A little while ago, I received an email from a reader who had finished simplifying her life. She seemed to be quite pleased with the changes, but there still seemed to be something that was bothering her. Here is the email that she sent me:
I was just thinking in the past couple of days, that I was missing a new post from you. And then this morning there it was in my email! Great thoughts on biking.
One of the things I’ve pondered on recently with minimalism is the deeper changes we experience on an emotional level when we move forward on that path. I have actually searched that topic and what I have found doesn’t really satisfy me. I thought that might be an interesting topic you might like to explore.
I’ve always tried to live more on the simple side of life and I’ve always been happiest when did. (Im 60 now.) Minimalism, though, is a philosophy that I’ve more deeply embraced in the past year or more. Letting go of lots of possessions, selling my home and downsizing, letting go of some relationships, but focusing more on others, reevaluating how I am spending my time and so on have been a part of my recent life experiences.
Emotionally the process is very freeing. I am loving my new approach to living and I never want to return to the craziness, the too muchness of our society. I am loving feeling more peaceful to be less stressed with more energy and time to what I do want in my life.
On the other hand, there is the emotional challenge of change. When we let go, I believe there is a kind of quiet void that happens to us. Learning to live with more quietness and a little more of “less” feels sometimes like the road less taken. The stepping back from busyness brings a lot of reflection. At times I am more aware of feeling bored, depressed, lonely, empty and ‘what do I do now feelings?’ Then it seems that being more present with what I am feeling or experiencing, opens up to new creativity and purpose. It’s all good, but wow, a challenging process at times.
Anyway, I wanted to share that with you.
Best regards :)
To summarize, there seemed to be a void that was left by all the possessions, activities and relationships that Joy had removed from her life. Also, some disquieting emotions and feelings like boredom, loneliness and emptiness surfaced because of this void.
I would first like to point out that the feeling that Joy described in her email is quite normal. During your transition to minimalism, you can often find yourself questioning the various aspects of your life. The extra time that has been freed-up leaves room for self-reflection and serious thought about your life. In fact, this period of reflection that one can go through during this lifestyle transformation is one of the keys to happiness according to Epicurus. Epicurus thought that living an “analysed life” was crucial because slowing down and meditating on your life allows you to examine your worries and troubles and eliminate all the anxieties and stresses that come with them. Therefore, for Epicurus, having time for self reflection and meditation was quite important.
At any rate, this void that one can notice or feel with all this extra time and space is definitely a comprehensible feeling. I even remember briefly noticing this same sensation when I was doing a lot of simplifying and decluttering. This extra time for self-reflection can also make you feel more in tune with your emotions as Joy explained. However, I believe that this feeling of having a void inside you is only temporary. For instance, a few months after Joy had sent me this email about the “quiet void”, I asked her for permission to use her email in this blog post. In her response, after kindly giving me permission to use her email, she also indicated that her state of mind had changed and I definitely got the impression that the void inside her had gone away.
Regardless of the fact that “the quiet void” seemed to only be a temporary and transitory sensation for Joy, this same “void-like” feeling of emptiness could linger for others. To prevent such a thing from happening, I would just like to offer some pieces of advice and ideas to help eliminate this feeling if it starts to persist:
Let the Activities and Relationships That You Have Kept Play a Bigger Role in Your Life
During this transition to minimalism, you might have let go of many commitments and maybe even a few relationships. Nevertheless, I’m sure that you have kept a few relationships and there probably still are some activities that you have decided to continue. What I would suggest is that you completely devote yourself to these few special activities and relationships that you have kept. Once you start letting these remaining elements play a bigger role in your life, I think you’ll start to notice that this feeling of emptiness will start to go away. In my response to Joy’s initial email, I used the example of painting. If painting was one of the hobbies you chose to continue, you could start to take this hobby a little more seriously. Who knows? Maybe your paintings would end up at a local art exhibit? All of a sudden, the void would start to fill-up again. This gaping hole wouldn’t be filled with a myriad of meaningless activities or relationships. It would be filled with pride and self acclamation for all the excellent work you are doing and the new levels you are reaching in the areas you are truly passionate about. In fact, some friends of mine over at Revive believe that simple living is mainly about “trimming the excess to leave room for excellence”. And I couldn’t agree with them more. The same principle is valid for your relationships. You’ll notice that this void will start to disappear when your remaining relationships become stronger and more meaningful.
Cherish the Possessions That You Still Have
During your journey to minimalism, you probably have decluttered a lot and have only kept the things that you value the most. Since the rest of the stuff is gone, you can start to fully appreciate the objects that you have kept. That extra joy and happiness brought to you by your most beloved possessions will also fill-up the void inside you. By deeply admiring only a handful of objects you still have, you’ll notice that these few objects that you have kept will give you so much more joy and “good fuzzy feelings”. For example, if one of the few things you kept was a pocket watch that holds a lot of sentimental value because your father gave it to you, you can start to cherish it a lot more because there are fewer objects in your life that need your attention. In return, the pocket watch will also bring you more joy because it will also start to play a bigger role in your life as you cherish it more.
Try New Things
Who said that being a minimalist means that you can’t try new things? Living a boring life, or doing mundane and repetitive things isn’t necessarily what minimalism is all about. I still think routines are essential though. I love routines because they add some structure to our lives. However, minimalism does give you more freedom and it allows you to try new things and step out of your comfort zone. Now that all that the stuff and the commitments that were holding you back are gone, you can experience new things that allow you to grow as an individual. So, go for it. Try new things, but beware of over-scheduling and committing to too many things again.
Contribute to Other People in Meaningful Ways
In Minimalism: Living a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, contributing to other people is one of the five key elements to living a meaningful life. According to Millburn and Nicodemus (2011), “(…) humans have an intrinsic need to contribute beyond themselves. It’s one of the most basic instincts that humans possess.” There are so many ways to contribute “beyond [your]self”. For example, you can donate your time to a local charity or you could help a neighbor or a friend. Using your extra time to help others will also make this void disappear as it will give your life more meaning and purpose.
Ultimately, you could have been one of those people who did not feel this empty void inside you after making the transition to minimalism. (Which means that this post was rather useless for you…) Every person is different and no journey to minimalism is the same. Some might feel a certain emptiness after paring down their possessions and others will instantly feel liberated. What matters is that you tweak your minimalist lifestyle and take the necessary steps to make it right for you. There are probably many other ways to deal with the deeper emotional changes you might experience during the beginning of your minimalist journey, but I think I have given you a few good ones to start with. What about you? Have you ever felt a void inside you after paring down your possessions and getting rid of some of your commitments? If so, how did you deal with this feeling?