying your life, it looks different for different people. Someone with children will have more stuff in their home than someone without kids, that’s a fact. One person may love the look of an almost-empty room, whereas someone else may have some carefully chosen and much-loved artwork and ornaments around. I personally don’t go for many ornaments around the home, as it’s just another thing to dust! Rather than letting slow and simple living become another form of keeping up with the Joneses, how could you bring more intentionality and quality to your everyday life?

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Could you go TV-free?

At the end of a stressful day, many of us love to lie back and zone out with our favourite shows. Switching on at the end of the day can become habitual, rather than doing it because we genuinely want to watch something. With the advent of streaming services, this has become another form of extreme consumption, with many people “binge-watching” whole boxsets of shows in a weekend. The old way of watching one episode a week of your favourite series, ending on a cliffhanger and having to wait a whole 7 days to find out what happens next is dead. Yes there is more choice now, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Research shows that binge-watching is bad for our health, interfering with sleep by preventing our brains from truly winding down before bed. Over time, this reduces our immune systems, and increases our risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

When our TV broke about a year ago, we decided not to replace it. Our youngest child, who was 4 at the time, went through a 5-day withdrawal period where he asked for the TV constantly. But after that, he stopped. Gradually, he is learning the art of providing his own entertainment, rather than sitting passively in front of a stream of images (and often adverts for more stuff, which we are actively trying to reduce). He does watch a film of his choosing once a week (on the laptop), on a Sunday, which has become a special treat, rather than the daily exposure of before. He seems happy with this now, and never asks to watch anything else during the week, he loves looking forward to “Sunday Film Day”.

Some days I do miss that hour towards the end of the day, while trying to cook dinner, when small children are tired, when we used to put the TV on. But mostly I don’t miss it at all. My son listens to more audiobooks instead of watching stuff, and enjoys his Sunday Film Day. I am reading more books than ever, and also have some favourite podcasts. I have been catching up with crochet and knitting projects, and enjoying a good conversation or two. I do occasionally watch a programme, but I’m much more selective about what I choose to consume.

Could you go TV-free?