Yes, More Rules

I’ve been practicing minimalism since November of last year. It’s been an interesting experience and probably the one that’s changed my perspective the most. When I started, I was spending well over the amount that I made, and I was spoiling my new love interest. I took her to lavish dinners, bought her extravagant gifts, the whole deal.

I was seriously in debt and I bought more and more things to distract me from that realization. I was living off the high you get from acquiring a new thing. Like the things I had before couldn’t possibly compare. I mean, that’s kind of how I felt about this new love of mine. She was better than the rest.

She truly was though, and she didn’t ask for the things I spoiled her with. In fact, I’m certain the excessive spending made her feel uncomfortable. In my excitement I found contentment, and it shook me. This was someone I could see the rest of my life through with, all the pain, the good. She was it and I had to stop.

In order for me to be able to have this dream-life with my love I needed to prepare for the long haul. For the first time in my life, I had a really big something to look forward to. I reread a lot of the books I’d collected about living this kind of life. And the one I favored most was Existentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (but better) , by Greg McKeown.

The book isn’t exactly about minimalism, but it’s about focusing your time and energy on the things that matter. And that reminded me of a documentary I had watched years earlier about a similar ideology. Minimalism. This documentary by Matt D’Avella following The Minimalists on their first book tour is profound. Or at least it was the second time I watched it. I had a reason to find meaning.

There’s one scene in the documentary that resonates with me. Joshua Fields Millburn is standing on the salt flats and reads an excerpt from the book. He goes on to talk about all of the stuff he needs for his new apartment. The cascade of stuff that follows only builds and builds on itself, and I think that truly highlights the need for a shift in perspective.

At the beginning of this passage he mentions that, in the same month, his 6-year marriage ended, and his mother passed away. And yet, the focus wasn’t put on what he’d need as a person to heal, but all the stuff he’d need to feel like he was whole again. The stuff was the focus. And that’s the problem.

Stuff is great. It can do all sorts of things for you. It can entertain you, feed you, make you comfortable. But what it can’t do, is fulfill you. It cannot create meaning for you, it doesn’t have the capability to, only you do. You have the power to give things meaning. And the one thing that’s often overlooked is yourself.

I made some massive changes over those 2 months. I organized myself and set a new focus. I focused on my future. A future with this angel of a girl whom I still don’t believe I deserve. (She’d be mad if she heard me say that) but I now prioritize the important things. And if they’re necessary but not meaningful. I expedite them. Make them efficient. Because they don’t matter, and I’d rather spend my time on the things that do.

I have restrictions in my life. Rules I follow. These guidelines help me determine where my time should be spent, and they come in the form of 3 questions.

Does this have value?

Is this experience or item a valuable purchase? Does the value I get from this thing out way cost of either currency or time. Is this thing going to sustain its value for the long haul and will it continue to be consistently useful during its lifespan?

Does this bring meaning to my life?

Does this thing inspire me? Does this item permit me new experiences where I can grow and learn? Does this thing belay a calling or drive my passion to accomplish more? What can be gained on a developmental level? Can it help my relationships with others or myself?

Is this Necessary?

Does the acquisition of this thing make my life easier or more efficient? Does this Item change my daily routines to make them more enjoyable or more functional? Do I absolutely need this thing to live?

Now, if something doesn’t hit my “9/10ths rule”, (meaning that if I were to put it on a scale of 1-10 it would be at least above a 9) then I don’t buy or take in this item. I continue to add rules and restrictions to my life, as long as they have a purpose. These rules are my system to mitigate the accumulation of useless, unnecessary things.

These rules are my perspective and my focus.

What rules do you use in your life to guide your focus?