Over the last two and a half years, I've had a lot of conversations with people about minimalism and simple living.
No matter how you approach it or who you talk to, you're going to come across a ton of different ideas about what minimalism is or should be and what makes someone a "true" minimalist (whatever that means).
Whether you call yourself a minimalist, a simple living advocate, an essentialist, something completely different, or don't use a particular label at all, a journey away from excess, busyness, and consumption toward slowness, simplicity, and calm looks different for everyone.
Everyone's journey has a unique starting point and while your motivations for simplifying your lifestyle might overlap with those of others, how you simplify, what you simplify, and why you simplify is going to be just as unique as you are.
Particularly in the United States, the overabundance of our consumerist culture leads many of us to feeling overwhelmed by the excess in our lives — both in our homes and in our schedules. Decluttering physical possessions is the most common starting place I've found amongst fellow minimalists and simple living advocates, but in order to move beyond the act of decluttering and simplifying to living a simplified life, there has to be a shift in mindset.
I believe the simplest way to start the shift in mindset is to create your very own litmus test.
A LITMUS TEST FOR LIFE
Chances are, you've heard of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It's an international bestseller and was the starting point for many people in their simple living journey.
While I did not personally enjoy the book that much, I understand why it resonated with as many people as it did and I believe it's because of Kondo's rather simple approach to ask yourself one question — does it spark joy?
By approaching the act of minimizing and simplifying in this way, it immediately takes you from the negative mindset of having to give up or lose things into a positive one. It shifts you from thinking this is about what you have to get rid of, but rather what you get to keep. It's not about decluttering the things that drain you, but keeping and further delighting in the things that energize you.
Whether intentionally or not, Kondo's encourages people to use her question as a litmus test for life.
If you're not familiar with it, a litmus test is defined as "a test in which a single factor (such as an attitude, event, or fact) is decisive."
The term was first used primarily in scientific experimentation, but it's principal applies perfectly to a minimal, simplified lifestyle. After all, the point of a minimal or simplified lifestyle is to clear out the excess from your life so you can focus on the things that are most important to you.
When employing Kondo's philosophy, if the item doesn't pass the test — if it doesn't spark joy — then it goes, period.
DEFINING YOUR PERSONAL LITMUS TEST
As I look back on my simple living journey over the last couple of years, I can clearly see how coming up with my own litmus test was one of the biggest contributing factors in me continuing down this path and not reverting back to my old habits.
Defining that question took me beyond just the what and the why. It caused me to take into account who I am as a person, the lifestyle I was currently living, the lifestyle I wanted to live, and to formulate a question that would help get me from point A to point B. And now, whenever an opportunity comes up, I filter everything through my personal litmus test before deciding if I want to add the new thing to my life.
Your personal litmus test may be like Marie Kondo's. You may ask yourself if it sparks joy, if it makes your heart sing, or if it makes your soul come alive. It might be a bit less abstract like is it essential or potentially even does it fit (into your physical space or your schedule)? Or it may be like mine — does it make your life easier, does it make your life happier, does it make your life healthier? Or it may be as simple as does it matter in the moment or in the long run?
The options are quite literally endless and your reasons for choosing your own personal litmus test will be as varied and unique as you are, but once you figure out what it should be, it makes those often difficult and agonizing decisions about what stays, what goes, and what comes in so much easier.
If it doesn't pass the test, it doesn't come into your life. Period.