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Adopting a Minimalist Approach Throughout Life as We Age

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

By Kaye Olsson, I Start Wondering Contributor

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and learned to save everything because she often did not have enough. Because of this mindset, she and others in her generation rarely threw anything away. It was amazing to walk through her house and observe the stacks of paper bags, hoards of canned goods, and hundreds of straws/ketchup packets/twist ties she accumulated. Just in case.

Sarah Dorweiler on Upslash
Sarah Dorweiler on Upslash

In contrast, her daughter (my mother) was a child of the 1950s who had been taught to accumulate things to show wealth and status--to prove she had "more than enough." Her house was cluttered with expensive decorative items and her closets were filled to the brim with trendy clothes.

After each of their deaths, it fell to my sister and me to clear out their belongings. When my husband died in the midst of the 2020 pandemic I was tasked, yet again, with getting rid of a lifetime of material possessions that now felt so meaningless in his absence. The massive accumulation of stuff felt overwhelming at first but eliminating it became part of my healing process. I was increasingly thinking about a minimalist approach, even though I hadn't put a name to the idea.

Contemplating the Concept of Minimalism

So, when I ran across Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, it struck a chord with me. The film explores the idea of living a more meaningful life with less and highlights how consumerism as an interpretation of "the American Dream" has become ingrained in our modern culture. It is a follow-up to “Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life,” a book that discusses how millions of people have been led to believe happiness can be found through acquiring more and more stuff. Sadly, this focus on accumulation can instead lead to debt, depression, and negative environmental impact.

Ashim D Silva on Upsplash
Ashim D Silva on Upsplash

The film follows Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who call themselves "The Minimalists," as they embark on a cross-country speaking tour to promote the concept of minimalism as a way to counteract the harmful effects of over-consumption. There are interviews with sociologists, entrepreneurs, Wall Street bankers, and people from all walks of life regarding their personal interpretations of scaling back.

Various approaches include 30 for 30 (wearing only 30 items for 30 days), the KonMari method (for decluttering), the tiny house movement, and simply being more mindful about purchases. While there does not seem to be a "one size fits all" approach, the unifying theme behind the minimalist approach is taking control of your life and prioritizing the things that are truly most important—the things that “bring you joy.”

I continually am reflecting on my own personal habits and how minimalism can be applied to so many aspects of my life. I can see how this concept could be used to minimize belongings, reduce spending, curb calorie consumption, and declutter commitments on my calendar. It makes me want to focus on identifying my true priorities. I encourage you to watch this documentary to see if you find the minimalist approach thought-provoking as well.

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